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Books I’ve read that I think may be helpful for leaders wanting to evolve

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Everyone is busy and sometimes a book is either a burden too far or a luxury that time does not afford. Sometimes a novel is a way better idea too. Self development and thought provoking content may also be a help sometimes. Here's some suggestions that have captured me.

Patrick Lencioni – The Five Dysfunctions of a Team 

What it’s about: overview – This is a must-read. The book uses a relatable fable to explore and tell a story of common team dysfunctions – lack of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. Lencioni offers practical solutions to overcome these challenges and build a high-performing team. 

Amy Edmonson – The Fearless Organisation 

What it’s about: overview – Psychological safety is all about creating an environment where everyone feels confident to pitch in with their ideas.  Amy explains why people often don’t do this and what leaders can do to engender a healthier organisation and access untapped talents, introducing us to real-life examples and practical tools for fostering a fearless culture that inspires innovation, collaboration, and growth.

Why it made me think –  All too often we see Psychological safety as one of those “soft” things.  I was once told that it’s just an easy way out by “Being fluffy and nice to everyone so as not to hurt their feelings”.

Nothing could be further from the truth in my opinion. An organisation or team that exudes Psychological Safety, sometimes very explicitly, is likely to avoid errors, work faster, and make more progress because people KNOW they can speak up, disagree, argue, challenge, be wrong, make mistakes, and still be valued by their colleagues because its a safe place to be.  It’s actually the very opposite of being the easy way out but to embrace it and benefit from it can be hard. I admire and salute any team that’s cracked it. 

Daniel Kahneman – Thinking, fast and slow

What it’s about: overview – Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman takes us on a fascinating journey exploring our minds. With a friendly, easy-to-follow style, he introduces us to two imaginary characters – System 1 and System 2 – who represent the quick, instinctive side and the slow, logical side of our thinking. As he writes, we learn the importance of balancing these two styles in business leadership, making better decisions and inspiring our teams. This enjoyable read will have you nodding in agreement, chuckling at relatable examples, and eager to put newfound wisdom into action. 

Why it made me think – When working out what needs to be done, why, and how, maybe it’s  not such a great thing to think fast. Our brain’s instinct to jump to conclusions, apply bias, selectively choose data, and dive as fast as possible towards a perceived solution is entirely understandable; we’re pretty much programmed to do just that, taking the perceived path of least resistance to find an answer.

Just it turns out that by slowing our thought process with some critical thinking and forcing our brains to have to work just a little a bit harder and longer, we can uncover all sorts of often much better solutions. Put a whole team together and do the same thing and the results can be awesome. So what don’t we at least usually do that then?

Because we convince ourselves we have the answers (via the shortest route possible, and then, spoiler … some of us are gullible enough to believe ourselves. I’m convinced that a structured approach to working out what needs to be done can be exciting, liberating, and a great team experience. It certainly doesn’t need to take forever to do, nor does it have to cost the earth. It also doesn’t mean it’s always easy, but it sure can be simple, have breakthrough effects, and equip a team with a capability that is so valuable to each member, to the team, and to the business.

Chris McChesney – The Four Disciplines of Execution

Chris McChesney is an engaging guide to achieving your team’s most important goals. With a clear, concise writing style, he offers four practical disciplines: focusing on the what’s important, acting on lead measures, keeping a compelling scoreboard, and creating a cadence of accountability. This inspiring read offers real-life examples and actionable tips to help leaders drive results and maintain momentum.  It’s a must for line managers and senior leaders alike.  

Ed Catmull – Creativity Inc

What it’s about: overview – A light, humorous read that takes us behind the scenes at Pixar Animation Studios, revealing how they foster a culture of creativity and innovation. Ed shares invaluable lessons on leadership, collaboration, and embracing failure as part of the creative process. It’s perfect for anyone looking to spark their imagination and build a more innovative team. 

Patrick Lencioni – The Advantage

What it’s about: overview – A delightful gem that helps uncover a secret ingredient to business success, organisational health, which Lencioni defines as the ultimate competitive edge. This fun, captivating read takes us on a journey to discover the four crucial steps: building a cohesive team, creating clarity, over communicating clarity, and reinforcing clarity. Citing lots of  relatable examples and practical advice, this book will have you chuckling, nodding, and keen to experiment with some ideas. 

Tim Clark – The Four Stages of Psychological safety 

Tim’s insightful contribution, “The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety.” is not an everyday business book, it’s a guide to nurturing a culture where folks feel safe to take interpersonal risks.

Starting with ‘Inclusion Safety,’ Clark points out that everyone in the team needs to feel accepted and included. Sounds pretty straightforward, but it’s fundamental and we so often overlook it, even if completely unintentionally.

Next up, ‘Learner Safety.’ This is about fostering an environment where it’s okay to admit you don’t know everything and it’s okay to ask questions. It’s about nurturing curiosity, not punishing it.

Stage three, ‘Contributor Safety,’ allows individuals to put their learning into practice. It’s about encouraging team members to apply their knowledge and skills without fear of criticism.

Lastly, ‘Challenger Safety’ enables folks to challenge the status quo without fear of retribution. It’s about innovation and improvement, really shaking things up.

Building these capabilities into your company culture is immensely powerful. It leads to higher engagement, increased creativity, and better overall performance. It’s not just a nice-to-have, it’s a need-to-have. Clark’s book is a roadmap to creating a fearless, thriving organisation.

John Doerr – Measure what Matters

John Doerr reveals the power of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) in achieving business success. Clearly written, Doerr shares captivating stories and lessons from influential leaders and organizations, demonstrating how OKRs can transform a company’s culture and performance. He offers practical tools to help leaders align their teams, prioritize goals, and drive results, unlock potential, boost productivity, and elevate leadership capability.

Sue Knight – NLP at Work

A powerhouse in the world of NLP, Sue Knight offers a compelling read that unlocks the potential of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) in the business world. With a writing style that is clear, informative, and emphasises understanding, Sue demonstrates how NLP can help leaders communicate effectively, build rapport, and lead their teams.She provides many relatable examples and practical tools to enhance personal and professional development. 

Ray Dalio – Principles

This ¨big”  book offers valuable insights into creating a successful life and career by following a set of unique principles. Dalio shares his journey and the lessons he learned, emphasizing the importance of radical transparency, thoughtful decision-making, and continuous learning. This in depth read is applicable for anyone seeking to develop their leadership skills, build effective teams, and achieve personal and professional goals. 

Malcolm Gladwell – Blink

This book delves into the power of intuition and rapid decision-making and compares and contrasts Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. Gladwell uses engaging stories to illustrate how our “thin-slicing” ability allows us to make accurate judgments in the blink of an eye, emphasizing the importance of trusting our instincts and fine-tuning our intuitive skills. 

Eric Berne – Games People Play 

Great for anyone wanting to know more about facing interpersonal challenges. Eric delves into the complexities of human interactions by exploring the “games” we unconsciously play in our relationships. His engaging and easy-to-understand writing style helps readers identify these patterns and develop healthier communication strategies. A concise read, its perfect for those seeking to enhance personal and professional relationships, foster better teamwork, and navigate the social intricacies of the workplace.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – Flow

Anyone seeking to enhance their work experiences may benefit from this one. This book introduces the concept of “flow,” a state of complete absorption and enjoyment in an activity. Mihaly’s insights explain how to achieve this optimal state of mind, leading to increased productivity, creativity, and personal satisfaction. Tackling a very deep concept but in an easy-to-access style, “Flow” provides practical guidance for overcoming challenges and embracing a fulfilling, balanced life.

Daniel Pink – Drive

Pink talks about the key factors that motivate us, focusing on autonomy, mastery, and purpose. The book challenges traditional reward-based systems and shares insights on how to truly engage with people. It’s a game-changer for understanding what drives us to perform at our best. If you’re looking to boost engagement at work, its worth a read. 

Stephen Denning – The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling

Denning emphasises the power of storytelling in leadership, helping us connect, inspire, and build trust with our teams. The book offers easy-to-understand techniques for crafting compelling stories that resonate with your audience. It’s perfect for anyone looking to improve their communication skills and lead more effectively using well-told stories.

Ben Horowitz – What you do is who you are

Ben shares insights on how to create a strong company culture by focusing on actions rather than words. The book is filled with fascinating stories from history and modern business, showing how effective leaders have built lasting cultures. It’s perfect for anyone looking to strengthen their organisation’s identity and create a thriving work environment. 

Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” is a gem of a book. Sinek offers a simple, but profound idea. He argues that the most successful organisations are the ones that start by asking “why” they do what they do, before moving onto the “how” and “what”. The “why” here isn’t about making money – that’s a result, not a reason. It’s about your purpose, your belief, your cause – and I’m a big believer in asking about what you’re trying to cause rather than do.

The practical beauty of it? When you start with “why”, you inspire others. You attract customers, employees, and partners who believe in your “why” – they’re buying into you as a person and leader – they’re buying into your cause. They’re loyal and that’s good business.

Sinek’s concept is a must for any leader or business – it’s the secret sauce that differentiates the great from the merely good. Figuring out your why may take some time, but it’ll be a cathartic moment when you find it. 

Stanley McChrystal – Team of Teams 

Gen McChrystal explores how organisations can adapt and thrive in complex, fast-paced environments, drawing on his experience leading complex military and civilian government agencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. McChrystal shares lessons from his military experience, emphasising the importance of scaling the empowerment practice in small teams into large teams and fostering a culture of trust and collaboration. 

Richard Rumelt – Good strategy, bad strategy 

Richard demystifies the concept and complexity associated with strategy, differentiating between good and bad approaches. Its practical with real-life examples, illustrating how effective strategies are built on diagnosis, guiding policy, and coherent actions. 

Peter Senge – The Fifth discipline 

It’s a hefty one is this! Senge introduces the concept of the “learning organisation,” which encourages continuous growth, adaptation, and improvement. The book covers five disciplines: systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, and team learning.  He argues that companies can only succeed if they change the way in which they deal with problems. In his view, a reactive approach no longer works. Instead, businesses need to adopt what he calls a systems thinking method to identify underlying patterns and generate innovative solutions drawing on an engaged and informed workforce. 

James Collins – Good to Great

Collins researched public companies that had achieved enduring success after years of mediocre performance and isolated the factors which differentiated those companies from their lacklustre competitors.  These factors have been distilled into key concepts regarding leadership, culture and strategic management, conceptualised as Level 5 leadership, the Hedgehog Principle, and the Flywheel Effect. 

Khurshed Dehnugara – 100 Mindsets of Challenger Leaders

The book offers 100 unique perspectives to challenge conventional leadership wisdom and inspire innovative thinking. Khurshed’s insights encourage us to question the status quo, embrace change, and become more resilient, adaptive leaders. 

John Cutler

John is a LinkedIn commentator who constantly provides insightful, thought provoking content about organisational life and getting stuff done.  Always relatable, constructive, and easy to digest.

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