5 Books For Leadership Growth | Expand Your Thinking

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The most successful leaders are lifelong learners. They don’t run from change; they see it as an opportunity to develop new skills. They don’t shrink from challenge; they believe anything is possible.

One of the best ways to prepare yourself as a leader for the inevitable changes and challenges that lie ahead is to read – and listen — to useful, thought-provoking content. You’ll stretch your thinking and expose yourself to new ideas, not to mention encourage those around you to grow, too.

I’m often asked, “What are you reading now?” I love to read, but sometimes it’s hard to find the time. It helps to get recommendations from other leaders on books or podcasts that have made an impact on them.

Whether I’ve been on a plane or out for a run, this summer I’ve enjoyed digging into some engaging works. Following are some of my current favorites – both books and podcasts. You can also download my longer list of recommended leadership resources.


Recommended books


“Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence” by Daniel Goleman

Maintaining focus can be incredibly difficult for leaders due to the increasing demands on our time and the infinite number of distractions available to us at the touch of a screen. We want to think more strategically and focus on what matters, but we find ourselves sucked in to the urgent and the crisis of the moment.

This is a great read on the science of attention, why it matters, how to increase it. Goleman, best known as the author of “Emotional Intelligence,” touches on three types of attention: inner, other and outer focus. He shares practical advice on how leaders can improve habits, add new skills and sustain better performance.

Focus by Daniel Goleman

“Great CEOs are Lazy” by Jim Schleckser

Most leaders at the top of an organization have more than enough to do. They’re asked to envision, guide, inspire, support and fix non-stop. The problem is they get so busy doing these things that they find themselves exhausted and on the verge of burn out. “Always on” isn’t sustainable.

Through in-depth research of more than 1,000 CEOs, Schleckser and his team learned the top-performing CEOs weren’t the busiest. Instead, they were very clear about what they should devote their time and energy to doing, and they said “no” to everything else. In other words, they apply one of the most important lessons I learned in my leadership journey – focus on what only you can do and give the rest of it away.

High-performing CEOs are “strategically lazy,” playing only one of five roles – the learner, the architect, the coach, the engineer and the player. This is a useful read if you are struggling with knowing what roles and responsibilities you should assume, and what you should be giving away.

Great CEOs are Lazy, Jim Schleckser

“The PRIMES: How Any Group Can Solve Any Problem” by Chris McGoff

I had the opportunity to hear Chris speak to an executive women’s group I’m a member of. He is brilliant, and this book captures his best stuff.

To explain, the PRIMES are universal and unavoidable patterns of group behavior that emerge whenever people attempt to transform systems or collaborate to tackle complex problems. Most leaders see the issues and politics that arise from these behaviors, but few of us can anticipate them or know what to do about them when they happen.

Chris lays out 46 different PRIMES that are simple, proven secrets to solving these leadership challenges. Each PRIME has a simple graphic to make it memorable and easy to communicate the concept to others. They are grouped by theme such as: leading in uncertain times, establishing powerful alliances, increasing group performance, dealing with group failure, thriving in ambiguity.

One of my favorite PRIMES is the Core Prime, which gives invaluable guidance on leading through change. This teaching identifies five essentials that once you gain agreement on with your group, will allow you to lead them through change:

  • As Is – what is reality
  • Environment – what’s happening around us
  • Stake – what will happen if we don’t change
  • To Be – our vision for the future
  • Strategy – how we’ll get there

I highly recommend this book to beef up your leadership tool kit with simple but powerful principles you can use today.

The PRIMES, Chris McGoff


Recommended podcasts


Hidden Brain: “The Edge Effect”

What could happen if you took a chance to meet, talk and work with somebody different from yourself? Perhaps something extraordinary. This is the essence of “the edge effect.”

Hidden Brain is one of my favorite podcasts. The episodes are very engaging, and I always learn something new. The focus is on science and storytelling to reveal the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, shape our choices and direct our relationships.

In this episode, host Shakar Vedantam explores what can happen when people from different worlds connect and collaborate. The lesson: Familiar ground may not be the best place to cultivate creativity.

From science and business to music and the world of fashion, researchers have found that people with deep connections to people from other countries and cultures often see benefits in terms of their creative output. Their out-of-the-box thinking is far better.

I particularly liked the story about Cristina Pato, a Spanish bagpipe master, who was asked to come and play “just for fun” with a group of other musicians whom she didn’t know. It turns out the group was YoYo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. By taking a chance, she stumbled into a room of master musicians, and it changed her life.

Listen here: The Edge Effect


HBR Ideacast: “4 Behaviors of Top-Performing CEOs”

This is a good podcast to subscribe to if you want the latest thinking on business and management. In this episode, Elena Botelho, a partner at leadership advisory firm ghSmart, talks about the disconnect between the stereotype of the CEO and what research shows actually leads to high performance at that level.

Her work, the CEO Genome Project, studied top executives over time to determine what led to exceptional performance. She says factors such as your height, weight, gender and personality type are not nearly as influential as people think they are. The good news: your destiny is largely in your own hands. Research shows that there are four behaviors (my favorite is No. 3) that more consistently lead to high performance in the corner office.

Find out more about these secrets to success by listening to: 4 Behaviors of Top-Performing CEOs For more in-depth information, read Botelho’s article “What Sets Successful CEOs Apart” in the May-June 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review.


Leadership Resources

As a seasoned executive coach with over 20 years of experience in executive roles, Elise Mitchell has put together free guides to help leaders on their journey. Get practical strategies that you can implement today. 

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Written By

Elise Mitchell

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