I love books.
And I truly believe these books can help transform you into an even better leader.
A great book is like a cheat code to life. You can get access to years of research and experience for typically less than $20. That is insane to me.
I also think that books are very underutilized — especially when it comes to leadership books. Often leaders don’t have a lot of time and that lack of time doesn’t lend itself well to picking up a new book.
So — in an attempt to help out all those who would love to read books that will help transform them into better leaders, but don’t have the time to filter through all the potential options, I present my 5 favorite books on leadership (in no particular order).
For each book, I will highlight 3 of my favorite learnings and then leave the rest to you once you go pick up the book!
The Making of a Manager
If you are a new manager, look no further than The Making of a Manger by Julie Zhuo.
Julie has an excellent writing style which makes this book a joy to read as well as packed full of the perfect information for any new leader. The first key learning I picked up on was the following:
A great manager leads a team to achieve great outcomes.
What a great and succinct summary of what it is to be a leader. If your team is doing great things and are happy doing it, you are leading well.
Another excellent point was that people usually put average effort into too many things rather than superior thought and effort into a few important things. I couldn’t agree more! As a leader, it is super easy to try and do everything. Instead, you are much better off figuring out what really makes your work special and focusing all your efforts in those areas.
Lastly, I enjoyed learning more about what it means to execute well. Executing well means picking a reasonable direction, moving quickly to learn what works and what doesn’t and making adjustments as you go. As a leader, you will get new information all the time which can adjust your plans. To deal with this your best bet is to make sure you are moving generally in the correct direction, move extremely fast, and be able to adjust and make corrections as you get new information.
Work Rules! is a classic book written by Laszlo Bock, the then SVP of People Operations at Google. Since Google is such a large company, they have the motivation and money to really deep dive into what makes great leaders and amazing teams. Work Rules! is a great summary of what they have learned.
One of the coolest points from this book is the success Google saw using nudges. A nudge is a small thing you do to try and help people make a better choice more naturally. For example, at Google, they color-coded food options to make it more obvious which choices were healthy. They didn’t remove the unhealthy choices but tried to nudge people towards more wholesome alternatives.
They also learned that at Google teams with a high freedom environment saw an increased performance. You can help increase the freedom given to your teams by giving work meaning, trusting your teams, and only hiring people who are better than you in some way.
Lastly, towards the end of the book, Laszlo makes a point that it is important to be generous when it matters most. I find that particularly relevant given the current COVID-19 pandemic. When you find people on your team are going through some of their most difficult times, that is when you should step up and give what you can to help.
Radical candor is a great book to help you learn how to build great relationships with your team while still pushing them to be their best.
At its core, Radical Candor is the idea of caring personally while also challenging directly. One of my favorite points is the idea that the worst type of leaders care personally but don’t challenge directly. The book refers to this as ruinous empathy. This is such a problem because if you can’t discover how to challenge your team and push them to grow, things can quickly spiral down to a situation where there are no standards because you don’t enforce them.
This is important because as the book points out, one of your core responsibilities as a leader is to hold the bar high. You need to ensure that everyone on your team is doing great work and you can’t do that without the ability to challenge directly.
Lastly, this has to be tied with caring personally because if you don’t care about someone, but always challenge them, you come just come off as a jerk. Thus, as leaders, we also need to invest in our teams, get to know them, and truly care about their success.
Every time I think about making a change or adjustment to my team’s direction, I think about Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. This book is an amazing resource for people looking to drive real change for their teams or companies.
The first point illustrated in this book is that our brains are ruled by an emotional and rational side. In order to encourage change, you have to be able to appeal to both sides.
On the emotional side, you need motivation. One of the best ways to do so is to shrink the change. For example, if you want to change your habits to clean more, don’t set a goal to clean every day for an hour. Instead, you should start very small. Start with 5 minutes every day. It is much easier for your emotional side to accept that and can often snowball into a larger change.
For the rational part, you need to provide direction. One tactic is to find “bright spots” and work with people to replicate them. A bright spot might be your team’s ability to get work done when there are very few meetings. Use that as a template for your team’s direction. Point them towards improvement by replicating bright spots.
What You Do Is Who You Are
Last, but not least, on my list is What You Do Is Who You Are by Ben Horowitz. This book is a master class in why culture is so important to a business and how to develop a great one.
The first thing I love about this book is how he defines culture: Company culture is what people do when you’re not there. When no one is looking. He drives home the point that culture is so important because it sets the rules for how people behave even when they are not being explicitly watched.
He also provides rules on how to define a good culture. One that I love is that cultural statements must be so bizarre that people ask why. A statement such as “be a great team player” fails miserably at being unique and thus is easily forgotten. On the other hand, something like Zappos’ statement of, “Create fun and a little weirdness” begs the question of why? When people are asking why, they dig deeper into the details, and remember.
The final point I will mention is the idea that culture begins with deciding on what you value most. You then must help everyone practice behaviors that reflect those virtues. So — don’t start your culture by just picking a few bland statements. Instead, reflect on what you really value and find memorable ways to imprint those values into your culture.
I’ve hopefully given you some good direction on how to become an even better leader. Now, to help motivate you, let’s shrink the change a bit. Go get one of these books from somewhere like Amazon or your local library and commit to reading for 5 minutes a day. Just 5 minutes. You’ll be surprised by how much those 5 minutes will help you grow.