The Leader’s Toolbox: Great Books You Need to Read

 In Blog, Book Reviews, Influence

As I mentioned in my last post, leaders are readers.  And while there are tons of great blogs out there, books can offer a much deeper look into the topics they address.  So leaders should read them both!

In light of that, I’m going to offer reflections on some of my favorite leadership books as I read them.  I’ll usually post them under my Reviews Section, but since we’re just starting out, I’m going to give you three great leadership books I’ve read recently and why they’re worth your time.


by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

51552107[1]This book is already a near-classic.  I’ll be the first to admit that I picked up this book after I’d heard the substantial buzz around it, and the book does not disappoint.  Levitt is  an economist who doesn’t like to work with money, but instead investigates all kinds of interesting questions like “Why did crime rates really drop in the 1990s?” and “How do you catch a teacher at cheating?” (the most interesting question is “Why do crack dealers still live with their moms?, but it’s such an interesting chapter that every review talks about it).  Levitt is an economist to the core, and I don’t agree 100% with his methodology (I have slightly higher opinion of human nature than he does), but the book is a fantastic exercise in making you think about… well, almost everything from an entirely different perspective.  Once you’re finished with it, you’re going to walk around asking about the hidden connections behind every part of your day.  You’re going to be looking for stories in everything.  And when you read Made to Stick, you’ll see why that’s important!


 Six Pixels of Separation

by Mitch Joel

38269550[1]The premise of this book is that the internet has changed everything.  Sound common sense?  Joel reveals exactly how it’s not.  Thanks to Social Media/Web 2.0, an organic farmer in the middle of the Midwest has the exact same access to consumers as does Wal-Mart or any other giant ad agency.  And, according to Joel, that ought to change the way we do business.

In fact, what I really loved about this book is that, in this brave new world, business has to be about relationships first and profits second.  Everything – from Facebook and Twitter to your blogs – must be re-centered around creating a culture around what you do.  Joel says we have to quit looking at the world as a pool of potential customers and start looking at them as potential friends, potential business partners.  Blogs become conversations.  Twitter becomes a way to add value to your followers.  And your Facebook friends become a pool from which you can create a passionate and motivated conversation around whatever you’re doing that will market itself.

And if your conversation is something as important as… oh, say the redemption of the world and its reconciliation to is Creator, then this book is simply a must have.


What the Dog Saw

by Malcolm Gladwell

45407592[1]If you don’t already know, Gladwell is one of the most important thinkers to emerge at the turn of the millennium.  What the Dog Saw is his fourth book, and is a collection of his favorite articles from his time so far at the New Yorker.  And Dog is Gladwell at his best.  Along the same lines as Freakonomics (in fact, Gladwell’s endorsement appears on the cover), Gladwell finds stories everywhere.  Wonder what hair dye has to do with women’s rights?  Wonder no more.  And do you want to meet the best salesman ever?  He sells, of all things, kitchen appliances, and believe me, you can learn a lot from him.  And do you know what Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton have in common (but George W. Bush lacks)?  The semi-famous Dog Whisperer has the answer.

Gladwell’s storytelling is unparalleled, and he’ll show you the hidden connections that exist all around us all the time.  You’ll find yourself questioning what makes the world tick, and if you’re like me, you’ll see God’s handiwork in places you never expected it.

And, if you’re a Mizzou Tigers fan, there’s an extra-special bonus in the book for you.


Made to Stick

By Chip and Dan Heath


Last but by no means least, one of my absolute favorite books ever (even though I just read it!).  They start out with a simple comparison – a common urban legend and a quarterly report from a non-profit.  One idea is interesting and compelling; one is heinously boring.  And then the Heath brothers present their compelling thesis: ‘sticky’ ideas are made not born.    The rest of the book is an exploration of what it takes to make your ideas stick, complete with workshops to illustrate for you exactly how to apply their ideas.  This book is simple, enjoyable and useable.  The guide they provide makes it easy for you to make anything you want to communicate much stickier.  Immediately after I finished this book, I got a call to preach a sermon on only 36 hours notice.  I ran my talk through Made to Stick’s rubric, revised my ideas and gave a talk that has proven over the past couple of weeks to have more staying power than most of the talks I’ve given.  If you’re a communicator of any kind, get this book right away.  Read it.  Love it.  Use it.

What are some of the great leadership books you’ve read recently?

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  • I’m sure you know but Freakonomics has a great blog through the New York Times site. You have inspired me to pick that book up again and finish it.

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