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November Reading List Email

Hi, 

Welcome to the Monthly Reading List Newsletter! Each month I will share a few thoughts on 3-5 books I’m reading and why I think you should pick them up. So, if you enjoy this email, please forward it to friends and family and help us continue to grow! Also, make sure you sign-up for our The Sunday Email where each week we will share a quote/passage from a book and a short insight.

Thank you to everyone who has supported My Green Notebook: "Know Thyself" Before Changing Jobs! Our goal is to help busy people reflect on their experience so they can lead with the best version of themselves. 

Read.Write.Reflect

By Joe Byerly with Cassie Crosby

If you and I were to sit down and make a list of attributes that wise leaders possess, it would probably look something like the following: 

  • A sense of calm in the midst of uncertainty and chaos

  • An uncanny ability to see the big picture 

  • The ability to identify untapped opportunities or foresee risks that others miss

  • They are adept at navigating complex situations. 

I bet you could come up with even more. Describing it is the easy part. Most of us have seen wisdom in practice firsthand or read about leaders who possessed it in history books. The hard part is figuring out how we can develop into these same types of leaders who face every situation with confidence and ease. 

I have a theory. I believe we can help transform our experiences into wisdom through a practice of reading, writing, and reflecting. Through reading, we can expand and enrich our mental models, helping us prepare for future experiences and unlock key insights from past ones. Through writing, we can capture and observe our thoughts so that we may better understand ourselves. Through reflection, we can learn what drives us and dissect our experiences to figure out where we need to grow to meet future needs. Leaders who read, write, and reflect build a capacity to continue to grow even as they step into more challenging and demanding leadership roles. They possess the humility to prepare and the confidence to lead.   

This insight into wisdom took almost two decades to develop. I had to learn the hard way that experience alone does not produce wisdom. I watched painfully as leaders struggled (including myself) coming into new and demanding roles for which they were unprepared.

As an adult, I’ve witnessed people of all ages and experience levels who found themselves in over their heads. Even though they had the time and experience and the performance record at lower rungs of the organization, it was no longer enough.

They were unable to grasp the complexities of leading at higher levels. They lacked the self-awareness necessary to understand their strengths and weaknesses and adjust their interactions appropriately. They lacked the adeptness to move at the speed the situation required of them. They had reached a phenomenon so common, it even has a name: The Peter Principle.

The Peter Principle is a direct result of leaders relying on experience alone to grow capacity which means we have options to prevent it from occurring to us. We can push back against Peter by enriching our experiences through reading, writing, and reflection. These tools help us develop the intellectual capital necessary to maneuver with just a little more ease through the complexities that come with increased responsibility.

In reading the books I highlight in each monthly reading list email, I’ve enriched my own mental models. This month, I gained insights into human nature, how trust works, and the interplay between skill and luck. Reading also gives me a greater appreciation for everything I have yet to learn. As I read, I write notes in the margins and in my notebook. I even write to share my thoughts with you in this email. With every quote, passage, and insight I capture onto a page, I achieve a deeper level of clarity.

Finally, every time I read a book or article I take at least a few moments to reflect on my own behaviors, experiences, and outlook on life. I also capture these reflections in writing. 

In the interplay between reading, writing, and reflection, I experience new insights, and most importantly, learn about how little I actually know- a truth I could not have realized through experience alone.

Therefore, we should start this practice as soon as possible, long before we ever find ourselves in a position in which we’re expected to be wise. 

I hope this email, the Sunday Email, the blog, and the podcast help you come to the same conclusion that I have and these three words influence your own developmental journey: 

Read. Write. Reflect.

The Reading List

The Thin Book of Trust: An Essential Primer for Building Trust at Work by Charles Feltman. I found this book to be one of the most thought provoking books I’ve read on the subject of trust. He defines trust as, “Choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person.” He offers that we assess trust in others through four domains: care, sincerity, reliability, and competence.

In the book, he examines the effects of trust and distrust in organizations and how leaders can take actionable steps to increase the level of trust. He argues that trust is more than an all or nothing concept. It’s possible to trust people in some areas and not others. By breaking it down into four domains and explaining each of them, he arms people with a vocabulary to build and maintain trust. 

The Thin Book of Trust is a quick read (it’s literally thin) and packed full of practical approaches to dealing with trust. I wish I had the opportunity to read this book earlier in my career. His explanations, examples, and approach match what I’ve witnessed in the military in regard to the factors I’ve seen influence trust. In fact, I thought his insights were so valuable I interviewed him for a future episode of the podcast we plan to release this winter. 

The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win by Maria Konnikova. This book is the story of how Konnikova transformed from a novice poker player into a world champion. In doing so, she learned more than just the game of poker, she learned about the role luck plays in all aspects of our lives.

I originally listened to the book on Audible, but thought the lessons were so good, I purchased the hard copy and began highlighting and taking notes in the margins.

I wanted to share a couple of the numerous passages I highlighted: 

“The fewer chips you have, the worse your ability to maneuver. You basically have one tool left in your arsenal: to go all in. The complexity of play is all but taken away.” 

As I mentioned in the introduction, I’ve seen too many leaders approach jobs with so few tools in their arsenal, they lose their ability to maneuver effectively within the organization. Poker chips are like mental models. The more and varied ways we can make meaning out of our environments, the more adept we become at problem solving and anticipating risks and opportunities.

She also argues that while luck gives us short term gains, focusing on skill development gives a competitive edge in the long run. Konnikoa writes: 

“Because life is life, luck will always be a factor in anything we might do or undertake. Skill can open up new vistas, new choices, allow us to see the chance that others less skilled than us, less observant, or less keen may miss --but should chance go against us, all our skill can do is mitigate the damage.”

I could write for too long on the insights I gained from this book on the interplay between probability and skill in the game of poker and in life. Instead, I’ll just leave you with this, you have to read it. 

Plutarch Roman Lives: A New Translation by Robin Waterfield (Oxford World’s Classics). This book is a collection of biographical sketches of eight prominent Romans by the biographer Plutarch. Plutarch’s style is enjoyable to read and his essays provide some great insights into human nature and leadership. 

In describing what inspired him to write about the lives of these people, Plutarch writes he originally did it for everyone else, but overtime started doing it for his own sake. He found that looking at the character and the stories of Romans like Cato the Elder, Pompey, Caesar, and Antony, enabled him to reflect and examine his own life and make adjustments to his own behavior. 

Plutarch’s insights into human nature are extremely helpful for those of us looking for deeper meaning. He introduces multiple examples of leaders not keeping their ambition in check and tells the stories of how this power corrupted them and ultimately, impacted the future of Rome. He also uses his essays to warn leaders that pandering to mobs or armies becomes a dangerous path to travel. He wrote of one leader, “he yielded to the unhealthy elements of the Army because he was afraid to pay for their safety with his unpopularity.”  Plutarch’s sketches are also filled with pithy quotes from his subjects. For instance, I highlighted this quote because it highlights the psychological aspect of warfare:

Pompaedius Silo, the most impressive and powerful of his opponents said to him, ‘If you are a great commander, Marius, come out and fight.’ To this Marius replied, ‘If you are a great commander, make me fight even though I don’t want to.’

This book took me a while to finish because I lack the mental models to understand the context in which some of the biographies were written. Waterfield attempts to provide context in his introductory essays, but some of the material is so new to me, I’m going to have to continue to explore his work before I gain a better grasp of it. I plan to attempt Hellenstic Lives, a companion to this book about the lives of prominent figures from Hellenistic Greece (including Alexander the Great), in the near future.  

If you haven't been to the website in awhile, check out the following posts:

 Podcasts  One more thing: Thanks for opening my monthly reading list email, if you have any book recommendations or questions, please feel free to reply. I read every response and if I have the time, respond. 

All the best,

Joe

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