7 Books to Help You Learn, Lead, and Live Your Best Life
Finding the right book can give you a fresh perspective, open your mind to new possibilities, and take you to places you haven’t yet discovered. The best ones often manage to do all three.
From Brené Brown daring us to lead authentically through vulnerability, to Christopher Voss challenging us to become shrewd negotiators, the books we selected are full of ideas and advice to help you be a more effective employee, leader, and co-worker in your professional life—with some real-world life advice thrown in, too.
Here are 7 books to add to your “must-read” list:
1. “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It” by Christopher Voss and Tahl Raz
If you want to learn how to successfully negotiate your next raise, who would you rather turn to—a motivational speaker who speaks in generalities, or an FBI hostage negotiator who has used specific tactics and strategies to save lives? In his former life, Voss was the lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI, and in this book, he shares insights gleaned from his experience saving lives in high-stakes situations that translate into negotiating strategies for everyday professional and personal situations. He distills his advice into nine principles that include creating the illusion of control; bargaining hard; and triggering a “that’s right” response from the other person. Whether the high-stakes negotiations you’re undertaking involve getting a promotion, buying a car or home, or resolving your 5-year-old’s bedtime, you can handily apply these principles to your own life.
2. “Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.” by Brené Brown
We don’t often think of vulnerability when we think of being a successful leader, but if Brené Brown has anything to say about it, we should. As she says, leadership isn’t about earning the corner office or possessing a certain title. It’s about being willing to step up, put yourself out there, and lean into courage. Courage and vulnerability are inextricably intertwined, as courage means acting in spite of the fear or uncertainty you might feel, aka, being vulnerable.
Brown says that the barrier to being a great leader isn’t about fear, but about how you respond to that fear. Successful leadership can be distilled down to four key skill sets that are 100 percent teachable, observable, and measurable. The foundational skill set is “rumbling with vulnerability,” and once this is learned, you can tackle the three others—“living into your values,” “braving trust,” and “learning to rise.” Being clear about your values to lead others through choppy waters is key. This book offers both high-level ideas and hands-on tactics to help you dig in, lean in, and go all-in on a new way to lead. Like her other books, “Dare to Lead” will make you uncomfortable, it will make you think, and it will make you reconsider the way you live your life and lead others.
3. “The Making of a Manager” by Julie Zhuo
How many of us have excitedly stepped into a new managerial role, only to have that excitement turn into panic as we realize: We don’t actually know what we’re doing. Suddenly failure is an option, and having a team of people relying on us to make smart decisions makes that an unthinkable option. For those new to leading people or seeking a managerial role, Zhuo, who became a manager for the first time at age 25 (and who is currently the VP of product design at Facebook), explains that great managers are made, not born, and anyone who cares enough can learn how to do it. And for those who are veteran managers, stepping back to examine how your direct reports really see you, and finding ways to improve your relationships with them, is an exercise worthy of your time.
Zhuo describes her book as “an everything-you-need-to-know field guide to rocking your job, earning your confidence, and leading your team to new horizons.” Use this handbook to gain practical advice and learn from someone who’s been there.
4. “First—Sandra Day O’Connor” by Evan Thomas
Sometimes, inspiration comes from reading about the paths strong leaders forged before us, like in the biography of Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice. This book details O’Connor’s childhood on a cattle ranch in Arizona, and then takes readers along her journey to become the first female Supreme Court Justice. When she graduated near the top of her law school class in 1952, no firm would even interview her, but she wasn’t one to let a few “no’s” define her career path. This book examines how she eschewed societal norms and helped pave the way for future generations of women navigating their own careers and purpose.
5. “Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek
What makes some teams just “click,” and others suffer from constant fighting, cracks in their foundation, and ultimately, failure? Sinek worked with many organizations around the world, and he found that some teams trusted each other deeply, while others were combative and toxic, regardless of the incentives offered. Seeking answers, he had a conversation with a Marine Corps general who explained, “Officers eat last.”
Sinek learned that great leaders sacrificed their own comforts and even their own survival to ensure the well-being of those on their team. In this book, he shares his experiences with different types of organizations in order to illustrate why and how the best workplaces have built a “Circle of Safety” that fosters a strong bond of trust and cooperation.
6. “Atomic Habits” by James Clear
“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.” Often, humans try to make grand gestures and all-or-nothing rules when it comes to changing habits. James Clear, a leading expert on habit formation, argues that it’s actually tiny, incremental changes that result in remarkable results. He expands on ideas from neuroscience, biology, and psychology to help you overcome a lack of motivation and willpower, stick to good habits, and improve 1 percent every day. Whether you’re a person who wants to quit smoking, create an exercise regimen, or get promoted to the next level in your career, “Atomic Habits” can give you the practical tools and advice you need to take that next small step, and then that next one, and that next one… until you too, see remarkable results.
7. “The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers” by Maxwell King
Who among us hasn’t watched “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” growing up, been touched by something Fred Rogers has done or said, or heard legendary stories about him to help guide us through life? The work of Rogers and the “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” show has touched many in some shape or form. This book, the first full-length biography of Rogers, includes interviews, archived documents, and oral histories to weave together the life of a man who many look to as a model of how to live a life full of compassion, curiosity, and kindness.
For readers, it’s a behind-the-scenes look at Rogers’ life growing up, and at how and why he became passionate about bringing a particular type of children’s programming to television. It’s about his professional career as much as about how he lived his life off-camera, and it may just inspire you to be a better neighbor to those in your professional and personal life.
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