Year three of reaching my reading goal, which is typically to read one book per month. I failed on that his year, kind of. With life opening back up, I took more time re-connecting with friends, traveling to visit with clients, and enjoying the things (like live music) COVID-19 stole from us.
But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t stick to some reading, not just to hit a goal but to continue my growth journey. Most of these books have been recommended by friends and mentors, and all gave me a certain gut punch (or five) with the ideas presented.
The first was “Necessary Endings,” by Dr. Henry Cloud. After reading this, I want to make this required reading for the leaders of each credit union I work with for strategic planning. Page by page, I saw how the mindset that holds so many leaders back from executing on necessary change is built.
Several chapters in, Dr. Cloud writes about the “anatomy of hope.” It sums up the old saying: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, but he adds some actionable insights to extricate yourself or organization from that cycle.
“When you consider the past and come to grips with the fact that it is hopeless to expect something different in the future, then you have the kind of hopelessness that will motivate you from mere wishing to real hope.”
Dr. Cloud offers these questions to help motivate change:
- Do I want this same reality, frustration or problem six months from now?
- Do I want this same level of performance a year from now?
- Do I want to be having these conversations two years from now?
Dr. Cloud shares ideas throughout the book to push the reader toward action – to create necessary endings where you know they need to occur. Struggling with an employee you know is not a fit? Sitting in a job where you know you shouldn’t be? In a relationship you know isn’t right? Only by necessary endings can you create room for growth. This was a timely book having just gone through a divorce, and growing as a leader, to be more than a “nice guy” and make some tough decisions.
My second read was, “The Obstacle Is The Way,” by Ryan Holiday. This is the second book by Holiday I’ve read, and it was amazingly even better than the first (Ego Is The Enemy.) The Obstacle Is The Way is a collection of short stories and anecdotes that illustrate the timeless leadership lessons from some of the greatest men and women who have ever lived. Names include Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas Edison, Margaret Thatcher, Samuel Zemurray, Amelia Earhart, Erwin Rommel, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Wright, Jack Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt, Steve Jobs, James Stockdale and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Holiday writes, “Some of these men and women faced unimaginable horrors, from imprisonment to debilitating illnesses, in addition to day-to-day frustrations that were no different from ours. They dealt with the same rivalries, political headwinds, drama, resistance, conservatism, breakups, stresses, and economic calamities. Or worse. Subjected to those pressures, these individuals were transformed for the better.”
As we enter year three of many unknowns and new normal, one thought from the book is worth sharing: “In every situation, life is asking us a question, and our actions are the answer… right action – unselfish, dedicated, masterful, creative—that is the answer to the question. That’s one way to find the meaning of life and how to turn every obstacle into an opportunity.”
Looking for a short, meaningful read you can finish in a day? “The Four Agreements,” by Don Miguel Ruiz is the one. It’s dubbed “a practical guide to personal freedom” and based on ancient Toltec wisdoms and practices.
Ruiz shares the four ways you can free yourself from the self-doubt and demons that take over your mind with vicious fears that hold you back from success.
The first agreement you must make with yourself is to be impeccable with your word. “Speak with integrity and say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others.”
The second agreement is to not take anything personally. “Nothing others do is because of you.” The root system is a thought process I’ve learned from our business coach. In life and business, the way you react is a sum of everything you’ve learned from parents, grandparents, teachers, bosses, etc., and some people have deep trauma from these experiences and, without knowing it, that trauma comes out in the form of their words and actions. “When you are immune to the opinion of others and action of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”
The third agreement is to not make assumptions. “Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama.” According to Ruiz, you can completely transform your life with this one agreement, and that’s hard to argue.
The fourth and final agreement is simple: Always do your best. “Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick.” Ruiz reaffirms that if you simply do your best, you’ll have an easier time avoiding self judgement and regret.
A second book I read from Dr. Henry Cloud this year was “Integrity, the Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality.” This book changed my perspective on the definition of integrity. It is not simply being a good person and avoiding lying, stealing and cheating. Dr. Cloud suggests rather that integrity is a lifelong pursuit to understand the full reality of all situations, and then rising to the challenge of meeting the demands of that reality. It’s suggested that you cannot fully rise up as a leader if you have character issues that are holding you back.
Of course, every person does. Even the best leaders have character flaws, including patterns from our childhood (another reference that that root system above) that are negative and insecurities that hold us back. People who are truly successful are constantly working on developing their character, as well as working on their more tactile leadership or business skills. For example, reading to learn and grow.
The final book on my suggested reading list for 2022 is, “Drunk Tank Pink,” by Adam Alter. What I thought was going to be a fun read on branding (and it is) goes so much deeper. You may think of yourself as being in full control of your thoughts and behaviors, but the reality is your behavior, emotions and very perception of reality are all influenced by forces of which you might not be aware. Signs, symbols, subtle cues, subliminal messages, and complex social relationships all impact our beliefs, attitudes and actions. Risks you take and how you behave can be influenced by subconscious sexual motivations. How hard you work can depend on who is watching. How you alter your attitudes and behaviors can depend on feelings of acceptance or rejection.
This book made me question my own thoughts and actions. One chapter is dedicated to the unconscious biases we have against races and genders. Alter illustrated how even the most aware people can be biased unconsciously, which made me much more aware of my thoughts and actions in certain situations. Give this book a read and then go outside try to be more aware of how your environment makes you feel. How a billboard design makes you think. Or how those around you are affecting your behavior.
Oscar Wilde once said, “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” The books mentioned above have all given me new perspectives and stretched my thinking. I can see in certain situations how my thoughts and actions have changed, improving my leadership skills and quality of life.
I end each strategic planning session I facilitate with this quote: “You’re either green and growing, or ripe and rotting.” Reading, whether these books or others, will help you stay green and growing in 2022.