My fourth year of setting a reading goal was a success. As with last year, I focused on quality over quantity, which left more than two dozen books on my “to read” shelf … Some really good books that I’ll look forward to sharing with you next year! Until then, what did I read this year that is worth sharing? Out of the dozen, here are my personal top 5 picks. These 5 books made an impact on me personally and professionally, with one thought from each book shared with you below.
The first was Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Essentialism is the idea that doing less, but better, allows you to make the highest possible contribution to your organization and your personal life. McKeown poses these critical questions:
Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin?
Do you sometimes feel overworked and underutilized?
Do you feel motion sickness instead of momentum?
Does your day sometimes get hijacked by someone else’s agenda?
Have you ever said “yes” simply to please and then resented it?
If you answered yes to any of these, the way out is the Way of the Essentialist.
Chapter 10 is called Clarify, and it’s all about Mission Statements, which was so good I re-read it several times, taking notes to share with my clients when this topic comes up. McKeown addresses shifting your mission statement from ‘pretty clear’ to ‘really clear.’ McKeown writes, “Clarity of purpose so consistently predicts how people do their jobs. The fact is motivation and cooperation deteriorate when there is a lack of purpose.”
I truly believe this, and McKeown backs his statement up with data from studying more than 500 people about their experience in more than 1,000 organizations. What in the world does a mission statement have to do with Essentialism? McKeown suggests removing any activity that is misaligned with what you want to achieve (your mission) and pouring your resources into what is most meaningful to your mission.
My second book recommendation for you this year is The Gift of Fear. Recommended by my business coach, I thought it was a survival guide for those with anxiety. I truly was not expecting what was to come in this book by Gavin de Becker. The book demonstrates how we should learn to trust the inherent gift of our gut instinct.
By learning to recognize various warning signs and precursors to violence, it becomes possible to avoid potential trauma and harm. De Becker is credited with co-designing the MOSAIC Threat Assessment Systems used to screen threats to the US Supreme Court Justices, members of the United States Congress, and senior officials of the Central Intelligence Agency. He shares many stories of his threat assessments throughout the book to illustrate just how important our gut feeling is.
Another of my takeaways from the book was around making business decisions. “Knowing the question is the first step to knowing the answer,” de Becker says. I said a little ‘amen’ to this one, because if you’ve been through strategic planning with me, you know rule No. 6 of our planning session is to “ask a freaking question” to gain the proper perspective on a situation before addressing the answer. One of the most powerful takeaways for me was something I as a leader take comfort in sometimes, and way too often see credit union leaders take comfort in this to the demise of their credit unions: “While the man overboard may enjoy the comfortable belief that he is still in this stateroom, there is soon a price to pay for his daydream.”
Denial denies us the details we need, and the best predictions float by us like life preservers.
Put Your Ass Where Your Heart Wants to Be is a quick read authored by Steven Pressfield. I finished it in one sitting. It was full of great one-liners to keep in the back of your mind. The overall point he is making in this book is that where the body goes, the spirit follows.
Therefore, move thy butt. Put your ass where your heart wants to be. In chapter 23, Pressfield quotes a passage from another book of his, The War of Art, which I’d previously read. “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves, too.”
Whatever you can do or dream, begin it. Personally or professionally. At the age of 64, my father committed himself to playing the piano, and it started by tapping on a few keys and doing it consistently each day. At 70 years old, Bragg Mutual Federal Credit Union left its somewhat messy past behind and dedicated itself to moving forward to serve its members well and better than anyone else can. What do you need to commit to for success this year? Put your ass where your heart wants to be and start.
The Innovator’s Dilemma was a tough read. Author Clayton Christensen describes how large incumbent companies lose market share by listening to their customers and providing what appears to be the highest-value products, but new companies that serve low-value customers with poorly developed technology can improve that technology incrementally until it is good enough to quickly take market share from an established business. With much of his research surrounding the disk drive industry, parts of this were tough to follow through the techy details, but the data presented is an essential business plan for the survival of credit unions, especially small boutique credit unions.
“As companies become larger and more successful, it becomes more difficult to enter emerging markets early enough,” Christensen write. He makes the case that larger organizations need to add increasing chunks of new revenue each year to maintain their desired rate of growth, leaving many technology decisions necessarily to the bare minimum to remain relevant. The book also outlines the rise and fall of discount retailers and why some have made it, and some are a part of our history. This book is the playbook for credit unions to survive and thrive.
My final book recommendation is of course another great read by Ryan Holiday, an author I recommend each year in this list. Holiday released Discipline is Destiny this year and it was another gut punch that all leaders should read to keep themselves in check.
In the chapter titled Sweat the Small Stuff, Holiday makes the case for why failure occurs by quoting an old proverb about a horse: “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost,” it begins. And then because of the shoe, the horse was lost and because of the horse, the rider was lost, and because of the rider, the message was lost, and because the message was lost the battle was lost, and because the battle was lost, the kingdom was lost.
“Details require discipline, even if nobody else notices or cares,” Holiday writes. As you work through your strategic plan this year, or as you execute your credit union marketing plan focus on the small details that might not matter because remember: for want of a nail, the kingdom was lost.
Dr. Seuss once said: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” The fellow leaders whom I know read as much or more than I do are even more successful. Reading constantly challenges what I think to be true and has allowed me to expand, not only my knowledge, but what I know to be true. I hope these 5 must-reads for 2023 will help you expand your mind and grow your credit union.