Since the publication of my book, Lead From The Heart, last fall, I have written 49 blog posts. This therefore, is number 50.
Since that number represents something special to me, I’ve been noodling over what would be a compelling topic for this milestone. In the spirit of wanting to help you become even more exceptional as leaders, I’ve decided to share a list of seven books that fundamentally changed my life. I pass on this list in the hopes and expectations that they will have a profound impact on your professional and personal lives as well. If you choose to read any of these, I urge you to take notes and to commit yourself to integrating the key ideas into your daily life. Each of these books is transformational.
The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, Dr. Steven R. Covey
One of the most successful leadership books ever written, the Seven Habits is exceptional for it’s focus on personal success. Expressions now hard-wired into our vernacular: “emotional bank account,” “private victories precede public victories” “begin with the end in mind,” “think win-win” (and so many more) all were conceived by Covey. Since I read this book in 1989, I’ve diligently followed his guidance for time management and task prioritization. And Covey’s ideas around cooperation, seeking to understand others and synergizing, all are well aligned to the idea of leading others with a certain degree of heart. Every leader alive should read this book.
How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, Michael J. Gelb.
Arguably the greatest genius in man’s history, da Vinci is the “archetype of human potential.” In the 16th Century, Giorgio Vasari wrote of Leonardo, “Heaven sometimes sends us beings who represent not humanity alone but divinity itself, so that taking them as our models and imitating them, our minds and the best of our intelligence may approach the highest celestial spheres. “ Gelb artfully lays out seven da Vincian life principles. We’re inspired to adopt them all.
The 21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership, John C. Maxwell
Perhaps my all-time favorite leadership book (er, second favorite), Maxwell writes in a truly relatable and conversational style and teaches unimpeachable laws of managing people. As perhaps the most successful leadership author in America today, Maxwell didn’t come from a corporate career before starting to write. He ran a church, and was a long-time minister. This insight has taught me that truly effective leadership has a fundamentally spiritual influence. And given how many books he’s sold, it’s clear people in business either consciously or unconsciously recognize this fact. Two of my favorite quotes: “Effective leaders know that you have to touch people’s hearts before you ask for a hand.” “Leadership intuition is often the factor that separates the greatest leaders from the merely good ones.”
Thinking Fast And Slow, Daniel Kahneman
Published just this year, this book is an extraordinary accomplishment. Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winning economist, has spent much of his life studying how humans think and make decisions. He shows us that we have two systems of thought. System 1 is both intuitive and impulsive. System 2 is capable of reason and is cautious, but for at least some people, it is lazy. Neither system, therefore, is perfect.
In business, and in leadership, we tend to esteem the brainiest – the best rational thinkers. But Kahneman shows that intense focusing on a task can make people effectively blind, and consulting our intuition is highly advisable before we make our most important decisions.
Our collective mind has limitations that can be successfully managed if we know how. Kahneman not only provides exhaustive (and very entertaining) research on this topic, he tells us that there is no one part of the brain that either System 1 or System 2 can call home. The implication is that our intelligence is disbursed throughout the cells in our body, to include in our hearts.
Think And Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill
In one of the best selling books of all time, Hill tells us that our lives are a manifestation of our thoughts and we therefore must be extremely vigilant in what beliefs we adopt. Working directly for Andrew Carnegie 75 years ago, Hill interviewed all the luminaries of his day: Ford, Rockefeller, Edison, Teddy Roosevelt and hundreds more. The success formula he gleaned from his research revolved around the notion that the mind can produce anything it can conceive and believe.
With respect to leadership, Hill’s book shows why things like encouragement and praise are so important. When you help others to overcome their doubts and fears and to replace them with courage and confidence, their performance astounds you. Because our thoughts inevitably manifest in our lives, Hill shares a great irony of selfish bosses: “The leader who fears that one of his followers may take his position is practically sure to realize that fear sooner or later.”
A Guide To Rational Thinking, Dr. Albert Ellis And Robert Harper
Where Hill tells us to be vigilant about what beliefs we accept going forward in our lives, these authors do us the favor of proving that a lot of what’s already circulating in our minds is corrupt and inaccurate. (Ever say to yourself something like, “I’m no good at math)? It turns out we all have a lot of self-limiting and self-sabotaging beliefs buried in our psyches – ideas we acquired early on in life and have unwittingly continued to reinforce. Ellis and Harper show us how to identify our misleading thinking and provide tools we can use to live a “more fulfilling, creative and less disturbed life.” I honestly doubted I could ever write a book before I read this. Our minds do us a lot of harm if we’re not paying active attention to the thoughts we accept.
Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman
The early chapters of this remarkable book are a bit of a slog unless you enjoy reading about the functionality of the brain’s amygdala. But once you build momentum, however, Emotional Intelligence is filled with groundbreaking leadership insight. Of key importance is the idea that people who are emotionally adept – who know and manage their feelings well and who read and deal effectively with other’s feelings – are at a profound advantage in any domain of life.
We know that more than half of all American workers hate their jobs today and Goleman was first to show that this dissatisfaction is tied to poor leadership instincts and a lack of heart. “Many managers are too willing to criticize, but frugal with praise, leaving their employees feeling they only hear about how they’re doing when they make a mistake.”
Most assuredly, all of the books on this list will help you become a better leader. But they also serve as a reminder that we must first become great stewards of our own lives before we can become compelling models for others.
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