Good Gifts

Given my personal penchant for sending books to clients and colleagues instead of fruit baskets during the holidays, this month I am presenting an unusual holiday gift list. Below are some suggestions for leadership reading that you will not find on the bestseller list. There is nothing trendy or mainstream in these titles, and yet each of these books holds rich information for those who are leaders — or who aspire to lead.

  • “Building Trust,” by Fernando Flores and Robert Solomon. A professor of business and philosophy at the University of Texas, Solomon writes on business ethics. Flores, previously Minister of Finance and then a political prisoner in Chile, now works as a coach and very nontraditional OD intervention consultant. The book examines a foundational facet of any leadership framework, building and sustaining trust. This is definitely not a how-to book and not light reading. No institution is above targeting by these authors, including government, corporations and personal institutions at all levels. “Building Trust” provides deep grist for the thinking mill, but do not look for easy answers.
  • “Leadership and the Art of Self Deception,” from The Arbinger Institute. This is an odd little book, with material from a wide range of attitudinal models. I almost did not get past the first 10 pages of this book simply based on the trite story line, the business parable format and the frankly not-very-businesslike business scenarios. However, it is short, easy to read and turned out to be a terrific and very accessible communication of how our self perceptions impact our behavior, relationships and effectiveness. You will not likely find this one at a retail outlet but it is available online.
  • “The War of Art,” by Steven Pressfield. Pressfield writes historical novels about war and warriors. He has written about the Spartans at Thermopylae, the last stand of the Amazons and the stories of a host of other classical warriors. Most people know him for his golf story, “The Legend of Bagger Vance” — actually a retelling of another great story, the Bhagavad Gita. “The War of Art” is short and extremely demanding. Pressfield examines the nature of focus and intention, leaving no room for excuses or justification for not following the path of our innermost passion. The backdrop is about creating art, “…whether it is to write a novel or to start a plumbing supply business.” But what Pressfield is really writing about is showing up to do the work in front of us — and the cost to our very souls for not doing so. In the opening section, Pressfield punches his readers right between the eyes, saying that we each have “two lives. The one we live, and the one we would have lived” if we understood how to overcome resistance and show up to work. Like his characters. Pressfield is unrelenting and unforgiving in his viewpoints on overcoming resistance and bringing our best selves to what we do day in and day out. Be warned, this is not a fluffy motivational tract. This little book can change your entire outlook on life and your life’s work.

This list is not a tirade against mainstream books on leadership. I think that writers like John Kotter and Jim Collins should be mandatory reading for anyone who leads or plans to someday. But each of these titles is a deep dive into specific traits and behaviors that put meat on the bones of those overviews. More importantly, each of these books challenges us to bring something personal and critical to our leadership. These are books with backbone and heart.

Originally published in Arkansas Business, Barry Goldberg On Leadership, November 15, 2004.