One of the ways that I "Help Leaders Blossom" is to read. I love books that are well researched, well presented and have a practical orientation. This section of my website is designed to support your leadership journey by helping to choose your next good read, and grow your leadership capacity.
I read (and listen to) books on leadership, organization development, strategy formation, change ... the list goes on, so I've organized the books into categories that make sense to me, and I have added brief comments with some of my thoughts. I've also added links to short video clips that may peak your interest. A book may show up in more than one category, with different comments. I promise to include the books that didn't quite thrill me. Who knows? Maybe you will have a completely different take than I have.
This is a work in progress. My goal is to add one resource each week (starting October 2018) so this section will grow over time. Feel free to suggest a book to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may influence me on what comes next. I have inherited almost 300 books from Peter's library so I may already have it in mind.
Leading Workplace Culture and Practices
Fierce Leadership: A Bold Alternative to the Worst “Best” Practices of Business Today.
2009 by Susan Scott
I love this book! When I listened to the audio version, I felt like Susan Scott was reading my mind. She has provided the language and context to understand how “best” practices create systemic problems. I thought it was just me who saw how destructive some of the “best” practices are in the real world application. I see well-meaning leaders create dysfunction and drama by doing what is expected of they by their employer. My personal motto is “truth with love”. Susan espouses both so it makes sense that her approach resonates for me.
Susan addresses six best practices and offers alternatives that work; (1) 360 degree anonymous feedback versus 365 face-to-face feedback (2)Hiring for smarts versus hiring for smart + heart (3) Holding people accountable versus modeling accountability and holding people able (4) Employee engagement programs versus actually engaging employees (5) Customer centricity versus customer connectivity (6) Legislated optimism versus radical transparency.
Susan uses humour, common sense and interesting cases to illustrate her point, and draws out the underlying motivations and principles that fuel both what works and what doesn’t. I highly recommend this book. It’s a fun read!
Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts
2018, by Brene Brown
I’m a huge fan of Brene Brown’s work and I’ve only recently had the opportunity to do a deep dive into a number of her books. I listened to Dare to Lead in the audio format, and loved the fact that she read personally rather than hiring an voice actor. I felt like she and I were having a personal conversation about what it takes to be a courageous leader. Her approach is tough, personal and of course vulnerable. She’s a researcher so the insight and wisdom she conveys transcends personal experience. This book articulates the intersection point between what it means to be human, and what it means to be a leader. I found that she, like Susan Scott’s work Fierce Leadership, articulated many of the issues and dynamics that come up with coaching clients so I believe any leader would identify with this book. In fact, I doubt you will be able to read this book without being challenged to grow some aspect of your leadership. Brown has woven in the best wisdom from her previous books so feel free to read her work in any order that interests you. She refers to her famous TED talk on vulnerability in 2012 so I’ve provided the link if you’re curious.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A leadership Fable
2002, by Patrick Lencioni.
Patrick Lencioni’s model is a classic that I believe every leader should be familiar with. He makes clear the five factors that create dysfunctional teams. They are (1) Absence of Trust (2) Fear of conflict (3) Lack of Commitment (4) Avoidance of Accountability (5) Inattention to Results. He describes behaviors that are commonplace in today’s high stress workplace. Lencioni reviews mindsets and strategies that leaders can adopt to address each of these dysfunctional tendencies in order to lead your team to achieving your organization’s strategic objectives. Lencioni’s framework dovetails nicely with other authors who focus on how to create high performance workplaces (Adams, Scott, Emerald, Kusy and Halloway). I use Lencioni’s conflict continuum when helping clients differentiate between healthy and unhealthy conflict. The book is written as a story, with the model, assessment tools and other resources in the appendeces. The Field Guide is really helpful if you want to practical how-to steps to implementing Lencioni's model in your organization.
Toxic Workplace! Managing Toxic Personalities and Their Systems of Power.
2009 by Michell Kusy and Elizabeth Holloway.
I use this book extensively when I am working with leaders who are faced with toxic behaviors by employees in the workplace. Kusy and Halloway’s research focuses on how toxicity is systemically reinforced and maintained, and they illustrate that toxic culture operates in vastly different ways than healthy workplace cultures. Often it’s a breakthrough moment when we can recognize that a different set of expectations need to shape an intervention strategy if actual toxic behavior is in play. For example, one of the reasons toxic behavior is tolerated is that the toxic employee is also a high achiever. Kusy and Halloway clearly demonstrate that the toxic high performer achieves success at the expense of those around them, and ultimately they lower the productivity of others.
The book is research heavy so be prepared for lots of tables and charts. The tool I use frequently is a list of toxic behaviors that can be rated on a Likert scale (page 24). When I am approach to coach someone who is described as toxic, this list clarifies if truly toxic behaviors are in play or if the candidate is just lacking emotional intelligence. The research from this book also gathers data on how effective various intervention strategies are. Warning … it’s a bit grim. I have saved client organizations considerable time and money by helping them understand what they’re up against and to stop attempting interventions that are effective with healthy employees.
If you are a leader to suspects someone in your organization is toxic, you may want to investigate Hogan’s Assessment. This assessment tool explores the darker side of personality and can clarify if there is an underlying mental illness fueling the toxic behavior. I have not used this tool personally, but I attended a session at the International Coaching Federation's 2017 Converge Conference. Hogan made the case that in the US, many senior leaders are in fact toxic thus creating demand for this assessment tool.
Mindfulness and Personal Development
Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 10 Powerful Tools for Life and Work.
2009 by Marilee Adams.
Based on her ground-breaking doctoral work, Marilee suggests that any of us can change our lives simply by changing the questions that we ask, especially those which we ask ourselves. We can ask Learning-centered questions that open us to growth, connection, satisfaction, reality testing, solutions-focus and success. Alternatively, we can ask Judger-centered questions that impede our progress, drain enthusiasm, deny agency and generally keeping us focused on the negative nattering of our Inner Critic. Marilee has created a framework so that we can choose our thoughts instead of our thoughts choosing us. This is one of those books that is an easy read, but the substance is very challenging to implement in real life. While Marilee’s approach is designed for personal transformation, I also use this to support leaders who are pursuing greater emotional intelligence and how to lead teams that are caught up in the kind of drama that is inevitable when leading people who are in a Judger mindset. Many clients tell me that displaying a copy of her Choice Map is a helpful reminder, and they can be ordered on her website.
The Power of TED: The Empowerment Dynamic.
2009 by David Emerald.
David Emerald provides a model that shows us how we engage in the Drama Triangle, which is an interpersonal dynamic that creates toxicity in our relationships. The Drama Triangle was originally developed by Stephen Karpman in 1968. Emerald has built on Karmpan’s model by providing the alternative to drama which he refers to as the Empowerment Triangle. This is a powerful tool for all leaders who find that they are leading people who are engaging in unhealthy conflict. The book is an easy read and focuses on how to self-manage out of drama and create agency to address real-life challenges. I use this model extensively when I’m coaching. We start by mapping the players in the drama, think through the emotional motivations, and then explore how to lead from the Empowerment Triangle. When I’m facilitating, I will often partner this model with Marilee Adam’s Learner-Judger Model as a way of helping leaders think through situations that unhealthy conflict. One client recently described this book as “campy” so if you’d prefer, this is the best video (3:22) I’ve found on the subject:
The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth
1978, M. Scott Peck, M.D.
This book has been around for a long time, so for those of you who journeyed with M. Scott Peck throughout his career, feel free to skip ahead to another review. I started reading this book in January 2019 not really aware of what it was about. (I give myself a pass since I was 13 when it was first published). I chose to read it because Peter, my late husband, referred to it all the time when we were teaching leaders about the importance of clarifying their values. Peter would recount that he heard Peck give an interview once. When Peck was asked what it was like to be a best-selling author, he replied that it was humbling. You see, while many people bought the book, he estimated that less than ten percent of the people actually read it. He suggested it was because of the first line. “Like is difficult”. While this is true, like is difficult, it’s hardly an inspiring beginning if you are looking for a quick fix to the persistent problems in your life. You may question my choice of adding this to the list of other leadership development titles, but I believe leaders build followership through the heart, not just the head, and this book plumbs the depths of what it means to love others sacrificially. Brown calls this “whole heartedness”, Scott draws from the emotional intelligence literature, but no matter how to approach the question of heart, this is the only book I’ve read that can so cogently differentiate between what is healthy and unhealthy and the discipline that it takes to ruthlessly confront reality. This book has had a profound impact on my understanding of love and suffering and what the journey from mental illness to mental health entails. I’ve lived through many of the dynamics that he describes, and I am better for having principles and language that deepen my understanding of my own experience. I believe I am blessed by his work and I will add Peck’s other titles to future reading lists.
Do What you Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type.
1992, by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron.
I use this book with clients who are in a career transition. Tieger and Barron have created a very practical approach to applying personality type (Myers-Briggs) and career satisfaction. There is a chapter for each of the 16 personality types that clarifies the type of work environment that will work for you. It’s less about “what do I want to be when I grow up”, and more about what kind of environments allow you to do your best work. Do you need autonomy, clear and predictable expectations, little interpersonal strife, challenging projects? What works for you? The most useful tool is the list of 10-factors for career satisfaction based on your personality type. This provides language for some of the intangibles that make us thrive or wither in a particular work setting. I’ve adapted the 10 factors by creating a rating out of 10 on how true each factor is for you, and then how present it is in your current or prospective workplace. I suggest to clients to use this list to inform the kinds of questions they can ask in an interview so that they can assess fit. I’ve also used this self-assessment approach for clients who have been terminated from their job. By doing a gap analysis, we can get perspective and avoid falling into a drama mindset that focuses on victim stories.
If you want to complete a Myers-Briggs Assessment email me at email@example.com and we’ll set it up.