Curiosity is a key competency for those looking to grow and lead. Curiosity about a business, its industry, people, customers, competitors, investors, are all necessary to excel in today’s high speed world of hyper-competition. There are many ways to satisfy your curiosity including doing, reading, researching, and interviewing.
Unfortunately for many, reading takes the very last seat in the back, with the most common excuse I hear for not reading – “who has the time?” To which my response is, “Apparently only the highest of high performers.” What exactly are you willing to invest in improving yourself and your skills? How much time? How much money? How much of your freedom? Why freedom? Because, when others are using their freedom to golf, ski, hit the bar, head to the gym, or sleep on that cross-country flight, you’re using your freedom to expand your knowledge base and perspective.
Whether you’ve been a leader for a year, or twenty, we all experience ups, downs, wins, losses, triumphs, and failures. One thing I’d say is that your top reads will almost always be driven by your immediate, or anticipated circumstances. My suggestion is to have a stable of those books identified and ready to go. In addition, practicing the habit of self-reflection will also super-charge your results when combined with building your arsenal of perspectives through reading.
If you’re wondering how much to read, I simply say, get started. Everyone’s pace is different. Some like turning pages, others like reading on a tablet, and still others prefer listening via audiobooks. No matter your preference, just start. Set a goal. Pick a book and set a goal to complete it within 2 weeks. Two weeks is a good timeframe to get through a book that’s between 250 – 300 pages once placed into your routine. Make no mistake, a routine it must be.
A few thoughts before revealing the list of critical reads for all leaders…first, all leaders need financial acumen. However, most of us, unless you were classically trained, have learned while doing. This doesn’t make for a very strong financial foundation. Public companies view the world quite differently from privately held companies, or even more specifically those owned by private equity.
Second, to be a great leader you must learn and understand what it means to follow. This means that all great leaders take the time to learn as much as they can. If you don’t have a very healthy dose of curiosity, then find one quickly. Your leadership life span will be limited by the depth of knowledge you acquire and accumulate as it relates to your business and the industry.
Lastly, conduct regular assessments on your personal performance. Find a number of folks who will be brutally honest with you about your style, your results, your core competencies. Play to your strengths and stop dwelling on your weaknesses.
Here is a list of the top reads for all leaders:
- Financial Intelligence and Valuation are two of the best books written to help leaders understand what’s important to your investors, lenders, and Board. Situational awareness is critical, so get to know and understand your business’s key financial metrics. What are they? What drives them? How do they behave over time, or under certain conditions?
- Failing Forward is one of the best “get your head straight” books I’ve read. Written more than a decade ago, the teachings of this book still apply and help to keep things in perspective. Other strong additions include: Unfu*k Yourself, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fu*k, The No Asshole Rule, and On Speaking Well.
- To build your problem solving skills be sure to read Power Questions, The McKinsey Engagement, The McKinsey Mind, The Ultimate Consultant, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, Judgement, The Customer Mindset, and Transparency are all solid books to help you inform your thinking through a combination of asking better questions, quickly assessing different situations.
- Establishing your leadership style happens over time, as well as through the circumstances in which you experience. Some of the greatest insights have come from coaches, world leaders, and history in general. Check out the following books that all have strong leadership lessons: Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance, John Adams, Wooden on Leadership, The House of Dimon, The Last Man Standing, 1776, Solider: The Life of Colin Powell, His Excellency, Forged in Crisis, Quiet Strength, On the Brink, and Team of Rivals.
- Finally, all great leaders are curious about other success stories. What made one company great, while another failed? Understanding the concept of best practices, or at least those practices that helped enable success within a specific corporate culture, are a strong part of a leader’s development. Consider the following books: The Nordstrom Way, Hershey, Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS, Inside Steve’s Brain, Disney U, and Built Not Born.