I read. A lot. Last year, I read 164 books. No, that’s not a typo. Yes, that’s an average of three books per week. I’ve been asked how I can possibly get to that many books and there are three reasons:
- I don’t sleep much
- I cut the cable cord years ago and mostly replaced it with audio books
- I love to read all kinds of books
And thanks to COVID-19, I’ve suddenly had a lot more time to read. It’s not because work has changed; for me it really hasn’t. But, rather, all of the family activities have been canceled and I have more of my nights free. Since we’re all dealing with social isolation, I thought it would be a good time to launch this blog.
I had planned to start it anyway, because this year I’m taking a little more time to document what I’m learning from all these books. So, each month I’m going to write a paragraph on each of my favorite books from that month and share it all with you. For this first one, I’m going to cover the first quarter.
The books will be broken into three sections:
- Those related to my work. Business, organizational culture, teamwork, sales, communications, customer experience and leadership.
- Fiction and biography. I read fiction and biographies to calm my brain at night before sleep.
- Everything else. I also read a lot philosophy, theology, history, biography and really anything else that catches my eye. I post favorite thoughts and excerpts on my Tumblr blog.
If waiting a month between recommendations is too long for you, I post snippets from my work-related reading here, on LinkedIn and Tumblr. I also post all of these reviews on Goodreads. Here they are from the first three months of 2020:
Start With Why is one of the most important business concepts of the last 20 years. But Simon Sinek’s book of the same name is mostly forgettable once you understand that concept. Which happens about 20 pages into the 250-page book. Save yourself the time and money and just watch the Ted Talk. But Leaders Eat Last was a little better and Find Your Why even better. But The Infinite Game is without question Sinek’s best work. Unlike sporting events (before they were all canceled) that have firm rules and clear endpoints – that are finite – business has no such game to win. There’s always a new set of challenges and no such thing as “winning” – business is an infinite game. The goal is not to win, but to out-innovate and out-last competitors by playing an infinite game. Businesses get into trouble when they try to play an infinite game with a finite mindset. So, what do businesses with an infinite mindset do? They follow five essential practices: they Advance a Just Cause, Build Trusting Teams, Study their Worthy Rivals, Prepare for Existential Flexibility, and Demonstrate the Courage to Lead. This is a must-read for business leaders who want to operate for the future; not just the next financial statement.
Remember Project Aristotle? This was from Google’s research to discover why some of their teams performed so much better than others. Things like the structure and purpose of the team mattered, as did the belief that the work the team was doing made a difference. But none of those mattered as much as psychological safety – the individual’s perception of what happened when they took a risk. Those teams whose members felt safe to take risks and be vulnerable outperformed the others. If psychological safety is a new term to you, Amy Edmonson’s book, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth, is all about how to create a culture of high standards and psychological safety. Psychologically safe team members are willing to take risks, admit mistakes, have productive conflict and share information. This is a big deal in the modern workplace because teamwork is how most work gets done today. If you manage a team (or teams), you’ll want to read this book.
Only by being a great leader could Walt Disney accomplish the amazing things he did. This book is a catalog of the leadership lessons we can learn from Walt. A paragraph in the final chapter summarizes those lessons well:
“He dreamed big dreams – impossible dreams they told him. Then he moved heaven and earth to make his dreams come true. When you, as a leader, start with a vision, then communicate that vision to the people you lead, utilize your people skills to motivate and inspire them, maintain your character and integrity at every decision-point, command with competence, lead with boldness and confidence, and support your people with your serving heart, your vision will become your reality.”
The best business book I’ve read so far this year. Author Justin Menkes, a consultant who evaluates and places CEOs, wrote this book based on his experience evaluating leaders and interviewing some of the most recognized CEOs from recent decades. Menkes shows how the complexity of modern business necessitates a leader’s ability to function under extreme pressure. But the best leaders not only survive tough times – they thrive in them. He identifies three traits that CEOs must have to perform under pressure: realistic optimism, subservience to purpose and finding order in chaos. A common theme throughout the book is the need for leaders to continually learn because change is so constant.
My favorite organizational consultant, Pat Lencioni, is back with his 11th book and what he says should have been his first. Why? Because his first 10 were about the “what” of leadership and this one covers the “why.” According to Lencioni, there are two motives for becoming a leader: as a personal achievement of status or to serve others within the organization. Leaders who are in it for status will typically avoid the hard work necessary to lead, while those with the right motive will do the difficult things, like lead good meetings and hold their people accountable.
Harvey Weinstein has got to be one of the most evil scumbags on the planet. To call what he did “sexual harassment” doesn’t even come close to capturing the depth of his depravity. For decades, he used his position of power to prey on women with dreams of acting, assaulting and raping them and then terrorizing or bribing them into silence. But what is equally unconscionable is his paid army of lawyers, publicists, and private investigators who – after he physically attacked these women – carried out the financial and emotional attacks that cowed them into silence. These two books were from the journalists who did heroic work to uncover the story in the face of that onslaught from Weinstein’s army. If you only have time for one, Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow was by far the better read.
The best book on the Former Soviet Union I’ve read since Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire. Higginbotham tells a story that is incredible, suspenseful and captivating. I’m just waiting for it to be made into a movie.
What Higginbotham shows so well is that Chernobyl was far from an “accident” but rather was the inevitable outcome of a society so built on lies that it couldn’t tell the truth if their lives depended on it…which, by the way, for millions of people around the Chernobyl nuclear plant, it did.
The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen contains lessons from the desert fathers of Christianity, teaching that we all need a little solitude and silence and a lot of prayer. This book was a short, good reminder for a driven person like me.
The Platinum Rule by Dr. Tony Alessandra takes readers through the four behavioral types (DISC) and how to do unto each the way they would have you do unto them.
I also enjoyed Crushing It! by Gary V, Get Sh*t Done by Jeffrey Gitomer, Servant Leadership in Action by Ken Blanchard, Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday, the Making of a Leader by Robert Clinton, and many more. But the two best books I read last quarter were both re-reads: The Hobbit and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Both are beyond parallel in world creation and storytelling.