Books to Lead By

“Books can be an extension of who you are.” Todd Bol, Co-Founder of Little Free Library

8332117439A few years back I took to heart the common business wisdom of “act like the leader you want to be.” Instead of waiting for the right opportunity to lead or the perfect position to lead from, I began to pursue growing into the leader that I wanted to be. I added a lot of leadership publications to my feedly account, I added leadership and change management books to my Goodreads shelf, I reflected on what I was saying and doing at the office and how I was saying and doing  it, I sought feedback from my superiors and mentors, and even got a grant to attend the  Leadership Institute for Academic Librarians (which I highly recommend (you’re welcome, Joe!)).

Now a few months into a new management position I am thankful that I took the time to fill up my well of knowledge as -surprise!- there just is not as much time do that now. My current role requires me to flex my leadership and managment muscles more often which means I need to rely on what I have incorporated into my daily practices and spend less time seeking out sources of new knowledge.

My current position is an interim one, but I hope to secure it or continue on into another position of leadership. So I continue to embrace the “act like the leader” philosophy every day. Musing on this one day I got to thinking about how leaders who are new to an organization might best help their leadership team get to know them. How could a new leader capitalize on that brand-new, blank canvas moment to encourage trust, build a shared sense of understanding, and communicate her leadership style?

Perhaps because I am a librarian, my answer is – with books! Why not recommend that your leadership team read 1 or 2 of the books that best capture your management style or the vision you have for the organization? You’d want to follow that up with a conversation of course, but that conversation could go deeper and be more meaningful if you were starting out from the same knowledge or ideas.

So here are the 2 books that I would recommend if I was leading a new team or organization.

  1. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matter Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen

Why? This book has changed the way I approach almost all of my conversations. It helped me visualize pathways towards truly understanding others instead of just getting what I want or giving them what they want. It aligns with my servant leadership style and my StrengthsFinder attributes of Maximizer and Connectedness.

How could it benefit the team? It would be great to follow this read with role playing or practicing the art of the learning conversation. Better yet, the time could be spent talking about something that really matters to the team. “Are you going to reorganize us?” “Do you want to change the way we have always done this?” Practicing the stance of the three conversations (What happened, Feelings and Identity) as a group could be a powerful way for everyone to learn the craft of talking about what matters while also learning about themselves and their new boss.

  1. Reframing Academic Leadership by Lee Bolman and Joan Gallos

Why? Academia is a unique institution and frankly a lot of business books and articles just don’t speak well to the leadership struggles in academia. This book helps bring leadership and management wisdom into the specific context of higher education.

How could it benefit the team? Units within institutes of higher education tend to get pretty myopic. During a time of transition or stress this tendency will intensify. Reading this book together will help the team see that the new leader is not only responsible to them, but reports up, out, and down. The team could work through one of the boss’s new charges or anticipated struggles to practice thinking from multiple perspectives. Hopefully the practice could be adopted as a technique for decision making and or strategic planning.

What leadership books would you recommend to your team?


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