Leaders are Readers (and Listeners, and Thinkers…)

If I could pick my “most important trait” for a potential leader it would have to be someone who has a hunger to learn and get better. Fortunately there are any number of great tools available to help one do so.

There are lots of characteristics that leaders need to have, but it’s that zeal to learn in particular takes the cake for me. With it your leadership potential is nearly limitless, while without it it’s extraordinarily hindered.

I’ve been blessed on my own leadership journey by countless resources that have helped to make me better. The posts below are simply my sharing some of those resources that have so blessed me with you.

Here you’ll find short reviews of books I’ve found useful, links to podcasts or other audio/video content that has helped me, and articles I’m reflecting on. I hope these resources will serve you as well as they’ve served me as you lead where you are.

P.S. I’m always on the lookout for new leadership resources. If you’ve got one that’s blessed you on your journey that’s not featured here I’d love to hear about it from you! Just leave a comment below to let me know a little bit about it and I’ll make sure to check it out.

Leading Change Without Losing It

If there’s one thing that every leader has to learn early on in their leadership journey it’s how to navigate change. Leading change is challenging, which Carey understands firsthand as the Pastor of Connexus Church. While leading change is difficult for any leader it’s especially so for Pastors, who are beholden to the will of the people they lead in ways that most business leaders are not.

Carey brings his skill as both Pastor and lifelong student of leadership to the table in presenting his five strategies for leading change and staying sane. Those five strategies are:

  1. Determine who is for (or against) the change and why
  2. Decide where to focus your attention
  3. Develop the questions that will set your course.
  4.  Learn to attack problems instead of people.
  5.  Persevere until the critical breakthrough.

Carey is a generous leader and his blog and podcast are two of my favorites when it comes to leadership. Whether you’re a leader in business, ministry, or even just your family Carey’s resources will bless you, and none more so than this short book. (****)

In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership

This book lives up to its title as well as any book I’ve ever read. In a mere 110 pages Nouwen paints a picture of what it looks like to lead like Jesus that is intimate, engaging, and practical. Nouwen draws on his personal journey from celebrated Harvard professor to unknown chaplain for a community of the mentally disabled to demonstrate that Christian leadership must always be concerned with the exaltation of the other and the humiliation of the self.

Because this book is so short I’ve returned to it often over the years. I don’t re-read things all that much, but this book has proven to be worth the effort time and time again. Every time I read it I’m encouraged to lead with greater humility and reminded that the true heart of leadership is not selfish ambition, but selfless sacrifice. (*****)

Visioneering (Multnomah, 2001)

A very specific book about a very important topic. One of the main challenges and opportunities for every leader is vision-casting. Vision is the lifeblood of any impactful organization, and it’s our job as leaders to make sure that vision is clear, inspirational, and implemented.

Using the Biblical book of Nehemiah as his guide Pastor Andy Stanley provides concrete teaching about “visioneering”, his word for the process of crafting and driving forward ones vision for an organization. The book is practical and personal as Andy shares many stories from his own experience as a leader to illustrate his points along the way. Very helpful at any time, especially when you’re thinking through your organizations vision. (****)

Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals (Plume, 2010)

This was such an inspirational read. This is one of those books where everything you need to know is contained right there in the title, it’s all about goal-setting. Specifically, the book is written by a Psychologist and researcher who uses that background to give concrete advice based on cutting-edge brain science about how to most effectively motivate ourselves via goal-setting.

Honestly I’m not a great nor consistent goal-setter and I still really enjoyed this book. It inspired me to do better at setting goals, and helped show me what that should look like. The research behind the author’s findings is fascinating in and of itself and make for page turning reading. A really, really great book for anyone, especially leaders. (*****)

Creativity, Inc. (Random House, 2014)

One of the coolest leadership books I’ve ever read! This book takes you inside the world of Pixar and lets you learn leadership from Ed Catmull, their President and founder. Ed has a great sense of humor and that shows up throughout the book. I’m not even really a Pixar fan, and I still enjoyed the chance to get an inside look at one of the most successful creative ventures of all time.

Ed shares early on in the book that he quickly decided that to best add value to the company he needed to figure out why certain creative companies succeeded where others failed. What were the differentiating marks of a successful company? He’s spent his time at Pixar since cultivating and refining what he’s discovered, and this book is his sharing that wisdom with the rest of us. On uniqueness alone this one is worth the read. (*****)

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (HarperCollins Christian, 1997)

If you’re looking for a simple but fairly exhaustive summary of what it takes to lead well this book is the place to start. John Maxwell is a leadership genius and his experience comes through in this book where he provides his 21 “irrefutable laws” to lead and lead well. John Maxwell brings extensive experience in ministry and business to the table and that mix of gifts comes through throughout, and makes it an engaging read for ministry or business leaders.

My personal favorite laws of the 21 include The Law of Solid Ground, The Law of Connection, and The Law of Buy-In, but each of the laws is worth reflecting on. This is a book I’d recommend to someone who’s just starting out on their leadership journey as it gives a great overview of what it takes to be a leader worth following. (***)

View From the Top (Wiley, 2014)

This book is truly unique in the leadership genre. The books contents are drawn from hundreds of interviews that D. Michael Lindsay, the books author and President of Gordon college, conducted over a years-long period with some of America’s top leaders in government, business, and charity.

The book offers the reader the unique opportunity to get a look inside the lives of these high-capacity “platinum” leaders and learn from their experience. The author’s ability to boil down the diverse source material into tangible principles which are presented in each chapter is helpful, and provides helpful structure throughout the book. (****)

Boundaries for Leaders (HarperCollins, 2013)

This book was way better than I expected it to be. The title didn’t draw me in as much as some other leadership books have, but I’m SO glad I didn’t let that stop me from reading it. Dr. Henry Cloud is a brilliant leader who brings his background in psychology to bear in helping leaders be as effective as possible in their leadership. That background in psychology allows Dr. Cloud to take a look at leadership in a fresh and interesting way that easily differentiates this book from others like it.

In addition to being brilliant Dr. Cloud is engaging, and the book is a pleasure to read. His introduction to “Three P’s” thinking of handling a negative result (Personal, Pervasive, Permanent) that sabotages every leader at one point or another is worth the purchase price alone. (*****)

The Next Generation Leader (Multnomah, 2006)

Clear, powerful, and applicable leadership teaching from one of the American churches best known leaders, this book is the first one I recommend to people looking to get their feet wet in leadership. Andy breaks leadership down into five “essential characteristics” and even alliterates them to help you remember (clarity, competence, coachability, and character). A quick read at just 176 pages , there’s no excuse to not have this one in your leadership library! (*****)