Readers Corner: My Best Books


"The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly." - Proverbs 15:14

My earliest memory of being awakened to the treasure of reading was on a Christmas evening when I was around 10 or 12. It was in the evening and all the gifts had been opened and the festivities of the day were finished. I opened the coat closet by our front door and found a box. I can't recall if it was wrapped, I just remember it was full of books...about 30 of them. It contained a children's series called The Sugar Creek Gang. It was from my grandpa, who was there at our home, and even he had forgotten about it until that moment. In the months ahead I read most, if not all of them. I can't say I remember being an avid reader as a child and teen, but what I read certainly influenced me. I began to see trends in people's stories. Even as a teen, I discerned that highly influential people had something in common: a love for reading and knowledge.

After Bible college while working at my first church, I would get to the office early to read. When kids entered the family my love of reading had to take a back seat. We had three babies in less than four years, so there was constant crying and physical exhaustion in the home for many years. As the kids grew I consciously sacrificed spending much time reading because of the demands at home, choosing to be a present father. It was a sacrifice I do not regret. Even so, during these years I still read a number of books that made a lasting impression, mostly in the leadership domain. However, for years I have longed to read more. As the kids are now (in 2020) entering their pre-teen and adolescent years, there is more opportunity for books, (even though still often interrupted.) I realize not everyone is wired to enjoy reading. However, even reading book summaries or listening to audio books can have a lasting influence. Here I will provide a quick summary of certain ones that have influenced me.



1. NARNIA

Although I have not read a tremendous amount of fiction over the years, I begin with the #ChroniclesofNarnia, specifically the first book in the series. I start here because there is something deep inside the human spirit that longs for more than we experience in this life. We long for adventure and to be part of something much greater than ourselves. We long to have a profound impact even though we feel insignificant. We long to confront and defeat evil and be hailed a hero, even though we are ordinary. Stories reflect a most powerful force in our world - and we yearn to be part of them. My first memory of encountering C.S. Lewis' renowned work was as a small child. I remember looking through a picture book portraying various parts of the story, including Aslan slain on the stone table. I was old enough to understand that it represented Christ's sacrificial death. Then in 5th grade (around 1991) my class watched an old version of the movie. I remember not wishing, but longing for Aslan to be real and to talk to him. When Disney released the movie in 2005 I could hardly wait to see it. My son was less then a month old so he came with us into the theater in his insulated car seat in frigid Fairbanks, Alaska. The future movies in the series were not nearly as good, but still special to me and contained some deeply moving parts. I identify mostly with Peter and Lucy. I admire Peter's bold leadership, but have never been quite as brash. Lucy's innocence and courage to step into the unknown also appeal to me. I have spent so much time with these characters they feel like old friends. One reality of the Chronicles of Narnia that strikes me is the worldwide impact Lewis continues to have even decades after his death. The power of a children's book series written by one man has touched untold millions, of whom I am just one.


2. PRIMAL LEADERSHIP


After getting my feet wet in leadership books by #JohnMaxwell during my first season of ministry, my understanding and love for this field grew at my second church. While working there I consumed several books focused on leader development and Primal Leadership stands out as a cornerstone. Building on the foundation of emotional intelligence, #DanielGoleman takes that concept and applies it to leading people and organizations. Whenever I encounter a leader who creates a negative environment for his/her subordinates, it is easy to see that they do not understand (or choose to follow) the concepts of leading with #emotionalintelligence (EI).

Effective leaders create "resonance" while ineffective leaders create "dissonance." Those terms essentially boil down to a leader either drawing people toward themselves or propelling people away from them. This is much more than conceptual. It retains real and powerful effects whether professionally at work or personally at home. It is determined by how a leader makes those around them feel emotionally. Whatever the context, people may feel many ways toward their leaders - inspired, afraid, angry, frustrated, intimidated, loyal, endeared, annoyed, etc. These feelings have a direct impact on an employees organizational output or on a family's level of relational connectivity. A strong leader understands the power of connecting and harnessing the positive potential by leading with EI. A challenge here is a gender and cultural one. Men especially do not like to focus on emotion. (Many feel much too intimidated by doing so.) However, the science is solid and this book makes a strong case for it. I recommend it for any type of leader or future leader.

Quotable Quotes:

· Weather an organization withers or flourishes depends to a remarkable extent on the leaders’ effectiveness in this primal emotional dimension.

· One person transmits signals that can alter hormone levels, cardiovascular function, sleep rhythms, and even immune function inside the body of another.

· Members of a group create an emotional soup, with everyone adding his or her own flavor to the mix. But it is the leader who adds the strongest seasoning. Everyone watches the boss.

· The stew of stress hormones secreted when a person is upset takes hours to become reabsorbed in the body and fade away.

· The emotional art of leadership includes pressing the reality of work demands without unduly upsetting people.

· If climate drives business results, what drives climate? Roughly 50 to 70 percent of how employees perceive their organization’s climate can be traced to the actions of one person: the leader.


3. #COLINPOWELL


Around the age of 30, years before I ever contemplated coming back into the Army to serve as a chaplain, I read Colin Powell's autobiography. He stood out as a remarkable leader, emerging during a time in our nation when being both black and a military leader was not an easy path. (During the beginning of his career, platoons were still segregated by race.) Born into a family of immigrants, General Powell did not attend West Point as many presume but an ROTC program. He rose through the ranks and earned his place as one of the remarkable leaders of the 20th century. I see a trend in his leadership abilities that seems to set certain people apart. They aren't necessarily smarter, but they do think different in approaching situations or finding solutions. He gives some examples of ways he found more effective methods than had been applied in given situations. He also shares about some personal failures and setbacks. It's not a short read, but a must for any leadership library. I also highly recommend his book, It Worked for Me: in Life and Leadership.


4. LEADERS

In our desire/need for strong leadership (and to live as effective leaders ourselves) we tend to willingly build up flawed individuals into something they were emphatically not - closer to perfect than is humanly attainable. In telling their stories and perceiving how they operated we seem to blindly imagine that their morals, personality, abilities, etc. were iconic in nature and therefore models to follow. #GeneralMcChrystal (ret.) makes a strong case, based on 13 historical leaders, that leadership actions are influenced to a high degree by the leader’s immediate context and situational variables to include the many people around them in a given situation. Myth: Follow these leadership principles and act like these leaders and you will develop into an effective leader yourself. Reality: The greatest leaders were as flawed as you and I, many times more than we want to know. Even after bold decisions, effective leaders emerged due more to the untold stories of the people around them, their specific situation, and variables no one could control rather than simply the ingenuity of the one individual. Takeaway - challenge the mythical lens from which we view iconic leaders and understand that each one of us contains the potential for great influence despite our deep flaws.


5. TOTAL MONEY MAKEOVER


Background: I am a saver by nature. As a 13 year old I saved every dollar I could so could buy a plane ticket in the summer to go see my cousins and grandma in Virginia. One time I went to our bank and deposited a $1 bill so I wouldn't be tempted to spend it. I did the same thing year after year until I went to college. Sometimes my parents helped me get all the way there if I was short, a sacrifice in their situation. The summers spent out in the country in Virginia are more dear to me than words can say. They also ended up putting me on a trajectory to pursue full time ministry, a path I continue on to this day, although in a unique context. I have no idea where I would be today if I had not saved my money for those special trips.

In early 2007 I became aware of this #DaveRamsey guy during a year of Army Reserve active duty in San Antonio. Not long after, he happened to come to town and I attended his event. I was sold. We simplified our lives with the goal of eliminating all debt and worked toward building an emergency fund. By the time active duty ended in late 2007 (were were making double what I was used to) we had paid off our Ford Escape and went back to Alaska with several thousand in the bank. However, still immature 20 somethings, we managed to squander that away fairly quickly. During the next decade we never completed baby step three (no debt and a fully funded emergency fund) mostly due to modest income as a minister and having small children. However, there were certainly times when we could have and should have saved more. Since then I did real stupid once or twice more. Those lessons ended up being so foolish and painful that by the time I was in my late 30s I determined to NEVER borrow money EVER again and to diligently work the plan I had known about for over ten years. (Better late than never.) If you are on this journey of gaining control of your finances, I encourage you to stay the course. Money isn't about money. It's about being a good steward and managing what we have been given in a way that can bless our future selves, loved ones, and others.

People have many opinions about personal finance and I will not say that the Ramsey way is the only right way. I will just say it is working for us. In my career field I make good money, in part due to my prior service which bumps up the pay. However, we choose to live a simple life and save about half of my income, split between kids college funds, IRAs, and saving for a house after Army life is over. We are also in a position to give more. Some people make far less than me and some far more. Whatever your situation, a simple truth applies: Whatever you don't manage, you will lose. That's not meant to sound negative, it's just reality. Dave Ramsey's 7 baby step plan has helped millions. It is attractive to so many due to it's simplicity and proven effectiveness. If you need a constant boost, consider his podcast and/or attending #FinancialPeaceUniversity.


6. 5 LEVELS OF LEADERSHIP


Of all the #JohnMaxwell books, this is my #1. If organizations of any kind (professional, community, religious, military, family, etc.) would grasp and practice even up to the second level of leadership, not only would personal morale drastically improve but also productivity. Maxwell presents a simple but powerful model that any kind of leader needs to understand from day one. It's about a mindset that will help a leader create an environment where people want to follow. The model argues for inspiring contribution rather than demanding it. Whenever I encounter a toxic leader, I'm thinking to myself, "Leadership level one." Far too many leaders stay there for the long haul and it simply doesn't have to be that way. Get it, read it, do it.


7. FAILING FORWARD


Failure is inevitable and unavoidable, but thankfully can also be a pathway to future success. While a few failures are fatal (to a career, family, future, etc.) the vast majority are not and can actually set one up for a better future. Pain is a good teacher, if we allow it to teach us. This book shares not only solid principles about the subject at hand but also numerous historical examples. If you have failed at some things, you're in good company. Many influencers in Scripture and history failed many times. Failing Forward stands out as an encouragement for anyone who can identify with making mistakes along life's journey.

Quotable Quotes

- "The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception and response to failure."

- "Failure is more common than success."

- "The average entrepreneur fails 3.8 times before they finally make it in a business."

- "Failure is the price we pay for progress."

- "God uses people who fail - 'cause there aren't any other kind around."

- "Fear makes true that which one is afraid of." (Viktor Frankl)


8. EFFECTIVE SPEAKING


A few people seem to be a natural at public communication. For the other 99% of us, however, it is an intimidating assignment. It takes much time and practice to improve. Effective #publicspeaking will make one stand out in good ways and open up future opportunities for influence. While we will not become a better speaker simply by reading a book, this one provides some terrific insights which I found effective once put into practice. Although it is dated, this is still a classic resource for anyone who finds themselves speaking to small or large groups of people.


9. FATAL ERRORS


Many years ago I found this treasure on a small bookshelf somewhere in a mall or airport. I was toward the beginning of my leadership journey and it proved a big help. Why not read only about how to be an effective manager (leader) instead of focusing on the negative? Because learning what not to do is just as important as learning what to do. (Remember learning that different types of road signs way back when you took your license test?) I recall what one of the chaplain leaders said at our schoolhouse at Ft. Jackson, SC. "Some mistakes are fatal." I have found that to be true. This book shows how to avoid some of the pitfalls leaders fall prey to.

While leaders may succeed in non-human areas of their organization (admin, planning, speaking, writing, etc.) they may fail at times because they try to master, manipulate, or ignore their people. Leadership and management is primarily about the organization's people. Fail with people, fail as a leader. Good read, great insights.

FATAL ERRORS:

1. Refuse to Accept Personal Responsibility

2. Fail To Develop People

3. Try to Control Results rather than Influencing Thinking

4. Join the Wrong Crowd

5. Manage Everyone the Same Way

6. Forget About the Importance of Profit

7. Concentrate on Problems rather than Objectives

8. Be a Buddy not a Boss

9. Fail to Set Standards

10. Fail to Train People

11. Condone Incompetent Behavior

12. Recognize Only Top Performers

13. Try to Manipulate People


(MORE TO FOLLOW. I'M JUST GETTING STARTED.)


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