Commitment to one’s own personal development is crucial to any executive coach who wants to be at the top of their game. From the obvious to the alternative, here is a list of the best books for executive coaches that I have read. These books are also highly recommended to managers and leaders that use a coach-approach with their teams.
Am I too nice at work, or should I be more of a jerk? This question comes up a lot in my coaching conversations about leadership. As a coach, my job is not to answer that question directly. I help clients explore the question and draw their own conclusions, whilst at the same time framing and developing their own leadership style. It turns out that a branch of mathematics called game theory does provide us with an answer. According to author W. Mitchell Waldrop, in his book Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos, :
Nice guys* – or more precisely, nice forgiving, tough, and clear guys – finish first.
In her book Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World author and leadership coach, Jennifer Garvey Berger outlines the four-stage path to growth that an individual might take to develop a more complex form of mind, and three specific habits of mind that a leader should cultivate to allow them to more successfully navigate a world of increasing complexity and ambiguity.
Changing on the Job is written for people who really want to understand the shape and features of adult growth so they can either support their own growth and development or support the growth and development of others. Being a book about complexity, not simplicity, it avoids the temptation to provide a prescription for achieving a self-transformed form of mind. Instead, it really gets under the hood of what it takes to be a true leader with developed forms and habits mind.
Read on to learn more about adult development theory and to discover how asking different questions, taking multiple perspectives & seeing the system will help you become a more effective leader.
The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever is a highly readable little book by Michael Bungay Stanier. It’s short on theory but long on practical tools and techniques that are a shot to the heart of good coaching. If you want to enhance your management and leadership style with a coaching approach, but don’t have the time or inclination for formal training, then you should pick up a copy. As Brene Brown says in the introduction to the book:
Coaching is an art, and it’s far easier said than done. It takes courage to ask a question rather than offer up advice, provide an answer or unleash a solution. Giving another person the opportunity to find their own way, make their own mistakes and create their own wisdom is both brave and vulnerable. It can also mean unlearning our “fix it” habits. In this practical and inspiring book, Michael shares seven transformative questions that can make a difference in how we lead and support.
The evidence is irrefutable: the best way to help a baby learn to talk or develop any other cognitive skill is through live interaction with a human being. But what is the impact of technology on young children that are exposed to it? Can an app, an avatar or a 3D cartoon recreate or override human nature? If a child spends too much time being cyber-simulated than connecting with the real world, could it impair other important pre-academic skills such as empathy, social abilities and problem solving? What about a child who spends the bulk of their playtime with an interactive app, in which objects explode, appear, reappear, and don’t play by the rules of the physical world? How does looking at a tablet screen impact an infant’s eyesight?
Cyberpsychologist and author Mary Aiken explores these questions in her book The Cyber Effect. Though the answer to them is that we just don’t know, Aiken does provide fantastic insights into what we do know about child development and how technology could affect it. In the absence of any formal regulatory guidance on technology usage, she shares her own. If you’re interested in this subject, you might also appreciate my previous post Put that smartphone down! The science behind our addiction to technology.
Smartphones have become ubiquitous. But what psychological impact are they and other technologies having on us as the individuals that experience it? This is what Mary Aiken sets out to explore in her book The Cyber Effect. Aiken is one of the world’s leading experts in cyberpsychology – the study of the impact of emerging technologies on human behaviour.
She is not anti-technology, but does speak with a cautionary tone, identifying potential complications associated with apparently addictive technologies like smartphones, and urges us to think about what might be done now to mitigate future potential damage before it is too late.
With an intervention [the internet] of this magnitude that had the potential to impact so many aspects of human beings on the deepest and most profound levels – from visual acuity, bonding, and childhood development to identity formation, intimacy and socialisation – I wondered what the blind spots or unforeseen outcomes might be. The unknown unknowns.
Ray Dalio’s book Principles begins with a brief autobiography before quickly moving on to identify his organically grown set of principles (fundamental truths that serve as the foundations for behaviour that gets you what you want) for building a successful life and business. As the founder of Bridgewater Associates, one of largest hedge funds in the world with approximately $160 billion of Assets Under Management, Dalio’s ideas are worth listening to. Although Bridgewater itself has been criticised by some for being cult-like (its culture built on the foundations of Radical Truth and Radical Transparency), that Dalio began the company in his two bedroom apartment in New York in 1975, makes him not just one of the world’s greatest investors but also one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs and leadership visionaries.
You should read Dalio’s book to learn about his principles and consider your own – “because we all have our own goals and our own natures, each of us most choose our own principles to match them”. This post will focus on the fascinating research that Dalio himself undertook into what he calls shapers.
I can thank my experience with cancer for my new reading habits. Determined to understand my illness and what was going on inside my body, I consumed every medical paper I could get my hands on. This knowledge helped me deal with it better, make more informed decisions as part of my treatment process, and live with the aftermath. Serious illness is as much a head-game as it is a physical experience, so I transitioned from reading medical texts to books about psychology, then on to books about the world around me in general. Six months of chemotherapy and rehabilitation means you have a lot of time on your hands. The following books kept me occupied!
Man’s Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl, chronicles the author’s time as an inmate in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. The early chapters do not make for easy reading but the book opens up into one of the deepest and most eloquent explorations of the meaning of human existence and man’s search for such meaning. This book is essential reading for anybody interested in the psychology of suffering, mental health, personal growth, and how to lead a happy life.
Striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man… This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can only be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning.
The words coaching and mentoring are often used interchangeably, though there are in fact important discernible differences. The late Sir John Whitmore, the founder of the coaching movement in the UK, explains what these differences are in his book Coaching for Performance, widely considered to be the industry gold standard for performance based coaching.
In a landmark study undertaken between 1984 and 2004, Wharton Professor Philip Tetlock showed that the average expert’s ability to predict the future was only slightly better than a layperson using random guesswork. His latest project, which began in 2011, has since shown that there are some people with real, demonstrable foresight. These are often ordinary people who have an extraordinary ability to predict the future with a degree of accuracy significantly greater than the average. In his book Superforecasting: The Art & Science of Prediction, co-authored with Dan Gardner, Tetlock identifies how you can improve your ability to predict the future and become a superforecaster.
Howard Marks is the Chairman and cofounder of Oaktree Capital Management and author of The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor. According to the book’s sleeve, he is renowned for his insightful assessments of market opportunity and risk. He is sought out by the world’s leading investors, and his client memos brim with astute commentary and time tested fundamental philosophy. On a more personal note he’s one of my investing heroes. A value investor at heart, his broad thinking and eloquent expression is pertinent to anyone with investment and business interests both professional and personal. In The Most Important Thing he lays out, over 20 chapters, the building blocks to successful investing. All are equally important and essential “guideposts” that together create a “solid wall” that keep investors focused on the most important things for successful portfolio management.
I’ve summarised two of my favorite ‘most important things’. In this post, the importance of second level thinking, a key skill for any contrarian investor and in another post, Howard Marks (and Nassim Taleb) on the role of luck and randomness in life and business.
Paul Kalanithi, M.D., was a neurosurgeon and writer. He graduated from Stanford University in 2000 with a B.A. and M.A. in English Literature and a B.A. in Human Biology. He earned an M.Phil in History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine from the University of Cambridge before attending medical school. In 2007, Paul graduated cum laude from the Yale School of Medicine. He returned to Stanford for residency training in Neurological Surgery and a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience. In 2013 he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, though continued to work, completing his neurosurgery residency in 2014. He also authored the book When Breath Becomes Air, which detailed his journey through treatment and eventually his death in March 2015. He is survived by his wife Lucy and their daughter Cady.
Although I’d heard of this book before, I first stumbled across it in a charity shop about one month after I’d finished 5 months of chemotherapy for colorectal cancer. I cried my way through much of the book, but I had to read about Paul’s journey and his exploration of life and death. Continue reading
Robert Coram, author of Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, describes John Boyd as “first, last and always a fighter pilot – a loud talking, cigar-smoking, bigger-than-life fighter pilot”. But also as more than that: “he was that rarest of creatures – a thinking fighter pilot.” Boyd is widely considered to be one of the world’s greatest military strategists, despite the fact that it’s unlikely you have ever heard of him. Over his career he bought the Air Force its Aerial Attack Study, invented Energy-Maneuverability (E-M) Theory and was the father of the F-15 and F-16 fighter jets. He brought strategic thinking to the armed forces more generally, and now to business: he created a decision making framework called the OODA loop, his Patterns of Conflict brief provided the strategic basis for the US military’s 100 hour victory in the first Gulf War and still underpins US Marine Corps fighting doctrine to this day.
John Boyd was an endearing eccentric and strategic genius who is brought wonderfully to life by author Robert Coram in his meticulously researched book. Coram demonstrates what one man, surrounded by a few devoted and loyal Acolytes, can do to change the world. Maneuverability, as it relates to military (and business) strategy, we learn is key. Continue reading
Thinking Fast and Slow is a book about biases of intuition. It’s ideas are so potent that they won it’s author Danuel Kahnemann a Nobel in economics. Kahneman identifies that the human brain works very well most of the time and our judgments are sound. However, it is prone to engage in a number of fallacies and systematic errors that lead to flawed opinions and adverse decision making, otherwise known as cognitive biases. We assume certain things automatically without having thought them through carefully. Kahneman calls these assumptions heuristics and, for entrepreneurs, they can be deadly. An awareness of them is the first step to countering them.
Phil ‘Shoe Dog’ Knight is the founder, former CEO and now Executive Chairman of Nike. In Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike he tells his story of taking the business from humble origins, through an IPO in 1980 and onto its current $30 billion market capitalisation. To put that in perspective, if you had invested $1,000 at IPO without reinvesting dividends, your investment would be worth $729,575 today, that’s a Compound Annual Growth Rate of just over 20.7% (according to Investopedia and based on December 2015 share price).
Knight tells the story of how, what is still widely regarded to be one of the most innovative companies in the world, started and grew out of the back of a van in the early 1970s. A Stanford graduate, avid reader of the Classics and books about military strategy, and a natural introvert, he captures a wonderful story about what he calls his Crazy Idea and the determination and grit it takes to become successful beyond what he’d ever imagined. He also includes some wonderful accounts of the hustle and sometimes downright dirty tactics that it can take to overcome the odds: “you are remembered for the rules you break” is his mantra throughout the book. I’ve captured the best of the rest of his entrepreneurial wisdom in the quotes from the book below.
Yuval Harari’s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind charts our origins from hunter gatherers 2.5 million years ago on to the rise of Homo Sapiens 200,000 years ago. He takes the reader through the Cognitive Revolution 70,000 years ago, the Agrarian Revolution 10,000 years ago, into the Scientific Revolution in the 1500s, the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s and on to the present. Harari covers a lot of ground that includes a deep dive into capitalism: “an economic-led system based on private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit”. He explores how something that began as a theory about how the early economy of the modern age functioned, has grown into much more than an economic doctrine. His standpoint serves as a thought-provoking baseline for anyone that works to build and grow businesses. Continue reading