Best of 2018: Books, Podcasts and Blogs

As 2018 comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the things I’ve read and learned this year. Here’s my “best of” list. It includes the books, podcasts and blogs that enriched, expanded and challenge my thinking this year. I hope you find one or two things that appeal to you and that you can learn from in 2019.

Learning About Complexity

The most important thing I discovered this year was that complexity is not only something we’re dealing with (increasingly!), it’s also the topic of serious study and a profound body of work. For an orientation to one dimension of that work, here’s a post I wrote this fall that summarizes much of what I’ve learned. Recognizing that we can develop greater personal capacity to work with complexity has allowed me to feel less fearful about the pace of change and the uncertainty that we confront daily. This is a framework that I’ve used one-on-one with coaching clients, brought to teams of leaders to explore together, and talked to family and friends about at the dinner table.

Books to Read and Savor

My teacher, Doug Silsbee, wrote his first book specifically directed to leaders rather than coaches. Presence-Based Leadership holds a special place for me as Doug published it just weeks before he died of a rare cancer. The book is a guide for tackling complexity challenges. Doug embraced his own death as his final complexity challenge and shared his journey with grace, wit and vulnerability. I write about that here in case you are interested in learning more about Doug. And, if you’re a coach or interested in coaching, Doug’s first book, The Mindful Coach is one of, if not the best, book I’ve read about coaching.

Margaret Wheatley, who wrote Leadership and the New Science over 25 years ago–and is also a student of systems theory and, more recently, complexity sciences–this year published Who Do We Choose To Be?: Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity. While Wheatley’s assessment of our current reality can at times feel harsh, this is ultimately a powerful and inspiring book suggesting that what we do, day to day, moment to moment, matters deeply.

I highly recommend Amanda Blake’s Your Body is Your Brain. Amanda, a wonderful teacher, shares inspiring stories and practical guidance for making change that lasts by attending to both body and brain and the linkage between the two. This book is a great read for leaders and coaches (and not quite as heavy as the first two books.) My most recent post provides a small introduction, drawing on both Doug and Amanda’s work, to the power of somatic (body) work.

Podcasts to Walk With

For me, podcasts and walking go together. Podcasts get me walking, walking gets me to listen to podcasts. I’ve traversed many, many miles while listening to these podcasts. You can listen while driving, doing housework or at your desk, of course!

My day is not complete without listening to the New York Times podcast, The Daily. Each day, for 20 minutes or so, I learn about one story in the news, in depth. While it’s often the “obvious” story of the day, just as often, it’s not. It’s a deeper dive into something I was barely aware of or not aware of at all. I’ve stopped listening to all cable news–so this is one of the few ways I “hear” about the world. (There are other, very good, political podcasts, but this is the only one I listen to all the time.)

While the Coaches Rising Podcast is ostensibly for coaches, I’m including it here since some of you work as coaches and I think that even if you don’t, you’d enjoy listening to the amazing collection of interviews that Joel Monk, one of the co-founders of Coaches Rising conducts on a regular basis with some of the most profound and inspiring people in the coaching universe. Coaches Rising also offers affordable and superbly designed and executed courses for Coaches and those interested in coaching.

One of the ways I’ve learned more about complexity is through the Human Current podcast. Angie Cross and Haley Campbell-Gross host conversations with a wide array of people who explore many different aspects of complexity. One of the most powerful episodes this year is the conversation with Meg Wheatley (see above)–though, honestly, you can’t go wrong with any episode you choose to listen to!

Other podcasts that are oriented to coaches and leaders include Tim Ferris’s podcast–which is almost always a rewarding listen, Amiel Handelsman’s podcast (there are two episodes with Doug Silsbee that are exceptional!) and Work/Life with Adam Grant (there are a limited number of episodes and they are all good.)

Blogs to Follow

Four of the blogs I follow most closely explore the topic of complexity. These include the writing of  Sonja Blignaut, Chris Corrigan and Dave Snowden . Other writers/blogger/collectors of insight whose work I’ve come to appreciate include Jennifer Garvey Berger (and her colleagues,) Ed Batista, Mark Storm, Bruce McTague, Jane Watson and Carol Sanford. What all of these people have in common is a willingness to dig deeper–beneath the surface–and almost always surprise me with a new thought or perspective or way of framing something. I recommend them all highly. And, they are all people who have rich Twitter feeds–demonstrating that, used thoughtfully, Twitter can be a force for good. (And, I know I’ve missed some of the people whose work I really enjoy in this list!)

Collections

I also want to point to two collections of posts that I’ve started contributing to and enjoy a great deal. Lets Grow Leaders and the Lead Change Group both share monthly collections, typically around different topics in leadership, for your reading pleasure. You will often find my posts, both the ones I write here and the ones I write for Actionable, in their collections.

Wishing you a good close to 2018 and beginning of 2019! Happy reading and listening!

Mindsets, Part 2

Growth-Mindset

My last post introduced the idea of fixed and growth mindsets (Carol Dweck, Mindsets)–and the impact of each on how we approach the world, how we see ourselves, how we take on new challenges. A growth mindset leads to the belief that learning, changing and growing are possible–that we aren’t stuck at a certain level of intelligence, talent or ability. Effort and attention are at the heart of a growth mindset.

If we approach leadership development with a growth mindset, the answer to the question of whether leaders are born or made becomes obvious. People can grow and develop as leaders! It’s as simple (and as challenging!) as applying a growth mindset to leadership development efforts. And, part of that growth mindset is recognizing that the path is likely to include mistakes, missteps and even failures. How we look at those mistakes and whether we learn from them or just give up is the difference between a growth and a fixed mindset. And, as leaders who are responsible for helping others grow, our capacity to see them as capable of changing, of holding a growth mindset in the way that we see them, gives us the ability to coach others through mistakes and missteps with confidence that they are in a learning process, not that they are incapable of change.

So, as you think about your growth as a leader, or about the people you lead, do you fully believe that effort, attention and learning can result in change? If not, or more likely, if not fully, what can you do to shift your thinking? What examples have you witnessed where people have made profound changes when you didn’t expect that they could? When did you succeed at something that you initially thought was beyond your capability? Can you begin to envision how much easier it would be to shift if you believed it was truly possible?

Oftentimes, the growth areas that are important for leadership development are particularly challenging. To become a more effective leader you need to increase your capacity for managing yourself and others–you need to focus on your emotional intelligence. You may need to make profound changes in how you work with other people. It’s not easy. And, when we start to adopt a growth mindset, it becomes possible.

Mindsets, Part 1

I practice yoga regularly and seriously. I’m a fairly advanced practitioner–and some of the poses I can do are impressive! When I first learned about Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets, I thought a lot about yoga. As the shortest kid in a class of rather tall children, from a bookish home where sports and athletics were not central, gym class was a nightmare for me. I saw myself as anything but strong and anything but an athlete. I was the small, weak kid who got chosen last. Today, I have a very different sense of myself and of my strength and athleticism.

Carol Dweck, whose writings and interviews are available through the internet or in her book Mindset, describes two basic mindsets that people hold about their talent, intelligence and skills. In a fixed mindset, people believe that their intelligence or talent are what they are. You have a certain amount—and can’t do much to change it. A growth mindset sees our brains and raw talent as just the starting point. Growth and change are always possible. A person with a fixed mindset sees intelligence as set—a growth mindset focuses more on how intelligence can be developed through learning and effort.

Dweck shows that when people adopt a fixed mindset, it often limits their success. They become focused on proving their talents and abilities—they react defensively to mistakes or setbacks. Deficiencies and mistakes mean there’s a lack of talent or ability. People in this mindset will often avoid risks—if they might show result in showing “weakness.” And, once you see yourself as “not smart” or “not athletic” you’re stuck with that label and it’s not going to change. With a growth mindset, you believe that talents and abilities can be developed through passion, education and persistence. It’s not about looking smart or about image. It’s about learning—taking smart risks and learning from the results, being challenged, looking honestly at what’s challenging and taking it on.

One of Dweck’s studies followed pre-med students taking one of those killer chemistry courses. Students were tested to determine whether they had a fixed or growth mindset and then were tracked through the course. Students with fixed mindsets, after an early poor grade, did not recover. The initial score “proved” they were not smart enough and, at that point, their fate was determined. Students with growth mindsets poured themselves into the course after an early poor grade and succeeded based on hard work in the course. Effort produced results, not raw smarts.

The last couple of decades of brain research have shown us that our brains are more plastic than we ever realized—that they do grow and change throughout our lives. We can confidently say that a growth mindset is more biologically “true” than a fixed mindset. While a growth mindset doesn’t mean that everyone has the same talent or that everyone can be Michael Jordan, it does mean that Michael Jordan wouldn’t be Michael Jordan without years of passionate and dedicated practice. In a growth mindset, talent is something you build on and develop, not something you simply have.

When I think about my yoga practice, I think about how much work it took to transform my fixed mindset about my physical abilities and see myself as someone who was strong and capable of doing really hard things–if I made the consistent effort. And, even now, it’s a an ongoing process. When I do a handstand (yes, a handstand!!) I hear my brain saying “you can’t do that!” while my body is in the pose! That’s how deeply our mindsets are ingrained in us!

So, think about something you’ve done–despite what you might have thought you could do–and about what it took for you to do that. And, think about something that you’re not doing that might just require a shift in mindset. And begin the shift!

More on mindsets and why they are so central to leadership development next week!