5 New leadership books to read this Summer

5 New leadership books to read this Summer

Written by Professional Academy guest blogger Nicki Hayes

From key party political leadership campaigns in the UK (the fallout of last month’s fear-based Brexit campaigning) to the European football championship in France, the US Presidency race and the Russian Olympic state-sponsored doping scandal, rarely has such a vast quantity of ‘leadership’ related content been doing the rounds. As many prepare to take their summer vacation, I thought it timely to focus attention beyond sound bites and reactionary articles, towards new books offering deep learning, eternal truths and, indeed, hope. 

So here you are, five new (since last summer anyway) books offering a wealth of well-crafted stories and keenly deployed scientific insights that will change the way you think about leadership and leaders forever. Enjoy!

#1: Quiet Power, Susan Cain

A new book by the author of the best selling Quiet, Quiet Power, through encouraging introverted young people to shine, reveals a lot about the qualities of a good leader.  Reminding us of the many quiet leaders who have achieved incredible things (such as Steve Jobs, Eileen Fisher, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Eleanor Roosevelt), Cain describes how each was an introvert, and intrinsically motivated by a desire to advance ideas and new ways of looking at the world, as well as improving people’s situations.  It is this intrinsic motivation that identifies an introvert (Carl Jung, an introvert himself, was the first to coin the phrase and explained that introverts were drawn to the world of thoughts and feelings, whereas extroverts craved the external world of people and activities). 

Cain explains that introverts share superpowers, including:

•    The ability to focus deeply on topics and activities
•    The ability to listen with empathy and patience

After reading this book, it’s easy to understand why introverts make strong leaders and why, author and management theorist Jim Collins found that the highest performing companies have leaders who are consistently described as quiet, humble, modest, reserved, shy, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing and understated (all traits of introversion). And whilst written for young introverts, there’s so much within this book for anyone interested in the psychology of leadership to learn. Plus, once read, you can always pass it onto a young introvert you know. After all, business needs more introverts…

Key leadership learning points:

•    Introverts are intrinsically motivated. Intrinsically motivated people are strong on resilience. Resilience is a prerequisite of strong leadership
•    Introverts have superpowers. They are great at watching, listening, empathising and focussing deeply
•    Recognising the leadership qualities of the introverts in your business (and your family) is important
•    Creating a culture that respects the needs of introverts (as well as extroverts and amniverts) and allows them to thrive is worthwhile
•    Perfectionism is a trait associated with introversion. Developing a warm and forgiving attitude toward other people’s mistakes - and your own – is vital to strong leadership.
#2 Black Box Thinking, Matthew Syed

Matthew Syed, Times Columnist and author of best-selling Boost: The myth of talent and the power of practice, would agree with Cain re the importance of letting go of perfectionism. In this edgy new title he argues that the secret to success is a positive attitude towards failure. Failure must no longer be shameful and stigmatizing. Failure must be seen as exciting and enlightening, apparently. 

An Olympian table tennis player himself, Syed draws on many detailed case studies from the worlds of sport, business and humanitarian aid to make his point. 

Key leadership learning points 

•    Implement a ‘precision guided’ problem-spotting model. The ‘ballistic model’ is: ‘calculate the gravity, take aim and hit the bullseye’. The ‘precision-guided’ approach involves ongoing tweaks and nudges once the bullet’s in the air
•    Make it ok to fail. Flatten hierarchical structures. Consider removing accountability for slip-ups. Definitely eradicate rebukes for, and punitive responses to, mistakes
•    A handful of measures aren’t enough: the instillation of a company-wide, failure-embracing culture is necessary to create a process of dynamic change and adaptation, similar to the way biological evolution works

#3 Elon Musk, Ashlee Vance

OK. Time to mix this list up a bit with a biography. Written in a chatty style by Ashlee Vance, it’s a very readable account of how one tech billionaire, Elon Musk, plans to save the world, by solving transport and global warming, and establishing a colony on Mars. Yes, really!

Founder of Paypal, Tesla Motors (the world’s leading electric car company), aeronautics company SpaceX and solar services company SolarCity, Musk is a compulsive innovator and joined up thinker on a mission. 

The mission? To fundamentally change the way the world uses energy: the complete transformation of the entire energy infrastructure of the world. Yes, really! 

An interesting read, Vance shows how Musk can be difficult but also personable and that his companies aren't reinventing the wheel, so much as streamlining it. 

Musk is a visionary leader. His single-minded determination to change the world for the better, inspiring others to think the unimaginable and breakthrough barriers, is a great leadership strength. A powerful example of an introverted leader, this title so memorably illustrates many of Cain’s points about quiet leadership that it may make sense reading them in tandem. 

Key leadership learning points:

•    If you believe something needs to be done and don’t see anyone else doing it, do it
•    If you think big, plan big
•    Musk’s style of innovating, adding value to what exists by continuously streamlining products or services united by a theme is joined up thinking at its best. Joined-up thinking works.

#4 Ted Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, Chris Anderson

Want to create talks that are unforgettable? Who better to seek advice from than the man who put TED talks on the world stage, Chris Anderson? Ted Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking offers the inside secrets to giving the type of memorable content regularly viewed by millions on www.ted.com.

Looking back at over a decade of talks, Anderson dissects the critical elements that create a magical connection between speaker and audience; in doing so he has discovered that there is no formula, other than positive intention.

Key leadership learning points:

•    Great talks take the audience on a journey. They are transformative. At their core is a meaningful point. Identify your meaningful point.
•    To deliver meaning you need to thread something unexpected into your speech, a ‘through line’ – (examples of through lines in TED talks include: ‘more choices make us less happy’; ‘vulnerability is to be treasured, not hidden away (from)’)
•    Tell a story. Stories generate interest, empathy, emotion and intrigue. Having the right story is important. It needs to serve the idea, not just provide entertainment. 
•    Get personal. Be vulnerable. “If you can’t connect with the audience it just won’t land,” advises Anderson.
•    Humour, used skilfully and cautiously, builds an emotional connection: use it.
•    Less is more. TED talks are famously 18 minutes. Less than is fine. More than is not. How to edit down? Ensure everything you say is related to your main idea – your meaningful point. 

#5 Optimize Your Strengths

Picking up on Anderson’s love of story, my final recommendation is Optimize Your Strengths, the latest success story in the genre of leadership fables. As proposed in my previous blog 7 Leadership Fables Every Manager Should Read, fables work by using the power of story to show, rather than tell.

This new fable shares a proven methodology for helping leaders put their strengths to work and get the best out of themselves and their teams. A compelling storyline, supported by practical models and exercises to use in your workplace, it’s a must-read. 

Key leadership learning points:

  • Understand your strengths. Align them with your values, aspirations and abilities. 
  • Adopt the four Stretch Leadership Habits: sharing vision, sparking engagement, executing and sustaining progress.
  • Create a road map detailing stretch goals, success measures and enabling strengths. Ensure everyone is aligned with these goals and their strengths contribute.
  • Recruit across the full spectrum of strengths. Align people’s strengths with their roles, give them a clear vision – a reason to be passionate about their work. 
  • Choose the path of possibility. The path of limitation is unproductive and drains your energy. 
  • Focus on strengths whilst addressing performance risks caused by limiting weaknesses, strengths in overdrive and sources of interference. 
  • Stretch is a continuous journey. Stretch creates positive energy. Stretch sustains progress.

Professional Academy offer a range of Management & Leadership Training as both bespoke in-company training with the option of accredited CMI qualification pathways and management & leadership qualifications for individuals looking to progress in their management career. Why not contact us today to see if we can help you with your personal development as a manager and a leader?