One component of most talent management processes is a regular discussion among a small group of people about a short list of key leaders. Some of the questions raised are fairly routine and predictable. A CEO with whom I worked always asked a particular question that had a significant impact on the discussion: What does this person read? What fascinated me about the question was it reminded me of a quote I heard somewhere: “not all readers are leaders, but all leaders should be readers.”
What does what you read suggest about you? Reading historical biographies for instance is an interesting way to get a glimpse of how leaders felt, thought, and reacted to challenges and opportunities in their context. You can also certainly make literal inferences about what a person is interested in and what insights they are seeking as well as their overall interest in learning.
More to the point, reading does three critical things for your success as a leader. It builds your VEE. Vision, Emotional Intelligence, and Execution.
In regards to Vision, reading enhances your overall strategic thinking by accumulating more information and more diverse perspectives.
In terms of Emotional Intelligence, reading increases your foundation for understanding and influencing yourself and others. It is also a way to exercise thoughts and emotions we may not express during our day to day routines.
With respect to Execution, reading expands your repertoire of, if not “best practices”, at least reference points for how others addressed situations.
So what have I been reading this year and what insights have I gained?
- The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in Modern Politics, Archie Brown. This has been a stretch for me because I don’t read a lot about political leadership. It does make the point that there have been far fewer strong and transformative leaders than one might imagine. Brown argues that most effective leaders do not fit that model anyway.
- Tribe: On homecoming and belonging, Sabastien Yunger. This is a compelling and perhaps provocative presentation of how we are wired to belong to groups or tribes and how our rituals can enhance a sense of belonging or build obstacles to it.
- The Seventh Sense: Power, fortune, and survival in the age of networks, Joshua Cooper Ramos. The impact of the speed, volume and access to information that we now have challenges our analytical models of decision making. We can sometimes have too much information, too quickly.
- Lean In: Women, work, and the will to lead, Sheryl Sandberg. Though directed towards women in leadership, this clearly provides lessons for us all. There is real power and effectiveness in having a place at the table, negotiating, and building partnerships.
- Presence: Bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges, Amy Cuddy, and Executive Presence: The missing link between merit and success, Sylvia Hewlett. These two books provide slightly different perspectives on the same area of influence. They approach what difference do you make when you walk into a room and try to influence others. They add the angle that while you can be more effective just focusing on behaviors your impact will be enhanced if you deal with what lies beneath in you.
- Drawing on the right side of the brain: A course in enhancing creativity and artistic confidence, Betty Edwards. This is a classic for me that stirred my passion for drawing. It reminded me of the balance of left and right brain functioning and has exciting exercises for thinking outside the box.
- David and Goliath: Underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants, Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell challenges you to think differently, collecting data from a variety of sources and analyzing it from various angles. His books also push me to ask different questions. In this one the interesting question is how can an apparent disadvantage turn out to be an advantage.
SO that is the list of books I have been enjoying this year. If someone were to ask what are you reading, what would be your answer and what would it say about you?