Since 2013, I’ve written an annual blog post highlighting my favorite books from the previous 12 months. This year I wanted to try something different. I wanted to share some of the lessons I learned from the list of 40+ books I read. Even though each book offered numerous insights, I captured five significant lessons that resonated the most with me. Below the lessons is the full list broken down into categories.
1. Our Networks Are Everything
Many view networks through the lens of climbing the corporate/professional ladder, however they are so much more —they are everything. In Friend of a Friend, David Burkus argues that the people we surround ourselves with influence our development, our fitness, our happiness, and our overall success in life. In all the biographies I read, successful people such as Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, or even Coach Saban, surrounded themselves with those who could help them grow and improve their craft. McCrystal also emphasizes the importance of strong networks in Team of Teams and even more so in Leaders: Myth and Reality. This lesson gave me a greater appreciation for my own networks and how I can leverage them to improve myself and others.
2. To Be Worth Following, You Have to Lead Yourself
All the great leaders I read about, had one thing in common: They led themselves. They made the most use of their time, were disciplined, and took their learning into their own hands. One of my favorite books on this topic was Robert Greene’s Mastery. He examines the process of mastering any skill and writes, “No one is going to help you or give you direction. The odds are against you. If you desire an apprenticeship, if you want to learn and set yourself up for mastery, you have to do it yourself, and with great energy.” Marcus Aurelius who served as the Emperor or Rome for almost two decades, reflected on the importance of gaining self control in Meditations and his ideas were further expanded upon in Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph. In the end, our time wants to be filled, and where there is an absence of purposeful activity, time wasters will the void. If we can learn to master ourselves, we will be in a better position to lead others.
3. All Advice is Autobiographical
When people try to give us career or life advice, they typically discount the role that luck, networks, individuals, their families, and personal inclinations got them from point a to point b. I wrote about this in a post earlier this year. If we follow their advice, we may find ourselves heading down a dead-end road. Tim Ferris, Ryan Holiday, Jonathan Haidt, and Stanley McChrystal all speak to the importance of understanding how multiple factors either contribute to or detract from our success and fufillment. For example, Doris Kearns Goodwin makes a case in Leadership: In Turbulent Times that the major setbacks of Lincoln, the Roosevelts, and Lyndon Johnson eventually gave them the tools to succeed during rough periods of their presidencies. We should seek to understand what unique gifts we bring to this world, our purpose, and then set goals that are in line with both.
4. Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast
One of my favorite quotes attributed to Peter Drucker is “Culture eats strategy for breakfast“. In other words, regardless of the strength of your plan or the number of star performers on your team, if the chemistry that holds everyone together is weak— your endeavor is bound to fail. The topic of culture came up time and time again in many of the books I read. Culture Code, Team of Teams, and Radical Inclusion all offer sound advice on investing in organizational culture.
5. Write it Down
Reading books isn’t enough, we need to be able to absorb it and turn our knowledge into action. As Todd Henry points out in Die Empty, “Intellectual growth doesn’t occur from the accumulation of tidbits of information, but from considering it and integrating it.” The heroes, masters, and leaders I read about over the last year wrote notes in the margins, captured their ideas in notebooks, and made this practice routine. This better enabled them to incorporate what they learned into their lives. Terry Doyle in The New Science of Learning makes the case that by writing in the margins or taking notes on what we read, we create multi-sensory connections to what we learn, thereby increasing the likelihood it will be stored in our long-term memory.
Below is the list of books I read this past year. I hope you find something that piques your interest and make reading a part of your daily routine.
2018 Reading List