Some people feel that it's possible to be a natural-born leader. Others, arguably, believe that an individual can only master leadership through training, developing strong people skills, and making--and learning from--mistakes. Regardless of how you feel those skills are obtained, there are always opportunities to enhance your leadership abilities.
John Brandon wrote a great piece on 20 ways to become a better leader. To supplement that list, I've curated my 5 favorite short books that every aspiring leader should digest.
1. Poke the Box: When Was the Last Time You Did Something for the First Time?
Author: Seth Godin
Summary: One of the things I love about Seth Godin is the way he embraces brevity. He can deliver a succinct message like few others, and that certainly shows in this book. This short, punchy manifesto is bound to make you uncomfortable, as it puts your career--and life--initiative under the microscope. It's a solid kick in the pants for any leader.
Godin is well aware that people who have the guts to say "I want to start stuff" are rare. This book speaks directly to a leader's willingness to poke the button, especially when they don't know what will happen if they do.
Favorite quotes: "Employees wait to be picked for promotion, or to lead a meeting or to speak up at a meeting. 'Pick me, pick me' acknowledges the power of the system and passes responsibility to someone to initiate. Even better, 'pick me, pick me' moves the blame from you to them. If you don't get picked, it's their fault, not yours. Reject the tyranny of picked. Pick yourself."
"As you create a culture of people who are always seeking to connect and improve and poke, the bar gets raised. This incredibly prosaic idea, the very simple act of initiating, is actually profoundly transformative. Forward motion is a defensible business asset."
2. Do the Work: Overcome Resistance and Get Out of Your Own Way
Author: Steven Pressfield
Summary: Steven Pressfield takes a unique approach with Do the Work. He challenges you to get out of your own way and treats things like mediocrity and 'average' as very real and truly visceral enemies that destroy your productivity. This perspective makes you consider how these villainous creatures can creep into your life.
Even at such a short read, this book succeeds in challenging long-held ideas about how to get work done, and offers practical strategies for overcoming productivity killers.
Favorite quote: "The creative act is primitive. Its principles are of birth and genesis. Babies are born in blood and chaos; stars and galaxies come into being amid the release of massive primordial cataclysms. Conception occurs at the primal level. I'm not being facetious when I stress, throughout this book, that it is better to be primitive than to be sophisticated, and better to be stupid than to be smart. The most highly cultured mother gives birth sweating and dislocated and cursing like a sailor. That's the place we inhabit as artists and innovators. It's the place we must become comfortable with. The hospital room may be spotless and sterile, but birth itself will always take place amid chaos, pain, and blood."
3. Corporate Awesome Sauce--Success Rules for Generation Y
Authors:Richie Etwaru and Dhar Ramdehal
Summary: A lot of leadership books target established executives who are already near or at the top. This one targets the younger generation who are still stuck in the middle. It's a book that will go down as a pillar of honesty in how to climb the corporate ladder. It's nothing short of a survival guide for Millennials in the corporate world.
Favorite quote: "Whenever I found myself pressing on, even though I'd pissed off my boss, his boss, my whole department, or another department, I find myself thinking, 'What is the worst that can happen? They will fire me.' I had realized that I'd rather be fired than be a yes-man, and it's been the single best thing for my career."
4. The New One Minute Manager
Authors: Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson M.D.
Summary: The New One Minute Manager is an update of a classic, and it's a stellar guide to effective communication between managers/bosses and their employees. The authors drive home the message that managers can explain a task to their employees, or offer praise and criticism, in as little as 60 seconds.
Not only does it focus on efficiency, but it offers great advice on how to lower barriers between managers and their team and how to communicate more directly.
Favorite quotes: "If you can't tell me what you'd like to be happening, you don't have a problem yet. You're just complaining. A problem only exists if there is a difference between what is actually happening and what you desire to be happening."
"When I first came to work here I spotted a problem that needed to be solved, but I didn't know what to do. So I called the One Minute Manager. When he answered the phone, I said, 'Sir, I have a problem.' Before I could get another word out, he said, 'Good! That's what you've been hired to solve.'"
5. Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination
Author: J.K. Rowling
Summary: I would recommend this read to anyone in leadership, but I wish it could be put into the hands of every up-and-coming Millennial pushing through a leadership tract or making a go at being an entrepreneur. In 2008, J.K. Rowling delivered a powerful commencement speech at Harvard University which is now available in Very Good Lives. It's packed with words of wisdom that draw from stories of her own post-graduate years that address some of life's most important questions--and it can hit you hard.
Not only will you be challenged to consider how you should embrace failure, but also how you can use your creativity and imagination to change yourself and the world around you.
Favorite quote: "You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all--in which case, you fail by default."
Do you have a favorite book on enhancing leadership abilities and skills? Share it in the comments below: