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. My goal was to read a book a week for a year (starting Oct 2018) and the tally came in at 59 books. I have exhausted the space limit on this page, and the Iris Group 2.0 website is being developed to accomodate more reference material.
Leadership, Organization Change and Culture
The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary things Happen in Organizations.
2012, by James Kouzes and Barry Posner.
It has taken me a long time to read this one. Peter referred to Kouzes and Posner when he was working on his PhD so I have a sense of connection to this title. I've put this book is at the top of the reading list intentionally. Kouzes and Posner have captured the broad foundations of how to lead with excellence and through their research, they have distilled five leadership practices that fully integrate how to lead both strategically and with emotional intelligence. I’d suggest this book is a strong starting point to build an understanding about leadership, and then explore some of the other titles if you want to drill down in more detail. The leadership practices are;
1. Model the Way explores the necessity for setting the example, and actually living the espoused values of the organization. This is a common thread throughout the leadership literature and is vital to earning the trust of your constituents.
2. Inspired a Shared Vision goes beyond simply casting a vision. It requires the leader to tap into the common aspirations of all, and to make that vision motivational.
3. Challenge the Process identifies that leadership is about moving toward a preferred future which means disrupting the status quo. Kouzes and Posner show how to support the learning and motivation needed for any change process .
4. Enable Others to Act identifies that excellent leaders do not have all the ideas and solutions within themselves. They foster a context of collaboration and trust where their constituents are able to freely share their ideas and solutions.
5. Encourage the Heart is about recognizing that affirmations, acknowledgements, recognitions and celebrations are essential to maintaining motivation. Kouzes and Posner distinguish the need for both small wins and larger milestone celebrations of achievement.
This book integrates stories, research and principles in a way that will help you to consider how to live these principles in your own leadership context, making the book both inspirational and practical.
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.
Quiet Leadership: Help People Think Better – Don’t Tell Them What to Do!
2006, by David Rock.
I was first read “Quiet Leadership” after hearing Rock lecture at a coaching conference around 2008. I routinely suggest this title to coaching clients who want to move away from an ineffective command and control leadership style they realize that having the right answer has little relevance if no one will take direction and do what they say. In the current work environments, where constituents are highly capable knowledge workers in their own right, leaders need to focus on their staff’s mindset, their level of insight, and their learning. By enhancing the capacity of the individuals and teams in their organizations, leaders expand the capacity of the whole organization to face daunting challenges. The question is how.
Rock explores a “coach approach” to leadership that integrates principles of brain science and emotional intelligence with strategies on how to lead. The book articulates how to become a developmental leader who focuses on facilitating learning of individuals and teams, which values process as well as outcomes. The examples and stories flesh out the suggested approach in an accessible way. None-the-less, I will caution you. It’s the kind of book that makes perfect sense when you read it, and then, when you try and live it out, it proves to be more challenging than you may have realized.
Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization.
2009, by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey.
This book is essential to understanding why people in organizations get stuck and what to do about it. I often work with leaders who come to me feeling frustrated and out of options. They keep trying to find a way to get their people to move in the direction that everyone agrees is necessary, but there’s not follow through. Kegan and Lahey’s four column method surfaces the gap between intention and action. They have created insight about the competing commitments that disabling good intentions and excellent strategy. I've borrowed the notion of having your foot on the gas an the brake at the same time to help clients understand what's happening. I’ve seen Kegan at conferences, and experienced how he is able to take an entire room with hundreds of people through the process and come away with meaningful insight. This is a must read.
Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard.
2010, Chip and Dan Heath.
This is an exciting new addition to my library and I am delighted that there is still more to learn about how to lead system change. It draws from various researchers, and incorporates powerful metaphors and images that ground the principles in ways that are practical and memorable. Like other authors, they have made the case that effective change needs to align with how human beings process and assimilate change. Spoiler alert – successful change leadership has nothing to do with having all the right answers. The Heath brothers illustrate that motivation needs to be in the forefront of the change leader’s thinking, and people don’t change because they should. The book is organized into three parts: Part 1 is Directing the Rider. This involves discovering who are already doing the change you want. (The CAS literature refers to these people as “positive deviants”) and then making the change understandable a visible. Part 2 is Motivating the Elephant which refers to the emotional part of change. Part 3 is Shape the Path, which refers to eliminating system barriers that make adoption patterns difficult, as well as imbedding the change through the establishment of new habits that will sustain the change.
From my perspective, this book adds significantly to learning about the human side of leading change. That said, I encourage you to integrate this book with others on the list if you want a more fulsome approach to leading large scale change.
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.
2000, by Malcolm Gladwell.
This book Gladwell examines principles of social contagion and how to bring about movements in human systems. Gladwell is a brilliant story-teller who weaves real-life examples that illustrate successful changes that have reached tipping point. He identifies three factors for change initiatives to reach tipping point. They are; (1) The Law of the Few (2) the Stickiness Factor and (3) the Power of Context. By understanding the nuances of these three factors, leaders can better see and understand how to invest resources and
For those of you who share my passion for discovering how to lead in complex human contexts, this book integrates with other readings from Complex Adaptive Systems Theory (CAS). The most important take-away for me was the asymmetrical nature of change in human populations. When I am supporting leaders who struggle to bring about organizational change, I find myself drawing s-curves of various shapes as a framework and asking them locate where they are on the change curve. Once we know what stage they are in, we are able to create strategies designed inch toward critical mass and tipping point.
This 3 minute video is a go-to resource for helping leaders see a human system change.
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.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead.
2012, by Brene Brown.
First, I’m going to say that listening to Brown’s books back-to-back a year after your spouse passes away may be too much, too soon. I’m just saying … hind sight is a great teacher. This was a dog-walking-heart-breaking-cry-my-eyes-out experience. When I listened to “Brene” reading her book to me, it felt like I had a very cool best friend who was dispensing heart-felt empathy and wisdom during a very difficult time. There. Is that vulnerable enough?
Brown is a vulnerability researcher who debunks various myths and makes the connection between vulnerability and whole-hearted living. She challenges the “never enough” mindset and differentiates shame and guilt in a really helpful way. She makes a compelling argument for taking off our armour, being real and living whole heartedly. She offers wisdom about being appropriate in our vulnerability, and not just letting it all hang out. She has pearls of wisdom for leaders and parents that has the potential to liberate you from the prison that shame creates.
Brown’s writing is both personal and research based, which, combined with her expression of her personality makes this a powerful read. I recommend this book if you are tired of living behind a mask that leaves you tired and isolated.
Results that Last: Hardwiring Behaviors That Will Take Your Company to the Top.
2008, by Quint Studer.
If you’ve ever worked at a hospital that hired the Studer Group, you’ll have had the experience of having the Studer Model inform how your senior leaders are directing your energy and attention. Studer’s organization has created a program based on his success at turning around an American hospital. I can see the attraction. The logic is that if you do what Studer did, then you’ll be as successful as he was. It’s very tempting. The problem is it doesn't work. By taking something as complex as a hospital and reducing it to a series of knowable steps and standards fails to recognize that complex systems function on fundamentally different principles. I’d suggest that you focus more on the titles that I’ve provided that focus on Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS). That said, there is one gem that I use faithfully. Chapter 1 talks persuasively about how to approach top, middle and low performers and the strategy provided is a great starting point for doing performance appraisals. My suggestion is to take the rest with a grain of salt.
Complex Adaptive Systems Theory (CAS)
This category deserves a preface. I think the name "complexity" puts people off becuase it can evoke a sense of being overwhelmed and leading in chaos. The reality is quite the opposite. By learning to identify complex problems, principles and frameworks, leading complex issues become clear and possible. My late husband, Peter, first introduced me to CAS on our fourth date and I was hooked, both on the man and the learning. I knew it would take me years to figure out what he was talking about and it was an experience that changed me forever. Peter was a brilliant teacher and I was his most avid student.
Finding Our Way: Leadership For an Uncertain Time.
2005, by Margaret J. Wheatley.
This was the first book I read on CAS Theory, and it was really helpful to understand how Wheatly was one of the pioneers of applying CAS Theory to human systems. Wheatly describes a simpler way to lead that aligns with human nature and motivation. She challenges command and control leadership and provides alternative mindsets that work with, not against, the people we seek to lead. If you want to discover more about this simpler and more effective way of approaching complex change, this is an excellent starting point.
Wheatly outlines key principles of CAS leadership that are descriptive enough for those who are new to this way of seeing and thinking. She debunks command-and-control leadership in favor of more effective leadership approaches. For example, there are passages dedicated to building your awareness of self-organizing systems, the role of experimentation, creativity and diversity. There are sections dedicated to emergent change, the importance of relationships and organizational symbols. Wheatley shares the significance of the spirit and meaning making by the leader because it is meaning that motives people.
“Getting to Maybe”.
2006, Francis Westley, Brenda Zimmerman, and Michael Quinn Patton.
I have a deep personal connection to this book and it’s message. I was still in the early stages of my coaching career when Peter and I were invited by Brenda Zimmerman (co-author) and Brian Hayday to become coaches for a new leadership development program they had designed. The program was grounded in CAS principles and taught Canadian physician leaders how to lead large system change. I was both eager and overwhelmed. was the beneficiary of their wisdom, intelligence and heart, so now that Peter, Brenda and Brian have passed away, I am nostalgic for that season. As I read "Getting to Maybe", I could hear Brenda telling the stories with her characteristic passion and delight!
“Getting to Maybe” takes a descriptive approach to social innovation, with wisdom, insights and suggestions woven into the narrative. This book captures the lived reality of being a social innovator more than any other book on change leadership I’ve read thus far. In this way, it is compelling as it speaks to the heart, the mind and the higher calling of social innovation. The book, begins by organizing problems into Simple Complicated and Complex with their respective characteristics as a foundation for understanding why complex problems need a distinct handling. In Chapter 3, there is a fabulous explanation of the organization life cycle and patch dynamics which includes what to observe each stage and its related trap. Chapter 4 discusses the paradoxical relationship with the “Powerful Stranger” and the necessity to work with diverse people with competing interests. Latter chapters explore questions of scale, experimentation and the importance of developmental evaluation.
If you are dissatisfied with the state of the world, and want to make a difference, then reading “Getting to Maybe” may help you to discover what part you can play.
Conversation Skills and Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ.
1995, by Daniel Goleman
This is another foundational reading if you want to understand the importance of Emotional Intelligence (EI) and leadership. When this book was published in 1995, it broke through the misconception that reason guides our self-direction and decision-making. It is difficult now to imagine how ground breaking this book was in 1995, because EI is now fully integrated into the leadership development literature.
Goleman has passages devoted to the science of emotions and reason, as well as drilling down specifically on anger, fear, worry, sadness, in a way that nuances and differentiates between healthy expressions of these emotions and unhealthy manifestations. All of his writing is grounded in research and there are so many pearls of wisdom that I can’t begin to note them here.
I find it helpful to frame the learning about EI into four aspects (1) Emotional self-awareness (2) Emotional self-management (3) Awareness of the emotions of others and (4) Managing others’ emotions. All four of these categories of EI is essential for good leadership and there are many assessments that are designed to measure EI. I have a simple pen-and-paper self-assessment if you want to discover your strengths as well as areas of development. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy.
Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes are High.
2002, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzer
I first read this book when first became a coach, in large part because clients wanted to improve on how they lead really difficult conversations. Personally, I find there are more detailed steps than I can keep in mind, I was able to distill the principles behind the steps in a way that kept me focused on how to prepare for and respond to a difficult conversation.
This book will take you through a step-by-step approach that is grounded on excellent Emotional Intelligence principles although it never mentions the brain science that underpins why these steps work so well. It provides the rational for each of the steps and practical tips and advice for how to have effective dialogue when the stakes are high. If you are a new leader or have want to stop ending up in verbal battles with colleagues, this book is an excellent place to start. This approach will lead you out of debate and create the opportunity to real dialogue that can build the relationship even when divergent perspectives and being shared.
How to Win Friends & Influence People.
1936, by Dale Carnegie.
Reading this book is like a rite of passage for all emerging leaders. Carnegie began writing about emotional intelligent ways to lead long before we understood the brain science of why his approaches work. As I review his 12 principles, they are as relevant today as when he first published the book in 1936. It seems to me that this publication and its overwhelming success was an early signal that leadership skills were needed.
Carnegie’s 12 principles are as follows; (1) The best way to win an argument is to avoid it. (2) Show respect for the other person’s opinion. (3) If you are wrong, admit it quickly and empathetically. (4) Begin in a friendly way. (5) Get the other person saying “yes, yes” quickly. (6) Let the other person do a great deal of the talking. (7) Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers. (8) Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view. (9) Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desire. (10) Appeal to the nobler motives. (11) Dramatize your ideas (12) Throw down a challenge.
I believe that every leader can do more in at least one of these areas, so I challenge you to identify where you are strong, and which of these leadership skills sit in your blind spot. One of the ways of identifying a blind spot is by your reaction: “I don’t really care about that”, or “I don’t really need to do that”, or even, “I’ve never given that any thought.
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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 Inner Game of Work: Focus, Learning, Pleasure and Mobility in the Workplace.
2000, by Timothy Gallwey.
I was first introduced to this book in 2006 when I begin my coach training. Gallway’s work provides a framework and insight about high performance internal states as compared with lower performance inner experience. He provides a road map to fulfilling our potential. If this sounds like Czikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow then you’re on the right track. Gallway identifies Self 1 and Self 2 as a way of differentiating different inner states. Self 1 is the voice of our inner dialogue and while it not necessarily false or negative, it often is. Even when Self 1 is being instructive and positive it is a distraction that diminishes potential performance. When Self 2 is able to function with focus, performance increased. I recommend this book to anyone who wants a deep dive on understanding how to improve performance.
Resilience: The science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges.
2012, by Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney.
This book is a definite read if you anticipate challenges ahead. The authors define resilience as the ability to bounce back after encountering difficulty. They investigated the positive deviants, who are people who have experienced significant hardship and trauma, yet were able the thrive. The distilled their research down to 10 factors that create conditions for resilience, and that all of them need to be present in some form. They are (1) Optimism (2) Facing Fear (3) Moral Compass (4) Religion / Spirituality (5) Social Support (6) Role Models (7) Physical Fitness (8) Brain Fitness (9) Cognitive and Emotional Flexibility (10) Purpose. When I read this book, I was able to evaluate my own life and made changes in the areas where I was week. I was so glad I did, because it made all the difference in the hard times that followed.
If you’d like to complete a self-evaluation, email me at email@example.com and I'll send you a self-directed worksheet to identify how closely your life choices align with these factors.
13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do
2014, by Amy Morin
This book is for you if you learn by having a clear how-to approach to new behaviors based on her work as a psychotherapist. Morin provides direction, practical suggestions, and the rationale behind her recommendations. Examples are brief and to the point. Morin equates mental strength similarly to physical strength so that with training, mental strength can be developed and maintained by anyone. Morin’s approach clarifies mental choices and consistently comes from the perspective that we are making choices, no matter how horrendous the circumstances.
Here’s the list from the chapter headings (1) They don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves (2) They don’t give away their power (3) They don’t shy away from change (4) They don’t focus on things they can’t control (5) They don’t worry about pleasing everyone (6) They don’t fear taking calculated risks (7) They don’t dwell on the past (8) They don’t make the same mistakes over and over (9) They don’t resent other people’s choices (10) They don’t give up after the first failure (11) They don’t fear alone time (12) They don’t feel the world owes them anything (13) they don’t expect immediate results.
When I listened to this book, I found myself connecting her “don’t” list to another book, “Resilience” by Southwick and Charney (also in this book list). The books are complementary but don’t directly overlap. Morin focuses on the internal mental choices, while Southwick and Charney look at life choices and habits that support resilience.
Outliers: The Story of Success.
2008, by Malcolm Gladwell.
This book had a big impact on me personally. Gladwell clarified reality from myth about how to become successful at my chosen profession. I knew I wanted to become an exceptional coach and that coaching aligned with my natural giftedness. It was learning the 10,000-hour rule that turned this desire into a strategy. Gladwell provides a convincing case that it takes 10,000 hours to become exceptional at anything. It provided me with a way to benchmark and track the long journey to excellence (by the way, I’m at 4400 hours and counting). Gladwell is a delightful story teller so this is an interesting read.
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.
The Five Love Languages (Workplace Edition)
1973, by Gary Chapman.
In this book, Chapman outlines five ways we know we are loved; (1) Words of Affirmation, (2) Quality Time, (3) Receiving Gifts, (4) Acts of Service, and (5) Physical Touch. The edition I read over ten years ago focused on couples aligning their love languages. Over the years, I have used Chapman’s love languages when coaching leaders who find it difficult to connect with colleagues and staff. It’s a straightforward read that may help you discover new and effective approaches to connect with people who are different than you. I've had clients tell me that this awareness has made a significant impact on some important relationships. I haven’t read the workplace edition (shown here) so if you read it, let me know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to hear from you.
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.
By Stephen R. Cover, 1989.
Classics are classics for a reason. This book has been around since 1989, and I believe that it’s longevity is due to Covey’s ability points out simple truths that are obvious but only in hind sight. I was inspired to add this book when my daughter recently told me that her professor suggested it as a good resource.
Habit #1: Be Proactive. This aligns with the coaching tenant that choice is essential. We may not love the choices available to us, but there’s always choice, even if it’s only about how we choose to think about our situation.
Habit #2: Begin with the End in Mind. I know this notion has been adopted widely because clients use the phrase and often have no idea where it first came from. This habit calls us to focus on our purpose. Covey challenges us to create a personal mission statement that will guide our focus, out mindsets and our decision-making.
Habit #3: Put First Things First. Once we are clear on our purpose then Habit #3 helps us to prioritize. Cover’s four quadrant model (my edition has it on page 151) is a helpful framework to clarify priorities based on urgency and importance.
Habit #4: Think Win/ Win. This chapter is all about emotional intelligence using the metaphor of the Emotional Bank Account, and covers approaches on how to make deposits before you make a withdrawal. Covey’s reference win/win approach helps to create a high performance mindset that is “solutions focused”.
Habit #5: Seek First to Understand and Then be Understood: Again, this has become a foundational tenant of emotional intelligence approaches, particularly related to difficult conversations.
Habit #6: Synergize. The word synergy has gotten a bad name lately but don't be put off. This habit is about that experience when the sum is greater than its parts, particularly when diverse teams are able to create unique solutions. If you have a truly synergistic experience, cherish it.
Habit #7: Sharpening the Saw. This is about continuous personal growth in all aspects of our lives. Covey illustrates that when we focus on continuous growth and how we can create an “upward spiral”.
If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
2012, by Charles Duhigg
This book is a deep yet practical exploration of how habits are created and broken. After listening to this book, I immediately began applying it with coaching clients who were frustrated with their inability to effect the changes they were looking for. Duhigg illustrates the Habit Loop which consists of a Cue followed by a Routine, then a Reward. If any aspect of the habit loop is disrupted, the habit will also be disrupted. By being aware of the Habit Loop, we can evaluate which part of the process has broken down, and make the appropriate change. It also informs how we can build new habits if we tag them on to existing habits. This book provides the understanding of why beating ourselves up, or just trying harder isn’t enough to effect the changes we want. Duhigg draws from a considerable body of research, and reviews seemingly contradictory evidence which left me with the impression that he was comprehensive and objective about his approach to reviewing habit formation. The stories and examples that Duhigg uses draw from both workplace and personal settings so there’s something here for everyone.
Assessment Based Books
Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Team and Why People Follow
2008, by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie.
The strengths-based approach to leadership and personal development has been around for some time now, and yet I still have clients who haven’t fully understood or embraced this focus. Rath and Conchie make an excellent case that by focusing on our strengths, and finding mitigating strategies for our weaknesses, we can become excellent at what we do. Alternatively, we can work very hard on our weaknesses and the best we can expect is to become is average. When leaders focus on their employees strengths, confident and engagement builds, so this book is a way to help create categories and language for a comprehensive list of strengths that are organized into four themes; executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking. Each of those themes has between 8 and 9 strengths for a total of 34 categories. In Part Two, each of the themes are outlined in more detail with some storylines to illustrate them. Then the Additional Resources at the back of the book has each of the strengths listed with a brief definition and then suggestions on how employees with this strength will lead, and how they prefer to be lead. I have often used this book when I am designing team development retreats when the group are critical of each other’s strengths, and when the team is influenced by data and learning. Team members are also asked to add their names to a summative chart that will show an overview of where the collective strengths lay. In this way, the team begins to think of the team composition in terms of maximizing diversity and embracing team members with different strengths.
What I appreciate about this book is that in the back of each copy is the instructions and password to complete one on-line assessment. There’s no expensive certifications to deal with. Simply buy one book per person, and everything that the employee needs is there to understand the approach, take the assessment, and review what it means for them. The only caution I will offer, is to avoid using this with a team who is unfamiliar with assessments. With 34 categories in total, the number of categories may overwhelm novice learners.
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.
Co-Active Coaching: New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success in Work and Life.
1998, by Laura Whitworth, Henry Kimsey-House, Phil Sandahl
I first discovered this book in 2006 when I trained as a coach and it remains in my mind the go-to book for coach training. If you are thinking about becoming a coach, or want to enhance your leadership skills, this is a great place to start. I recommend you read the introduction. The authors have created a series of “imaging” passages that inspire me every time I read them. This book will help you understand a coaching process model as well as fleshing out the techniques to effectively interact with others in a way that builds trust, respect, and choice. It will provide insight into effective use of listening, intuition, curiosity and the action learning process. Action learning is a critical aspect since coaching conversations are designed to go somewhere, and help to create mobility towards the person’s preferred future. If you are kind of person who learns well by reading concrete lists, you’ll love the resource sections at the back of the book. For example, there are 10 pages of Powerful Questions that are subdivided into what the question focuses on. The resource section also has practical tools to start a coaching practice, including client intake forms, in addition to various exercises that will support the coaching process. Like many successful books, there are spin-offs which I haven't read so I encourage you to choose the version of this book that best fits your context.
Memoirs and Biographies
Becoming Michelle Obama,
2018, by Michelle Obama
This was a welcome addition to my reading list this year. I have always been fascinated by the Obamas yet I didn’t follow US politics closely when they were in office, which meant that many of the events recounted were new to me. I found Obama’s honesty about the challenges she faced refreshing because it resists the heroic narrative of success that signals that public figures are somehow a cut above the rest of us. Rather, Obama carefully illustrated how many people contributed to her journey to the White House, where good fortune played a part, and she did so without diminishing how hard she worked. She shares what was challenging and painful, as well as the sacrifices that were made along the way. She’s honest about the mistakes she made, and how her values were the cornerstone of purpose that informed her choices. I was particularly inspired by the passages that were written about Michelle’s mother, Marian Robinson. I consider both women to be strong leaders in their own right.
I am Malala
2013, by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
On Oct 9, 2012, the world was stunned to learn that Malala Yousafzai and two other girls were shot by Taliban gunmen in Pakistan, as they were heading home after writing an exam. This is her story. The tale begins with her parents who set the stage for raising an advocate for girls’ education before the story recounts the crisis and aftermath of her assassination attempt. Yousafzai and Lamb helped me to understand the recent history of the Swat region and appreciate Pakistan culture from Malala’s perspective. If you are looking for a book that will inspire both conviction and forgiveness, this is a great choice.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
2010, by Rebecca Skloot.
We have so much to thank Henrietta Lacks for, and before listening to this audio book I had no idea. This is a true story about the journey of Lacks cells (called HeLa cells) following her death in 1951. Her cells have changed the world. As a cancer survivor, I am personally grateful for the impact HeLa cells have had on my health journey.
John Hopkins Medicine summarizes Henrietta's story beautifully: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/henriettalacks/index.html
Check this book out if you are looking for an interesting story that is more fascinating because it’s true.