If you were to walk into my office, or catch me in the hallway and ask, “Josh, what is the #1 thing I should start doing in order to become a more effective leader?”, this is what I would tell you. “Start reading about leadership.”
To get better at anything you have to find productive ways to learn about it, and leadership is no exception. If you want better results for your team, start reading and learning about leadership today.
Learning from someone smarter
About 12 years ago I was talking to a friend of mine at church about leadership, and he recommended I go talk to Steve. Steve, at the time was an executive for Coke-a-Cola. He was very well known in our church, has a great family, and even on occasion was asked to speak. So I decided to go have a conversation.
Similar to how I started this post, I asked him what I should do to become a better leader, and his answer is what I’ve shared, “Josh, you need to read these two books.” Now, it’s been a long time since I had that conversation, but the two books he mentioned, if I recall correctly were, “Who Moved My Cheese” and “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”. I think he even lent me copies of both.
I was a little disappointed, although not surprised, that his suggestion was to read. At the time I wasn’t an avid reader. I was more of a TV and snacks kind of guy at night, or video games, and I couldn’t imagine where I would find time to read books. But I took his advice, and I read both.
Leadership reading recommendations
Who Moved My Cheese?: An A-Mazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life is an allegory about two mice and two little people locked in a maze. I won’t spoil the story for you, but it’s all about managing change. The book is fairly short. I bought the book and read it again last fall, on a 4 hour flight. While it’s really easy to overlook the story for it’s silliness, or get too involved in the story itself, don’t miss the meat of it.
If you are going to be a great leader, you have to get good at both leading through change, and creating the right change that will produce the most successful outcomes. Its really easy for managers to get focused in on the day-to-day and completely forget about the overarching problems. I’ll admit, I’m as guilty of it as anybody.
The second book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (10th Anniversary Edition) was written by one of my favorite authors, John Maxwell, and is quite a bit longer. But, I’ve learned more about leadership from this one book, than most of the other books I’ve read, combined. In it you’ll find dozens of practical ideas and concepts you can start applying. The Law of the Lid is one of my favorites because it talks about helping other people recognize and overcome their own limits in leadership.
I mention these two books for a couple of different reasons. The first is that someone I have a lot of respect for, recommended them to me. Second, I found them to be very insightful and practical about leadership as I’m sure you will as well. Third, buying these two books are probably the least amount of investment for the highest return, and fourth, and probably most important, is because reading these two books will test your resolve to improve your own leadership style.
Executives spend time reading
Over the past 2-3 years I’ve had about a half-dozen book recommendations from other leaders, and three or four times as many conversations with my leadership and peers about what they are reading and why. You can see from my blog post, What’s on your reading list?, that I’ve read quite a few other books, and would be more than happy to make additional recommendations if you’ve already read these.
When Steve mentioned to me that I should read, I took his advice. Over a decade later, I’m an avid reader of self-help, personal development, leadership, and other topics. It’s one of the most effective ways I’ve found to unlock new ideas and push my thinking beyond the status quo.
My latest reading materials
With the current quarantine guidelines and remote work, I was having a brief conversation with my wife about having fewer meetings and spending more time in one place with the same posture. I mentioned to her that I needed to purposefully break up my day, and her suggestion was to buy some books and learn more about what I do.
Last week I bought The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, and Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable…About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business. I’ll admit, The Phoenix Project was a bit daunting when I first received it. It’s over 400 pages and no pictures. The picture on Amazon looks small and thin.. just sayin. But I’m already 100 pages in and looking forward to the next chapter.
What I learned today
One of the things I learned just today from The Phoenix Project is the Law of Constraints. I know I’ve heard it before, and it makes perfect sense. Reading about it today was a great reminder, and it’s timely and practical for my teams today. The Law [or Theory] of Constraints basically suggests that improving anything other then the biggest bottleneck in a process is a waste of time. That’s something I plan on having a conversation with my team about this week.
If you haven’t done it yet, go to amazon and buy one of the books I mentioned above. I made it easy for you by including links. You could probably buy all 5 for around 100$, which is cheaper than any leadership conference or summit you can find. Then take advantage of all the time at home and try to read a chapter or two a day.
Once you’ve read one of them, come back here or find my post on LinkedIn and tell the rest of us the most important thing you learned.
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