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15 Inspiring Books Every Leader Should Not Miss

15 Inspiring Books Every Leader Should Not Miss

The ideas and stories we read as leaders shape us. To improve your leadership, take the time to read these important books. You will learn from the giants of history and pick up new skills that will help you to grow further.

1. “Good to Great” by Jim Collins

Good To Great Book by Jim Collins

    Jim Collins has earned a reputation as one of the best business authors and researchers of his generation. I have read several of his books and recommend starting with this title. For leaders in corporate America, this book is outstanding. In their chapter on leadership, the authors demolish the claim that egocentric CEOs are required for companies to achieve greatness.

    For an introduction to the ideas, read Good To Great by Jim Collins, an article that provides an overview of the book’s key ideas.

    Buy “Good to Great” on Amazon.

    2. “Getting Things Done” by David Allen

    Getting Things Done by David Allen

      Self-management and organization are essential for leaders. While some leaders have assistants to aid them, an assistant cannot help if you do not provide direction on what you want.

      David Allen’s classic book on organization provides a comprehensive system to organize your life and stay focused on priorities. After all, if you are distracted with your email inbox, you will never have the capacity to develop your people.

      Buy “Getting Things Done” on Amazon.

      3. “Washington: A Life” by Ron Chernow

      Washington A Life by Ron Chernow

        Leaders study other leaders. Washington himself studied Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. This sweeping 800 page biography ranks as one of the best biographies I have ever read.

        As America’s first president and a central leader during the Revolutionary War, Washington holds a special place in the history of world leadership. Yet, I was most surprised to learn that Washington often avoided taking leadership roles because he was concerned that he would be labelled a dictator or would-be king.

        The book is also excellent in showing how Washington dealt with teams during the war and the presidency.

        Buy “Washington: A Life” on Amazon.

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        4. “Mastery” by Robert Greene

        Mastery by Robert Greene

          Leadership (and power) comes in many forms. In this book, Robert Greene explains how to become a master in a given field. The book covers mastery from a variety of approaches.

          For example, Green strongly encourages aspiring masters to apprentice themselves to masters who can teach them new skills and accelerate their growth. Whether you seek to achieve excellence in art, technology, business or another field, do yourself a favor and read this book.

          Buy “Mastery” on Amazon.

          5. “Developing The Leader Within You” by John C. Maxwell

          Developing The Leader Within You by John C Maxwell

            “The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.” – John C. Maxwell

            Maxwell has made a name for himself as one of America’s top experts on leadership. I read this book last year when a friend gave it to me. Why should you read this book?

            Maxwell makes the point that leadership ability starts with your character and abilities. One of my favorite observations from the book: that problem solving is the quickest way to gain leadership. The book is also full of thought provoking comments and workbook style sections to help you put the ideas into action.

            Buy “Developing The Leader Within You” on Amazon.

            6. “Churchill: A Life” by Sir Martin Gilbert

            Churchill A Life by Sir Martin Gilbert

              “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill

              This one volume biography of Churchill offers an outstanding introduction to one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century. Written by Churchill’s official biographer, this book is a serious read that took me weeks to work through.

              Gilbert works through Churchill’s long career – in the Army, in the House of Commons and his leadership during the World Wars. For leaders seeking inspiration, I recommend studying Churchill for several reasons.

              First, Churchill was a master public speaker and writer: he won the Noble Prize in Literature in 1953. So his works are definitely worth studying.

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              Second, Churchill faced the challenge of leading his country through terrible wars: if you are working through a difficult task, Churchill can inspire you.

              Buy “Churchill: A Life” on Amazon.

              7. “The Effective Executive” by Peter F. Drucker

              The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker

                Peter Drucker (1909-2005) was one of the most influential management thinkers in American history. This short book is an excellent companion to “Getting Things Done” referenced above. This book provides clear recommendations to help leaders master their time and make decisions effectively.

                These key skills separate top leaders from those who struggle to make an impact. Mark Horstman, the co-founder of the Manager Tools consulting firm, has read this classic book multiple times.

                Buy “The Effective Executive” on Amazon.

                8. “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip and Dan Heath

                Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath

                  Published in 2007, this book is a must read for leaders seeking to communicate a message to the world. Whether you are launching a new product, fundraising for a cause or simply making an impact, “Made To Stick” is well worth reading.

                  For example, memorable ideas tend to be unexpected or have some surprising aspect. To learn the other key aspects of why some ideas fail and others succeed, read the book.

                  Buy “Made To Stick” on Amazon.

                  9. “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl

                  Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

                    After seeing this book recommended over and over again, I finally read this book in December 2014. And it is no wonder this book comes so highly recommended.

                    Frankl shares his experience of enduring concentration camps during the Second World War and what he learned from the experience. For leaders who are struggling through a time of great suffering, Frankl’s book may be exactly what you need to gain a new perspective.

                    Buy “Man’s Search for Meaning” on Amazon.

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                    10. “The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World” by Niall Ferguson

                    The Ascent of Money

                      Leaders need to know how the world of money works. For those seeking the big picture perspective, Ferguson’s book is one of the best books I have read on economic history. He explains the long relationship between risk and money.

                      In addition, he also looks at the history of bubbles – the Dot Com bubble of 2000 and the housing bubble of the 2000s are only the latest installments in a much longer story. Reading books like this gives leaders the ability to ask better questions and handle money more effectively.

                      Buy “The Ascent of Money” by Amazon.

                      11. “Tribes” by Seth Godin

                      Tribes Book Cover

                        Godin first made his name as a marketing expert and has now moved on to broader questions of leadership and personal development. “Tribes” makes the point that digital tools allow almost anyone to become a leader. Godin shows that resources and tools are no longer the main restriction on leaders.

                        Instead, leaders are only limited by their courage to stand up and organize a tribe around their shared interests. If you are looking for a book with practical ideas that you can read in a few days, “Tribes” is the book for you.

                        Getting started leading a tribe doesn’t have to be difficult because we are living in project world. You don’t need outside funding to start a project or a tribe, you simply need ideas and some digital tools.

                        Buy “Tribes” on Amazon.

                        12. “The Success Principles: How To Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be” by Jack Canfield

                        The Success Principles

                          Jack Canfield’s books and training programs have changed the lives of people around the world. I started by listening to this book on audio from Audible.com a few months ago. However, I found the book so valuable that I was happy to go on and buy the 10th anniversary edition in book form.

                          The principles in the book – such as “Take 100% responsibility for your life” – are absolutely essential for leaders to absorb and practice. The book combines both foundation principles (e.g. on goal setting, visualization etc) and tactical recommendations on networking and advice to help you achieve your financial goals.

                          Buy “The Success Principles” from Amazon.

                          13. “The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution” by Walter Isaacson

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                          The Innovators Book Cover

                            As leaders, we regularly make use of digital technology. Yet, do you ever wonder where all our technological marvels came from? In this sweeping book of history, Isaacson introduces the reader to the many innovators that made the digital age possible.

                            For leaders, the greatest lesson from this book is how often teams and cooperation made a difference. Very few technologies of note were solely created and promoted by a single individual – that means we can all do to improve our team work skills.

                            Buy “The Innovators” on Amazon.

                            14. “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni

                            The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

                              What comes to mind when you think of teams? Do you think of a group of people coming together to achieve a challenging program? Or, do you think of a group that struggles to get real work done?

                              When you lead people, especially if you are a leader of leaders, mastering the art of team work matters. Lencioni explains the factors that prevents teams from operating at a high level, such as a fear of results and a lack of trust.

                              If you struggle with most business books, you will probably enjoy Lencioni’s style. He shares his principles through stories that are engaging and entertaining to read.

                              Buy “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” from Amazon.

                              15. “How to Win Friends & Influence People” by Dale Carnegie

                              How To Win Friends and Influence People

                                This classic book appears on many lists of top business books for a good reason. It is an excellent introduction to the people skills leaders need. Modern readers may find some of the language and examples in the book out of date, but do not let that stop you from reading.

                                Carnegie’s book offers great tips to help you relate to other people (especially helpful if you are in sales or management). After all, making that connection with other people is a key leadership quality.

                                Buy “How To Win Friends and Influence People” on Amazon.

                                Featured photo credit: Untitled/ Joe St.Pierre via flickr.com

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                                Bruce Harpham

                                Bruce Harpham is a Project Management Professional and Founder and CEO of Project Management Hacks.

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                                Last Updated on October 22, 2019

                                How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

                                How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

                                We live in a world of massive distraction. No matter where you are today, there is always going to be distractions. Your colleagues talking about their latest date, notification messages popping up on your screens, and not just your mobile phone screens. And even if you try to find a quiet place, there will always be someone with a mobile device that is beeping and chirping.

                                With all these distractions, it is incredibly difficult to concentrate on anything for very long. Something will distract you and that means you will find it very difficult to focus on anything.

                                So how to focus and concentrate better? How to focus better and produce work that lifts us and takes us closer towards achieving our outcomes?

                                1. Get Used to Turning off Your Devices

                                Yes, I know this one is hard for most people. We believe our devices are so vital to our lives that the thought of turning them off makes us feel insecure. The reality is they are not so vital and the world is not going to end within the next thirty minutes.

                                So turn them off. Your battery will thank you for it. More importantly though is when you are free from your mobile distraction addiction, you will begin to concentrate more on what needs to get done.

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                                You do not need to do this for very long. You could set a thirty-minute time frame for being completely mobile free. Let’s say you have an important piece of work to complete by lunchtime today. Turn off your mobile device between 10 am and 11 am and see what happens.

                                If you have never done this before, you will feel very uncomfortable at first. Your brain will be fighting you. It will be telling you all sorts of horror stories such as a meteorite is about to hit earth, or your boss is very angry and is trying to contact you. None of these things is true, but your brain is going to fight you. Prepare yourself for the fight.

                                Over time, as you do this more frequently, you will soon begin to find your brain fights you less and less. When you do turn on your device after your period of focused work and discover that the world did not end, you have not lost an important customer and all you have are a few email newsletters, a confirmation of an online order you made earlier and a text message from your mum asking you to call about dinner this weekend, you will start to feel more comfortable turning things off.

                                2. Create a Playlist in Your Favourite Music Streaming App

                                Many of us listen to music using some form of music streaming service, and it is very easy to create our own playlists of songs. This means we can create playlists for specific purposes.

                                Many years ago, when I was just starting to drive, there was a trend selling driving compilation tapes and CDs. The songs on these tapes and CDs were uplifting driving music songs. Songs such as C W McCall’s Convoy theme and the Allman Brothers Band’s, Jessica. They were great songs to drive to and helped to keep us awake and focused while we were driving.

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                                Today, we can create playlists to help us to focus on our work. Choose non-vocal music that has a low tempo. Music from artists such as Ben Böhmer, Ilan Bluestone or Andrew Bayer has the perfect tempo.

                                Whenever you want to go into deep, focused work, listen to that playlist. What happens is your brain soon associates when you listen to the playlist you created with focused work and it’s time to concentrate on what it is you want to do.

                                3. Have a Place to Go to When You Need to Concentrate

                                If you eat, surf online and read at your desk, you will find your desk a very distracting place to do your work. One way to get your brain to understand it is focused work time is, to use the same place each time for just focused work.

                                This could be a quiet place in your office, or it could be a special coffee shop you use specifically for focused work. Again, what you are doing is associating an environment with focus.

                                Just as with having a playlist to listen to when you want to concentrate, having a physical place that accomplishes the same thing will also put you in the right frame of mind to be more focused.

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                                When you do find the right place to do your focused work, then only do focused work there. Never surf, never do any online shopping. Just do your work and then leave. You want to be training your brain to associate focused work with that environment and nothing else.

                                If you need to make a phone call, respond to an email or message, then go outside and do it. From now on, this place is your special working place and that is all you use it for.

                                Every morning, I do fifteens minutes of meditation. Each time, I sit down to do my meditation, I use the same music playlist and the same place. As soon as I put my earphones in and sit down in this place, my mind immediately knows it is meditation time and I become relaxed and focused almost immediately. I have trained my brain over a few months to associate a sound and a place with relaxed, thoughtful meditation. It works.

                                4. Get up and Move

                                We humans have a limited attention span. How long you can stay focused for depends on your own personal makeup. It can range from between twenty minutes to around two hours. With practice, you can stay focused for longer, but it takes time and it takes a lot of practice.

                                When you do find yourself being unable to concentrate any longer, get up from where you are and move. Go for a walk, move around and get some air. Do something completely different from what you were doing when you were concentrating.

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                                If you were writing a report in front of a screen, get away from your screens and look out the window and appreciate the view. Take a walk in the local park, or just walk around your office. You need to give your brain completely different stimuli.

                                Your brain is like a muscle. There is only so much it can do before it fatigues. If you are doing some focused work in Photoshop and then switch to surfing the internet, you are not giving your brain any rest. You are still using many of the same parts of your brain.

                                It’s like doing fifty pushups and then immediately trying to do bench presses. Although you are doing a different exercise, you are still exercising your chest. What you need to be doing to build up superior levels of concentrated focus is, in a sense, do fifty pushups and then a session of squats. Now you are exercising your chest and then your legs. Two completely different exercises.

                                Do the same with your brain. Do focused visual work and then do some form of movement with a different type of work. Focused visual work followed by a discussion with a colleague about another unrelated piece of work, for example.

                                The Bottom Line

                                It is not difficult to train your brain to become better at concentrating and focusing, but you do need to exercise deliberate practice. You need to develop the intention to focus and be very strict with yourself.

                                Set time aside in your calendar and make sure you tell your colleagues that you will be ‘off the grid’ for a couple of hours. With practice and a little time, you will soon find yourself being able to resist temptations and focus better.

                                More Resources About Boosting Focus and Productivity

                                Featured photo credit: Wenni Zhou via unsplash.com

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