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Reading While Leading

By AICC Staff

September 12, 2017

With access to Kindle, Audible, podcasts, and analog books, I am usually reading three books at once. The common categories are professional, history, biography, and brain candy. The first three categories are filled with knowledge of worthy leadership principles and practices, as well as cautionary tales. The brain candy is useful for relaxation during long flight delays.

For those who find reading to be a difficult discipline rather than a source of joy, I would ask you to consider taking another tack. Perhaps you shared my experience in the “Dodo” reading group, while those who enjoyed reading aloud sat with the “Eagles.” I later learned that there are many ways in which vision and brain wiring affect the ease, comprehension, and enjoyment of reading. Even with this history I became an avid reader and a lifelong learner. Starting with topics that I believed to be worth the effort, I read at my own pace until I found it rewarding. Later, our children overcame the same difficulty when we assigned them People magazine or comic books, knowing they would be asked to inform and entertain over dinner with a verbal book report. Another help was learning the techniques of speed reading and exercising judgment as to when to use them.

As to the method of ingesting the art and science of leadership, I prefer reading to Googling in the same way I prefer savoring a meal to receiving it pre-chewed. I need context to help me understand, test, and possibly apply knowledge. The author’s ideas and how she came to them are an important challenge to the paradigms that would resist learning from detached facts.

Having said that, when I Google leadership books, I get a number of titles by Maxwell, Lencioni, Kouzes and Posner, and Blanchard. Most of these are great contributions. My aim in this article is to go a bit deeper into books that may not be found in a cursory search. Some of these books are timeless; others were meaningful because of their timeliness in the development of the reader. In order to provide you with a more useful list, I asked a diverse group of successful leaders to tell me what books have influenced their leadership, and why. As Google would have it, the first book mentioned by Robert Niedermeier of Valley Container was Patrick Lencioni’s The Ideal Team Player: “It’s an easy read, like a novel, when in fact it’s practically walking you through things that happen to most owners/managers in their lifetimes.” Thanks to Robert—I owe him a beer—for also mentioning my new book, Changed People Change Process.

AICC’s Taryn Pyle reminds us that leadership is important in every job.

She responded to my question by saying, “My favorite book of all time was Taking Charge: A Practical Guide for Leaders. It was important to me because it helped me understand that leadership could exist in any role or position.”

One respondent cited Coach Wooden’s Leadership Game Plan for Success this way: “Straightforward and simple, like the great coach himself. Accessible lessons that show how to become a leader and exercise leadership through relationship-building, humility, balance, and an active eye for detail.”

Mark Mathes of Vanguard Packaging says that the first to come to mind was The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. “It was the first business book I read that convinced me that manufacturing isn’t as difficult as it appears if you break it down into manageable bites. The second is Good to Great by Jim Collins. The message is that great companies exhibit essentially the same traits and that their success can be replicated.”

My own list is long, so I will stick to historical leaders who are shaping the ways I lead. I learned a good deal about leadership from five American heroes, four of them presidents (go figure). Joseph Ellis wrote His Excellency: George Washington, which humanized the icon and highlighted his nation-shaping determination to give up power. Another book, Founding Brothers, depicts personalities who understood their place in history, and John Adams in particular, who valued his wife’s opinion and worked hard at being right rather than popular. I first read about my third hero, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, in The Killer Angels. It includes many stories of people going beyond themselves at the battle of Gettysburg, none more than this young officer. Finally, I recommend Team of Rivals, which describes Lincoln’s courageous assembly of political opponents in his cabinet.

More mainstream leadership books that have influenced me include Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I had the privilege of sitting under his training and leadership some years ago when I delivered training for his organization. If you choose to read this book today, I suggest listening to it and having the printed book

available for your margin notes and review of charts. Many find the first 100 pages to be a gauntlet. Another is The E Myth Revisited, a classic that shows us how to work on the business rather than in it. A more current paradigm buster is Brené Brown. Her work on leading with vulnerability can be previewed on Ted Talks before diving into Daring Greatly. Finally, if you read only one book on this list, I suggest Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business.

There is a wealth of leadership knowledge to be digested. Reading is one of the best ways to access it and make it your own. Even though the love of reading is an acquired skill, we must give Mark Twain his due: “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”

About Leadership

  1. The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni
  2. Taking Charge: The Art of the Leader by Perry M Smith
  3. Coach Wooden’s Leadership Game Plan for Success by John Wooden with Steve Jamison
  4. The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt
  5. Good to Great by Jim Collins
  6. His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph Ellis
  7. Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis
  8. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
  9. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  10. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  11. The E Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber
  12. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
  13. Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman
  14. Changed People Change Process: How to Build a Continuous Improvement Culture Where People Act Like They Own the Place by Scott Ellis & the P2 Team

width=150Scott Ellis, Ed.D., is a partner in P-Squared (P 2) focused on leadership and process improvement. He co-authored AICC’s Welcome on Board and recently released Changed People Change Process. He can be reached at 425-985-8508