Books that Have Been Gifts to Me 2018

Here’s a short list of books I’ve enjoyed, separated into a few categories:

1.  Being your best self.

Anne Lamott, Almost EverythingNotes on Hope.

I would describe Anne Lamott as a seeker, seer, and humorist. She always brings me to an awakened sense of, “Oh, right! That’s what matters.” She tells the hard truth she has discovered about herself, and it makes it much easier for the reader to accept this truth as well, without judgment and often with some humor.  Anne Lamotte is also utterly

hilarious.  I recommend the Audible version of this book, because humor should be heard, and who better than an author knows how to make their books come alive. In her case, she has an ironic and often self-deprecating wit that causes me to LOL as I’m cruising down the freeway by myself.

Tara Brach opens the spirit . . .  to open to love, and to open to the world. I have been beginning every day with her meditations at for the past couple years, and they are to the soul what morning sprinklers are to the flower. I have long known that I could tell you at the end of the day, whether I had done my meditation in the morning.  Leadership is driven by presence. The presence may be to a difficult truth that you’d rather ignore, it may be presence in a difficult relationship, and it often begins with presence with self: Why do I want to run away from, or squash this person?  Meditation teaches us to breathe and in real time to stay present to “our people” and to ourselves.  Presence matters for the parent dealing with a barely literate but forceful child all the way to the campaign manager or COO dealing with issues that are replete with tradeoffs, uncertainties, and puzzles.  Tara Brach just has something special to teach people to get quiet and get centered.  A great way into her work is through her book Radical Acceptance.  Like Lamott,  the tenor of Brach’s voice seems to mirror the content of her work.  Where Lamott reads with a cranky brilliance, Brach’s voice soothes as with velvet.

2. Cool books on human dynamics.


Malcolm Gladwell is a story-teller and story-interpreter supreme.  He takes a theme, in this case beginning with the story David and Goliath he writes about underdogs and misfits and their hidden strengths.  I find myself turning pages to keep up. Like the producers on TV’s “Survivor,” he leads you in one direction, only to leave you guessing as to whether he will plunge ahead or take a turn.  Spoiler: there’s a lot of turns.  Gladwell has also started a wonderful podcast called Revisionist History that’s well worth listening to.  I like his voice, again it’s a mirror of sorts, in his case, a bit sharp and angular, but warning: some people really don’t like it.  I have never read a Gladwell book that I haven’t enjoyed, thus quick references to other greats:

The Tipping Point  Fascinating insights into how big change happens.

Blink  We “know” things in a nanosecond. Trust it? Worry about it? Both!

Outliers  Are there really geniuses? Heard about 10,000 hours?  Insights here!

I’m obsessed, as you’ve seen with two’s.  If you’re intrigued and/or if you are interested in creativity, Joshua Wolf Shenk’s Powers of Two: How Relationships Drive Creativity is an awesome read.  And if you’re a Beatles fan, well it’s worth it just to read about Lennon and McCartney and their uniquely creative (and sometimes tortured) relationship.  Shenk goes way beyond Paul and John, though, writing about scientific, intellectual and artistic creativity. He has some novel ideas but, as with Gladwell, you actually feel like you are reading stories and he makes an awful lot of people come alive in this book.

3. Straight-up Leadership and Management

John Doerr is legendary out here on the west coast and anywhere that people talk about venture capital. He comes from behind the scenes with what should become a leadership classic:  Measure What Matters. Doerr came out of Oracle and at Kleiner Perkins grabbed a 12% stake in Google.  He paints you as a fly on the wall, watching how he led Larry and Sergei to adopt OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) and as old Paul Harvey used to say, then you’ll “know the rest of the story.”  Cool.  Doerr is an okay story teller, but the power of this book is that he makes the connection – better than anyone I have ever read – about how to really use goals and measurements to empower, not punish, people. He shows how the hard stuff of measurement actually frees managers and teams to LEARN and to take risks and to have relationships.  Way too often the “hard” style is pitted against the “soft.”  So, you have demanding (and demeaning) guys like Musk and Jobs OR there’s the “soft” team-building types (like Google where you eat all day and get your laundry done).  That’s a false choice and Doerr shows a more sophisticated and way more effective way to think about managing! Not scintillating but great for a young or old manager in your family.

Finally, there’s the true classic, now in its 6th edition: Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner’s The Leadership Challenge (TLC).  This is a great gift for anyone who enjoys reading about leadership, with theory and story deeply entwined. It’s a wonderful gift for a student, a  first-time employee or especially for a first-time supervisor.  This book can also be combined with a 360 tool, called the Leadership Practices Inventory (adult and Student LPI versions at LPI online).  Older editions of TLC are also available if you’re budget conscious.

I’d love to hear what are YOUR favorite reads.  Comment below!

  • Dan, Thank you for graciously recommending The Leadership Challenge to your readers. We greatly appreciate your continuing support. I look forward each week to reading ELW. Wishing you and yours great joy in the New Year. Love ’em and lead ’em, Jim

  • Hi Dan,
    Thank you for sharing these gifts. I look forward to “hearing”almost everything and radial acceptance over this holiday season.
    I have three books I want to highlight. The first is by M. Goldsmith “What got you here won’t get you there. It sheds great perspective on behaviors that hinder success (annoyances, idiosyncraties, and knowing what to stop) and provides strategies to overcome and attain higher levels of success. The second book is titled “ the one thing” written by Gary Keller. His book is full of eye opening pearls for a successful life; one that has purpose, meaning and significance. The last book that I recommend reading is titled “influential leadership” by Michael Frisina. I had the opportunity to sit in a two day class with the American College of Healthcare Executives where Michael was the facilitator. He inspires in person and in this book. His book talks about the magic in leaders and how leaders inspire and make things happen. He looks at self awareness, trust and accountability. His “recipe” for changing organizations is inspiring and has the “secret sauce” for success. Happy holidays to you and Jen and happy reading.

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