December is a time for celebrating with family and friends and—when you’ve had enough holiday cheer—a time to retreat to a cozy, fireside chair and catch up on reading. Here are three books to help you reset, recharge and revive your leadership style for 2019... and one thrilling book with a cautionary tale.
"Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t" by Simon Sinek
As a classicist, one of the things that fascinates me about Ancient Rome is military protocol and regulations. In spite of the rigid class system in Republican and Imperial Rome, one of the standard operating procedures in many legions was that legionarii (legionaries, equivalent to a modern-day private) received their rations first, while centurions, prefects, tribunes and other officers ate last. Early American military leaders—many classically trained themselves—adopted this practice and it thrived, particularly in the U.S. Marines. This inspired Simon Sinek to write this book on leadership dynamics as well as anthropological behavior.
Sinek points out that what the Ancient Romans and our contemporary military leaders do by dining last is actually an ingenious way of preserving group cohesion, synergy and productivity, as well as providing a sense of belonging. An authority who can mitigate risks for her team—even to the point of sacrificing her own comfort, safety, reputation or credit for the organization’s achievements—is a leader. In the end, doing something as simple as sharing a corporate perk or offering hands-on help with a project, instills a sense of belonging that we, as humans, need. Sinek cautions against advice often given to execs in the entrepreneurial world: “look after yourself first” or “pay yourself first.” True leaders, regardless of what field they are in, are those who sacrifice their own comforts so that their subordinates feel safe. By doing so, the entire group is more effective.
"The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership" by John C. MaxwellWith a lot of self-help books, I feel that I’ve found next to nothing useful and a lot of what is in them really can be chalked up to what we call here in Texas “good old-fashioned horse sense.”
This isn’t that kind of book.
Dr. John Maxwell devoted a good bit of his lifework to this book. As an academic, he draws from 40 years of experience and research, citing case studies from the worlds of business, politics, sports, religion and the military. It is one of those books—like Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, Machiavelli’s The Prince, or Greene’s 48 Laws of Power—that I would want my children to read before they go off into the world.
The book is thick. But like any long pilgrimage, it is definitely worth it. Expect to spend a few hours absorbing this tome. If you are already a leader, this will make you a better one. If you wish to be a leader, learn from it. Maxwell’s combination of leadership strategies, relevant examples, and his experience makes this a worthwhile reference in your literary arsenal.
"Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup" by John CarreyrouNo review of business books would be complete without recommending "Bad Blood", the most downloaded business book of the year. Written by Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou, it chronicles the true story of Elizabeth Holmes who, at 19 years old, left Stanford to start the diagnostic company Theranos. The book reads part like a thriller, part as the saga of a Ponzi scheme. Employees who disagreed with Ms. Holmes were fired or, in some cases, tailed by ominous security people. It is a story of delusion, fraud and possible criminal behavior. It is also a great lesson of how even the most savvy business leaders are susceptible to get-rich-quick schemes, just like anyone else. Houstonians will take particular interest in this book since Ms. Holmes was a high school student at St. John’s while her father served as vice president at Enron.
This book is a page-turner, but if you don’t have time to read it, there's good news: A film version is currently in production starring Jennifer Lawrence and directed by Adam McKay.
"Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life" by Francesca Gino
A few years ago, Harvard University professor Francesca Gino conducted an experiment: She delivered two executive-education lectures on the same day; same content, same delivery, similar audiences. One thing was different: her shoes. She wore sensible leather dress shoes to one lecture; bright red sneakers to the other. After both lectures, she surveyed her audience to gather their assessments of her professional status and competence. Students from the red-sneaker lecture rated her higher on every variable. Why? Her non-conforming behavior indicated to her students that she was so successful that she could violate the norms of society. She no longer had to look the part of the serious academic. She could pave her own way and others would follow.
But which came first? Did success breed rebellion? Or did rebellion lead to success? Professor Gino makes the case that rebels—the ones who don’t just break the rules, but invent a better way—do more successful, challenging and original work, and we, as a society, follow those types of leaders. Her book, published in May 2018, uses storytelling and case studies to teach readers how to fight against convention and train their minds to avoid stereotypes. Read this book and unleash your inner rebel... just in time for 2019.