Summer Reading List

summer-reading-2Sorry, no Malcom Gladwell or Marcus Buckingham books here. It’s summer time and the living is easy. Besides, I often find the most valuable nuggets about leadership told through the adventures of others. Below, a quick review of some non-business books that still hold plenty of leadership lessons, add them to your summer reading list. And no reports are due. Just read and enjoy.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail – Cheryl Strayed 

The thought of trudging 2650 miles though sand, sun, mud, rain and snow with 80 pounds on your back appeals to only a select few. Truthfully, the 80 pounds on the back likely appeals to no one. However, if leadership begins with self, there is no better way to examine that hypothesis than to venture out on the trail alone.

While a fundamental tenet of leadership may be preparation, Cheryl Strayed embarked on her journey with little preparation other than purchasing the Pacific Crest Trail guidebook on a whim. Having a clearly defined goal, as many long-distance hikes do, will often help overcome the lack of preparation. At a tumultuous time in her young life, Cheryl set out to discover the wild and her inner limits, and in the tradition of Muir and Thoreau before her, found herself along the way.

As they routinely do in life, setbacks abound along the trail; failed equipment, unnecessary luxuries and obstacles sometimes beyond her control, yet her resilience and dedication towards the goal pulls her onward.  A lesson any leader would do well to heed. Cheryl retells her tale with a curiosity and longing that is easy to relate to. Leadership is an adventure, and Wild draws one out before pulling you back inside to discover the most valuable lessons.

My Thoughts Be Bloody – Nora Titone

Sibling rivalry has torn apart many a family. And family business. Little is known of John Wilkes Booth and the motivations that stirred him on that fateful night. Bitter rivals with his brother, Edwin, and a desire to carry forth the legacy of their father Junias, himself one of the most celebrated stage actors of his time, crafted a tragedy that has left its indelible marks on this nation’s history.

Although this tale is steeped in Civil War history, several lessons for families and families in business reside here.  Forced into the profession and competing with his more talented brother, John Wilkes is relegated to perform in the south while Edwin claims the more populace north (to avoid the brand-dilution of two Booth’s appearing in the same region). Through Titone, we explore the Wilkes family dynamics and how many unresolved issues have a persistent habit of manifesting in unforeseen and unwelcome ways.

What business lessons might we learn from the Booth family story? Legacy carries a heady weight, family systems may help to create the individual but only one’s actions can define them, and competition is not always the most efficacious way of resolving differences.

High Exposure: An Enduring Passion for Everest and Unforgiving Places – David Breashears

There is perhaps no singular human feat that pushes the individual so close to the brink of survival as summiting one of the world’s highest peaks. David Breashears has pioneered high altitude photography both through big screen motion pictures (Cliffhanger) and real-life documentaries (Everest – IMAX).

In High Exposure, David shares the many leadership lessons that climbing has taught him. First, clearly state the goal and stick to it. Communicate that goal throughout the team incessantly to keep everyone moving in the same direction. Next, know your limits. Momentum can be dangerous; often planning is a non-issue when business is thriving or people are young and healthy. Finally, complete the task at hand. Getting up the mountain is optional, getting down is mandatory. Too often ego outweighs the more important group goal. Danger comes, argues the author, when ambition blinds reason. Selfishness will eventually disrupt teams and derail goals.

A lasting and important message throughout the book is the need for humility and respect; these will take you further in your climb than arrogance and hubris. In mountaineering, climbers die because they do not know their limits. Violent storms arise, allow for wiggle room, take constant inventory of your resources, and be patient. And set out to test your own limits.

For additional summer reading suggestions, click here.

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