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Leadership Lessons From Books I Read in 2017

I had a personal goal to read 20 books this year and as 2017 comes to a close I just barely made it! As I reflect on a year full of learning and growing as a leader I thought it would be useful to collate some of the best of this advice here for others to take on board and pass on if you see fit. I've included the Amazon links to the books if you want to pick them up as well for your 2018 reading purposes.

I'd also love to read about your leadership learning from your readings in 2017 in the comments below so we can keep the learning and sharing going!

On rewarding failure and risk-taking: "The challenge for many organizations is that the pressure to avoid failure is so strong that hardly anyone bothers examining the root cause. It's when intelligent failures are treated exactly the same as preventable ones that learning and creativity grind to a halt. And when that happens, the results are grim: A culture of innovation is overtaken by a culture of self-preservation. So what's an organization to do? Tell employees that it's fine to mess up? Encourage mistakes? Reward failure? A surprising number of prestigious organizations believe the answer to that provocative question is a resounding yes..."

On diffusing unproductive conflict: "Every workplace conversation operates on two levels: a task channel and a relationship channel. Occasionally the two get fused, which is when disagreements intensify and collaborations break down...One approach to reducing tensions during disagreements involves deliberately attending to the relational channel and reaffirming your commitment to the relationship. This way, there's no confusion about what the argument is really about. By momentarily focusing on the relationship you disentangle the personal from the business."

On going beyond the resume in recruiting talent: "As any experienced professional well knows, job interviews are a sort of game. Interviewers attempt to pick out the best candidate from a field of applicants, each determined to show that he or she provides the perfect fit. In many interviews the following situation unfolds. A candidate encounters a question about an experience or skill he doesn’t quite have, something the interviewer clearly believes would be valuable. The room goes quiet. For the candidate, the calculus is simple: admit you are under qualified and flunk the interview or stretch the truth and potentially win the job. Eighty-one percent of the time, job hunters bend the truth during interviews.”

On achieving outcomes: "In the Japanese auto plant, they didn't examine the problem and accumulate data to figure out the best solution - they engineered the outcome they wanted from the beginning"

On defining business purpose: "The goal of business should not be to do business with anyone who simply wants what you have, it should be to focus on the people who believe what you believe. When we are selective about doing business only with those who believe in our WHY, trust emerges."

On inverting the traditional management hierarchy: "Some in management positions operate as if they are in a tree of monkeys. They make sure that everyone at the top of the tree looking down sees only smiles. But all too often, those at the bottom looking up see only their asses. Great leaders are respected by those both above and below..."

On influencing: "There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate (motivate) it or you can inspire it...Energy motivates but charisma inspires."

On selling: "When salesmen actually believe in the thing they are selling, then the words that come out of their mouths are authentic. When belief enters the equation, passion exudes from the salesman. It is this authenticity that produces the relationships upon which all the best sales organizations are based."

On building high performance teams: "Basketball is a great mystery. You can do everything right. You can gave the perfect mix of talent and the best system of offense in the game. You can devise strategy and prepare your players for every possible eventuality. But if the players don't have a sense of oneness as a group, your efforts won't pay off. And the bond that unites a team can be so fragile, so elusive. Oneness is not something you can turn on with a switch. You need to create the right environment for it to grow, then nurture it carefully everyday."

On delegating authority: "What I've learned over the years is that the most effective approach to coaching is to delegate authority as much as possible and to nurture everyone else's leadership skills as well. When I'm able to do that, it not only builds team unity and allows others to grow, but also - paradoxically - strengthens my role as the leader."

On discipline: "There's a zen saying I often cite that goes, "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water." The point: Stay focused on the task at hand rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future."

On productive conflict: "I always welcomed debate, even if it disrupted team harmony temporarily, because it showed that the players were engaged in solving the problems. The big danger was when a critical mass of players jettisoned the principle of selflessness upon which the team was founded. That's when chaos ensued."

On reducing stress and anxiety: "Astronauts are taught that the best way to reduce stress is to sweat the small stuff. We're trained to look on the dark side and to imagine the worst things that could possibly happen. In fact, in simulators, one of the most common questions we learn to ask ourselves is, "Okay, what's the next thing that will kill me?"

On attitude: "Ultimately, I don't determine whether I arrive at the desired professional destination. Too many variables are out of my control. There's really only one thing I can control: my attitude during the journey, which is what keeps me feeling steady and stable, and what keeps me headed in the right direction."

On productive paranoia: "A lot of people talk about expecting the best but preparing for the worst, but I think that's a seductively misleading concept. There's never just one "worst". Almost always there's a whole spectrum of bad possibilities. The only thing that would really qualify as the worst would be not having a plan for how to cope."

On the importance of failure: "Early success is a terrible teacher. You're essentially being rewarded for a lack of preparation, so when you find yourself in a situation where you must prepare, you can't do it. You don't know how."

On selflessness: "Over the years I've learned that investing in other people's success doesn't just make them more likely to enjoy working with me. It also improves my own chances of survival and success, The more each astronaut knows how to do, and the better he or she can do it, the better off I am, too."

On the importance of failure: "People are training for success when they should be training for failure. Failure is far more common than success; poverty is more prevalent than wealth; and disappointment is more normal than arrival."

On achieving success: "Success is not a destination - not a place where you arrive one day. Instead it is the journey you take. And whether you succeed comes from what you do day to day. In other words, success is a process. Failure is simply a price we pay to achieve success."

On accountability: "The person who makes a mistake, then offers an excuse for it, adds a second mistake to his first. A person can break out of the fear cycle only by taking personal responsibility for his inaction."

On mindset: "Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows that it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you had better be running."

On ownership: "If you could kick the person responsible for most of your troubles, you wouldn't be able to sit down for weeks."

If you like these learnings, please comment below and/or share with your network! Here's to an excellent 2018 for us all!

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