Top 10 Leadership Resilience and Performance Books

Top 10 Books

At the beginning of 2000 I was the Joint Managing Director of AT Kearney’s Executive Search business in Australia. We had established a niche in the rapidly growing ecommerce sector which was booming – times were good.

March 10, 2000 was the beginning of the tech crash and in a very short period of time everything changed. Many of our clients dramatically downsized, and recruitment was the last thing on their minds.

As a leader of the group I tried to turnaround this setback by working harder, making more calls, and doing more of what we had done in the past. I tried to put on a positive mask for clients and team members alike. But as the stress grew – mainly self-imposed – I began sleeping less and felt the onset of a terrible depressive episode. As this took hold my thinking became black and white and energy levels dived. I began isolating myself from people and found it incredibly hard to focus. Not surprisingly, in a very short time I was unable to work, and began a very long stress absence.

It has been this experience that has shaped my desire to help others prevent a similar breakdown and to continually learn how to build our resilience, well-being and performance.

In 2014 leaders are under extraordinary pressure with a constant demand to do “more with less”.

Many are working excessive hours, and this leads to a unbalanced life with them and their families paying the price. Over the last 7 years I have scoured academic literature and books to identify the best way to cope to the rapidly changing times.

I believe that the first responsibility of a leader is to keep ourselves strong and agile – a thriving self – and then our tribe – thriving tribe. These are the top 10 books that have shaped my work.

Thriving Self
  1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl – This extraordinary book chronicles how Frankl and others survived the most horrific conditions in the holocaust concentration camps. Takeaway: Discovering and living your purpose is best way to outperform, outlast and outmanoeuvre.
  2. The Power of Full Engagement by Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr – The authors work with elite athletes and business leaders to show that to maximize performance we need to enhance our physical, emotional, mind and spiritual energy. Takeaway: Managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance and personal renewal.
  3. StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath – The Gallup organisation has identified 34 workplace strengths. Takeaway: Employees that use their top 5 strengths everyday are 600% more engaged, and 300% more like to report high life satisfaction than those that don’t.
  4. strong>Just One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan – encourages people to apply this simple, powerful concept to avoid overwhelming distractions in their personal and work lives. Takeaway: By identifying your One Thing you can focus on what matters most.
  5. Willpower by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney – The study of willpower began with the discovery that children who resisted having one marshmallow now with the promise of getting two marshmallows in 15 minutes, were later found to be healthier and more successful in later life. Takeaway: Psychologists now agree that the only way to improve life outcomes is to increase our willpower and self-control – this book shows how.
Thriving Tribe
  1. Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan and John King – Tribes are between 20-150 people and have more influence on sales, quality, customer service, and profit than operating procedures, or even the CEO. There are 5 tribal moods and each one requires a different leadership approach. Takeaway: Tap into natural groups to build a thriving organisation.
  2. First Start With Why by Simon Sinek – Information workers are motivated by purpose. Leaders such as Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers inspired influence, innovation, loyalty and trust by first starting with why. Takeaway: A leader who explains why employees should do something through stories and data will inspire action.
  3. Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Brian Conchie – Gallup scientists interviewed more than 10,000 followers around the world and found out the 3 qualities they are seeking from leaders are trust, compassion, stability and hope. Great leaders always surround themselves with the right people and invest in developing their strengths. Takeaway: If a leader ignores an employee there is a 40% chance they will be disengaged, if they focus on weaknesses there is a 22% chance, but if they focus on strengths there is only 1% chance they will be disengaged.
  4. Progress Principle by Theresa Ambale and Steven Kramer – Through rigorous analysis of nearly 12,000 diary entries provided by 238 employees in 7 companies, the authors explain how managers can foster progress and enhance inner work life every day. They were able to show that the most energizing thing a leader could do was acknowledge progress on meaningful work. Takeaway: Leaders can use small wins to ignite joy, engagement and creativity at work.
  5. Great By Choice by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen – This book, based on extensive research, looks at the qualities that have led some companies to consistently thrive (outperform competitors by a factor of 10 – 10Xers) in volatile industries such as airlines, semi-conductors, software, medical devices and insurance. Takeaway: The 10Xers showed fanatical discipline with action, values, and goals created new products with practical experiments and direct evidence, and engaged in productive paranoia – always asking “what can go wrong”.

What books have influenced you in building a resilient, healthy, and high performing tribe?

Graeme Cowan is a speaker and author who helps leaders build their resilience, wellbeing, and performance. He presents half day Thriving Self and Thriving Tribe workshops for leaders that help them outperform, outlast and outmanoeuvre.

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