Books – September 2023

Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom by Rick Hanson, PhD with Richard Mendius, MD

I intentionally got this book for vacation thanks to the recommendation by Kristen Lisanti, a mindful coach and agent for change. As a certified workplace mindfulness facilitator, I know the benefit of mindfulness – “having good control over your attention” or put another way, “when your attention is steady, so is your mind.” This book offers simple content, scientific validation, and personal practices to change your brain because “what flows through your mind sculpts your brain.”

With the continued frenetic pace of corporate America, I think it’s important for leaders (anyone at any level) to understand the science of the brain and how you can work to adjust how it works in your favor. Basically, “attention is like a spotlight, and what it illuminates streams into your mind and shapes your brain.” Rick does a great job breaking down how the brain works at various levels to show just how much of our perception, thinking, and responses are literally hardwired through evolution and brain wiring. Our brains control us through:

  • Its built in “negativity bias” that primes you for avoidance
  • How it processes stress to set  you up for fear and anger
  • Its need to chase, understand, and control the past to avoid manage change in the future
  • Its preference to find, register, store, recall and react to unpleasant experiences, even if there are more positive ones

Thinking about Maya Angelou’s quote, “when you know better, you do better,” this book will help readers move from automation to intention through a few practices (all free!) that improves the function of our three pound brain muscle.

A jarring concept for me was “nothing left out” and how when we frame someone as “us” or “they” – our brain automatically devalues anyone who is not “us.” That it takes significant attention to focus on how we are alike to override the brain. Just think about this from the lens of organization culture, system development, DEIA initiatives, politics, religion, and community development.

The science in the book also showed how simple brain improvement can be. “Oxygen is to the nervous system what gasoline is to your car.” You see, while your brain is just 2% of your body weight, it uses roughly 20% of your oxygen. So, simply taking several deep breathes you increase oxygen in your blood which revs up your brain. So, with this in mind, take a deep breath and start working on your brain.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Everyone should read this book. Better yet, every family should read this book together and talk about it. As a preacher’s kid and preacher’s sister, I am keenly aware of death – anticipated and tragic. Add to that my experience of working with the Army’s Casualty and Mortuary Affairs division with families of the fallen during the war in Iraq/Afghanistan. Death comes. This book – read wonderfully and personally by the author – is an intimate look at how medicine, doctors, retirement living, and hospice look at and address dying. This is not about the moment of death but the slow demise of our body and mind as we age, and ways to think about living in that state for a longer period of time as more folks live into and beyond 80. The author shares some compelling data but it’s largely a book of family stories through his work and research as a physician. Each story gives the reader an opportunity to reflect on what they might want for themselves (have you told your loved ones or put it in writing?) or how they might need to rethink their parent’s or loved one’s aging is being handled now. While any book on dying has hard moments, the book focuses on compassion and has hope… and offers empowering choices for a critical time in all of our lives.

Adversity for Sale (Ya Gotta Believe) by Jay “Jeezy” Jenkins

I love listening to people read their autobiography. Hearing their voice share their story adds a texture and connection — and makes it more personal. The gravel and grit in Jeezy‘s (Jay Jenkins) voice adds a whole other dimension as he told his story. I had no clue about Jeezy’s drug dealer days or music when I downloaded the book. He – and “trap music” – were a total unknown. Listening to the book opened up a whole other world, to say the least. In between movie like situations as a drug dealer in Atlanta spending $60,000 or more a night in cash at a favorite strip club with endless Cristal champagne, he shared great nuggets such as “my word is my bond,” following your own path, value of loyalty, stepping away to check in with yourself before you make a rash decision, the power of a network, and how personal health impacts your success. He shared a life of juxtaposition – from the hustle, guns, and “auntie moms” to the purpose we all share to “love and learn” and please to reach out for help to prevent suicide. What’s also impressive to think about, as he mentioned at the start, is he’s the third generation from slaves. Three generations from slavery to life in the “hood” to a net worth of $15M as a multi-platinum selling musician.

Shark Heart: A Love Story by Emly Habeck

This was a spontaneous grab at the local bookstore at Sunset Beach, NC, Pelican Books. It is a small but mighty bookstore with a little bit of everything. Everyone in my family can find something anytime we go. This book was showcased as an independent pick, and how can you not grab a love story to read on the beach about newlyweds… especially when the husband transforms into a great white shark? I wasn’t sure if this was a literal or figurative transformation which enticed me even more. It’s a creative book that drew me in and kept me captivated. I don’t want to talk too much about the plot or book structure so you can experience it as I did – diving in fresh. I will share it’s about transformation at every level… and the magnitude of it all kind of sneaks up on you at the end.

The Practice of Groundedness: A Transformative Practice to Success that Feeds – Not Crushes – Your Soul by Brad Stulberg

I listened to this book while walking on the beach. The sensation of sand between my toes and the powerful waves crashing nearby added to the concept of groundedness. Brad uses stories, data, and practices to offer ways to be more mindful about how you show up as a person and leader.

He covers the principles of groundedness and how to bring them to life:  accept where you are to get where you want to go; be present so you can own your attention and energy; be patient and you’ll get there faster; embrace vulnerability to develop genuine strength and confidence; build deep community; and move your body to ground your mind.

I found his principles – and how to embody them – practical. I’ll also add that practical is anything but simple as I’ve worked on many of these over the years. I do know, however, that trying and retrying each one is well worth the benefit.

A few phrases I took away from this book:

  • If you’re lonely at the top you’re doing it wrong
  • Separate signal from noise
  • The goal is to give an honest effort
  • Productive activity not productivity
  • Habit energy
  • You don’t become what you think, you become what you do
  • You’ll be pulling weeds and planting flowers in the garden of your mind
  • Sacred practices
  • Less candy; more nourishment
  • Touching bliss
  • Don’t just do something, stand there
  • Seeing and letting go

And, I leave you with this data point:  Research shows a 10% drop in IQ due to multitasking. So “quality of your attention” matters.

Happy reading.

Book in my lap

Books – August 2023

How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith

I picked up this book thanks to a gift card to a local bookstore that my church gave me for serving on a committee for six years. A fitting book topic as Westminster Presbyterian Church has actively sought to better understand racism and racial constructs in community together over the past several years, and how we as individuals of faith must address it. While I saw the awards earned on the cover, it was an item on the back cover that confirmed this book selection. The author graduated from Davidson College, where my father, uncle, and cousin graduated—and another uncle graduated from and became Director Emeritus of the college library.  

This is a must read book along with Caste as I think they both help to educate white folks struggling to understand, process, and address the systemic nature of racism in the United States … and both do so gently with facts and stories that gracefully and at times shockingly reframe what we thought we knew. Clint’s book showed me just how much of our past is written, taught, and shared through gapped-filled nostalgia rather than facts. He also elevated the impact of unspoken truths: an unhealthy country.

His book is a tour of key historical locations and conversations he had there. Some places I’d visited and seen very differently years ago and others new to me which I questioned how the hell did I knot know about them – especially having grown up in the south near them. The memories his grandparents shared in the Epilogue put a much needed current face to the historic locations and stories he shared.

After visiting Blandford Cemetery, which I’d never heard of, he wrote, “I am left wondering if we are all just patchworks of the stories we’ve been told. What would it take – what does it take – for you to confront a false history even if it means shattering the stories you have been told throughout your life? Even if it means having to fundamentally re-examine who you are and who your family has been? Just because something is difficult to accept doesn’t mean you should refuse to accept it. Just because someone tells you a story doesn’t make the story true.”

The book shows how vulnerable we are to gap-filled history, sentimentality, and untaught facts. “This history of slavery is the history of the United States. It was not peripheral to our founding; it was central to it. It is not irrelevant to our contemporary society; it created it. This history is in our soil, it’s in our policies, and it must, too, be in our memories.”

One phrase, “there was history, but also silence,” stopped my reading. I think so many of us are silent due to fear, awkwardness, and ignorance. We need to have brave conversations. To seek to understand, listen to learn, and grow in awareness. Only then can our history be addressed together in community for healing and progress for all.

The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga      

While the title might make you bristle the content will help you truly connect. Connect to others through service. Connect to happiness through contribution. Connect to life through courage. The book, which lays out the concepts of Adlerian psychology, is a conversation between an old philosopher and a young man. Through their discussion real life examples bring simple yet complex concepts to life. There is a lot to absorb and process in the book as much of it feels counter to today’s live big, climb the ladder, influencer driven society. The concepts are so simple, bold, and comforting. Comforting in that they are doable and come from within—we decide, we take action. The book also reframed the perspective that life happens to us—this was my past, so I’m stuck with it. The power it instills in a person is refreshing. A few quotes that caught my attention:

  • We are not living our lives to satisfy others
  • Be in use to others
  • Happiness is the feeling of contribution  
  • The courage to be normal
  • Life is a series of moments, each called now
  • Live earnestly here and now
  • You are the only one who can assign meaning to your life
  • As long as you are dancing you will get somewhere

I recommend this book if you’re stuck in the past, feeling ground down by others, need a re-set, got lost along your journey, want to be more authentic in your life, or seek a better now. Why? Because, as the author wrote, “The life that lies ahead of you is a complete blank page and there are no tracks laid for you to follow—there is no story there.”

The Memo by Minda Harts

The Memo caught my eye on LinkedIn when I saw a photo of two older white men in a diner, each holding a copy of one of Mindy’s two books. The arrived with curiosity and left as allies, or as Mindy suggests (and I love), “success partners” for brown and black women in the workplace. Reading this book via Audible made it more personal. It wasn’t just an informative book, but a personal “here’s how you do it” exchange with data, revealing stories, and practical techniques. All brought to life with razer sharp song lyrics to sear in the knowledge and vibe. Candidly, I already knew, do, and share her tips about how to get in and then move to the table. But reading it, had me question, “how did I ‘automatically’ know these things (e.g., office politics, networking, “squad” of experts and allies, executive communications, negotiating)?” and “How can I be even more intentional to this with my work community?” Another poignant part of the book is the fragmentation of brown and black women from “women” in research, and especially the pay gap. I know words matter, and “women make X% less than male counterparts” is not a single data point. Minda brough home for me how we need to use the full spectrum of financial pay discrepancies and not the white female number. I encourage any young professional to read this book as it’s 100% on point—she lays out, in clear actionable ways, the steps to the unspoken corporate advancement playbook. To my white peers in management, please read this book to understand. Because as Maya Angelo said, “when you know better you can do better.”

Boundaries for Leaders by Henry Cloud

I enjoyed listening to this book as Henry’s enthusiastic read was motivational, but I also wish I had a hard copy to mark up and reference. It will be a go-to recommendation for me when folks ask, “what books do you recommend.” The title to me is a bit misleading in the sense of how I’ve traditionally thought about boundaries… but the book offers a fresh, 360 degree look at boundaries. Boundaries on how you think, address issues, develop teams, stay focused, and more. The books laid out a easy to digest format:  here is something that greatly impacts a leader’s impact or outcomes, here is why it’s important to focus on, here are common pitfalls, and here is a way to do it better and set up a boundary to not fall into unproductive habits or common traps—plus a real life story to help anchor it. A core phrase I walk away with is, “you’re ridiculously in charge.” Something so simple and so powerful. I think we forget as individuals just how much control we have in a system and solving for an issue. A few other nuggets that I texted to myself while walking and listening are:

  • Concentrate on what you can control and watch out for yours and other’s pessimistic thinking – it’s all about optimism
  • Be more intentional about team meetings to get more strategic and bottom line value out of them – stop the rote round robin status meetings!
  • Culture is essential, especially one grounded in trust
  • Be clear on your focus areas and accountability
  • Attend to what is vital and conduct a “time audit” to see if you are in fact spending the most time that
  • Get real about how much you lead yourself or are led by others
  • Nothing can happen without a high-performing team
  • Lead in a way that creates greatness in others
  • You create what you allow.

Happy reading.

open book on a stack of books

Books – May 2023

The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin

This new book caught my attention due to a 60 Minutes piece on music producer Rick Rubin. Rick produced much of the soundtrack of my youthful adventures to include Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Jay Z, Metallica, Weezer, and The Chicks. I listened to this book, and his deep voice added a soothing meditative texture to the experience. I recommend you treat this book like a daily mindfulness practice. At first, I found the book odd as it didn’t follow the traditional model of ideas, stories, and data to explain and teach a concept. It’s more a series of mindful fortunes cookie one-liners. I stopped listening. I wasn’t ready for it. A week later I began again as I walked to Orange Theory Fitness at 5:45am in the cold dark. Quiet and open, I listened again. Oh, there it was – the space to hear. I wasn’t listening in the right way as this is written more like a daily meditation book than a self-help or educational book on creativity. Each “chapter” is 2- 10 minutes. You can listen to a few nuggets of mindful wisdom – from the source of creativity, nature as a teacher and self-doubt to rules, beginner’s mind, and momentum – then contemplate them quietly and start your day more centered and receptive to create. I found the book a calm reminder that we are each creative beings in our own way, and how simple it can be if we let it be.

The Burnout Challenge:  Managing People’s Relationships with Their Jobs by Christian Maslach and Michael Leiter

I picked this book up due to a recommendation by a friend and senior government official who posted it was something “every manger should read”… and I agree. The opening put a new perspective on burnout with a reference to the canary and the coal mine – do you blame the bird and keep getting new canary’s or do you fix the mine? To be honest, I had a hard time getting into the book and had to put it down. Not because it wasn’t good but because it pulled up past tension of being burnout from working in an unhealthy “mine” where I was also the wrong “canary.” It also caused me to reflect on a time when I became a frog in boiling water – I hadn’t known how much the “mine” had fallen into disrepair until I left. I found the book helpful because it offers a framework for how both the organization and the person can understand and address both sides of the burnout (system and individual):  workload, control, rewards, community, fairness, and values. The book also includes solutions and assessment tools. I found the book refreshing because it called out the blame and shame that exists around burnout – that organizations and their culture often make it about the person. That someone “can’t handle it” or roll out a free online yoga class, rather than taking a clear look at the work system (structure, processes, management, culture) and being accountable to the people who work there. The book also reaffirmed my belief that work is a collaboration or promise between the company and the person, and both need to show up equally… and a person always had a choice to leave. Staying an being a miserable martyr doesn’t help anyone.

Designing You New Work Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

Since emerging from the COVID work disruption (uh, transformation), nearly every week I find myself in a conversation with someone who seeks to understand “what’s next” for them and their career. The discussions run from re-sparking their current job in a new structure or rethinking their current career trajectory to contemplating a major change. It seems many folks, myself included at times, have ended up “navigating with a compass that doesn’t actually belong to us” or “we love our work but don’t like our situation.” I mentioned these chats with Heather Jelks, a leadership coach, author, and neighbor, who recommended this book, so I picked it up. The book takes a design thinking approach to understand and create a job that is more meaningful. Each chapter starts with a “dysfunctional belief” and a “reframe” of it to open yourself to new thinking and possibilities. I think it could be a useful tool to help someone think about and breakdown their job into small pieces that are easier to address than the whole. I also like how the book is focused on action as “designers build their way forward.” As the authors wrote, “You need to know when to ask more questions and when to accept the data you’ve generated and commit to a path forward.” The authors give you information; provide tools to help you think and process it personally; and then share how to act on your findings. The book can help you understand what you’re looking for conceptually—as well as how to explore staying but in a new way, accepting “good enough for now,” leaving, or graduate school for a larger jump. I especially like their 3 daily questions to notice what is working at work:  What did I learn? What did I initiate? Who did I help?  Additionally, there is a section at the end that focuses on core things that changed in the workplace due to the pandemic and tips for being more successful in the new permanent remote/hybrid work environment.

Manifest Now by Idil Ahmed

Through my work with several coaches, I’ve begun to learn about and use manifestation. I quickly loaded this Audible-only book without reading much about it. While I was looking for more of a “what is manifestation and how does it work” book, this is more of “here is how to do it with lots of phrases you can use” book. I liked how the author wrote to aspects of your life (work, relationship, health, money) in each chapter and provided starter manifestation statements for that part of your life. While I liked listening to it – hearing her read a statement and say it back in my head – I got lost a bit in the endless options of phrases, one after another. Whereas with a paper book I could mark up a statement I like and go back to it or try one on and go back and choose another. So, all in all it’s a good book to help you get started and fill your head with lots of positive thoughts.  

Happy reading.

Leading From Within book on lap

Books – January 2023

The Long Game: How to be a Long-term Thinker in a Short-term World by Dorie Clark

It was great to read a book by fellow Mary Baldwin University “sister squirrel,” Dorie Clark. While a hard copy to mark up and come back to would be nice … listening to Dorie read it was like being in an extended coaching session or masterclass with her. Within Dorie’s advice and real stories was a clear strategic plan. One that she herself applied to become a national best seller, top 50 business thinker in the world, grammy winner, and Broadway investor – all after a career in political campaigns. She offers a dual system to reach your goals: deliberate actions now for immediate returns augmented by secondary actions for the next wave of success.

Her approach helps you understand what you want to accomplish and how to create clear steps to accomplish it in a way that is meaningful for you. The book also helps you avoid getting stuck in the hamster wheel of corporate America’s expectations. She takes on busyness, saying no, and goal setting. She offers a long-term perspective by thinking in “waves.” She explores patience and rethinks failure. She showcases how networking should (and shouldn’t) be done, and its value over time–and in a way that is also appealing to introverts like myself. Dorie does all this in practical ways that are not cost prohibitive for even the young professional. But what was most exciting about “The Long Game,” is that it offers courage to carve your own career path.

This is not the frantic go, go, go approach that many executive coaches offer in their “do it and do it now” models, but a more methodical way to move toward your dreams in a way that enables you to enjoy life along the way. To me, a refreshing approach that supports more balance in your life.

Leading From Within:  Conscious Social Change and Mindfulness for Social Innovation by Gretchen Ki Steidle

As a life-long volunteer from a non-profit family, mindfulness newbie, and change management practitioner, this book captured my attention. The opening sentence of this book’s promotion summary quickly drew me in: “A roadmap for integrating mindfulness into every aspect of social change: how to lead transformation with compassion for the needs and perspectives of all people.” I started this book at the beach on a porch rocking chair and finished it several months later next to my lit Christmas tree. Where I had – both physically and mentally – changed a lot in the time frame; especially as I personally went through a large work transformation at work and am talking more with clients about “what is next” for their organizations and as a person.

The book’s content on conscious (intentional) change in combination with mindfulness is spot on and very relevant. It covers why and how to take a breath to look at the current state as it presently is rather than with a lens of expectation – no easy task. Gretchen offers a framework for change, mindful practices (including my favorite “loving kindness”), culture considerations, tips on how to be a better listener, and the science and case studies to bring it to life. She also lays out how to develop a self-care plan as the demands of being a change agents can be physically, mentally, and soulfully draining. What I found most helpful is a refreshing way to look at planning with 3 poignant questions:  What is happening? What is true? And “What is needed?” Plus, a creative way to visually map a current situation with the elements of a tree:  root causes (roots); problem (tree trunk) and effects (leaves), plus a complementary approach to a brainstorming session and stakeholder analysis. A lot to process in one small book, but worth it to help bring about meaningful, personal, and lasting change in the world.

Permission to Glow:  A Spiritual Guide to Epic Leadership by Kristoffer Carter

I met “K.C.” at a Mindful Leader conference in the fall of 2022 where he presented on the “permissions” outlined in this book. His presentation style and book voice is that of Tigger who meditates – vivacious energy with an undercurrent of intentional calm. You can’t help but get caught up in his vibe. The book offers up 4 permissions to bring about more intentional, meaningful leadership – and outcomes.  Chill. Feel. Glow in the dark. Glow in the light. As well as their counter, limiting sides which he named speedy rabbit, game face, phantom pest, and darkstar. While the language might sound odd, the permissions themselves and the icons provided to represent them are well explained and offer new words to use to combat old leadership issues to create a more authentic approach.

The book offers an approach, self-reflection tools, meditations, and some case studies. A few phrases that caught my attention in the book include:

  • “We silent the noise with intuition”
  • The importance of discernment with the simple question, “Does this serve me?”
  • “Boredom is often a sign of an issue with your calendar. Board leaders are either over- or under-scheduled. They haven’t committed to enough activities that make them glow.”
  • “The permission to glow lies just beyond the safety of our comfort zone—and safely beneath our ejection seat of upper limiting beliefs.”
  • “…that heavily guarded border between the edge of our safety and the edge of our dream.”
  • “Radiance draws others who’ve grown bored with conformity and competition”
  • “Be more like the determined, happy toddler figuring out how to walk, and less like the jaded bureaucrat.”

How to be an Inclusive Leader by Jennifer Brown

I read this book over the Martin Luther King Jr holiday weekend as a way to reinvigorate my desire to build more belonging in the groups of which I was a part. Jennifer offers a 4-part “inclusive leader continuum” with unaware, aware, active, and advocate. I liked that this is a fluid (rather than linear) model, where we move back and forth within each area as we learn, relearn, and find more of our ignorance to understand.

This book is about action, “It’s incumbent on those of us who identities make us insiders in a system to go first. The only choice we have is to step up and show up, however imperfectly—to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” The book addresses the awkward moments of stepping into action, and starts with the fundamental question about privilege: “How much of my world was built with me in mind?”

Her “diversity dimensions” and “iceberg model” tools are a great way to take a look at and better understand your network. I recommend this book be used within a larger learning context – such as firm-wide, division, or team book club as it offers practical information, discussion guide, and conversation starters. Jennifer leaves leaders with the charge, “Change is about action. And if you aren’t taking action, your silence is a passive acceptance of the status quo, which further perpetuates the problem.”

Happy reading.

Books on a shelf with picture frames

Books – December 2022

Culture by Design by David Friedman

With so much disruption in every industry during COVID times and the post-COVID resignation wave, it’s important for leaders at all levels to focus on culture. Friedman’s book is a good practical “how to” when it comes to understanding and building a culture, step by step. He stresses the necessity of the organization’s leader set and drive culture, and I agree. I’ll also add that a leader at any level can, and should, foster a team culture when the broader culture is weak or unhealthy. Culture is about clarity of expectations reinforced regularly and personally through behaviors, information, skill development, and meaningful conversations (proactively and reactively through feedback). He also stressed that when a culture remains unaddressed or toxic that self-preservation is warranted, and to leave.

Taste by Stanley Tucci

I enjoyed this on Audible as Stanley’s voice gave it an added personal feel. Listening to him recount food – especially Italian – in his life made me think of how southern food is a centerpiece of mine. I’m fortunate to have a mom who loves to give love, sympathy, and encouragement through food. So many yummy traditions passed down through handwritten recipe cards. Stanley did a great job intertwining personal stories, with recipes… much like how a musician tells you the story behind a lyric. While the recipes he shared sounded delicious, not sure I’ll go back and try to make them due to my lack of patience in the kitchen. But I was intrigued with a recipe that called for a “fuck ton of butter.”

I Wish I’d Known This: 6 Career-Accelerating Secrets for Women Leaders by Brenda Wensil and Kathryn Heath

A former boss and leadership mentor recommended this book having heard and met author Brenda over the years. I think this book has solid foundational information for emerging leaders, especially women. The book, written by seasoned leadership coaches, covered 6 blind spots many executives have such as career drift, self-awareness, and operating on autopilot—and how to address them. I appreciated their chapter on “reputationality” or as they explain, “The combination of your unique personality and your reputation. It’s how you stand out—how you leave your mark.” They also stressed the importance of building your posse, which I talk about regularly to those I mentor and do personally. In and out of your office, it’s important to have an intimate group of candid, supportive, probing, smart, passionate, and fun supporters who champion your success.

Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger

I found this book in an Audible search, and it reminds me a bit of Crying in H Mart. The author set out to learn about her father Joe Schactman, an artist, who died young after years of heroin addiction. The author weaves memories together from her life to build a story of loss, artistry, family, and growth. While the book tries to put the author’s detective story on her father front and center, it’s her own story that that fascinates me most, especially her journey from a 16-year-old high school dropout to an ivy league Master’s degree holder.

It Worked for Me by Colin Powell

I took some time to reset just before I started at a new company due to an acquisition and listened to this book, read by the author himself. I was surprised by how much this book resonated with me, and how many of the things in it I do or strive to. Perhaps I picked up more than I realized during the six years I consulted with the Army. The book was basically 44 mini podcasts, each lasting 5-10 minutes with a leadership standard, story, and rationale. Powell covered his 13 rules for how to lead, taking care of the people on your team, working in a digital world and with the media, reaching full impact, and a few reflections based on memorable relationships. He offers advice that is still relevant and needed today. 

Happy reading.

Book called Atomic Habits is on a person's lap

Books – August 2022

The Primes:  How Any Group Can Solve Any Problem by Chris McGoff

I got this book about 5 years ago while partnering with Chris’ company, The Clearing, on a U.S. Department of Agriculture transformation. It was a gift that unfortunately went straight to my bookshelf rather than my reading pile. This book will now be in the small set of recommendations I have when new hires ask what books I recommend for new consultants. I like the “playbook” format that illustrates and explains 46 patterns of high performance – each one in about 3 pages. Does this book give you the answers? No. It gives you the recognition of strategic issues that hinder teams’ and organization success and some approaches to bring it to light.  But, at the end of the day, you’ll need to determine how to apply “the play” in a way that works for that culture and those in it.

I Take My Coffee Black: Reflections on Tupac, Musical Theater, Faith, and Being Black in America by Tyler Merritt

This is definitely an audible listen as Tyler’s voice brings his stories to life in such a personal way. Not sure how I’ve missed Tyler, but I’m glad I found him. As I’ve mentioned in past reviews, I like to read autobiographies because it helps me build my understanding of other’s journeys – and better understand my biases and open up my perspective. Tyler talks about “proximity” and how having it with others (especially those unlike you), and being honest in those moments is a gift, and I agree. His faith journey and application of his beliefs were inspiring to read about.  

Atomic Habits by James Clear

During the COVID lockdown, I converted to audiobooks as I found myself exercising more outside and away from Orange Theory Fitness. However, it’s always a treat to hold a book in my hand, crack the spin, and mark it up as a read. Thanks to the recommendation by Sami Tewolde, I got this book in hardcopy which was a great “reset” book to read on vacation. The book offers four ways to build stronger more meaningful and sustainable habits. Key points that jumped out at me were:

  • Motion vs. action: “Motion makes you feel like you’re getting things done. But really, you’re just preparing to get something done.”
  • Show up: “The point is to master the habit of showing up. The truth is, a habit must be established before it can be improved.”
  • Time: “The costs of your good habits are in the present. The costs of your bad habits are in the future.”
  • Reinforce: “It like creating a loyalty program for yourself.”
  • Non-scale victories: “Measurement if only useful when it guides you and adds context to a larger picture, not when it consumes you. Each number is a piece of feedback in an overall system”

Interestingly enough, my two favorite nuggets from this book are not centered on habits but rather the context in which you think about them. The first is about is around being different. “When you can’t win by being better, win by being different. You can shortcut the need for a genetic advantage (or for years of practice) by rewriting the rules.” Second, is to revise your identity. “When you cling to tightly to one identity, you become brittle.” You can revise your identify from “I’m a great soldier” to “I’m the type of person who is disciplined, reliable, and great on a team.”

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

I don’t want to say much about this book so that you can fully experience it without bias. It’s about a shepherd’s journey as he searches for his “personal legend.” I think, much like a parable in the Bible, each reader will take something personal from it, and find new elements with each re-read.

The Grit Factor by Shannon Huffman Polson

Church friend Louise Tucker Anderson gave me this book on “courage, resilience, and leadership in the most male-dominated organization in the world.” I found it refreshing to read a book exclusively on female leaders that was more than just “look what she did.” Each chapter spotlighted a  challenge, the grit (approach), and leader’s story,  as well an associated personal reflection activity for the reader. The book, broken down into three parts (commit, learn, and launch) covers eight leadership grit components:  your story, your purpose, your network, listening, resilience, resistance, being yourself, and adaptability. The book was also a clear reminder that everyone needs support – from clear feedback by a supervisor to an advocate in a formal position of power – and everyone is in a position to provide it.

Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant

For all the hype of this best-selling book, it didn’t grab a hold of me like I expected. The premise and content is valuable – don’t think what you know is true, even if it use to be. I think this is a good read for organization leaders who are looking to reset their teams or organizations, and feel the reminiscent pull of “the way it use to be” pre-COVID (assuming it was truly great for employees) rather than do the work to redefine the why, what, and how a group works now. A few nuggets that gave me pause:

  • Understand our personal identities within a system… As a person in a story he shared stated, “It’s not part of my job, but it’s part of me”
  • Practice unlearning… teach folks how to examine the evidence (facts and sources) and reject false claims
  • Approach quality from a lens of celebration… make rethinking, reworking, and polishing something that is rewarded not punished
  • Form a critique group… a small group of experts and diverse people who provide critical thinking and recommendations on your key projects to help you create the most meaningful product
  • Create a learning culture where growth is the core value and rethinking cycles are routine… because staff in learning-centered organizations constantly rethink, innovate, stay curious, and make fewer mistakes due to a culture of psychological safety and accountability

Happy reading.

Book Reviews July 2022

Recent books I read and listened to… happy reading!

Coach the Person, Not the Problem by Marcia Reynolds

The book is a solid foundational read for Executive Coaches, especially newer ones still finding their approach. It focuses on 5 practices of reflective inquiry: Focus on the person, not the problem; summarize what is heard and expressed; identify underlying beliefs and assumptions; unwrap the desired outcome; and articulate insights and commitments. As a coach trained to meet the International Coaching Federation’s (ICF) standards – I found this book complimented ICF’s focus on asking open ended questions with the opportunity to reflect back what was heard to support a client’s processing and limiting beliefs. Sometimes hearing key elements of a story reflected back can help the person experience it in a new way with fresh eyes, and ultimately address it with fresh solutions.

Finding Me, A Memoir by Viola Davis

Listening to this book brought me closer to Viola as she narrated her dynamic story. I honestly didn’t know a thing about Viola, other than I appreciated her acting skills and will watch nearly anything that she’s in. Her story is raw and unapologetic… and why I love to read autobiographies. I find I learn and internalize more about history, economics, injustice, empowerment, faith, grit, and love through personal stories. Her childhood poverty is gut wrenching. Her education impressive. Her growth admirable. Her career incredible, especially when balanced against the systems working against her. But what I enjoyed most what that hers is a story of ownership. She owns who she is, where she came from, and what she did to progress. That authenticity is powerful, inspiring, and refreshing.

Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson

A guess lecturer on meditation and neuroscience from Harvard recommended this book in the Mindfulness Facilitation in the Workplace certification course I completed. Candidly, the book was a slow read, and I even set it aside halfway through. Upon reflection, I laughed that once again my expectations impacted the reality – a mindful lesson that keeps repeating for me. I expected one time of content but got another and it took me half the book to leave my expectation and enjoy what the book provided.

The authors walk through mindful research and the legacy of how mindful practices are passed on, and their benefit. A few things that spoke to me:

  • “We don’t have to believe our thoughts, instead of following them down some track, we can let them go.”
  • “Constant stress and worry take a toll on our cells, aging them. So do continual distractions and wandering mind, due to the toxic effects of rumination, where our mind gravitates to troubles in our relationships be never resolve them.”
  • “Medication slows the usual shrinkage of our brain as we age:  at age fifty, longtime meditators’ brains are ‘younger’ by 7.5 years compared to brains of nonmeditators of the same age.”

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer

Goodness! I didn’t know what I was getting into with this book that Joyce LaLonde recommended. The tragic true story of a young Mormon mother and her toddler murdered by fundamentalists is woven between a historical recount of how the religion develop in America. It was interesting to learn the story of the religion’s formation, key doctrine, and massive growth, especially as it all occurred in modern times. As a preacher’s kid, it’s hard to stomach at a practical human level what occurred in the name of God and faith, from the doctrine to kill anyone in an inter-racial marriage to marrying girls in 5-12th grade. The author does pose a few introspective questions about religion and faith – as neither is “provable,” regardless of the source or longevity. It’s also interesting to think about the rise of religious fundamentalists and their impact on the country – prayer, politics, abortion to name a few – when the U.S. was founded on religious freedom and a focus on the separation of church and state. I’m still processing this one.

Finding the Space to Lead by Janice Marturano

I selected this book as part of my effort to “reset” for the new fiscal year at the firm where I work, Grant Thornton. The author – a former senior corporate executive at a Fortune 200 corporation who established the Institute for Mindful Leadership – does a great job laying out the need for and benefit of a mindful approach to leadership. She then backs it up with small ways to get started from your calendar to your breathing — all in an effort to help you connect more with yourself in the moment, so you can better connect with those around you. Two techniques called out to me:

  • Purposeful pauses – Small calendar blocks (15 minutes) twice a day to simply stop and check in with yourself. Time to digest back-to-back meetings. Time to stand up and stretch. Time to check-in with your body about the knot in your stomach related to an upcoming meeting, a slow-forming headache from too much screen time, or tightening shoulders as your to-do list grows. Time to meditate. We use to have these pauses as we walked the halls to/from a meeting in the office or on a METRO ride to a client site. It’s amazing how refreshing these pauses can be!
  • “Free parking” calendar blocks – This reference came from Monopoly. A space where you can land in the game and hang out and breathe. Marturano recommends putting “free parking” time regularly on your calendar. Throughout the month, write down ideas, issues, or quetions, and when you “land on free parking” spend that time looking at your idea list and thinking about solutions, googling the topic, or calling a connection to chat about it. Just see where your brain creatively goes without expectations.
Books on a bookshelf

Book Reviews May 2022

Recent books I read and listened to… happy reading!

Heavy by Kiese Laymon

This book is aptly named on so many levels… including how it made me feel while listening to the author share his story. It’s like he was able to transfer the weight of his life to me. The memoir is the unique mix of a personal letter to his mother, confession, and extended poem. Hearing it read by the author made it all the more personal. I will not hear or feel the phrase “black boy” the same way again after this book. Kiese’s raw autobiography covers sex, obesity, gambling, racism, and poverty. Thanks Joyce LaLonde for the recommendation.

Out of Office by Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Peterson

Thanks to the referral by Paige Settles, I chose this book for the Grant Thornton Women’s Leadership Book Club read in May. While many folks are tired of working at home and most organizations struggle with what is next in terms of the “normal” work model – this book offers a good philosophical perspective on working remote. It exposes how current corporate work models do not benefit employees (and how they came to be from a historical perspective), as well as offers the challenge of what can be done around “productivity.” The authors also focus on not simply on where work is done (office or home) but more importantly how work is done – and needs to change.

She Persisted Around the World written by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

My mother, an early child development expert, loves children’s book. On my last visit home, she snuck this book in my suitcase along with a note: “You are my ‘persisted queen’! You are my girl with superpowers! What a blessing to see you share your many amazing gifts! Keep persisting. I love you, Mom.” May everyone have someone in their life that encourages them to persist in their dreams, through challenges, and for a better community. May we all be that for someone else.

Feeding the Soul (Because It’s My Business):  Finding Our Way to Joy, Love and Freedom by Tabitha Brown

This is a must listen to book – you need to hear her warm, thick accent to get the full effect of Tabitha. Teammate Drew Lucas connected me with this inspirational book with a side of vegan recipes. Her story is one of faith, persistence, and being true to herself. Her cooking catch phrase, “cause that’s your business,” is a good reminder to us all to embrace our uniqueness and do what is right for us–and bravely follow our own called path.

The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead End Work by Linda BabcockBrenda PeyserLise VesterlundLaurie Weingart, and Gabra Zackman

When I saw Senator and severely wounded Army combat veteran Tammy Duckworth recommend this book, I immediately added it to my reading list. The authors wrote this book to help women understand the difference between promotable and non-promotable tasks (NPT) at work so they can choose wisely in terms of how they spend their time. This is, in fact a book for men and organization leaders. Putting the burden on the employee – especially young or professionals of color – to stand up against male and system ingrained biases is too much of an imbalance of power, and keeps women burdened by unvalued tasks. Women generally understand they are asked more often than their male counterparts to complete menial tasks, essential administrative work, and key initiatives that benefit the company but not their career goals. It’s time for leaders to more fairly allocate non-promotable tasks, and this book offers several solutions.

Emily and Bruce Reyes-Chow

Book Reviews March 2022

Recent books I read and listened to… happy reading!

In Defense of Kindness (Why It Matters, How It Changes Our Lives, and How It Can Save the World) by Bruce Reyes-Chow

It seemed like the perfect book to kick off February, the month of love. While this is a secular book, my church, Westminster Presbyterian, chose it for its annual “desert and dialogue” event in which Bruce came and spoke. It’s always enjoyable to hear from the author firsthand. This book – or revolution manifesto – is so needed in our world now. Kindness is more than a gesture, but rather how we see, experience, and engage others. As Bruce writes, “To be kind is to accept that each person is a created and complex human being—and to treat them as if you believe this to be true.” This book covers being kind to those around us and ourselves, as well as provides everyday scenarios and how to bring more kindness to each experience, group, and organization. I carry with me from this book and his discussion the following quote, “Kindness is a way we live out grace in the world.”

Permission to be Human (The Conscious Leader’s Guide to Creating a Value-Driven Culture) by Mary Beth Hyland

I’m grateful Erica Beard recommended this informative and practical book which I read on my back porch in one day drinking hot tea under a blanket in early March rejuvenating my introvert. I liked reading the book outside with the birds chirping in the background and the first colors of spring around me. Values are both personal and organic – so being in nature thinking about how to determine and reinforce values seemed fitting. I think this book is a great read for new managers, change management consultants, executives in a new organization, or a leadership team because it clearly explains corporate culture; offers a clear, doable approach to identify an organization’s values; and shares leadership actions to help reinforce those values personally. The book includes a section on how mindfulness/meditation fit into leadership values to help a person be aware of their state inside the cultural system. Mary Beth provides a helpful section on boundaries, writing, “We often give our power over to what other people want from us instead of setting boundaries that help us ensure that we’re not constantly in a state of feeling overwhelmed.” This is also a helpful read for organization’s thinking about the “next normal” of a hybrid work structure and what values and corresponding behaviors are needed to support it

Will by Will Smith

I spent a good chunk of February walking each morning with Will Smith as his audible book is 16 hours long. I was surprised by this book in terms of how Will snuck so much into it. Not just from his amazing story from childhood trauma to the first rap Grammy ever and onto Oscar nominations, but the nuggets of perspective and wisdom. It was a casual listen with some big laughs. Listening to it was like hanging out with a long-time friend sharing stories over a few drinks. Some stories you reminisced together (thinking about his music with DJ Jazzy Jeff and show The Fresh Prince of Bel Air) and others were new from a more private vault that connected you more closely.

Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown

It’s hard to process all that is going on in the world, let alone talk about how it feels. In this book, Brene defines and explains 87 of the emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human. While she did a good job bringing the book and its content to life as the narrator, I recommend this as a tradition book read so you can really take the time to pause and reflect on each of the 87 definitions and what they mean to you. There is a lot of helpful, heavy, and provoking content to process.

What books do you recommend?

January 2022 Book Reviews

I kicked off the new year with several good reads…

Leading When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going by Susan Beaumont

This book made it on my Christmas gift list due to my brother, Rev. Dr. Philip Oehler, Senior’s, recommendation. This book focuses on “leading in a liminal season”—a time of ambiguity that occurs during a transition from something that has ended before the “new” has been defined and is in place. As Susan wrote, “The liminal period can be an incredibly freeing season in which old structures are released, new identities and possibilities are explored, and power is reassigned.” This book is a must read for leaders who seek a way to “be with” and “work through” the disruption of COVID or need a framework to think through “what next” for an organization. To one change management expert I work with, I described the book as “faith-based change management” as it centers on the process of discernment and uses church-based case studies. It’s been a long time since I marked up a book so much.

Unprotected by Billy Porter

I think the best way to embrace diversity is through people’s personal stories. Understanding how someone experienced the world – or overcame it – helps me see our commonalities and realize how I can do better to support those with backgrounds that are different from mine. I enjoyed this as an audible book as Billy narrated his own story. His voice made his experiences feel more personal. Billy openly speaks on poverty, racism, molestation, bankruptcy, AIDS epidemic, trauma, homophobia, and Broadway throughout his award-winning career earning a Tony, Grammy, and Emmy.

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA

I found this book so helpful that I selected it for the Women’s Leadership Book Club at Grant Thornton for our first quarter read. I picked it up through a strong endorsement by Lee Kelly – former coworker, Army retiree, and military community advocate. I found all her book recommendations over the years to be on point. The twin sisters alternate reading chapters in the Audible version which adds a more personal tone as they share realizations based on scientific data and personal experience. While there are many helpful nuggets, I found their explanation of the “stress cycle” extremely helpful – especially sustained stress, what I does to our body, and doable actions to end it. I appreciated having simple solutions that didn’t add more stress to my life to complete.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

In my experience, graduates of women’s colleges support each other. We have a universal immediate bond. In a chat with Diana Ludwick, a Bryn Mawr grad and coworker, we discussed our current reading list in which she pointed out this book by Bryn Mawr grad Michelle Zauner. The author and singer in Japanese Breakfast, shares her personal story about her relationships with her mother, her Korean identity through food, and being a caregiver during her mother’s battle against cancer. I found several touchpoints in this book due to how central my mother’s southern cooking is to our relationship and family heritage—not to mention my time as a caregiver with my mother following her heart surgery. A poignant read about the complexity of identity, mother/daughter bonds, following dreams, and death.

What do you recommend I add to my reading list?