Reading Tips

I love reading and learning. But we don’t all want, or have the time, to read them all. I hope to give you an idea which of these books are most interesting for you to read. Or sent me a message with what you are looking for, and I may be able to give some suggestions!

Leadership Books

  • Quiet Leadership, David Rock
  • Our Iceberg is Melting, John Kotter
  • Leadership Matters, David Pich & Ann Messenger (IML)
  • The 5 Dysfunctions of a team, Patrick Lencioni
  • Fearless Leadership, Carey Lorhrenz

Psychology / (Neuro) Science books

  • Thinking, Fast & Slow, Daniel Kahneman
  • Your Brain at Work, David Rock
  • Rewire your Brain, John B Arden, Ph.D.
  • Grit, Dr. Angela Duckworth

Job, Career or ‘Calling’ books

  • The Best Place to Work, Ron Friedman, PhD
  • Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett & Dave Evans
  • What colour is your parachute?, Richard Bolles

Popular Books (Gladwell, Sinek, Pink, Grant)

  • Blink, the power of thinking without thinking, Malcolm Gladwell
  • Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell
  • Start with Why, Simon Sinek
  • The infinite game, Simon Sinek
  • Drive, Daniel H. Pink
  • Originals. Adam Grant

Coaching Books

  • The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay-Stanier
  • Coaching Questions
  • The Neuroscience of Leadership Coaching, Patricia Bossons, Patricia Riddell, and Denis Sartain

Self-help and soft-skills learning books

  • Have a nice conflict, Tim Scudder, Michael
  • Patterson and Kent Mitchell
    Verbal Judo, George J. Thompson
  • The Subtle art of not giving a F*ck, Mark Manson
  • Feel the Fear and do it anyway, Susan Jeffers
  • Useful belief, Chris Helder
  • The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, Robin Sharma

Leadership Books

Quiet Leadership, David Rock

This book gives you Rock’s 6 steps to “transform performance”. It’s both an interesting read for coaches as well as for anyone who leads others. The focus is on improving your ability to bring out the best performance in others, by understanding how our brains work.

Part one gives interesting facts about the brain, such as that our brain does like hard-wiring (which makes you do things more automatically), but that it is possible to change this wiring to make new ones, and the more you use “the new way”, the more your brain will hardwire that.Part two explains the 6 steps:
1. Think about thinking (don’t improve what people are thinking about, but the way they think) – so let them to all the thinking, focus on solutions, not the problem, accentuate the positive and put the process before the content.
2. Listen for potential. (and don’t let your own agenda, opinion, filters etc impact their thinking)
3. Speak with intent. Be succinct, specific, generous.
4. Dance toward Insight. This step is a process map for conversations, with the purpose of creating an environment where the person you are speaking to is creating insights for themselves (ie. not your brilliant ideas). This step includes permission, placement, questioning and clarifying as elements of this “dance”.
5. This next step is to help people doing something with their great insights they got in the previous step, Rock calls it “Create new thinking” and explains his CREATE model. Which consists of current reality, exploring alternatives, tap into energy.
6. And don’t forget the follow up! Rock also has a model here: FEELING, which is: Facts, Emotions, Encourage, Learning, Implications, New Goal. But they now teach the REVIEW model: Reality, Emotion, Validate, Insights, Expand and What’s next?

The last part of the book gives examples of how these models can be used.

If you are looking for tools to improve your conversations, this is a great book to read. If you are more interested in how the brain works, Rock’s other book (Your Brain at Work) may be one you want to read first.

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Our Iceberg is Melting, John Kotter

Changing and succeeding under any conditions

This is probably the fastest read in this list, but it is one that makes you think. It gives you an easy way to remember that change is hard, necessary and that it is possible.

You may have read “who moved my cheese” (if not, there are plentiful free pdf’s available online), this is a better version of a similar story.

This book goes through 8 steps necessary for more success in changing times, but it starts with Fred, a penguin, who sees a problem (the iceberg is melting), he talks to Alice (from the leadership council) and shows his arguments and proof of his concern. To make sure he gets an impact when talking to the leadership council, Fred makes a model to show his findings. The discussion that follows is funny – do you believe Fred? Is the data correct? Is there a need to worry? Are there solutions? And we certainly don’t want to cause panic.

When they decide to tell the rest of the colony, it’s a similar story. When the leadership team needs to come up with a solution, it is clear everyone in the group has their own strengths (experience, wise, patient, practical, trusts, curious, creative, logical etc). They ask everyone to come up with a solution – one more funny than the other – and when Fred sees a bird, he starts to suggest a nomadic live.

Again, the idea didn’t land the same for everyone, some very in favour, other thinking it is the worst idea ever. Or course, there are many obstacles to overcome. The kindergarten teacher who lets the kids know the colony needs hero’s and the kids translating this to their parents, increases the participation rate.

Then the scouts go to find new land and they made sure they communicated some quick wins to everyone. When it’s time to move to another iceberg, everyone goes (willingly or not) and the story ends that they do keep changing and they all live happily ever after.

The 8 steps:
Set the stage:
1. Create a sense of urgency
2. Pull together a guiding team
Decide what to do:
3. Develop the change vision and strategy
Make it Happen
4. Communicate for Understanding and Buy in
5. Empower Others to Act
6. Produce Short-term Wins
7. Don’t Let Up
Make It Stick
8. Create a new Culture

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Leadership Matters, David Pich & Ann Messenger (IML)

All chapters in this book are written by different people – specialists in their field. It’s an easy read, but I remember David believes Strategy eats Culture for breakfast, but one chapter later, Jerome says the opposite. If you are a starting-leader I would recommend this book, it’s easy and gives you an easy insight in: Strategy (define vision, simple and it should fit on one page), Culture (fit for purpose, and the leaders needs to be the role model), Leading People (get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and it’s about growing your people) , Making Decisions (Kristen gives you a 10 step process), Ethics (very academic chapter about the utilitarian and kantian approach), Inclusion (unconscious bias and when it’s measured it gets done) and Networking (follow up is key and have you ever done a network gap analysis?).

The 5 Dysfunctions of a team, Patrick Lencioni

It was a while since I read this book, and at the time I really liked it. I just re-read it (2019) as a reminder and to know if I still think it’s relevant and ‘up to date’. I don’t agree with everything in this book, and I don’t particularly like the way they “define conflict”, but it’s still a good book. It’s one of those books you read in a weekend, so a quick and easy one for when you want some good reminders about teamwork and what makes it work or kills it.

Lencioni uses a story to explain his points and he uses the model for the story’s solution. The story goes that a new CEO is confronted with a dysfunctional executive team and pressure from the board to execute a quick turn around. “As she feels out how the current culture impacts collaboration, idea generation, and execution, the CEO gradually works through each stage of the Five Dysfunctions model to re-position the company for success.“The model in pyramid form, starting at the bottom: 1. Lack of trust: team members are hesitant to open up about their fears or insecurities about a project. 2. Fear of Conflict: Fearing retribution or political consequences, team members avoid rigorous debate over the issues and decisions that matter most. 3. Lack of Commitment: Lack of vigorous debate does not prevent decisions from being made. Low team involvement in how decisions are shaped and carried out leads to weak buy-in. 4. Avoidance of Accountability: When commitment is low, excuses are readily available when results are not achieved. “We all knew this was unrealistic to begin with, now you’re going to hold us accountable?” and 5. Inattention to Results: team members are investing valuable time and energy in the politics of self-protection. It’s every ‘team’ member for him or herself. The collective concept is crushed.

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Fearless Leadership, Carey Lorhrenz

Sorry, not a recommendation. Carey truly is an extraordinary woman, with a great story to tell and her examples are fascinating (which kept me reading this book) but this is a “motivational speaker” book not a quality book on leadership.

She stays very high-level, so if you want some advice on how to be a great leader, I don’t think it’s helpful to just state you need a vision, culture, prepare/perform/prevail and be resilient. Also, I am not convinced the examples of a leader on a flight deck are always relevant or fair comparison to the business world and employees versus officers in the navy.
I also am a little annoyed by not quoting people who deserved it. And finally, she takes a very finite mindset and talks often about winning in business and I prefer to take the infinite approach to leadership/business.After an intro about how kick-ass-awesome she is flying “the most difficult thing in the world” she gives her insights into the vital elements great leaders need to have: Courage, Tenacity and Integrity.

Courage, she calls it the flipside of fear, says leadership can be learned, you have to banish your limiting beliefs, mentions Carol’s Dwecks work on Growth Mindset (but I really don’t think changing from a fixed to a growth mindset is as easy as she says: “Simply by choosing to make that change” (!)).

Tenacity, sticking to it even when it’s hard. A good point, but nothing new, and on top of that, I feel that there can be two problems with this: you do need to keep doing “the right thing”. At a certain point she says “to become more tenacious as a leader, you have to go out and do it – and the “doing it” comes first” (bias for action). Hello burnout. She does mention the word Grit but doesn’t give Duckworth or her research a mention.

Integrity- earning trust by doing what’s right. Authenticity is important, but she says “there is nothing you can do to make yourself more authentic” and I do not agree with that. By knowing yourself and what you stand for (or your Just Cause from Simon Sinek) you can learn to be more authentic and stick to it better. This chapter has more interesting examples from her TopGun life, (but also others people’s wisdom without quoting them and making it sound like it’s the wheel re-invented)

Then she has her “leadership in action” and starts with vision (painting a bold, inspiring view of the future).
When she gives her example about “Is this make the boat go faster?” I do get that we need to make sacrifices, and a vision (winning the competition) will make many people go the extra mile, but in business, which is a very long-term contest I am afraid her way of doing business will result in many burn-out and unhappy people. Just a clear vision of the end goal is not sufficient. I quote: “A team can’t function as a team unless there is a goal, a point at which you can claim success – a defined win”. In business you don’t need to “win”.
I’m not even going into her “culture” chapter, because after having spent 4 years studying this at University, this whole chapter is just pure simplistic (printing t-shirts, really? And there are some inconsistencies). The world she is describing is absolutely interesting and fascinating, and she has a nice way how to explain the concepts, but she doesn’t have solutions and often makes it sounds like “now you know about culture – just do it”. Teamwork, support (wingman), Trust, Accountability, Communication, (Winning attitude), having fun, celebrating success, no ego’s, having a contingency plan, lead by example, having a mentoring program… all good things, but just doing that right won’t give you a great culture. (whoops, I did go into it)
Prepare, Perform, Prevail – I feel that in her work, a clear process, and “to strictly adhere to the method” was essential in her work, I don’t believe this is possible in most roles in this century, where it is more about creative solutions, unknown futures, and constantly moving targets.
And Resilience (rebounding from adversity) and her 7 steps to achieve this. Carey truly is an extraordinary woman, with a great story to tell and her examples are fascinating (which kept me reading this book) but this is a “motivational speaker” book not a quality book on leadership.

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Psychology / (Neuro) Science books

Thinking, Fast & Slow, Daniel Kahneman

This is by far the most difficult book I ever read. It’s brilliant, so much to think about. I feel like I am not equipped to write a short explanation of the book, but here we go. This book is about our brain and how “2 systems” think and act during different circumstances. System 1 “is the brain’s fast, automatic, intuitive approach” (but is more often wrong than we think), System 2 “the mind’s slower, analytical mode, where reason dominates.” but is very lazy and loves to take shortcuts, and hand things back off to the quick system.

Daniel Kahneman explores many fallacies and traps of the working of these two different systems and can even cause professional statisticians to react incorrectly to a situation. The examples about priming (being influenced by something you have just seen, heard or felt) are astounding, and he explains cognitive ease and the exposure effect in detail with examples. System 1 jumps easily to conclusions, and it often exaggerated emotional coherence (Halo/Horn effect). WYSIATI (what you see is all there is) comes back throughout the book too. Sometimes you don’t realise how little information you have and you make a decision, thinking you know more than you do.One example I have seen often too is “our tendency to overestimate the reliability of our decisions because we do not regress to the mean”. For example, poor performance is typically followed by improvement and good performance by deterioration. Criticism seems more effective than praise – but that’s often due to regression to the mean.

One very interesting point Kahneman makes is that losses loom much larger than gains. Therefore an investment said to have an 80% chance of success sounds far more attractive than one with a 20% chance of failure. People often weight loss twice as much as gain!

And have you ever heard of the sunk-cost-fallacy? If you already have spent time and money on a project that is bound to fail, it’s very hard to let it go, even though it really makes no sense to keep going!

And finally (well, I haven’t even covered 1% of this book) we have 2 selves: an experiencing self and a remembering self – and they both perceive happiness differently!

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Your Brain at Work, David Rock

This is an accessible book to read when you want to learn more about your brain, explained by several situations (scenes) of normal work and life situations. “Emily” and “Paul” are two fictional characters that are in this “play” with 14 “scenes”. Rock uses this metaphor (which, if you know how the brains work, will help you remembering this better) of a play, and the “stage” to explain the limitations and surprises about the brain.

Emily and Paul always play the same scene twice: first it doesn’t go well, but the second time, when they have learned about their brain, the same scene goes great. This got a bit on my nerve by the 11th scene, but okay.

Rock covers a lot of research from neuroscientists and introduces quite some acronyms or models to use yourself. Every chapter ends with a few bullets points with “surprises about the brain” and “things to try”.

The “stage” (PFC) needs lots of light (well nourished), not too many actors on stage (you can’t hold more than about 4 items in mind, depending on the complexity) and some things are energy hungry to do (like prioritising) and others take hardly any effort (making a cup of tea, which actually can be done by your audience / the basal ganglia of your brain – where you can have embedded routines hard-wired so they don’t need much of your stage/pfc.

Rock also covers how to get to peak performance (just the right level of stress), to insights (a-ha moments). He introduces the “director”, which you can (with some practice) activate when you know yourself and how your brain works to help you getting the scenes right the first time.

In act 2 and 3 he explains emotions and motivations and collaboration with others, mainly with the concept of “toward and away state” of the brain. He uses his own SCARF model (status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness), but not in that order. And in act 4 he explains why our brain is not keen on change and how we could facilitate change (not by giving feedback – that will often create a threat response that doesn’t help improving performance).

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Rewire your Brain, John B Arden, Ph.D.

I chose this book because it was said to be a “less technical companion” to his professional Brain Based Therapy books. But on the one hand, the neuroscience language goes quite deep and detailed, on the other hand, it didn’t provide much new practical information.

It even bothered me a little how simple the solutions he offers are. Eat, sleep and exercise well. Also – cure your anxiety by exposing yourself to your anxiety-provoking-situations; that’s great when they are minor anxieties, but I would hope for more professional guidance than this book suggests in more severe cases. I think the problem I had with this book, is that it hasn’t decided if it’s a self-help-book, or a technical explanation of how the brain works.He explains neuroplasticity in more details then any of the other books here, but in the end he still explains: “cells that fire together, wire together”. He also covers: mirror neurons, a method to rewire your brain: (FEED = Focus, Effort, Effortlessness & Determination) (* I prefer Dr Sarah McKay’s REFIRE -“http://yourbrainhealth.com.au/refire-6-steps-to-rewire-your-brain-and-master-anything/", how to calm your amygdala, how positive thinking and taking action makes a difference (in your brain), ways to improve your memory, which food products are good/bad for your brain, how the brain thrives on social contact, resiliency and mindfullness.

David Rock’s book are more accessible, but if you want more technical explanation and want to know more about the processes happening in your brain, this is your book.

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Grit, Dr. Angela Duckworth

Why passion and persistence are the secrets to success

Great concept, without a doubt. And to me, it totally makes sense. I also have learned things I didn’t think I could, but by just keep going, trying and perseverance I managed. In the beginning of the book however, she often just states that her grit-questionnaire worked. It proved it. But I miss the proof, numbers, I am not one to just blindly believe that the questionnaire she made could predict the failure rate of the group without some scientific evidence – I wanted numbers, examples, Cronbach Alpha details etc.

However, I do think it’s a great read! She uses the rest of her book to explain grit, and it really works for me.

She writes about a lot of examples of where people through ‘perseverance and passion’ became high achievers – she calls this; Grit.

Who gets through really tough military training? Who doesn’t drop out of college or university, who can become Spelling Bee Champion, Olympian or musical genius? Duckworth states: “Not intelligence or talent are the predictors of success, but talent and effort lead to skills and skills, combined with effort generates achievement” (effort counts twice).

You can calculate your own grit score too (I wasn’t disappointed by my own score).

Very practical is also the “Top level, mid level and low level goals” To get out of the house in time is a low level goal, but you want to do that to reach you top level goal. The top level goal gives direction and meaning to all the goals below it. Very gritty people will keep that top level goal for a long time. She demonstrates this with Bob Mankoff, who set the goal to become a New Yorker cartoonist and managed this after thousands of cartoons and research on how to get selected.

The 2nd part of the book describes that you can grow grit “from the inside out” – “You can cultivate your interest. You can develop a habit of daily challenge-exceeding-skill practice. You can connect your work to a purpose beyond yourself. And you can learn to hope when all seems lost.” You do this by following your (passion) interest (the desire to learn new things, to explore the world, to attempt novelty, to be on the lookout for innovation and diversity), practice, purpose and hope. All four are fundamental to have/keep the drive in acquiring your goals in life.

Interest: “research shows that people are enormously more satisfied with their jobs when they do something that fits their interests”, and “people perform better at work when what they do interests them”. Passion or interest isn’t something that just one day pops up and you have it, most of the time this grows (like love!) and it’s not discovered by introspection, but triggered by interactions with the outside world. “Passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development and then a lifetime of deepening”. Before people really make it their specialisation, if often starts with play.

Practice: A lot of examples show that it’s the hours and hours of practice that made people awesome. It’s not just any practice: deliberate practice (gritty people do more deliberate practice (preparation) and experience more flow (performance). So when is practice deliberate? – you have a clearly defined stretch goal, you have full concentration and effort, you get immediate and informative feedback and you practice repetition with reflection and refinement (and try to make this a habit).

Purpose: “The intention to contribute to the well-being of others”. Higher scores on purpose correlated with higher scores on grit – pleasure was only moderately important. Three bricklayers may explain (view) their work very differently: One says “I am laying bricks”, the other “I am building a church” and the third may say: “I am building the house of God”. A job, a career or a calling. You can find ways to find your current work “meaningful”. You may not need to change job or careers, but the way you are perceiving it.

Hope: “It isn’t suffering that leads to hopelessness, it’s suffering you think you can’t control”. Duckworth mentions here the work of Carol Dweck on growth mindset and how important that and optimistic self-talk is for perseverance over adversity.

Part 3; “You can also grow your grit “from the outside in” – Parents, coaches, teachers, bosses, mentors, friends – developing your personal grit depends critically on other people”

She gives examples for parents, and if (un)supportive or (un) demanding is the right way to parent. Extra curriculum activities can be great for kids to improve grit (but they have to stick to them for 2 or more years): follow-through. And a culture of grit can be cultivated too.

What really made me smile, is that while reading this whole book I kept thinking: but what about happiness? I don’t think I would be happy if I would have tried to be tennis-legend, competition winner or nobel prize winner and I certainly wouldn’t have been happy being shouted at in the army! I am happy without those extremes. I loved that she does mention this too in her concluding chapter and the short answer is: “grittier people are overall happier.”

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Job, Career or ‘Calling’ books

The Best Place to Work, Ron Friedman, PhD

“The art & science of creating an extraordinary workplace”
I enjoyed reading this, there is a lot of overlap with other books I’ve read (both in theory and examples), but with a good focus specifically on work and management. If you are looking for a book with some specific ideas to make your workplace better, substantiated by research and examples, I’d recommend this book.

In part 1 he describes how we need to create the work conditions to allow for people to better collaborate, plan and innovate, for employees to be able to do their best work. Friedman encourages failure (when you fail more, you succeed more), and gives examples and scientific knowledge about workplace design – for example, when you put chairs in a circle, this encourages intergroup belonging. In an angle, this allows more for uniqueness and distinction to be highlighted. We may not be thinking about this consciously, but the set-up tells us what’s expected of us.In the knowledge economy, workers value isn’t tied to the amount of hours work we put in, it’s the quality of thinking that matters most. Friedman gives several examples on how to improve this (sleep, using unconscious brain, how to improve creativity, detaching, creating a community/friendships in the workplace and more).

In the 2nd part Friedman dives into the concept of Motivation. Money doesn’t motivate (in most situations), and intrinsic motivators allow employees to be more engaged, motivated and energized and for longer periods of time. Autonomy, praise, coaching, being actively listened to, and the company culture all (and more) all can improve employees’ motivation and engagement to higher levels.

In the 3rd part Attracting and Retaining Top Performance is discussed. He uses Kahneman’s cognitive anchor & halo effect to explain what is happening in interviews and when we meet people for the first time. His hiring tips go from “blind interviews” to leveraging employees to recruit top talent and that we have to be careful for the “lure of culture fit”.

This book has so many examples, ideas and suggestions, that this summary doesn’t do it any justice, but hopefully it will give you an idea if it’s worth reading for you!

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Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett & Dave Evans

“Build a life that works for you”
This book uses “design thinking” to solve problems. Designing your life doesn’t involve a clear goal, and doesn’t have one clear solution, so this is when when you brainstorm, try crazy stuff, improvise and keep building your way forward until you come up with something that works.

This book doesn’t try to answer what you want to be when you grow up, but “who or what do you want to grow into?” You don’t think your way forward, you build it.

A mindset change, may be necessary, to design your life Bill and Dave suggest you: be curious, try stuff, reframe problems (to get unstuck), know it’s a process and ask for help. You won’t “find your passion” reading this book – you may discover your passion after you tried it, developed mastery in it etc.

The book gives some exercises to do to start the process of designing your life. It suggests you have a look at how you currently stand in terms of Health, Work, Play and Love. And suggests you create a Life and Workview for yourself. This is your “compass”. Together with your “direction” you are on your way to find your way.

Bill and Dave also suggest you keep a Good Time Journal and make three “Odyssey Plans”, which are three different futures for yourself.

The idea is (which is proven by research) that with 1 plan, you keep redefining that plan or idea, which doesn’t lead to innovation. When you start with multiple ideas parallel, you are not prematurely committed to one path and are therefore more open to novel innovations.

I like the idea of “Design Thinking” for your career “planning”. If you are looking for some next steps in your work (life) and are feeling a bit stuck – this book could be a good place to start. It won’t solve all your problems, but you may learn which problems are gravity problems, and which are anchor problems, and when you know that, it will help you knowing what to do next… It’s a process after all.

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What colour is your parachute?, Richard Bolles

A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers

This is the most famous book for anyone looking for a job or considering a career change. So is it worth a read? I’m undecided. I didn’t particularly like this book, and I didn’t learn much from it I didn’t already know. But then, when I read it, I already had a career in recruitment behind me!

If you have no clue about resumes, interviewing, networking etc.. then I think this could a good book to start. The book gives a lot of exercises (a few too many and laborious if you ask me), examples and references.

If you want a career change, don’t really know what you want, where you want to go to… I would read “Designing your Life”. Similar exercises (but less and more focused) but with a bit more long term life skills.

The good thing is, this book gets every year an update. It’s needed with so many references and changes especially with applying for jobs using the internet.

Maybe I find this book a little too American written with a strong Christian undertone, which I’m not sure belongs in such a book…

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Blink, the power of thinking without thinking, Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm is a great writer and in this book he has many great examples of the difference between deliberate and instinctive thinking. I enjoyed reading this book, his examples are fantastic and it’s so well written and he makes you think!

Malcolm shows that first impressions can be hopelessly corrupted due to unconscious prejudice and that we are far too often resigned to what happens in the blink of an eye and that it often comes down to judgement.

My favourite quote of the book is: “We live in a world saturated with information (…) but what I have sensed is an enormous frustration with the unexpected costs of knowing too much, of being inundated with information. We have come to confuse information with understanding. The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the later”

So when should we trust our instincts and when should we consciously think things through? Straight forward choices, deliberate analysis is best. When it gets more complicated, it’s more about personal choice, when we have to juggle many different variables – then our unconscious thought may be superior.

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Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell

In this book, Malcolm shows that success isn’t (only) based on talent, but that 10.000 hours of practice may be more of an indication of genius. And that our background, culture, and even language has a huge influence too. It gives hope we can all be a master in something! Great examples, fun and easy to read!

Start with Why, Simon Sinek

Just watch the Ted Talk for 18 minutes. Absolutely worth your time and think about your own why! (you can skip reading this book) (https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action?language=en)

I read this book after I had seen the famous Inside Quest interview where he is asked about Millennials (watch it if you haven’t!) and I had the fortune to see him live in Sydney at the Growth Faculty event. Both very inspiring! This book was a little disappointing to me, he uses Apple and Southwest too often, and his assumptions misses empirical evidence. It often sounds believable and possibly true, and he does make some interesting points and has some good ideas, but it’s not necessary to read the whole book – he covers the essence in his Ted Talk without so many examples.

In short, he points out that successful companies can clearly articulate WHY they are in business rather than just being able to describe WHAT they do and HOW they do it. He calls this: “The Golden Circle". “Everybody knows WHAT they do, some know HOW they do it, very few people know WHY they do what they do” And with WHY, he means purpose, believe, your cause, and why anyone should care. (not profit, that is a result).

For example, at the turn of the 20th century, the Wright brothers were trying to build something that would fly, with very little money of their own. Meanwhile, Samuel Pierpont Langley was given full government subsidy to solve the same problem. So why did the Wright brothers succeed? The Wright brothers believed that “if they could figure out this flying machine, it’ll change the course of the world” and they were able to inspire those around them and truly lead their team to develop a technology that would change the world. They started with Why. Samuel was looking for money and fame – he was in pursuit of the result.

He also explains “the law of diffusion of innovation” which explains how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread via the innovators and early adopters, the early and late majority and the laggards.

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The infinite game, Simon Sinek

I enjoyed reading this book. Maybe because I have been pondering for a while why we are constantly in damage-control, instead of pro-actively changing businesses. A lot of my work comes from companies going through change, disruption and redundancies and I often wonder if there wasn’t something earlier that could have been done to avoid the pain and struggle. This mind-set change gives one option or framework to look at a possible cause.

Simon explains the difference between a leader with a ‘finite mindset’ or ‘infinite mindset. In a finite game, the rules, players and end goal are set (like soccer), but in a infinite game the rules can change, the players can change and there is no winning or losing, you can only decide to play or not to play. Many business leaders have either a finite or infinite mindset and the way they make decisions will be influenced by their mindset.

Simon clearly explains why a “Just Cause” is important for an infinite mindset (and who knows me well, knows I love a good “WHY” – your WHY is uniquely yours, a Just Cause is a specific vision of a future state that does not yet exist – and that others are willing to take on as their Cause too. A “moonshot” is not a Cause, because it has a finite ending (putting a person on the moon), and being the “best” is also not a great cause, because what if you have achieved that?

Simon suggests a new title for the CEO, to be “CVO: Chief Vision Officer”, which would be more in line with infinite mindset. The capitalism as described by Friedman (’70 in short: sole purpose for business is to make money for shareholders) needs to be revised. Business have been abusing the purpose of capitalism for their own gain and has created a big divide between people with and without money. Did you know CEO’s salaries used to be 30x that of the worker (1978) and is now 271x!! No wonder more and more people are dissatisfied with working in this “corporate world”.

It’s important to have “will” before “resources” (people’s interest/will before short term money gains) and he gives many examples of where this was done well or not. Trust is also important, and culture is not just stating your values, but it’s about the behaviour that is portrayed. His explanation of “Ethical Fading” (allowing small unethical things can lead to a culture that allows people to act in unethical ways to advance their own interest, often at the expense of others, while falsely believing they have no compromised their own moral principles) is excellent and I think we can all think of some examples here! (I’ll admit this is probably one reason I changed certain jobs)

Instead of seeing others as competitors, an infinite minded leader would cherish a “worthy rival” – you only get better and don’t have to win!

And probably the hardest part – you may need to “Flex” (make a bold change in direction) if where the business is going, is not in line with the Just Cause anymore.

Reading this over, I don’t give it justice to the book – I highly recommend reading this one for yourself and I know I will keep thinking about this for quite some time.

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Drive, Daniel H. Pink

I always think of Wikipedia when I think of this book. It’s written by people who volunteer their time to this encyclopaedia online – why? Because it’s fits with the three elements of “true motivation” according to Pink: 1. Autonomy: the desire to direct our own lives 2. Mastery: the urge to get better and better at something that matters and 3. Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

Pink uses many examples to show that while the old-fashioned carrot-and-stick approach may have worked in the past, it is now the wrong way to motivate people, and people need more than extrinsic motivators. (Much of his examples we use in the training for Motiva Individual 2).

He makes a good point that the world needs to upgrade it’s “operating system” – in the previous Industrial Revolutions we could motivate people with money, in this new world it won’t work.

Pink also makes a distinction between Type X and I behaviour. The first is less concerned with the inherent satisfaction of an activity and more with the external rewards to which an activity lead, Type 1 is the opposite.

He then explains Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose in more details with examples (mainly business related) and finishes the book with his “Type 1 Toolkit”, a guide to take his ideas into action (it’s not the best part of the book if you ask me).

(You could again listen to his TedTalk if you don’t need all examples and details, but if you do want to learn more about motivation in more details, it’s a great read).

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Originals. Adam Grant

Coaching Books

The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay-Stanier

One of the easiest and quickest reads on this list. Michael gives us 7 questions you should ask instead of giving advice as a manager or leader. It’s a tool for 10 minutes or less coaching conversations. The 7 questions are (spoiler alert): 1. What’s on your mind? 2. And what else? 3. What’s the real challenge her for you? 4. What do you want? 5. How can I help? 6. If you are saying yes to this, what are you saying no to? And 7. What was most useful for you?

Michael explains why this works (you will limit your overdependence, limit getting overwhelmed and become more connected) and how you can build a new habit (make a vow, figure your trigger, define your new habit short and specifically and practice).

He gives some other good coaching tips too: one question at the time, cut the intro and ask the question, no advice with a question mark, stick to questions starting with ‘what’, get comfortable with silence, listen and acknowledge the answers.

I would recommend this book to many managers, to get some understanding why asking questions (coaching) can be so much more powerful than answering them.

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Coaching Questions

The Neuroscience of Leadership Coaching, Patricia Bossons, Patricia Riddell, and Denis Sartain

Why the Tools and Techniques of Leadership Coaching Work

Self-help and soft-skills learning books

Have a nice conflict, Tim Scudder, Michael Patterson and Kent Mitchell

How to find success and satisfaction in the most unlikely places

I received this book after a workshop with Michael Patterson and being accredited to facilitate Core Strength’s SDI assessment and it was a great way to repeat – in an easy format – the learnings from the assessment and training. The story is about awareness in relationships and the journey John takes from being close to fired, to building better relationships at work and at home. His “mentor or coach” is Dr Mac and in the course of this book he will show him (in a fun way) that people see the world through a different lens and that he should learn these different lenses and react accordingly – not only using his own lens.

John is not getting the promotion he was banking on and it’s clear he hasn’t got a fabulous relationship with everyone within his team and company, when it goes really bad (another resignation in his team, almost losing a client) his client suggests he meets Dr Mac. Dr Mac meets John at different places where he explains him – or more accurately would be to say – he lets him experience what he needs to learn about “the soft skills”.

Everyone has a “toolbox” and in that toolbox, you have different strengths. You like to use the hammer and tape (your strengths, could be self-confidence, ambition, quick to act or…) but it doesn’t mean you can’t use other tools/strengths (modesty, caring, socializer). Sometimes there is a better ‘tool’ to use in certain situations. When Mac goes up in the building to help with a neighbour dispute, he is showing very different tools/strengths in two different conversations and John sees for himself how beneficial that is. (Kraig needed a chat and be heard; Mabel was told it was dealt with right away after he listened).

John tries a different approach with Gail, his boss… and surprise, surprise: it worked! John is also more open to feedback from others.

The next meeting with Mac is in a theatre and in a playful way John learns that people have different motives – some people see the world blue (altruistic-nurturing), green (analytic-autonomizing) or red (assertive-directing) (Or blue/red, green/red etc..) and while playing with light in the theatre Mac is illustrating this. Also, when people are ‘in conflict’ they often change the way they normally communicate and maybe go from -for example- normally very blue, to red in 1st stage of conflict (when you can still focus on the issue, the other person and yourself). When the conflict is then getting worse (stage 2, the focus narrows and you lose the focus on the relationship) they may go into blue and in the final stage they are fully green. This sequence is different for everyone.

The story continues and John tries out his new skills and knowledge with the people he meets some go really well (with a client), others can still improve (with his wife).

Mac keeps meeting John at different places and at the pier where they will do some fishing, Mac teaches John about the different stages in his own conflict sequence. John also learns about over-doing your strengths, and some other people’s strengths that you may see as a weakness. And the 5 keys to “having a nice conflict” – anticipate, prevent, identify, manage and resolve. And how to do that.

The story ends with some good news where John is using is new acquired skills and saves the day, his job and even gets the promotion. The book ends with John’s notes from his meetings with Mac.

I do like this book, I have used some of these new learned skills successfully too, but even though I have learned the moves of this chess game, to become a master, you need to practice, reinforcement and reading this book again wasn’t such a bad idea.

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Verbal Judo, George J. Thompson

I read this book because I wanted some ideas on how to communicate with, let’s say, difficult people. An American Policeman teaches “the gentle way” (Judo) to communicate in even the most difficult situations. His examples are very much police work related, but I still enjoyed this read because he has some good reminders and suggestions, such as:

Be calm (the still centre) yourself, staying open, flexible and unbiased is important; instead of defensive, try deflection or redirection; “when man throws a spear of insult at head, move head! Spear miss target, leave man empty-handed”; when you react, you are being controlled by the situation, when you respond you are dealing with it; never disrespect people (in front of others), this only creates more enemies; listen, clarify, keep a professional presence, give the other a choice, be specific, don’t let the other lose face, know yourself, put ego behind goal and purpose, empathise, “when you talk, you are not listening”, check your own assumptions (they may be wrong); define the other from the other person’s point of view etc.

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The Subtle art of not giving a F*ck, Mark Manson

I didn’t really like this book, Marks smug attitude about things he actually doesn’t really know much about annoyed me. Although lots he writes is true, I don’t think it’s anything new. But maybe I just really don’t like self-help books.

I would call it a self-help book with some philosophical millennial talk.

A few points and to give an idea of what he writes about, just in case you are inclined to read it: The feedback loop from hell: “when you have an anger problem, you get angry at yourself for getting angry, then you are angry at yourself getting angry about being angry” – or worried, or anxious…

The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience, and the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.

Choose what is worth your “f*cks”. Choose your problems (not other peoples problems). What pain do you want to sustain to achieve it, what are you really willing to struggle for.

And a lot about victim, denial, rescuer, fault, blame, entitlements, responsibility, acceptance, failure brings success etc etc..

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Feel the Fear and do it anyway, Susan Jeffers

I read this book about 10 years ago, but I wanted to include it, because I know it has helped people doing things they otherwise wouldn’t have tried. It wasn’t written for me; when my mum had a heart operation in ‘92 I promised myself to try things even if they are very scary, because who knows how long I get in this life!

But I do remember one important thing about this book that has helped me: don’t hold a grudge. Especially not if they don’t know it! It will take so much more energy from you and it doesn’t impact the other person in the slightest! What a waste of energy. I know I have forgiven people, who I truly believed did me wrong, because it only hurts me and not them not letting it go…

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Useful belief, Chris Helder

A very interesting and nice gentleman at a networking event suggested this book to me, and he was very right in saying you can read this book on a plane between Sydney and Melbourne.

Chris Helder explains in just over 100 pages that there is a better way than “positive thinking”, (because lets face it, life sometimes isn’t positive, sometimes it sucks) – creating a useful belief can then be a better strategy. And it doesn’t even matter if that belief is true or not, as long as it is useful.

Chris takes his fictual character Simon on a business trip, who subsequently meets three people who will get him to think not “positively” but “useful”. Although we don’t really get to know Sarah, Adrian and “the speaker at the conference”, their message is similar: “what is the most useful thought/activity I can have/do today”.

It’s a simple, but good message.

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The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, Robin Sharma

A fable about fulfilling your dreams and reaching your destiny

I started reading this book because I saw it twice recommended on LinkedIn by people I thought would have good taste, I checked out the author and looked like a genuine expert on leadership and personal development. Unfortunately I was very disappointed by this book.

I guess it’s pretty clear I am very critical about self-help books, but I have two issues with his one: 1. It pretends he’s going to give you long lost secrets to a happy life. Well if you have never read a book in your life, have lived under a stone and have never thought about how you could improve your life, well then I guess you think of his stories, suggestions and ideas as miraculous.
And 2. It’s terribly written! Reading this makes me think I can write a book!

But here is my summary.

It’s written from John’s perspective, but the whole book is basically a narrative of Julian’s story of months of self discovery that he thinks he can teach John in 1 night. Julian, a successful lawyer gets a heart attack, stops working, sells everything (including his Ferrari) and goes on an eat-pray-love excursion to India. His travels bring him to the Sages of Sivana – a group of monks in the mountains, who have all the wisdom in the world (but there aren’t any children, so they don’t reproduce?). They take him in (he is the only outsider), teach him everything, Julian goes home, finds his former student and teaches him all the “secrets based on ancient principles” just by telling him some stories and long lost wisdoms (whatever).

So what are those wisdoms, you ask? I thought you’d never ask.

1. Master your mind
2. Follow your purpose
3. Practice Kaizen (constant improvement)
4. Respect your time (you only live once)
5. Selflessly serve others
6. Embrace the present

Julian says you “need to know your life’s aim and then manifest this vision into reality by constant action”. He never shows or mentioned how you need to learn about what your life’s aim is. Well, he suggests much later in the book it all has to do with service of others (point 5 above), but it’s never really clear how you are supposed to learn your life’s aim.

John thinks this is “pretty revolutionary stuff”: step 1: Form a clear mental image of the outcome. 2. Get some positive pressure on yourself. 3. Never set a goal without attaching a timeline to it (and commit to it on paper). 4. Perform the new activity for 21 days in a row. (to get the new neural pathways)

So, John wants to change, but isn’t really going to put much effort in it. He keeps asking how much time it takes and Julian does say that you need to invest to get something out of it. But he also says, that “it will only take 15 minutes” or half an hour or an hour. But if you count all exercises John commits to in this wonderful, powerful, astonishing information he has been giving, he would need to get up not 1 but 4 or 5 hours earlier every day. (That reminds me, Julian says in this book people sleep too much, I’m sure that could be true for some people, but scientifically 7 to 9 hours is ideal and I doubt John gets that much with his busy law practice).

Oh yes, and all the proof John needs to know Julian isn’t a sort of Mormon or Jehovah that wants to transform him to his beliefs is that he looks radiant and years younger than he ever did. I did feel John was impatient, annoying, very naïve and a bit stupid, and I would have shown Julian the door because he was too weird and pushy for me.

I’ll give you one small piece of the book that probably sums up why I don’t like the book (chapter 7):
“The Sages of Sivana have known the secret of happiness for over five thousand years. Fortunately, they were willing to share this gift with me. Do you want to hear it?”
“No, I thought I’d take a break and go wallpaper the garage first”
“Huh?”
“Of course I want to hear the secret of eternal happiness, Julian. Isn’t that what everyone is searching for, ultimately?”
“True. Well here it is … could I trouble you for another cup of tea?”
“C’mon, quit stalling”
“Alright, the secret of happiness is simple: find out what you truly love to do and then direct all your energy towards doing it”

Some quotes that are good reminders for all us mortals, slaving away in this materialistic world (but hardly revolutionary if you ask me):

“… to stop spending so much time making a living and to spend far more time creating a life”
“never be a prisoner of your past. Become the architect of your future”

“The mind truly is like any other muscle in your body. Use it or lose it.”

Our world is in the midst of great change. People are training in money of meaning

“..who used to judge people by the size of their pocketbooks are now judging people by the size of their commitment to others”

“Don’t kid yourself into believing that you will start to enrich your mind, care for your body and nourish your soul when your back account gets big enough and you have they luxury of more free time.”

“The world is full of unhappy millionaires”

The best thing about this book: the title. It does make you kind of want to read this book, right?

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