If you're anything like me, finding the time to read can be a challenge. But this time of the year I unfailingly find myself on the hunt for fresh insights from worthy reads.
There’s just something about the new ideas and inspiration that I inevitably find in a good book that help me get the New Year off to a good start. Also reading can be good for you.
A 2009 study by Mindlab International at the University of Sussex found that just six minutes of reading can reduce stress levels as much as 68 percent. Research has also revealed that cognitive activities such as reading may keep the brain functioning efficiently and, as people age, literature consumption can offer valuable mental exercise.
The following five books are rife with inspired philosophies and visionary concepts and offer some well-rounded perspectives on leading well.
1. The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman
Self-doubt can sabotage a career while overconfidence can get someone far in life. The authors of The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know, published last April, have presented significant research with a key conclusion – that a lack of confidence thwarts women’s success in the workplace.
Citing a Hewlett-Packard study, Shipman and Kay examined why more women at the company were not moving into top management positions.
“Women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job,” the authors said. “Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements.”
As an executive coach, I have encountered this: Women often believe their work should speak for itself and the best job opportunities, raises and bonuses should follow.
The truth is, women (and men) have to learn to position themselves positively and become their own advocates in order to showcase their work and integrate their efforts in a professionally appropriate way for maximum visibility.
The Confidence Code provides a laundry list of confidence killers as well as practical ways to break through negative thought patterns.
I found it encouraging to read interviews of high-profile, successful women who carried the weight of their struggles with confidence.
Yet, this book is not just for women. Men can also glean practical pointers for upping their confidence game. “It’s really important for men to understand that their female colleagues are not always speaking up about their own accomplishments," Shipman pointed out in a Vox interview.
2. Uncontainable by Kip Tindell
Kip Tindell, CEO of the Container Store, shared his seven foundation principles for achieving sustainable, profitable success in How Passion, Commitment and Conscious Capitalism Built a Business Where Everyone Thrives. Long associated with the "conscious capitalism” organization, he has been consistently open about his company’s unique approach to business.
The hiring and payroll philosophy of Tindell’s organization is grounded in the notion that “one great person could easily be as productive as three good people,” as he explained in an interview with The New York Times.
The aim is to hire nothing but the best while incorporating words like “love,” “compassion” and “excellence” in the corporate vernacular. Its heart-centered approach appears to be working beautifully.
The Container Store has been on Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list for 15 years. Tindell sums up its people-first approach like this: “Treating your employees with affection and respect is not only the right thing to do, it also happens to be the fastest road to success.”
This book is a must-read for anyone who is a business owner or in a leadership role. It proves that leading from the heart is not just a nice idea or theory – or some magical dream. Rather, as businesses grow and the pace of commerce intensifies, the core virtues of heart-centered leadership will become increasingly necessary.
3. Executive Presence by Sylvia Ann Hewlett
Based on a nationwide survey of college graduates working across a range of sectors and occupations, author Sylvia Ann Hewlett and the Center for Talent Innovation set out to define the qualities of authentic “executive presence” in Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, published in June.
As it turns out, her winning executive-presence formula is a combination of appearance, communication and gravitas. Hewlett’s research found that gravitas is of particular importance and lays a solid foundation for the way a leader talks (communication) and looks (appearance).
The self-development approach recommended in this book hits the mark. It will help an executive reveal who he or she truly is and the path leading to achieving the highest potential.
Like it or not, people are constantly being judged by their appearance, body language and choice of words. Executive Presence is an excellent guidebook for anyone looking to establish a successful personal brand. As Hewlett wrote, “The amazing thing about Executive Presence is that it’s a precondition for success whether you’re a cellist, a salesperson or a Wall Street banker."
4. Culture That Rocks by Jim Knight
This how-to business book, also published last year, uncovers the essential ingredients that make up a company’s culture and offers an innovative recipe for success.
Jim Knight, a training and development expert and former "hard rocker” with Hard Rock International, covered such topics as leadership, hiring talent, philanthropic initiatives and everything that it takes to understand today’s workforce in Culture That Rocks: How to Revolutionize Your Company’s Culture.
Employees, he wrote, need to pass the three-C test: demonstrating solid competence, strong character and cultural fit.
Knight incorporated a rock-star theme with rock-star examples, quotes, case studies and catchy chapter titles such as “Rock Stars vs. Lip-Synchers.”
This book provides a unique out-of-box approach to business. It'sis a fun read yet offers serious, actionable and contemporary advice for any business owner or leader.
5. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
This essence of this book, originally published in 2012, stayed with me long after I finished reading it. Those unfamiliar with Brené Brown’s groundbreaking work on vulnerability can start by watching a video and check out her TED talks. In Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brown highlighted a quote from Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly.”
It takes courage to step into the arena – and there will always be people who will take their shots. As Brown explained, “Whether the ‘arena’ is a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation, we must find the courage to walk into vulnerability and engage with our whole hearts.”
This is a powerful piece of advice. If facing fears and opening up to vulnerability creates more authentic and expressive communication, then unexpected and wonderful upshots may emerge in our relationships with others.
Brown’s years of research on the subject led her to assert that vulnerability is not a weakness – but a fast track to engagement and meaningful connections. She also argued that judging others offers clues about personal demons, saying, “We judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing.”
Related: How Entrepreneurs Can Read to Lead