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Book review, Leadership, Mindset, Reading, self-awareness

#ReadingGoals

“To create future, we need triggers. I believe two things can change the course of our life – books that we read and the people that we meet. Books and people are an amazing source of triggers, so if we are not reading, we are certainly missing out on a terrific source of triggers for future.”

Reading continues to change my life for the better. Reading has made me a better leader, worker, husband and father. This year I can say with a ton of confidence that reading has saved my life. That’s the thing…You never know which book or even sentence will be the one that changes everything. I have gone through some duds this year but the good books are game changers.

Last year I set a goal to read 100 books and I read 106 books this year. I don’t have a top ten list but these books have changed my perceptions, challenged my assumptions and helped me in my journey to become a better human. Here are the best books I have read this year in no particular order:

The End of Heart Disease: The Eat to Live Plan the Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Joel Fuhrman

A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea

The Story Telling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall

The Truth About Leadership by James Kouzes

The Four Agreements: Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Miguel Ruiz

A Passion for Leadership: Lessons on Change and Reform from Fifty Years in Public Service by Robert M. Gates

Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadow

Radical Candor by Kim Malone Scott

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander

Dear Madame President: An Open Letter to the Women who will run the world by Jennifer Palmieri

Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman

Blueprint For Revolution by Srdja Popovic

Search Inside Yourself by Chade-Meng Tan

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

What to Say When You Talk to Yourself by Shad Helmstetter

I would love to have a more in depth conversation about any of these. Just hit me up on messenger. Next year I will reduce the goal to 80 as my developmental focus has shifted a bit. If you want to set your own reading goal I suggest joining the reading challenge on goodreads 😀. Here is to 2019!!!

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The Truth about Leadership

Every so often I read a book that perfectly encapsulates what I believe about a certain topic. I read a book this week called “The Truth about Leadership” by Barry Posner and James Kouzes. They are also the authors of the “The Leadership Challenge” and many other meticulously researched books on leadership. This book is basically a summary of what they have learned over their long career. They simplify leadership in the simple truths. Here they are :

” o The first truth is that You Make a Difference. It is the most fundamental truth of all. Before you can lead, you have to believe that you can have a positive impact on others. You have to believe in yourself. That’s where it all begins. Leadership begins when you believe you can make a difference. Over the next three days, we will reveal what you believe about this truth. We will discover the messages that you send to yourself about your own capabilities and leadership.

o The second truth is that Credibility Is the Foundation of Leadership. You have to believe in you, but others have to believe in you, too. What does it take for others to believe in you? Short answer: Credibility. We’ve said it many times, but we need to say it again, especially in these times when people have become cynical about their leaders and institutions: If people don’t believe in you, they won’t willingly follow you. Over the next three days we will show you why this is so important and how to gain Credibility.

o The third truth is that Values Drive Commitment. People want to know what you stand for and believe in. They want to know what you value. And leaders need to know what others value if they are going to be able to forge alignments between personal values and organizational demands. Over the next three days we will dig deep on what you believe and why you believe it. We will help you craft your own principles on leadership and how to craft your own with your team.

o The fourth truth is that Focusing on the Future Sets Leaders Apart. The capacity to imagine and articulate exciting future possibilities is a defining competence of leaders. You have to take the long-term perspective. Gain insight from reviewing your past and develop outsight by looking around. Over the next three days we will help you “light the torch” for your team and co-create the future.

o You Can’t Do It Alone is the fifth truth. No leader ever got anything extraordinary done without the talent and support of others. Leadership is a team sport, and you need to engage others in the cause. What strengthens and sustains the relationship between leader and constituent is that leaders are obsessed with what is best for others, not what is best for themselves.

o Trust Rules is the sixth truth. If you can’t do it alone and have to rely on others, what’s needed to make that happen? Trust. Trust is the social glue that holds individuals and groups together. And the level of trust others have in you will determine the amount of influence you have. You have to earn your constituents’ trust before they’ll be willing to trust you. That means you have to give trust before you can get trust.

o The seventh truth is that Challenge Is the Crucible for Greatness. Exemplary leaders, the kind of leaders people want to follow, are always associated with changing the status quo. Great achievements don’t happen when you keep things the same. Change invariably involves challenge, and challenge tests you. It introduces you to yourself. It brings you face-to-face with your level of commitment, your grittiness, and your values. It reveals your mindset about change.

o Truth number eight reminds you that You Either Lead by Example or You Don’t Lead at All. Leaders have to keep their promises and become role models for the values and actions they espouse. You have to go first as a leader. You can’t ask others to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself. Moreover, you have to be willing to admit mistakes and be able to learn from them.

o Truth number nine is that The Best Leaders Are the Best Learners. You have to believe that you (and others) can learn to lead, and that you can become a better leader tomorrow than you are today. Leaders are constant improvement fanatics, and learning is the master skill of leadership. Learning, however, takes time and attention, practice and feedback, along with good coaching. It also takes willingness on your part to ask for support.

o The tenth truth is that Leadership Is an Affair of the Heart. It could also be the first truth. Leaders are in love with their constituents, their customers and clients, and the mission that they are serving. Leaders make others feel important and are gracious in showing their appreciation. Love is the motivation that energizes leaders to give so much for others. You just won’t work hard enough to become great if you aren’t doing what you love.”

I couldn’t agree with this more. Often we make leadership too complex. It isn’t rocket science. It’s about having a set of principles to live by and be accountable to. It doesn’t have to be these but this is a great start.

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A River of Darkness

I just finished the book ” A River of Darkness” by Masaji Ishikawa. It was gripping and horrifying. Feelings of rage, sadness and gratitude throughout learning about Ishikawa’s life in North Korea. No one deserves this suffering and it has never been clearer to me that we should be kind and welcoming to others who escape these inhumane conditions. The priority should always be human life and well being. Everyday you have a chance to reduce the amount of suffering in the world. You can do this for others and yourself and it doesn’t take much. Smile, compliment someone, or just listen to a person you care about. Do something. Remember this

“The smallest of action is better than the greatest of intentions.”

– Mohammed Imran Uddin

Leadership, Mindset, Pauli Murray, Political Leadership

Pauli Murray

I just wanted to share something that I think is amazing on the first week of Black History Month. We all know the contributions of legends like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King but I love to learn about less known people who have had an impact in the struggle for equality. One person who I read about last year was Dr. Pauli Murray. Her life was an inspiration to me. At many turns in her life she failed but in the end her work ended up inspiring some of the great legal minds of our time and was used to argue and win cases that struck decisive blows to racial, gender, and sexual discrimination.

My favorite quote from her: “In not a single one of these little campaigns was I victorious. In other words, in each case, I personally failed, but I have lived to see the thesis upon which I was operating vindicated. And what I very often say is that I’ve lived to see my lost causes found.”
Pauli Murray

My favorite quote about her: “Leaders aren’t just the few  famous people who  dominate the news or find their place in history books. They don’t always represent the majority…..They aren’t always popular…..They don’t always win and they aren’t always remembered. Leaders like Pauli Murray brave and obscure men and women . Who act on their convictions even though they fail time and time again sometimes change the course of history.”

Some Highlights of her career:

Ø  Ruth Bader Ginsburg credits Murray’s work as the inspiration for her 1971 brief in Reed v. Reed, which ruled that women could not be excluded as administrators of personal estates based on their gender. The Supreme Court case marked the first time that the Equal Protection Clause was applied to sex discrimination, and has served as precedent for many arguments in the decades since then. Ginsburg found Murray’s prior arguments so important to her own that she elected to put Murray down as an honorary co-author on the milestone brief.

Ø  She was arrested in 1940 for refusing to move to the back of a bus, protesting a Virginia law requiring segregation on public transportation — 15 years before Rosa Parks’ similar protest sparked a bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala.

Ø  In 1944, Murray graduated at the top of her class from the Howard University School of Law, where she encountered gender discrimination from faculty and fellow students. It was there that she coined the term “Jane Crow” to refer to sex discrimination — the sister of Jim Crow.

Ø  Mademoiselle magazine named her “Woman of the Year” in 1947.

Ø  The NAACP, then led by Thurgood Marshall, used arguments from a law school seminar paper by Murray as part of the organization’s legal strategy in Brown v. Board of Education. He later called her book States’ Laws on Race and Color “the Bible for civil rights lawyers.”

Ø  She was appointed to President John F. Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women.

Ø  She co-founded the National Organization for Women in 1966.

Ø  She was the first African-American woman to be ordained a priest in the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1977.

Ø  In 2012 she was welcomed into Episcopal sainthood, more than 25 years after her death.

Learn more about Dr. Pauli Murray by checking out Cooper’s article here.

Book review, David Brooks, Leadership, Reading, self-awareness

Virtues

I am currently reading a powerful book. Road to Character by David Brooks is a thoughtful piece of work. It hits you right away in the first couple of lines. Brooks writes :

” The résumé virtues are the ones you list on your résumé, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success. The eulogy virtues are deeper. They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being—whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed. Most of us would say that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé virtues, but I confess that for long stretches of my life I’ve spent more time thinking about the latter than the former.”

What virtues do you want to be remembered for? What virtues do you spend your days thinking about? What virtues do you spend time working on?

Have a great Saturday…

Leadership, Mindset, Reading

Better Every Day

Ok my friends I fell short of my goal to read 100 books but I beat my personal record and read 64 books. The goal for next year is again 100. This goal pushed me to read books that I probably would not have read without it. I didn’t love every book but I learned something new from each one. Reading and Listening to books has been my favorite way to learn the important lessons of history and explore new ideas. I am excited for a new year of the reading challenge. Join up on Goodreads….I love to see what all you guys are learning as well.

Here are the best I have read this year.

10 – Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

9 – The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

8 – Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger

7 – The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt

6 – The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday

5 – Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation by Daniel J. Siegel

4 – Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939 by Volker Ullrich

3 – How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett

2 – Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life by Tasha Eurich

1 – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Leadership, Mindset, self-awareness

Standard of Performance 

What is your standard of performance for yourself and your team?  What are the things that are important to you? What are you leadership principles? What’s is negotiable and what is non-negotiable? I believe these questions must be answered before you can lead others.  

A standard of performance is the clear line that you set. This includes but is not limited to Metrics, Data, Atttitude, Work Ethic, Effort, Behavior. You can’t start by asking yourself these questions: 

What are the Key Metrics you are trying to achieve?

How do you collect and analyze data? 

What attitude is acceptable on your team?

What is the work ethic you expect? 

What level of effort do you demand?

What is acceptable and un-acceptable? 

The sum of these answers will make up your standard of performance. You have to ask and answer these questions to be grounded. Having a standard of performance brings the ultimate clarity to your team. Without clarity you cannot have true accountabilty. 

Cory Booker, Leadership, Mindset, Political Leadership, Reading, self-awareness

Cynicism is the Refuge for Cowards

The time was 9:58 pm on July 25, 2016. Senator Cory Booker took the stage to deliver a speech to the Democratic National Convention crowd. His speech would be highly reviewed and would have Washington buzzing about the potential of a future President. He had many memorable lines but something he said that night struck a particular chord with me. It wouldn’t get much attention but the words were as powerful and as true as anything ever spoken.

“My fellow Americans, we cannot fall into complacency or indifference about this election, because still the only thing necessary for evil to be triumphant is for good people to do nothing. My fellow Americans, we cannot be seduced into cynicism about our politics, because cynicism is a refuge for cowards and this nation is and must always be the home of the brave. We are the United States of America. We will not falter or fail. We will not retreat or surrender – we will not surrender our values, we will not surrender our ideals, we will not surrender the moral high ground.”

Cynicism is defined as “an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest” or “an inclination to question whether something will happen or whether it is worthwhile.” We live in a culture consumed with cynicism. Go to happy hour near any office park. Take a look at your own Facebook posts from the last year and it might surprise you. You might hear these comments at work or school:

“It doesn’t matter anyway”

“Why talk to him, he is just going to do what he wants to do anyway.”

“Why do I need a piece of paper (degree) to say I can do a job?”

“I am going to do all this stuff and no one is going to even look at it.”

“Leadership Development is all a bunch of pie in the sky bullshit.”

“My vote doesn’t matter.”

The words Cory Booker spoke that night were profound because we are all victims and purveyors of cynicism. We have all heard something like this in our lives and said to ourselves “Yeah, they are probably right.” We don’t realize how much cynicism has an impact on our daily lives. The reason we don’t start writing that novel is because the cynic in us says “No one will ever read it.” or we think “What the point?” We roll our eyes at our companies core values/mission statement because our inner cynic says “Yeah right” or “I have heard this before.” We never truly hear when people we care about promise they will do better because our inner cynic tells us it will just happen again. We don’t vote because our cynic in us tells us that our vote doesn’t count and politicians will just do what the person with more money tells them to do. We think self-improvement just way for people to sell us books, sell us services and get our money. We think terms like self-awareness and growth mindset are worthless leadership jargon that is just something people say to sound smart. (I wonder at this point if I am being cynical about the level of cynicism in the world)

I am guilty of this too. I used to be extremely cynical. The reason I know what cynics say and feel is because I said or agreed with all of the statements I used as an example. I started college after my military service. This was ten years after I graduated high school because I believed it was just a piece of paper. It took me years to pick up my first business book because I believed it was all B.S. It took me years to even start writing this blog because I thought “Who cares what I think?” and “No one will ever read it.” I thought getting involved in politics was useless because I wasn’t a rich lawyer. In short I was a coward. Cynicism was a refuge for me. It gave me an easy way out. It let me off the hook. It alleviated me from having to do the hard work of writing 500 words a day…from going to class after class and getting a college education….from knocking on 1000 doors to only get 100 votes. It takes hard work to get past cynicism and start doing anything that you are not guaranteed success. Getting past cynicism is only the first step but an all too important one. Then comes the hard work of belief and action.

What I am asking you to do today is not to remove all cynicism from your life. This would make you gullible to actual scams and dishonest folks. In my business I still wonder who the real leaders are and who the “fakes” are. It’s important to have a healthy skepticism of people and things. Cynicism is when it goes too far. I have to actively stop myself of going into that mindset when I hear a new idea that doesn’t fit within my worldview. I work to make sure these thoughts don’t stop me from fostering relationships or working towards a goal. What I am asking for you to do is believe in something. If you don’t believe in your company’s core values can you believe and use one core value? Can you suggest your own core values or add onto them when talking to your team? If you believe your vote doesn’t count, can you donate to an organization that fights for a cause you believe in? You will only get so far by telling people what you don’t believe in.

If you are cynical about everything then you will achieve very little in life. The cynic is always apprehensive….always suspicious. They often see everything that can go wrong and look for the negatives. They question other people’s motives and character. This can lead to a very lonely and unfulfilling existence. The data is overwhelming. Positive and un-cynical human beings have more friends, have longer lasting friendships, go on more dates, are more productive and make more money. They are just happier people.

The wall of cynicism can never truly be destroyed but we can put some holes in it. Just like everything else it will take training and asking the right questions. Breaking down the walls of cynicism will not be easy but it is possible and will lead to a fulfilling and happier life. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Ask yourself these two questions: What do I believe in and why do I believe in this? Ask others you trust and love. Am I a cynical person? Becoming less cynical starts with you. By asking yourself and others these questions you can start your journey of insight.
  2. Read – Literally the more you know the less cynical you will be. Read about your beliefs. Read something that contradicts your beliefs. Read History about politicians like Thaddeus Stevens and John Lewis who fought injustice and equality their entire lives. Read History to know the context behind political decisions and what ordinary citizens have done to overthrow ruthless dictators. Read psychology and neuroscience to understand why humans behave and act the way that they do. Read about business leaders who follow and live their company’s core values and inspire their organizations to join them. If you do this it will be that much harder to cynical.
  3. Connect- Human beings are social creatures. We thrive when we connect to others and we deteriorate when we separate ourselves from human beings. Connecting with human beings shows you that the world is full of amazing individuals and over time that will make you less cynical. Most importantly, connecting is good for your health. Recent studies have shown that loneliness in more detrimental to your health that cigarettes and poor diet. We have groups for anything and everything. Book clubs, Cat lovers, Coffee fans, support groups, craft beer snobs, heavy metal listening the list goes on and on. You are not alone.
Leadership, Mindset, Reading, self-awareness

Just Read

“Reading is Fundamental” is how the old saying goes. I remember my parents saying this to me as a kid as I argued with them to instead watch Saturday morning cartoons. I recall seeing the posters all over my junior high school “Reading is Fundamental”. I remember thinking (foolishly) that it was the teacher’s job to put stuff inside my head and I didn’t need to read more on my own. Finally, I remember countless school administrators and various other adults throughout the years peddling the same catchphrase as I rolled my eyes and obtained a stellar “C” average.

The truth is that I should have listened. It was more than a saying…It was good advice…It was a winning strategy. In this blog I have talked about the importance of having a “growth mindset”. Having a growth mindset means nothing if action does not follow. The best and most effective way to maintain a growth mindset is simple…..Read.

Why read? The evidence is clear…people who take the time out and consistently read are more successful. Sadly, over a quarter of Americans have admitted that they have not read a book in the last year (which means that the number is probably larger) (Pew 2016). This number has grown since 2014 when it was at 23%. When you look closer you can see the numbers directly correlate to success. For example, adults with a high school diploma or less are about three times as likely as college grads (40% vs. 13%) to report not reading books in any format in the past year (Pew 2016). Adults with an annual household income of less than $30,000 are about twice as likely as the most affluent adults to be non-book readers (33% vs. 17%) (Pew 2016). The non-reading rates for minorities and rural Americans (both white and non-white) are just as alarming as they are within the 29% to 40% range as well. These are the communities that are consistently behind in education statistics, employment, and wage earning.

If you don’t like statistics take it from some of the most successful people on earth. Take this quote from Warren Buffett (CEO Berkshire Hathaway, net worth 74.8 billion):

“Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will…”In a recent 2016 interview Bill Gates (Founder of Microsoft and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, net worth 89.8 billion)  says:

“It is one of the chief ways that I learn, and has been since I was a kid. These days, I also get to visit interesting places, meet with scientists and watch a lot of lectures online. But reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding.”

You can read the full interview here: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/04/fashion/bill-gates-gates-notes-books.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0

Oprah Winfrey (CEO Harpo Studios, net worth 3.1 billion) has a world famous book club and say this about her joy of reading:

“Nothing, not one thing or activity, can replace the experience of a good read—being transported to a different land, a different realm, through words and language…..

I love being surrounded by books. For me, they’re like art, little pieces of sculpture placed all over the house, reminding me, always, of the power of the written word. Just looking at them brings me the purest kind of joy.”

Read more: http://www.oprah.com/inspiration/oprah-on-the-joy-of-reading#ixzz4oGfKb2MP

The message is clear. Reading is fundamental. Reading should not end with your highest level of school. The only way to continuously improve is to continuously learn. Read whenever and wherever you have the chance. If you don’t have the time to sit down and read a book, listen to audio books. Most will not have the time or the patience to read  the 500 pages a day a Buffett suggests this should not be an excuse to do nothing. Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

I understand that it isn’t easy to always read. This is especially difficult in the age of Facebook, Candy Crush and Netflix. Why read a book when binge watching “Master of None” is so much more enjoyable? As much as I love Aziz Ansari, I love my potential for growth and education more. Today, I ask you to start small. Read 10 pages a day or listen to 15 min of an audio book per day. Use your commutes, workouts, and household chores as opportunities to learn with audio books.  Positive actions are reinforced by habits . You must commit to this life changing habit. The habit of reading has changed my life. I know it can change yours.