10 Must-Read Books for Leaders, Part 1
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10 Must-Read Books for Leaders, Part 1

10 Must-Read Books for Leaders, Part 1

The Roman philosopher Epictetus once said, "Books are the training weights of the mind." Seneca, Roman statesman and philosopher, opined that, "The most important knowledge is that which guides the way you lead your life."

Combine these two pieces of wisdom and you have an undeniable truth: reading is an exercise that enriches our minds and our lives and the way we think, feel, and behave. It allows us to gather an assortment of dots, but more important, to connect those dots to expand our knowledge.

It's easy to gravitate toward the comfortable, familiar reads. Reading is an exercise in thinking and to get better at it, it's important we go beyond our comfort zone and tackle more difficult subjects that seemingly have no relevance. The challenge lies in connecting these seemingly unrelated topics, cross-pollinating ideas and concepts, to reach a new understanding about ourselves and the world.

It is through this exercise that we gain new ideas and insights about what we're doing and, ultimately, how we can do it better. What follows is a subjective take on the books that I feel are timeless and helpful in both your personal and professional endeavors.

1. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (Gregory Hays translation)

Marcus Aurelius, a ruler of the Roman Empire, wrote in his journal during his time at war - a meditation where he reminded himself of all his principles and past teachings. Stoicism is a school of philosophy that teaches us how to deal with the obstacles we face in our lives. As a leader, you will undoubtedly deal with a barrage of negative emotions and roadblocks, both internal and external. They can cripple us, but what Stoicism teaches is that they can also be a profound advantage.

"If anyone can refute me - show me I'm making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective - I'll gladly change. It's the truth I'm after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance."

2. Mastery by Robert Greene

Those who have done great work, who made an impact in their domain and led fulfilling lives, did so because they mastered their skills and deeply connected with their field. Think Darwin, Mozart, Temple Grandin, Michael Jordan, and others. Robert Greene debunks many of history's greats, while also providing a practical look into how we can use these findings in our own lives. From deliberate practice, to apprenticeships, to overcoming roadblocks, this book is an invaluable read in understanding how these seemingly gifted historic icons pursued mastery - and how we can embark on the same path.

"The basic elements of this story are repeated in the lives of all of the great Masters in history: a youthful passion or predilection, a chance encounter that allows them to discover how to apply it, an apprenticeship in which they come alive with energy and focus. They excel by their ability to practice harder and move faster through the process, all of this stemming from the intensity of their desire to learn and from the deep connection they feel to their field of study. And at the core of this intensity of effort is a quality that is genetic and inborn - not talent or brilliance, which must be developed, but rather a deep and powerful inclination toward a particular subject."?

3. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

Brené Brown's research is focused on vulnerability and how that openness fosters connection, innovation, relationships, and more. Vulnerability isn't about meeting someone and expressing all your deepest desires, fears, doubts, and secrets. Instead, vulnerability is a process - a catalyst for love, belonging, joy, empathy, and creativity. Culling from more than a decade of research, Brown's work shows that vulnerability may be the missing element that not only brings teams together, but strengthens the bond. Be sure to check out her two popular TED Talks on listening to shame and the power of vulnerability.

"The research has made this clear: Vulnerability is at the heart of the feedback process. This is true whether we give, receive, or solicit feedback. And vulnerability doesn't go away even if we're trained and experienced in offering and getting feedback. Experience does, however, give us the advantage of knowing that we can survive the exposure and uncertainty, and that it's worth the risk.

Again, there's no question that feedback may be one of the most difficult arenas to negotiate in our lives. We should remember, though, that victory is not getting good feedback, avoiding giving difficult feedback, or avoiding the need of feedback. Instead, it's taking off the armor, showing up, and engaging."

4. Linchpin by Seth Godin

This book should be a must-read before being hired or joining a team. A linchpin mindset is all about leaving behind the industrial way of doing things, such as saying, "This isn't my job." A linchpin is someone who would be missed if they were gone. As always, Godin does a masterful job explaining what used to work and why it doesn't anymore, while also providing a new roadmap - or rather a mindset - on how to become a linchpin in your workplace. Being a cog in a machine is neither fun nor fruitful.

"If your organization wanted to replace you with someone far better at your job than you, what would they look for? I think it's unlikely that they'd seek out someone willing to work more hours, or someone with more industry experience, or someone who could score better on a standardized test. No, the competitive advantage the marketplace demands is someone more human, connected, and mature. Someone with passion and energy, capable of seeing things as they are and negotiating multiple priorities as she makes useful decisions without angst. Flexible in the face of change, resilient in the face of confusion. All of these attributes are choices, not talents, and all of them are available to you."

5. inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity by Tina Seelig

Creativity is the lifeblood of innovation, change, and growth. Seelig has a Ph.D in neuroscience from Stanford University where she also teaches creativity and innovation. Her work is focused on decoding creativity and helps individuals and organizations realize that it's a renewable resource. From how to brainstorm properly, to why the design of our office space matters, to how to get people to take the stairs instead of the escalator, Seelig's extensive research and examples provide a fresh and insightful look into why and how creativity must be fostered and championed.

"In fact, play is an important variable for successful creative teams. Simply put, when you play, you are having fun. When you have fun, you feel better about yourself and your work. And when you feel better, you are much more creative and deliver more. To quote Pixar's Brad Bird, who directed "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille," 'The most significant impact on a movie's budget - but never in the budget - is employee morale. If you have low morale, for every dollar you spend, you get about twenty-five cents of value. If you have high morale, for every dollar you spend you get about three dollars of value. Companies should pay much more attention to morale."

Next time: 5 more books on leadership you may never have thought to pick up.

Paul Jun is a content producer at Boston-based Help Scout, which provides help desk software that enables teams to deliver personalized customer service at scale. He shares what he's learning at MotivatedMastery.com. Contact Help Scout at 855-435-7726 or visit helpscout.net.

Published: November 11th, 2014

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