(*Disclaimer: started this a few months ago and forgot to finish it, so I'm actually now 10 months in, but all still true)
I'm officially 6 months into my leadership journey (if you count from when I officially started and not from when I found out about the promotion and scrambled to start educating myself and mentally preparing), and to be quite honest, it's kind of bowled me over. It's been a long time since I've felt so much like I'm just making it up as I go, trusting my foundation and hoping for the best. There are adjustments I expected (two-day weekends...who tolerates that?!?) and some I didn't (just crawling along at a snail's pace over here because nothing ever gets done on my timetable), but I think honestly the piece that has set me up most effectively for success is that I've been consuming as much inspiring leadership juju and advice as I can. From friends, established mentors, total strangers, best-selling authors and rock star spirit animals (I'm looking at you, Brene Brown). For my six months in leadership, I present the six books that have filled my evenings and weekends, not because I felt like I had to read them, but because I would genuinely get home from work and want to dig deeper. From their pages, I've learned so many valuable lessons, been inspired to try new things, found strength to have crucial conversations when I'd have rather stuck my head the sand, and I'd like to think, been as strong of a leader out of the gate as I possibly could have been. I'm still slipping here or there, putting my foot in my mouth, having to backtrack, solving things through trial and error. But I'm better for having read these books, and I don't want to forget their wisdom.
by Shawn Achor
I was first introduced to Shawn Achor by a video that my boss made all of us watch during our quarterly one-on-ones. (https://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work?language=en) She felt like we could all use a little inspiration toward positivity. And she was right. As soon as I found out I got the job, I checked this book out from the library. And proceeded to take seven and a half pages of notes as I attempted to capture the idea that seeking and fostering positivity in the workplace (through five key tools) would lead to success, not the other way around. The book is essentially arguing that your potential can exponentially increase if you tap into the power of your team and spend your energy making them better. One of the things I loved most about the book was that intertwined within the rah-rah inspirational concepts were published data demonstrating that the theory works. For example, when talking about the power of surrounding yourself with positive influencers, Shawn cites a study that showed that if you stand at the base of a hill with a friend at your side, even if they are silent, you judge the hill as 10-20% less steep than if you were standing alone. There were many great lessons demonstrating the power of social connection, a culture of praise, redirecting the energy of stress into motivation, etc. Favorite quote from this book: "The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough."
by Kim Scott
One of the elements of leadership that scared me the most was having direct reports and finding the balance of effective feedback, whether positive or negative. I can't remember how I found this book, but it was the second library win and was probably the most influential in terms of empowering me to have crucial conversations. The subtitle of the book, "Be a kick-ass boss without losing your humanity" basically sums it up. Scott argues that humanity is an asset to effectiveness, not a liability, but that you don't do anybody favors by staying silent when it individual needs to hear constructive criticism. So how to find that balance of candor and compassion? She places feedback on two axes, one for the level of caring, one for the level of challenge. Challenging without caring is "obnoxious agression". Caring without challenging is "ruinous empathy" (think about a time when you've felt "why didn't someone just tell me" and consider how much you felt cared for; that's not true caring). Not challenging or caring is "manipulative insecurity". And finally, caring personally for someone while simultaneously challenging them directly is "radical candor." There are lots of nuggets in the ensuing chapters about how to understand what motivates your employees, how to navigate change when your staff does and does not have a say, how to navigate employee performance plans and find the time to successfully implement them, and how to set the example of humanity and vulnerability first. Favorite story from this book: Whoops the Monkey is a stuffed monkey that is passed on to a different team member at the start of every staff meeting. Staff share their mistakes and what they learned from them, and the team votes on which mistake had the greatest lesson learned. The winner gets the monkey When Scott first initiated this "honor", she understandably was met with silence. So she put a $20 bill on the monkey's head. Staff spoke up immediately, and it didn't take long for the value to be seen. We share so we learn. It's balanced with a Killer Whale stuffed animal who is gifted to the employee nominated by his/her peers for crushing it that month.
Dare to Lead
by Brene Brown
I can't say enough about Brene, her books, her talks, her vulnerability, her research, her humor. I have read and loved 5 of her bestsellers (Daring Greatly, The Gifts of Imperfection, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wilderness being the others), but this one really landed with where I was in my professional journey. Two weeks before I transitioned jobs, our core team had a mini retreat based on this book. We learned to Rumble, we honored each others top Values, and we learned how powerful our team is by what we all bring to the table. In case you were wondering, my top two values are Accountability and Home, but explaining the why of each of those would take a whole other blog post.
by Cy Wakeman
Cy actually came and spoke at the hospital shortly after I transitioned, so getting to watch her talk was one of the first gifts I received as a new leader. In all of her work, she talks about eliminating drama in the workplace, using self-reflection to kick your ego to the curb, and many other common sense power tools for both gut-checking yourself in tough situations and coaching your employees. Many times while reading this book (or listening to one of her many podcasts or video blogs), I thought for sure Cy had been looking over my shoulder while at work, given how accurately she had just described an encounter, an employee, a sentiment, a conflict, etc. But as she says, "humans may not be rational, but they are predictable." The same drama shows up everywhere, so her lessons are valid everywhere. My favorite chapter title: If you argue with reality, you lose (but only 100% of the time). I wrote six pages of notes while reading this book, so clearly there were a lot of takeaways. I think the part that hit the hardest was her dissection of limiting beliefs that the world-at-large holds to be true--things like "There is no such thing as a stupid question" or "There is no 'I' in team". I won't spoil it for you, go read it yourself.
Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader's Guide to the Real World
by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall
This book was eye-opening and provided several excerpts for my weekly inspirational email that I send to my team. It takes nine commonly-held, obvious truths, things like "People care which company they work for" and "Work-life balance matters most" and uses research to carefully show why they actually aren't that true. I think the most relevant for me was "The best people are well-rounded" because I work in an environment where our staff literally have to do everything, wear every hat, serve in several roles, and do all of them well. And so it seems to me like the team members that would have the most success would be well-rounded. The authors use the bizarre example of Lionel Messi and his prolific left foot to establish that those with strengths, who know their strengths and hone their strengths and become better at their strengths than anyone else, who also integrate with a team with different strengths, actually are most successful. Some of the tenants of the book are less convincing, or more controversial. But on the whole, it was probably the book that led to the most discussion among my leadership team.
Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace
by Gary Chapman and Paul White
Slightly less profound for already having read (and lived) The Five Love Languages, but nevertheless a very solid reminder that what you give to your employees (in the form of expectations, feedback, praise, etc) is not necessarily what they receive. We already have our team members self-identify their recognition style when they are hired (blue, green, red, brown...I'm a green in an entire department of blues), but that focuses more on what you like to be recognized for whereas this book talks about how you like to be recognized or appreciated. It led to some fruitful discussions with my direct reports and some own self-reflection into when I do and don't feel appreciated. I don't think that it's as easy or as obvious as the authors often made it sound, but it's worth incorporating into any recognition program.
Honorable mentions: The Four Disciplines of Execution (would have been near the top of the list if I had finished before it was due back at the library, but alas, only read the first half); Great Leaders Have No Rules (I liked tossing the concept of "open-door policy" after reading this); Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done (less leadership, more self-help; ironically took me forever to start, but I finished quickly); Extreme Ownership (in progress); The CEO Next Door (in progress); Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
Maybe the reason it feels like I am working all the time is because I spend all my non-work time reading books to make me better at work. #facepalm