Book Recommendations

Summer Reading List

I’ve been asked by a few folks recently for book recommendations as they go into summer travel season. In specific the request was for authentic leadership: which books helped cultivate an authentic leadership style. Honestly, that topic transcends books to friendships, therapy, and a lot of running, but I’ll still write up my favorite books on management and leadership. As background I’m an avid reader, and tend to find nuggets in everything I read, so a focused list on one topic is not usually my jam. However, every book I’m recommending below has contributed at least something to how I approach management, so I’ll try to break that down in the recommendation without giving away too much.

  • Crucial Conversations: Tools For Talking When The Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny. I honestly believe this book made me a better partner and parent…not just a better manager. It is focused on how to prepare for saying what you want to say in a critical situation with tools, techniques, frameworks, and methodologies. So if you are concerned about presentation skills, running effective meetings, hiring or firing someone, this book helps you ensure you say what needs to be said in an authentic and clear manner.
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey. Anyone who has ever worked for me has definitely heard me ask the phase “are the behaviors you are using achieving the outcomes you desire.” That phrase (which I ask myself regularly) was one of my key takeaways from reading this book. Also the concept of winning together–real clarity around how rarely scenarios are zero-sum especially if you are working at the same company with a clear mission. If you are ready to delve into who you are and how that manifests in your work, this book is a great journey.
  • The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth by Amy C. Edmondson. When I first read the title of this book, I cringed a bit. I hate the term “fearless.” We all have fear, but we also have the capacity to be brave–to do something even though we are afraid, and that is actually the goal in my mind. Still, I REALLY recommend this book. The most important thing I took away was not that psychological safety would mean everyone was nice, there would be no conflict, etc. but that high quality innovation requires a commitment to excellence, operational urgency, and the belief that all voices matter. Cultivating that environment is what leadership is, and methodologies to build your approach is the goal of the book.
  • Strengths Based Leadership from Gallup is all about self-reflection (with a question-based “strengths” analysis, which is a great tool for allowing teams to get to know themselves and one another). This is definitely one of my go-to books for team-building. Sharing each other’s results, and discussing how the variance makes us better and stronger as a team is a great way to connect and create space for one another to bring their best self to work. Knowing your team, their strengths and opportunities for development always makes you a better manager and leader.
  • Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury was a really important book for me and a very hard one. I am a youngest child of a large family and by nature an appeaser. Negotiation for me historically meant drawing a line around the things I absolutely NEEDED and then letting everything else go. Woe be it to the person who tried to take away one of the things I needed, but outside of that box, I was pretty easy going. I also am not a fan of conflict–raised voices, etc. shut me down quickly. So, when I picked up a book about negotiation my first thought was, “this isn’t me. I just want to do what is right and if it truly is, then everything will work out.” This framing is actually incredibly unhelpful (in life and business)–it took for granted that what I initially wanted was “right”, and if it wasn’t right, I lost (without inviting inquiry as to how the process I used contributed to the outcome). This book is all about identifying common ground, what is needed for parties to “win”, and what is negotiable, and then optimizing for the best joint outcomes with clarity. It absolutely changed my personal relationship with negotiation by providing a healthy and proactive framework for it. So much of work and life is actually a negotiation, which I truly never saw until reading this book.
  • Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership by Joseph Jaworski was a book I read really early in my life (I think I was 16-years-old) and had a huge impact on education and career choices I made, and more generally the approach I’ve taken to life. This book is the personal journey of the author from his original life path (which followed the steps of his successful father) to one that was more meaningful for him. He is the founder of the American Leadership Forum and the Global Leadership Initiative, and his journey was one that inspired me to read Rilke, Goethe, and Bohm (particularly On Dialogue, which is incredibly accessible and fascinating in terms of helping understand why we don’t always connect with one another despite our desire to do so). Sometimes you read the right book at the right time–this book was that for me, and may not be as meaningful to others, but it is an easy read and a calling to reflect on what is truly important to you.
  • Radical Focus 2.0: Achieving Your Most Important Goals with Objectives and Key Results by Christina Wodtke is a quick read (told as a story) and a great one for making sure you are thinking through how to help your organization or team be successful. Creating operational urgency and accountability is hard–if you do it with too strong a focus on accountability you can nip innovation and psychological safety in the bud, but if you are completely unstructured in your approach to innovation you’ll never achieve those wins that generate momentum and help bring the broader organization together in joint purpose. This book absolutely makes the “must read” list for companies big and small trying to actually drive a common approach toward a culture of achievement and success.
  • Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All The Facts by Annie Duke is AMAZING. I think it is likely my desire to be perfect (which is something I’m always working on) that made me so adore this book because in a sense it gave me permission to be wrong. The crux of the book (for me at least) was to realize you have to make decisions without all the facts, and the best way to do that is to clearly elucidate what you know and what you don’t know, eliminate the knee-jerk bias/self-destructive inclinations in that process (a TEAM/partner/buddy are really helpful in ensuring you see more perspectives than your own bias, also walking away and coming back to the decision later, etc.) and then giving yourself permission to know that you did your best with the best data you had, and sometimes that will still yield a bad outcome. This book invites you to think of decision making as a process in your learning journey, and with that framing even bad outcomes are great learning opportunities.
  • The HP Way: How Bill Hewlett and I Built Our Company by David Packard is a classic; my absolute love of hardware, and admiration for the humans who made sand into semiconductors (I could do a whole post on my favorite biographies and autobiographies of this era) is likely why I love this book so much. My very first engineering awareness seminar was at HP in Roseville, near where I grew up, so that is likely the other reason this one stuck with me so much. In that weekend full of building popsicle bridges, egg drops, and early Pong programming, I fell in love, and I’ve never looked back. If you want a glimpse into the journey of one of the titans of this industry, I struggle to recommend a better one. The concept of “walk-around management” is one that really stuck with me, and something that I strive to create even in this world of remote/hybrid work through regular skip-level meetings, emails/chat room threads focused on inspiration as much as work, and asking questions of my people for the purpose of listening…truly listening. In my head I try to tally up who is doing more of the talking…them or me, and if it is the later, I stop.
  • Dare to Lead by Brene Brown–I actually just read this one. I had read Atlas of the Heart and Rising Strong (both great books), but mostly looked to Brene’s work as part of my personal journey: understanding and naming emotions, so I can manage my reaction to them, work on communication skills, so I can show up better with the people I love: family, friends, etc. to live and love one another even (and maybe especially) when we DON’T agree. Dare to Lead applies those lessons in a business context, and while much of the research and conclusions for self-management are the same/similar among books, one application in the business context as a leader REALLY stood out to me: be consistent in your communication. When a leader says “I wouldn’t say this to <other person>, but I’ll tell you…” they are creating rumors/secrets/inconsistency. Now there may be a reason: that leader may be able to say something to a manager that cannot be shared with the broader team yet, there may be financial data that is limited to need to know, etc. but the reasoning should be clearly called out. The risk is that the leader comes across as spinning it one way for one crowd and a different way for another crowd, and a leader who plays games is hard to trust. It is human nature to try to establish camaraderie, and a normal way to do that is to share secrets/gossip/etc., but sharing data inconsistently or data that isn’t your own to share sends an implicit message to the confidant that you would do this behind their back as well. Trust in an organization is vital. One cannot afford to have “in crowds” or inconsistent communication. Your job as a leader is to set priorities. Clearly. Consistently. And when they change, even if that negatively impacts someone, you owe them the truth. This is a critical part of being a brave leader. I have so often seen this behavior. I have occasionally participated in this behavior, and my key takeaway from the book was DON’T. It isn’t making you closer to anyone, it just makes you appear biased and untrustworthy.