My Summer Reading List: Part One

I love books! Not e-readers, not audiobooks. For me, there is something about the feel of a real book in my hand.

The turning of the pages. Always having a “roller ball” pen to underline and mark them up. I just love the feel of the pen going across the paper. Sometimes I write notes in the margin. When something really motivates me, I will even start taking notes on the front pages of the book so that I have an easy reference to the pages that impacted me.

I am a self-admitted “readaholic.”

From time to time, folks ask me what I have been reading. So I thought I would share a few of my favorites from this summer. As I reflected on the over a dozen books I have consumed, these 6 really stood out for me. Since 6 is way too many to do in one blog post, I thought I would break it up into two posts over the next two weeks. I hope you find this interesting and if one of these titles intrigues you. I hope you will get a copy and have some fun with it. I have tried to organize these so there will be a lot of diversity in each of the two posts. I present them in no logical order since I loved them all and they all had some impact on my life.

The Backpack by Tim A. Gardner

I know I said in the paragraph above I loved all the books I read this summer, and that is true. But maybe I am a communist reader because I loved this one just a little more than all the rest.

The backpack is a story that primarily takes place on an airplane. The fact that it is a story with leadership implications really excites me. There are plenty of books out that are prescriptive in the self-help context. In this story, the backpack serves as a metaphor for our emotional self-awareness and emotional expression. The main idea here is that as a leader it is really important to understand and manage our own emotions while learning to love others along the way.

There is a life lesson application on almost every page. As I watched the characters move through the story I found myself saying, “I am glad I don’t do that.” Then I would ask my wife, “Do I ever do that?” She would answer, “I have seen you do that!” The point here is that we all have metaphorical emotional backpacks that we swing and hit other people with from time to time.

This book will make you stop and think about how you as a leader are really impacting others. In my opinion, it is a must-read and should be placed in every masters and doctoral program on leadership! If you liked the book “The Servant” by James C Hunter then you will LOVE the Backpack.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is when the main character, Jon, has a revelation and realized he is responsible for everything in his backpack and everything that comes out of it as well. His mentor in the book, Buddy, tells him, “The next big step, the step that takes all of the practice we were discussing, is realizing that our emotions need not be the excuse for bad behavior. We can, for the most part, decide what actually does come out of our backpack.”

Powerful idea, Tim! Really powerful!

Question for Reflection: Are you aware of what is coming out of your emotional backpack at all times?

The Fearless Organization by Amy C Edmonson

If you are a leader, and if you are processing the above quote about controlling what comes out of your backpack, then this book by Amy Edmonson is for you. In a very clear and easy to read way, Amy walks you through all the research on why leaders who create psychological safety have better outcomes than those who do not.

The point is clear: hiring talented people is not enough! Especially if they show up and do not feel safe enough to display their talent.

Sometimes well-meaning folks cannot contribute because they do not recognize the need for their input. More often, according to Edmonson, it is because they are reluctant to stand out, be wrong, or offend the boss.

One of my favorite things about this book is that it totally gives leaders permission to look at their failures, not as absolutes but as learning. This book is really about unleashing to potential in followers by creating an environment where they feel safe. The more the culture helps people feel safe the better the work outcome will be. Period!

One of the most powerful moments in the book happened for me early on; “…in psychologically safe workplace, people are not hindered by interpersonal fear. They fell willing and able to take the inherent interpersonal risks of candor. They fear holding back their full participation more than they fear sharing a potentially sensitive, threatening, or wrong idea. The fearless organization is one in which interpersonal fear is minimized so that team and organizational performance can be maximized in a knowledge sensitive world. It is not one devoid of anxiety about the future!”

Question for Reflection: How are you doing at creating an organization where people feel safe?

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

This one is perhaps a bit personal, but I just had to include it on the list. As I write this, my siblings and I are working with my Mom in making decisions about how she wants to spend the years she has left (she is 83 years young). We are also impacted by the fact that she remarried about 8 years ago and her husband is now in a nursing home. I will spare you all the intimate details of the family dynamic, just to say I needed to learn more about what matters to people at the end of life.

Gwande is a physician and so kind and empathic as he lays out, from both his scientific and personal experiences, what people go through at the end of their lives. The book is so easy to digest as the main points are all made in a very readable, story form. He covers topics from what it means to be independent and how important that is to us all; to what assistance can look like and all the different forms it can take. There are really sensitive chapters on making hard choices and letting go.

Perhaps one of the most impactful quotes to me from the book is: “…as people’s capacities wane, whether through age or ill health, making their lives better often requires curbing our purely medical imperatives-resisting the urge to fill and fix and control.”

Powerful words for me as I balance helping my mom make decisions that are best for her without trying to control everything. I am trying to do a better job of listening and just being, rather than always being so processed focused on what task needs to be done next.

Question for reflection: How are you doing at listening without trying to control?

I hope you enjoyed these brief recommendations! Stay tuned for part two next week.