Learning Together – My 7 Favorite Books for a Leadership Book Study

by Nov 22, 2016Insights

Book study groups are an easy way to get leaders at all levels of your organization connecting and learning together. One of my core beliefs is Learning + Doing = Growth, so here are a few tips:

  • Keep the group size appropriate for the intensity of the book. If you want people to apply the material, and it requires them to talk about strengths and weaknesses, 3 to 6 is optimal. If the book is about a bigger leadership topic that requires less personal sharing, then 6 to 10 is fine.
  • Read it over 3 to 4 meetings.
  • Use 3×5 cards to document what people are going to practice before their next meeting and to capture key insights/how you might apply it. (I’ve learned that most people do not write in books – and I learned this by writing a book that required people to write in it !)
  • Pick the best facilitator as the leader, and feel free to rotate leadership. Do not make the person who talks the most the leader, or the executive that will feel the need to pontificate about leadership. Sharing is encouraged, dominating is not.
  • End Big – A great idea is for people to write up some of their key learnings to share via a company newsletter or all-employee meeting. Maybe even find a place to see the author speak, or ask if the author will jump on a 30-minute Q&A webinar? At the very least, share a meal or a drink to wrap up the experience.

#1Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be by Marshall Goldsmith

Why I recommend this book:

Great conversations start with a question, and Marshal Goldsmith is one of the most recognized executive coaches and in this book he shares the tools he uses when he coaches. This is a great book to practice some of the things he shares as you read it, and leaders will have opportunities to use it as they coach their team. It is one of my favorite reads this year, and it is because Goldsmith provides very practical tools to have more powerful conversations with ourselves and others. See my notes above around structure and flow of the group, but this one is best read by people ready to try and share things.

#2 – Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

Why I recommend this book:

Having difficult conversations and leading the process as the leader through a calm/adult to adult demeanor is one of the top two or three skills leaders need to possess. This book is a classic, and while it is not the only book in this topic area it is probably the one that is most recognized because of the large organizations that this group has sold training and consulting services to. This book does require a heavy dose of application and reflection to get the most out of it, so reading it just to point out the gaps in the performance of others is not the way it should be read. An additional idea for reading this book is to do pairs/triads that would meet between larger group sessions to share stories, frustrations, and learnings around using the material as a leader.

#3 – Who by Geoff Smart and Randy Street

Why I recommend this book:

Hiring and onboarding people is one of the top 4 skills any leader needs to master. I started using Topgrading as a tool when I was challenged to hire the right people and I was not skilled at the interviewing and selection process.  This book is a scaled back version of the Topgrading process that will teach you a process that will improve your ability to select and onboard the right people.  I recommend only doing this with leaders who are actively hiring and practicing these tools in pairs.

#4 – People-Centered Performance: Bringing Out Our Best Through Honest Conversation

Why I recommend this book:

I wrote this book, and my main reason was to help leaders explore the gap between I am a people-centered leader and How my team sees my leadership effectiveness. There is always a gap, and this is not about labeling good vs bad, but about exploring effective vs not effective. This book provides a lens for leaders to look at what they believe leadership is, the barriers to being a people-centered leader, and actions to take tomorrow to improve their effectiveness as a leader. The bonus is a section in the back for the development of aspiring people-centered leaders that provides books, TED videos, and other resources to continue the work of building leadership capacity. Here is a free outline of a study template I developed and have delivered to several different groups of leaders.

#5 – Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin

Why I recommend this book:

I like Seth Godin, and while the format of this book is in many small chunks because of his skill at blogging and weaving things together, it speaks to individuals if they are willing to continually ask the question “What do I already do well that makes me a Linchpin? What can I do differently to increase my effectiveness as a Linchpin?” I believe Learning + Doing = Growth, so when you setup your study around this really push people to apply one thing or do lots of observing as they read this book.

#6 – Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

Why I recommend this book:

Change management is one of the top 3 skills every leader has to have to be effective, especially if their organization is growing. I also like Leading Change by John Kotter to understand how to manage large organizational changes, but chose this book because every individual, regardless of their level in the organization, will find something they can use in it. It speaks to what we need to do personally to make change stick for us. The key is to keep the group small enough that people feel safe and to apply what you are learning as you read.

#7 – [Insert your CEO’s / Leader’s favorite book here]

Why I recommend this book:

The first entrepreneur I ever worked with handed me a copy of The E-Myth and said, “Read this and you will understand me.”  I did, and I did. Peter Drucker once said about trust, “The existence of trust does not necessarily mean they like one another, it means they understand one another.” The E-Myth made that possible for me because he was the most difficult leader I ever had to work for, and I trusted him.

I meet leaders who have a passion for learning and learning with their teams. I have also seen a trend where the leader thinks the book is the important part; in reality, for the team, it is just about getting a chance to meet with and get to know a senior leader. Any study group that brings together leaders at different levels to get to know each other and share an experience is a good thing. Pick a founder, CEO, or key board member and have them bring their favorite book and join the study.

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