“…a mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone. That’s why I read so much, Jon Snow.” – Tyrion Lannister
Reading is a gateway to wisdom. Harry Truman was quoted as saying, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”
Whether you’re leading a multiunit HR team, or leading an HR department of one, reading is a must for every HR professional. Without reading and thinking, the mind – much like the body without exercise – becomes withered and useless. I encourage everyone seeking to be a leader, or a better version of themselves (often the two are not mutually exclusive), that reading opens the pathway to many abilities some consider to be marketable!
But HR professionals should not stick to HR books only. We can find wisdom, encouragement, solutions, and so much more in books that expand beyond our normal horizonal interests. Be open to different sources. Challenge yourself and grow.
So, in that spirit, I wanted to share my top five favorite reads of 2022!
Discipline Is Destiny: The Power of Self-Control by Ryan Holiday
Long time readers of this blog know that Stoicism has influenced who I am as a person. When Ryan Holiday announced that he was releasing a series of books on the four key virtues of ancient philosophy. In the second book of his series, he tackles temperance, moderation, self-discipline. Today we live in a world of extremes. There seems to be no room in the middle for balance. Without balance there is no discipline, and without discipline work isn’t accomplished as well as it can be or should be.
Key take away: Discipline is the ability to keep oneself in line. It’s the ability to ensure that we stay on course, our course. That takes courage (the virtue from Holiday’s first book). Cultivating self-discipline takes time, commitment, and determination. Eventually, results follow.
Key passage: “This is what you find when you study the true masters of any profession. They don’t care about winning, about money, about fame, about most of the things that have come their way as a result of their success. Their journey has always been toward something bigger. They aren’t running a race against the competition. They are in a battle with themselves.” (pg. 283)
The World According to Star Wars by Cass Sunstein
I am a Star Wars nerd. Not just original trilogy nerd. I am a nerd for so much more! I love the Disney+ TV series, I love the Clone Wars series, and many of the comics. I dig into the philosophy of what made Star War, well, Star Wars. Cass Sunstein is a foremost expert on human behavior and how it relates to economics and public policy. As a fellow nerd, you could feel his passionate take on the legend of George Lucas and how his vision shaped society, families, public policy, economics, and political uprisings. There’s so much for HR pros in this book!
Key take away: Everything boils down to choice. Our outside environment does have influence over our internal environment, but ultimately, we can only control one. In fact, choice is a key theme in Star Wars philosophy and canon. The biggest storylines in the Star Wars world center around choice – Anikan Skywalker turning to the dark side, Luke Skywalker leaving his home planet of Tatooine and join the rebellion, Han Solo sacrificing himself for Leia and Chewbacca, and Darth Vader turning back to the light. There are so many more, but according to Sunstein, the freedom of choice is the deepest lesson from George Lucas.
Key passage: “Star Wars pays due tribute to the importance of distance and serene detachment. But its rebel heart embraces intense attachments to particular people, even in the face of lightning bolts from the Emperor himself. At the decisive moment, children save their parents. They are grown. They announce their choice: ‘I am a Jedi, like my father before me.’” (pg. 184)
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
From one book discussing the power of choice to THE ultimate statement that codifies how powerful choice is. In 2001 I toured Dachau Concentration Camp in Bavaria, Germany. It was one of the most haunting feelings I ever experienced. Seeing the showers, the ovens. Arbeit macht frei. I cannot quite explain how I felt. The silence of the visitors was deafening. It was as if the ghosts of the fallen were with us as a warning of man’s malevolence. Viktor Frankl survived the camp. His entire family did not. He codified his experience and the psychology around it in this masterpiece. It should be mandatory reading for all students in every country. I’m somewhat ashamed it took me this long to read it.
Key take away: Mankind can be evil. Mankind can be unimaginably cruel. I’m not sure if the Holocaust is the worst thing humanity has done to itself, but I’m hard pressed to think of something worse. Yet, through all of it, humanity retains a beautiful kindness, a wonderful sense of purpose and selflessness. Ultimately, we retain the choice to be good, even in the presence of unmitigated malevolence. Not to degrade or downplay the real struggles we all face, but if someone doesn’t lose themselves in the pit of Auschwitz, what excuse do the rest of us have?
Key passage: “…everything can be taken from a man except one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” (pg. 66)
How to Have Difficult Conversations About Race: Practical Tools for Necessary Change in the Workplace and Beyond by Kwame Christian
Earlier in my career, a company leader made a racist remark in front of me. I regret to this day not confronting them about it then and there. It’s not an excuse, but at the time, I wasn’t equipped or prepared. I froze because I lacked the courage to say SOMETHING. Since that moment, I never wanted to be caught off guard again. So, I dedicated myself to education – to learn how to handle this situation if it ever happened again. I dedicated myself to justice, so I dove in and read whatever I could, talked to Black colleague, shut up and learned! I call on all WHITE professionals to do the same. Thankfully, Kwame Christian’s book has been released as an amazing primer for building the knowledge and courage to do what NEEDS to be done. Folks have no excuse and cannot look to others to solve this problem. White folks have to be active, steadfast, and act accordingly. Christian’s book is an amazing starting point.
Key take away: Talking about race is hard for everyone. However, it’s not only necessary, but it’s the only way through the problems we face to get better on the other side. Being scared isn’t an excuse. Being ignorant isn’t acceptable. Being avoidant doesn’t solve anything. The only thing that works is getting uncomfortable and doing the work.
Key passage: “There’s no easy way around it. The best way to begin to reclaim your power in these conversations is by leaning in and having them. Every conversation is a practice opportunity.” (pg. 35)
When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink
I’m not so certain of the old adage, “timing is everything.” I don’t think it’s everything, but it’s certainly a HUGE part of the equation. Sometime, timing is out of our control. Sometimes, it’s the right project but the wrong time. Much of the time, however, timing can be within our control. When do we do our best work? When do we make better decisions? When can we focus best? These things can be controlled, argues Daniel Pink, and not only can we control them, but the BEST leaders learn WHEN to control them!
Key take away: The best part about this book is two fold. First, Pink uses really powerful scientific studies and data to define his arguments, and he does it in a way that distills it down into easy to understand talking points. Second, he takes these talking points and builds a “how to guide” at the end of each chapter. He melds science with actionable tips to help the reader take the next step. It’s done quite brilliantly!
Key passage: “Calls held first thing in the morning turned out to be reasonably upbeat and positive. But as the day progressed, the ‘tone grew more negative and less resolute.’ … In other words, even when the researchers factored in economic news or firm fundamentals, afternoon calls ‘were more negative, irritable, and combative’ than morning calls.” (pg. 18)