The self-improvement or self-help book market is estimated to be an $11 – $12 billion dollar business. While the notion of self-improvement dates back to Greco-Roman times, self-help did not become a real industry until the last third of the 20th Century, marked as the post-modernism period. Currently Amazon.com shows nearly 60,000 titles in their self-improvement category. The question is, with that many titles and that much material being written, how much is really unique? Of those 60,000 titles how do you know which ones provide the greatest insights that lead to those ever-coveted “ah-ha” moments? To help you bypass sifting through 60,000 titles I’ve included my 6 favorite self-improvement books that have inspired me over the years. I have read each of them several times over as I have encountered different life situations. I included some key learnings and some valuable excerpts from each below.
- Failing Forward, by John C. Maxwell. Key Learnings: Failure is the price you pay for progress. “I’m not a failure, I failed at doing something.” In 1922, Harry S. Truman was thirty-eight years old, in debt, and out of work. In 1945, he was the most powerful leader of the free world. Failure is not forever. George Bernard Shaw said, “A life spent in making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” The problems of people’s pasts impact them in one of two ways: They experience either a breakdown or a breakthrough.
- Authentic Leadership, by Bill George. Key Learnings: When leading people recognize that the collective knowledge and wisdom of the team vastly exceeds your own. Spend time identifying your life’s “crucible moments”, those times during which your circumstances and experiences resulted in life altering perspectives. Authentic leaders must have: Purpose (Passion), Values (Behavior), Heart (Compassion), Relationships (Connectedness), Self-Discipline (Consistency). Cultural change is never an easy task, and far more cultural efforts fail than succeed.
- Quite Strength, by Tony Dungy. Key Learnings: If you want to win, do the ordinary things better than anyone else does – day in and day out. Why would you let anything stop you from doing what you have the ability to do? Focus on the job, not the surroundings, and embrace each situation rather than try to change it. People look more closely at our actions during rough times, when our emotions are raw and our guard is down. What’s important is not the accolades and memories of success but the way you respond when opportunities are denied.
- Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? by Louis V. Gerstner. Jr. Key Learnings: The marketplace dictates everything you should do. Manage by principle, not by procedure. When addressing groups of people whether employees, clients or shareholders, stand up and speak from the heart. Sooner is better than perfect. Sales is about fulfilling the demand that marketing generates. Organizations are nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value. If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. Stay connected to your top 25 clients…always.
- Thanks For The Memories Mr. President by Helen Thomas. Great presidents (leaders) set great goals for mankind. Be who you are. Be consistent. Focus on what matters most…the truth…and have no agenda. Treat everyone equally regardless of their (political) affiliations. This book showcases the importance of humor especially during times of extreme conflict, stress, and pressure. Plain old funny.
- His Excellency by Joseph J. Ellis. A powerful book that chronicles the unassuming rise of our first President. Stresses the importance of possessing qualities including perseverance, commitment, determination, honesty, and courage. Also suggests a role that perhaps fate played in George Washington’s rise to become President. In the face of constant adversity, the necessity of a powerful and enduring will to keep moving forward appears almost super-human.
While these are just a handful of favorites, I have also found a great deal of inspiration in reading biographies, and autobiographies of historical leaders. Presidents, world leaders, and even those of celebrities who conquered extreme childhood trauma or disappointments yet rose to become revered and respected are true inspirations. I believe the greatest opportunities for learning and improving ourselves, can be found in the footsteps of the great ones who have walked before us. Sometimes being reminded to do the basics well, can produce incredible world-changing results.