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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 April 23, 2019

                                How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

                                How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

                                Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

                                While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

                                For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

                                While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

                                I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

                                Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

                                Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

                                Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

                                The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

                                Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

                                What Is a Stretch Goal?

                                A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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                                In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

                                For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

                                This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

                                It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

                                The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

                                The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

                                I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

                                Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

                                1. Get Outside of Your Head

                                If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

                                If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

                                I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

                                Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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                                2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

                                When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

                                I see this in so many areas of life:

                                When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

                                In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

                                “Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

                                Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

                                3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

                                When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

                                The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

                                For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

                                We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

                                From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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                                When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

                                Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

                                4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

                                S.M.A.R.T.

                                is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

                                While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

                                Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

                                For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

                                By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

                                5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

                                I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

                                The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

                                When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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                                One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

                                Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

                                I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

                                A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

                                As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

                                From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

                                The Bottom Line

                                These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

                                For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

                                Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

                                Reference

                                [1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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