Read to Succeed

shelf of leadership books

Over the next six weeks, I’ll be sharing six different ideas that will move you to or keep you as a top gun in your organization. I call it the six-by-six plan. Do these six things every week and in some cases every day:

–       Read

–       Listen

–       Learn

–       Exercise

–       Pause

–       Serve

And then repeat them regularly for the rest of your career.

Week 1 Read:

If you desire to be at the top of your game professionally, commit to regularly reading. Don’t become like the 23% of Americans who didn’t even read one book in 2021.

If you’re new in your reading journey, you might try this:

Every year, read at least six business books related to your field each year along with six other books that have nothing to do with your career.

Earlier this year I decided to re-read some of my all-time favorite, most impactful business books rather than reading anything new – at least in the short term.

If you are like me, you’ve unlikely mastered everything in the first few readings of your favorite books. Some on my list to re-read include The Tipping Point, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Never Split the Difference, Atomic Habits, and classic favorites I read early in my young adult life – The Magic of Thinking Big and How to Win Friends and Influence People. Each of these books will provide further insight each time you read them. Similarly, A Tale of Two CitiesThe Hobbit, and To Kill A Mockingbird are some of my fiction favorites and books that everyone should read at least once. Consider making one of your six non-business books a literary classic.

 As an avid reader for most of my professional life, I have noticed what you have likely noticed as well – business book themes are quite repetitive. So if you’re like me, maybe your reading strategy needs a facelift. If so, you might try this:

Read at least six books that make your brain hurt – books that you might not otherwise read. Read books on philosophy, religion, academic books, scientific books, or books on anthropology.

In my professional circles, I’ve noticed the tendency to gravitate toward the same business books – the current or recent bestsellers. If you desire to look like, sound like, act like, or lead like everyone else, keep reading what everyone is reading. Reading those books only expands an increasingly commoditized business landscape. Stop asking people in your profession about book titles or refrain from using the New York Times or Wall Street Journal bestseller list as your reading list. Here are some alternative approaches to consider:

Try reading Aristotle, Aquinas, or Plato (click here for a list of 20 of the greatest philosophers and their big ideas)

Read the writings of our founding fathers. Search for concepts, ideas, and insights from your reading and deeply ponder their relevance in your organization

Ask for book suggestions from people for whom you might not typically solicit book suggestions. For example, ask a history professor, a counselor or therapist, your doctor, a successful athletic coach, a landscaping company, your plumber, a pastor or priest, or your hairstylist. Chances are you’ll hear titles that you would never have found on your own.

Mix it up. Reading books out of your normal interest could very well inspire some new thoughts and ideas you had never considered. Read books that fascinate others and see if you might become fascinated as well.

Whether you are reading business, philosophy, or fiction, take notes on the interesting ideas or concepts you read. Since there can be learning from all types of books, meet with your team – you guessed it – at least six times per year to share your insights. If you are reading classic fiction books, the ideas for discussion could include the creative use of imagery, character development, lessons from the protagonist, or the juxtaposition of two contradicting ideas. If you are reading a business book, contact the author and ask for or help create 3-5 questions per main idea to discuss with your team. If you are reading a brain-busting book, isolate a key concept or main idea for your team to contemplate in your work environment. For example, you could read the works of a philosopher like Marcus Aurelius, who wrote:

“Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

I think there are lessons applicable to our professional lives in that quote – particularly that last line.

Try reading the big ideas of one of the top 20 philosophers in the link above. Then dive into the meaning of one of their big ideas. See if you relate it to the goals of your team, a new product idea, or a way to serve your customers in the highest possible manner.

We are in danger of losing our competitive edge as we drift toward sameness. Reading and thinking about unique content can distance your organization from your competition, create loyal members, clients, or customers, and reduce the predictable practice of copying everyone else.

With daily discipline, you can easily combine these ideas to read six business books as well six brain-busting books. Make sure along the way to consider reading other books strictly for pleasure or for a diversion from the books that make your head spin.

Perhaps it’s time to clear off your nightstand, take the books off your desk (and dust underneath them), and dive into a book. It’s time to read.

Love is Love, Let’s Go Brandon, Black Lives Matter, Jesus is my co-Pilot, Vote for Richardson!

Signs. They are everywhere. They tell us what to do, what to buy, when to buy, where to go, how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go. Signs tell us when stores are open and when they are closed. Signs lie to us and they tell us the truth.

The signs and messages people display can tell us a lot about them. For example, if we see political signs in a neighbor’s yard, those signs tell us how they vote – which tells us how they feel about certain important issues. Messages on t-shirts can also tell us about a person (where they have vacationed, a favorite musical group, their favorite sports team, or what brand they love).

Bumper stickers can reveal a person’s faith (or not), their sense of humor, or their physical/athletic endeavors. If we read these kinds of signs and messages carefully, they can tell us a lot about people, their values, their beliefs, etc.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had signs on people that told us how they were doing? They are not likely to wear a sign that says, “I am angry, anxious, fearful, upset, disappointed, stressed, confused, embarrassed, etc.” However, their tone of voice, facial expressions, eye movements, and nonverbal cues can tell us a lot about what they are thinking, feeling, or experiencing.

There are times when I am talking to my wife that I can change the outcome of a conversation. For example, I am a big picture guy and my wife is very much a detailed person. I like change and can pivot in an instant. She likes the familiar and change can be stressful for her. So if I am watching her nonverbal signs, I can tell when to stop talking and when to start asking questions. I’ve noticed that when she slightly opens her mouth as if she wants to say something during a conversation – or maybe she’s biting her tongue – she isn’t in agreement with me. When I see this, it’s a warning sign not to continue down the road I am traveling. It’s time to start empathizing, listening, or asking questions. It’s not the time to propose a new idea that is too far out of the box or spring something new on her. 

We need to watch signs with those we lead as well. If you have had a tenured working relationship, you no doubt have picked up signs and patterns of your colleagues. If you haven’t noticed these things, start paying careful attention and use the signs you see to communicate and lead more effectively.

You won’t see these signs if you are in your office, on back-to-back Zoom calls, or have such a rigid schedule that there’s no time for connecting with others. It’s important to make time for checking in with your team members, colleagues, customers, clients, or members. Ask questions that delve deeper than the proverbial “How are you doing?” or “Is there anything I can do to help?”. Those are good starter questions but continue to probe. For example, try asking, “What are you working on today that is challenging you?” or “How can I help you solve a pressing problem, respond to a challenging customer, or increase your productivity?”. Listen carefully to their answers and check for understanding. You will learn a lot by paying attention to the signs and signals they give in their responses.

Maybe it’s time to start searching for more “people signs” and reading those signs more effectively.

The Power of a Path

Having a path, a way forward is important. If the path is clear and you stay on the path, life is easier. It’s when you veer off the path that distractions, rough patches, and roadblocks can become problematic. Getting back on the path is often difficult – more difficult than if you had never left it. The re-entry can be bumpy as well – as many small business owners can attest to post-pandemic.

On an early morning bike ride this morning, I came off the greenway trail on my bike. I didn’t notice that it was steeper where I attempted to get back on the path. Down I went. To make matters worse, the guy riding closely behind me ran over my neck. So here I sit icing my neck, looking like Apollo Creed from Rocky had some boxing practice with me, wiggling a loose tooth with my tongue, and sporting a post-fall full-on headache!

If only I had stayed on the path. Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you:

– veered off the planned path you mapped out for your career

– postponed your education because of finances, a lack of focus, or motivation

– made an unplanned detour due to a tragedy in your life

– delayed the opening of your business because of COVID-19

– ended a relationship with a co-worker or friend because of a disagreement or conflict

– lapsed in your promise to stay sober or enter rehab

– failed in honoring a promise you made to your spouse or children

– made a poor decision early in your life that resulted in an unpleasant or unplanned path

Whether you are a biker, business owner, or manager of a team or family, I would urge you to:

1) Have or learn about the proper tools. Without my helmet, I’d be in the hospital or maybe worse. Wearing biking gloves would have prevented bloody hands and knuckles.

2) Plan for the unexpected. Travel with a first aid kit and a few bike tools. If you ride long enough, you will have some accidents.

3) Never ride alone. Your biking buddy or friends can not only push you when you are dragging but they can also pick you up when you fall.

4) Recover quickly. As soon as you know you are okay, get back on the bike. The harder your fall, the more likely you won’t want to return. Do it anyway. You’ll be glad you did.

5) Own your fall. I could blame my fall on the darkness, the guy riding next to me, the city for having a high edge on the pavement, the skinny tires on my bike, etc. Own your mistakes, learn from them, and move on.

6) Take a pause. I likely won’t be on my bike for a week or two. Sometimes it is good to take a pause to rest or reset.

Just because you chose or were forced to take an unpleasant or unplanned path doesn’t mean you have to stay there.

Your past mistakes don’t have to dictate your future performance.

You CAN get back on the positive path – whatever that might be for you.