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What I Read in 2010

2010 was a good year for reading. I read 14 great books (well actually, 13 great books and one that wasn’t so great). The year was filled with a wide variety of insights on coaching, executive development, and building strong organizations.

(A note: I don’t actually “read” non-fiction books. I devour them. I engage with a book as if it’s the backbone of a graduate-level independent-study course and I am preparing for an oral defense. I create a note in Evernote for each chapter. I highlight. I transcribe my highlights into Evernote. I make notes. I memorize. I capture the outline and the best ideas and I interweave them with my own ideas and reactions. I don’t just “read” books. I make them my own and integrate the models and the ideas into the services that I provide for clients. Books are good stuff.)

And now, for the 2010 book list . . . in the order of completion

1. The March: A Novel — E. L. Doctorow

Rating: * * * * * (out of 5)

The previous year (2009) was a full year of studying the American Civil War. The March, the first book I finished in 2010, is the final seal on that wonderful year of learning. It is the story of General Sherman’s march across Georgia and up through the Carolinas, bringing the South to its knees and ultimately an end to the Civil War. As a testament to how much I enjoyed this book, even a year after I finished it, I can still conjure in my mind, image after vivid image of the scenes that Doctorow painted. Highly recommended for anyone with even a vague interest in the Civil War or a nostalgic appreciation for Gone With The Wind.

2. The Elephant and the Flea: Reflections of a Reluctant Capitalist — Charles Handey

Rating: * * * * *

Charles Handey is a role model, an inspiration, and a man ahead of his time. In this autobiographical exploration of the future of work he makes a living case for a model that balances free agents with large corporations. We need them both in their own way. As he says on the back cover, “This is not another ‘how to start your own business’ book, but rather one man’s struggle to find meaning and fulfillment in work, latching onto elephants (big corporations) when needed, but mostly flying solo without a net.” Recommended for other aspiring free agents and reluctant capitalists.

3. Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time — Keith Ferrazzi

Rating * * * * *

This is one of the seminal books that shaped the rebirth of my career several years ago. I re-read this book every couple of years and this time I tried something new. Instead of reading it alone, I lead a group through a “virtual book club.” Since Never Eat Alone is so neatly structured with 31 short chapters, almost a dozen of us read a chapter a day for each of the 31 days in January. Concurrently, I posted discussion questions in a private LinkedIn group and we actively discussed, debated, and digested Ferazzi’s ideas. It was great fun and great learning. Look forward to more virtual book clubs in 2011.

4. Your Next Move: The Leader’s Guide to Navigating Major Career Transitions — Michael Watkins

Rating: * * * * *

This book is a perfect follow up to Watkins’ previous gem, The First 90 Days. Your Next Move offers a very good framework for the different environments in which a new leader might find himself. Are you in a start-up organization? Rapid-growth? Or sustaining success? Watkins offers a wealth of information on everything from eight classic career moves to five conversations to have with your new boss.

This is an important book for any executive coach. Also critical for any ambitious professional working their way up the corporate ranks.

5. Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life — Steve Martin

Rating: * * * * *

Steve Martin is amazing. He is smart, funny (d’oh), and has my deep respect for the way he follows his passions. He has managed his career with aplomb, from stand-up comic, to actor, to writer, and now to tweeter par excellence. (He likens Twitter to old time radio in which he can tell a story to a broad audience.) Born Standing Up is a short, easy-to-read, and inspiring book. I am sure that you will be moved, as I was, by the thousands of hours he trudged through smokey clubs, polishing his act, until he found his voice and his audience found him. Persistence FTW!

6. The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership-Powered Company — Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel

Rating: * * * * *

I’d give it 10 stars if my scale went that far. The is the most valuable leadership book I’ve read in years, and one of the triple-crown of great books that I read in 2010. According to the authors’ model, there are six major “turns” in the corporate ladder. At each level of leadership, success comes from embodying the appropriate values, executing with the right skills, and managing your time appropriately for that level. Read this book if you are an aspiring corporate leader, an organizational development expert, or an executive coach.

7. Oprah, A Biography – Kitty Kelly

Rating: * * * *

Reading this book was more than a guilty pleasure. I am by no means an Oprah fan. However, Oprah is extremely successful and has been for years. This well-written and easy-to-read book gives you a peak behind the curtain. Oprah’s drive and extreme self confidence have been evident since she was a toddler. Once again, persistence FTW!

8. Blackberry: Inside the Story of Research in Motion — Rod McQueen

Rating * *

I am living in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada this year — the corporate headquarters for Research in Motion and the home of the birthplace of the BlackBerry. Understanding RIM was required reading.

9. Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime — John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

Rating: * * * *

Game Change was my vacation read this summer. This page-turner helped while away the hours as I ambled across Canada from Vancouver to Toronto on the Trans Canada Railway. Game Change deserves all the accolades it has received. It is a delight to get the inside scoop on the campaigns and “the race of a lifetime.” Read this book if you’ve ever wondered how a nation-wide American political campaign really works.

10. The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger — Marc Levinson

Rating: * * * * *

I have a confession: I absolutely love logistics. If you share my fascination with the complexity of supply chains and moving stuff around the globe then you will love this book. Venkat Rao has written an excellent review of this book on his blog at Ribbonfarm.

11. Bonfire of the Vanities: A Novel – Tom Wolfe

Rating: *

Apparently this book defined a generation back in the 80’s. I understand Wall Street and the whole “greed is good” delusion. However, looking back over 20+ years and reading Bonfire of the Vanities now, I am not sure that Wolfe captured it all that well.

12. Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, and How to Get It Back When You Need It — Marshall Goldsmith

Rating: * * *

Marshall Goldsmith is the king of executive coaches. He’s very good. I aspire to his ranks.

This is his latest book on leadership and coaching, imbued with his experience and his research. Mojo has some good ideas, particularly around owning your identity and building your reputation. While I only gave it three stars, it was good enough to make me want to read his previous book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. The best thing I learned from Mojo is that, by reading between the lines, I have all the makings of a top-notch executive coach.

Recommended if you’ve lost your Mojo, or if you’re a coach.

13: Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable – Patrick Lencioni

Rating: * * * * *

This is the second book in the leadership triple-crown that I read this year. It expanded my coaching perspective to include helping leaders build strong organizations.

In a nutshell: healthy organizations are built on a foundation of Trust. If they have trust, they are free to have healthy dialogues and, when necessary, Healthy Conflict. With healthy dialogue, everyone is heard. When everyone feels heard — even if they don’t completely agree — Commitment to a common agenda is possible.  With commitment to a common agenda people hold each other Accountable. And when peers, as well as leaders, are holding each other accountable extraordinary Results are achieved. These are the five functions of a strong organization. It is a beautiful model and a powerful lens to strengthen an organization.

14: Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t — Jeffrey Pfeffer

Rating: * * * * *

This is the third leg of the triple-crown of great books in 2010. Jeffrey Pfeffer is my idol. He has been speaking the truth about power for decades. Unfortunately, the word “power” has negative connotations for too many people. According to Pfeffer, get over it. Power is simply the ability to influence … and influence is the way things get done. The box you occupy on the organization chart doesn’t matter near as much as your ability to influence.

The precursor, and powerful complement, to Power is Pfeffer’s previous masterpiece Managing with Power. Together they deliver a one-two punch —  understanding how power works in large organizations (Managing With Power), followed by building and maintaining personal power (Power).

I am proposing this book for a virtual book club in 2011. There are 13 great chapters. Reading and discussing one chapter per week would take us through in a calendar quarter. Let me know if you are interested in participating. In the meantime, don’t wait. Get this book and read it now!

What’s Next?

It is interesting to note that all but two of 2010’s books were on the Kindle, and now even one of those is now available on the Kindle. It’s a great way to read.

The queue for 2011 looks equally as rich as the 2010 list. I am in the final pages of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom at the moment. And the first few chapters of The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs is spurring me to think about leadership on new and different planes. Next up also includes a great biography of Winston Churchill and A˚ll The Devils Are Here by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera.

I’ve said enough. I gotta go, my Kindle is calling . . .

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