Perhaps one of the most essential jobs of an executive leader is that to never stop learning. It’s likely that you already know this, that you have a shelf of self-improvement books purchased or given to you by colleagues sitting in your office. But, how many have you read from cover to cover? Don’t let these books collect dust. Brush them off, crack them open, and search for wisdom within the words inside. Even if you’ve already read them, if enough time has gone by, they may be worth a second read. You may approach the content with a new mindset or with a wealth of experience that you didn’t have before.
Reading self-improvement books is just the beginning
Yet, even if you’re one of those avid readers who peruse every book placed into your hands, you run the risk of not learning anything from the text if you don’t know how to apply the content. Those who do not apply the basic principles of leadership can take in all the information they want, but without the proper application, the information is doomed to be short-lived. This is why I want to add a few more books to your reading list. All of these can be found in paper copies or online as eBooks if you prefer to read on a screen. No matter your preference, I highly recommend picking up these self-improvement books and lending an ear to the lessons they have to teach.
Leadership and Self-deception: Getting Out of the Box by the Arbinger Institute
First and foremost, I recommend beginning with this particular selection. Leadership and Self-deception: Getting Out of the Box by the Arbinger Institute is perhaps the best and most impactful book of the day. The Arbinger Institute provides training, consulting, and coaching tools to help individuals and organizations change mindsets and sustainably improve results. This book has been translated into thirty languages and is an international bestseller. This book focuses primarily on the concept that mindset drives behavior, and behavior drives goals. To quote from the preface of the third (2018) edition:
“Self-deception actually determines one’s experience in every aspect of life. The extent to which it does that – and in particular the extent to which it determines the nature of one’s influence on, and experience of, others – is the subject of this book. . . [Self-deception] blinds us to the true causes of problems, and once we’re blind, all the ‘solutions’ we can think of will actually make matters worse. Whether at work or at home, self-deception obscures the truth about ourselves, corrupts our view of others and our circumstances, and inhibits our ability to make wise and helpful decisions. To the extent that we are self-deceived, both our happiness and our leadership is undermined at every turn.”
As an executive leader, it’s your duty to constantly read and continue to grow so that your team can do the same. The more knowledge you gain, the more you can share with those working alongside you. Your self-improvement will ultimately result in the improvement of the whole. It is essential that you constantly challenge yourself to get better and improve. Not only are you pursuing the betterment of yourself, but your employees will see the effort that you’re putting in and will hopefully be inspired to do the same.
Don’t settle on your own institutional knowledge to get you through your everyday concerns or to try to push your team toward their goal. While such knowledge can be invaluable, it’s far from the only tool a successful executive leader needs to inspire success. Think of such knowledge as a piece of a puzzle. On its own, it isn’t clear where it goes or where it should be placed. But with the proper framework of outside perspectives and resources, the rest of the pieces begin to fall into place, giving you a clear idea of when and where to apply such institutional knowledge.
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t by Jim Collins
Another book that I highly recommend is Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t by Jim Collins. Over the course of five years, Collins and his team analyzed the histories of twenty-eight companies to discover the key determinants of corporate greatness. In chapter one, “Good Is the Enemy of Great,” Collins outlines what his book will assert and prove through his research methodology:
“[This book] is about the question – Can a good company become a great company and, if so, how? – and our search for timeless, universal answers that can be applied to any organization. Our five-year quest yielded many insights, a number of them surprising and quite contrary to conventional wisdom, but one giant conclusion stands above the others: We believe that almost any organization can substantially improve its stature and performance, perhaps even become great, if it conscientiously applies the framework of ideas we’ve uncovered. . . [This book] is ultimately about one thing: the timeless principles of good to great. It’s about how you take a good organization and turn it into one that produces sustained great results, using whatever definition of results best applies to your organization.”
The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict By Arbinger Institute
The final book that I personally recommend for the executive leader is another published by the Arbinger Institute, titled The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict. In a vein similar to Leadership and Self-deception, this book also unfolds as a story. This time, we learn how to transform personal, professional, and global conflicts by reading about the lives of two parents struggling with their own children and with problems consuming their lives. Quoting from the preface of the second (2015) edition:
“Conflict is ubiquitous. Workplaces, homes, and communities are riddled with it. The trouble is, not nearly enough people understand what to do about it. . . Why does there remain so much confusion when there is so much need? The reason is that in conflict, as in magic, the real action occurs where people are not looking. For example, we assume that people in conflict want solutions. However, this is only partially true. Parents of belligerent children do want the belligerence to end, those who work for tyrannical managers want an end to the tyranny, and citizens of weakened nations certainly want to be treated with respect. Notice, however, that parties in conflict all wait on the same solution: they wait for the other party to change. Should we be surprised, then, when conflicts linger and problems remain?”
Of course, this list is not the end-all for resources available to you. There are hundreds of books written on self-improvement for the executive leader. And yet, one must first engage in the basic principles of leadership if these books are to be of any service to you. If you can’t apply the methods cited in these works to yourself, there is no way that you will be able to engage your team in a meaningful way. It’s time to take the books down off of the shelf and give them another look. Discover what it is that your team may be missing and find out how to inspire others as well as yourself.
I hope that you feel motivated to seek these texts out, perhaps beginning with the ones listed here. Never stop learning, and never assume that there is nothing left for you to learn. Keep yourself on the path of improvement, and those around you will be inspired by your pursuits.