Favorite Books of the Past Year

The school year is wrapping up and I was putting together some ideas for books to read over the summer. I am not a fiction reader except for a few of the classics (e.g. 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc.). Most of the books I’ve read over the past few years have been about leadership, coaching, competition, education, or any mixture of topics that I can use in my day to day life. I haven’t decided on a summer reading list yet but here are some of my favorites from the past year. In my next post I will list some of the books I plan to read over the next few months.

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

I am personally a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell and have read many of his books. While some of his rational and extreme viewpoints on certain topics has come under scrutiny by certain groups, there are many lessons and perspectives that can be taken from his work. I would put David and Goliath somewhere in the middle of Gladwell’s books. It wasn’t as good as Blink but more useful that Outliers. There were many connections that could be made directly to education as well as athletic competition in regards to using perceived weaknesses as strengths or taking advantage of situations that seem arduous but provide great opportunity. Being a math teacher I particularly enjoyed the many references to the idea of diminished returns which applies to everything from salary to class sizes. Basically, more of a good thing is not always a good thing. This is an extremely important concept for many ideas in society and in education. The intelligence of Gladwell’s writing makes him an interesting read and the accessibility in the way he writes makes him a fun read.

Relentless by Tim Grover

Tim Grover is famously the trainer for several professional athletes including Michael Jordan, Dwayne Wade, and Kobe Bryant. According to those in the sporting world, Grover’s genius is not only in his workouts but in the way he teaches the mental aspect of competition at the highest level. He has been credited with providing athletes the mental conditioning needed to manage the pressure of being world class and using mental toughness to elevate physical performance. While it is heavy on the athletic side, he clearly states in the book that it applies to everything you do in life that has any competitive component. Whether you are in business, education, or athletics, at some point you will need to perform at a high level or you will face adversity. Grover provides tools on how to handle that. A list of his “relentless 13” traits to be a “cleaner” hang at my desk and I refer to them often. Many go against what you’ll read in a lot of leadership books but if competition is high on your strengths list, this book is for you.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

I love biographies. There are few things more valuable to learning leadership or excellence than by studying those at the top. Steve Jobs was arguably one of the most fascinating leaders of our generation and had an immeasurable impact on the way we live our daily lives today. His leadership style turns many people off. He was harsh, brutally honest, and downright rude much of the time. A different approach probably would have made his companies even more productive. But many believe that they never would have broken through what everyone else thought was impossible without being pushed by Jobs. The biggest takeaway I had from this book was the visionary piece. He had the amazing talent of looking beyond the status quo, creating something no one even knew they wanted, paying painstakingly close attention to every detail, and filling everyone’s homes with ipods, iphones, and ipads.  Whatever your opinion of Jobs and his style, he got things done and that is worth a lot in my book.

Multipliers by Liz Wiseman

I thoroughly enjoyed every book on this list, except this one. Don’t get me wrong, the content of the book is practical, useful, and backed up by many anecdotal examples. The problem I had with this book was that it didn’t provide anything new. Wiseman takes ideas that you would find in almost any leadership book and repackages those ideas with different vocabulary and then doesn’t provide any real research. Like I said, the content is solid. Leaders should focus on developing those around them and leveraging their talents to “multiply” the talent of the organization. She talks about challenging those around you and asking great questions. She discusses holding people accountable but also giving them autonomy to fail and grow from it. All of these recommendations are great but could have been summarized in half the number of pages. I wouldn’t try to talk anyone out of reading it, but I wouldn’t put it at the top of anyone’s list. It is a great supplement to many leadership resources and can be useful in creating a common language within an organization.

There were a few others that I read on occasion but these were my staples over the past school year. As you can tell, I don’t read many book directly about education or strictly regarding leadership. I feel that the best lessons can be learned from studying really smart people performing in really difficult situations. If an idea or lesson can’t be applied across all aspect of your life (family, friends, school, work, etc.) then it’s most likely not a great idea in the first place. Stay tuned for my upcoming summer book list. I would welcome any suggestions in the comments or on twitter.

-Lance

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