10 Must-Read Books for Leaders, Part 2
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10 Must-Read Books for Leaders, Part 2

10 Must-Read Books for Leaders, Part 2

In the previous issue, we ran the first five of these "must-read" business books. Here are the next five, whose authors include Cyrus the Great (2500 years ago) on leadership and war, a present-day neuroscientist on lying, and business contrarian Stanley Fish on writing a sentence - and reading one.

6. Lying by Sam Harris

The moment teammates feel compelled to lie, however small or large, it's a sign that the very foundation that builds morale, understanding, empathy, and belonging are in danger. Trust is fragile but immensely powerful, and one small lie after another can sabotage the foundation that creates thriving organizations.

"To lie is to intentionally mislead others when they expect honest communication. This leaves stage magicians, poker players, and other harmless dissemblers off the hook, while illuminating a psychological and social landscape whose general shape is very easy to recognize. People lie so that others will form beliefs that are not true. The more consequential the beliefs - that is, the more a person's well-being depends upon a correct understanding of the world - the more consequential the lie."

7. Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits by Debbie Millman

Debbie Millman is a remarkable designer, writer, and interviewer. What I particularly love about this book is that it contains a wide range of perspectives - anthropologists, marketers, designers, psychologist, CEOs of large companies, and more. You aren't looking at branding from one angle but from many vantage points. It enriches your understanding of the topic and allows for great cross-pollination of ideas and insights. This book, along with all her other work, especially her podcast, Design Matters, is one of the most enriching resources to get a grip on this topic.

"The word 'brand' is derived from the Old Norse word 'brandr,' which means to 'burn by fire.' From this 11th-century Northern Germanic origin, the word has blazed a mighty path into the vernacular of 21st-century modern life. Ancient Egyptians marked their livestock with hot irons, and the process was widespread in Europe during the Middle Ages, not to mention in the American West centuries later. Such branding helped ranchers, both ancient and contemporary, to separate cattle after they grazed in communal ranges; in addition, herders with quality livestock were able to distinguish themselves from those ranchers with inferior animals. The dynamics of the brand reputation helped build better businesses even back then, and the role of the brand - a barometer of value - has continued ever since."

8. Cyrus the Great: The Arts of Leadership and War edited by Larry Hedrick

Cyrus the Great founded the Persian Empire in the 6th century B.C.E. He was praised by the likes of Plato as an "enlightened monarch." He was known for his benevolence, justice, kindness, and deep-seated desire for mankind to live in peace. He was also known for being the first to write a document chartering human rights. Although this book goes through Cyrus's history and achievements, the leadership lessons expressed in this book are timeless. Many of them focus on dealing with allies, understanding the self-interest of your team, encouraging high performance and standards, and proving that your words are backed by your deeds. Even the renowned management guru Peter Drucker calls it "the best book on leadership."

"We discussed how wonderful it would be if a man could train himself to be both ethical and brave, and to earn all he needed for his house-hold and himself. That kind of man, we agreed, would be appreciated by the whole world. But if a man went further still, if he had the wisdom and the skill to be the guide and governor of other men, supplying their needs and making them all they ought to be, that would be the greatest thing of all."

9. Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield

This book is about transitioning from an amateur mindset (short-term gratification) to turning pro (long-term focus). Steven Pressfield shares his own personal struggles in turning pro, escaping the work he was called to do, and how he returned to it. The removal of immediate gratification, showing up, paying your dues, doing the work, and an appreciation of your craft - these are the laws that govern the behavior of a true professional.

"What we get when we turn pro is, we find our power. We find our will and our voice and we find our self-respect. We become who we always were but had, until then, been afraid to embrace and to live out."

10. How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One by Stanley Fish

Writing is the quintessential form of communication in any industry - letters, emails, memos, reminders, blog posts, you name it. Stanley Fish does an excellent job of taking some of history's greatest opening lines and paragraphs, dissecting them to help the reader understand why they're so powerful, and providing tips on the principles of an effective sentence. He emphasizes that it isn't so much about following rules, but rather understanding different styles and how they apply to specific scenarios.

"Language is not a handmaiden to perception; it is perception; it gives shape to what would otherwise be inert and dead. The shaping power of language cannot be avoided. We cannot choose to distance ourselves from it. We can only choose to employ it in one way rather than another. We can choose our style, not choose to abandon style, and it behooves us to know what the various styles in our repertoire are for and what they can do."


When the culture of an organization values learning, especially reading, it reflects a willingness to learn and change minds, to be open to new ideas and concepts that may indeed bolster both personal and professional endeavors. This kind of disciplined, relentless learning will be a catalyst for growth and change on every level. I hope you devour, dissect, and discuss the lessons in these books with your teammates. But more importantly, if a book profoundly affected you, I hope you share it with someone.

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 27th, 2014

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