I posted on twitter recently when I saw Richard Branson post the books he had read this year that impacted his leadership:
Read Richard’s post in the link, it is quite insightful. His views align with mine in a lot of this. Here’s my take.
Reading books – in this case leadership books – leads to self-awareness
Leadership books often use a “language: to discuss their subject. The good ones keep it simple and memorable, such that you can use the language in your work and personal life; even if just in your self voice when you are assessing how you are doing interacting with your team, or making decisions.
This language allows you to put a “name” to all those things you have been feeling, or reasons why you may be struggling in a certain area. I had that experience when reading books like those from Stephen Covey. It also allows you to create shortcuts in your brain, like a well-designed football play where you just remember the play call and the steps underneath just flow from that.
Reading non-leadership books is vital
I prefer to read biographies (Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, Onward by Howard Schultz, etc.), and historical non-fiction. But as we saw Richard Branson had a famous fiction book in his list. You can glean insights from so much of these books that can help you frame your own leadership style and business strategies. Here’s an example: I just finished reading a book called “The Reckoning” by David Halberstam. It’s about the rise and fall of the US auto industry, with the fall focusing on the hubris developed (sense of invincibility) by the US automakers through the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, and how the oil crisis changed everything and allowed the Japanese automakers to take charge. It taught me lessons about leadership styles (anyone remember Lee Iaccoca?), organizational bureaucracy, lack of willingness to forecast downside, and how a maniacal focus on costs can be needed at times, in the long run you have to invest in your products.
Learning to be a leader never ends
I say this a lot to my teams: Yhey can’t get disappointed when I, or any leader, exhibits behaviors that we know aren’t optimal leadership qualities; especially when we have identified them as an issue and are working on them. Why should we have MORE tolerance in these cases? Because if someone has been a leader for a while, they are likely working on the hardest leadership behaviors that are maybe the most unnatural to them.
For example, my fast paced nature is hard wired into me, and leads to several leadership behaviors and qualities that are super helpful, like decisiveness, ability to move on from failure, and strategic foresight. But there are drawbacks in areas like controlling my emotions and reactions, tolerance for discussion and debate, and frustration at the pace of projects. I will likely ALWAYS be working on these things.
By reading books on the subject, or tangential books that help me understand the issue better and formulate strategies to improve, I am getting better. But I will never be a perfect leader and neither will you. Richard Branson is 66 years old, has been a leader for most of his career, owing to his entrepreneurial nature, and has started, built, managed dozens of successful (and I’m sure some unsuccessful) businesses. He is widely regarded as a great leader who is also gracious enough to share many of his insights (follow him in twitter, or linkedin, for example). And yet…he took learnings from five books in 2016 that caused him to assess, think about, tweak his leadership style and approach. Most of us didn’t read five books this year even for fun!
OK, you can try to claim that you are honing your leadership style by binge re-watching every season of Game of Thrones, but unfortunately nothing is a good substitute for great writing to make a subject come to life, and allow you to leverage it for improvement in your own leadership.
What are you waiting for, get yourself to Amazon right now and start stocking up!