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?

Leadership: Understand & Articulate Your Boundaries

I have a standing “girls chat” with a co-worker each month. It’s a time when we open up our professional closet and haul out our dirty laundry and miscellaneous items we don’t know what to do with but can’t let go of. There is a lot of validation, active listening, hard questions, and resource swapping – from articles to people in our network – that occurs in our chats. These chats aren’t about solutions or fixing the other person, but rather the camaraderie of two travelers on a career journey. While the information is helpful and the laughter is great, it’s the companionship that offers a soothing balm that keeps me coming back.

Boundary Types

Over the past few months many of our conversations ended up touching on boundaries. In a summer chat, she mentioned buying the book Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself. Candidly, I’ve never thought I had an issue with boundaries. In fact, my family and friends will tell you I’m pretty stubborn, that I know my limits/needs, and I’m not one to “convince” into something. However, when I investigated the book, I noted that it covered six types of boundaries:

  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Intellectual
  • Emotional
  • Material
  • Time

I’d never thought in terms of “types” of boundaries—just that you had them, or you didn’t. The book offered “tips on how to uphold personal limits” and this terms gave me pause for how I think of boundaries. The author, Nedra Tawwab, writes, “But what do ‘healthy boundaries’ really mean—and how can we successfully express our needs, say ‘no,’ and be assertive without offending others?”

As I thought about what the book had to offer, my girls chat discussions, and my shallow understanding of boundaries, I quickly added the book to my Audible library. (Note: if a book’s not your thing, check out her blog which is filled with one-page nuggets of insight.)

Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself helped me better understand the complexities around boundaries. That my boundaries can be solid, Jello, or missing all together depending on the area. I also realized that what I use to define as wants/needs – which I could dismiss if they were broken by others – should be rethought of as a more formal boundary. I appreciate that Nedra gives readers examples of how take a concept (or need) and convert it into a clearly articulated boundary statement. There is tremendous power is being able to state a boundary and define what is essential for you to be the best you.

Listen for Boundaries

Additionally, listening to her state various types of boundary examples in each chapter helped me be a better boundary listener. Hearing her state them, helped me more easily hear when someone is setting one with me. In fact, not long after finishing the book, I went to get a pedicure. I was in a new spa and just as the massage began a patron walked over to the woman next to me and began a loud, on-going conversation through her mask. After a while, I asked staff to stay something but they were unsuccessful. So, I did with an “excuse me, but you’re really loud” comment. The woman immediately stopped and walked out. The following day, the spa owner texted me to ask that I not come back based on the incident. She explained that her business was not a spa but a social environment, and she stood up for her customers who wanted that experience. She shared the boundary of her business. In listening to her, I reflected on how I missed defining my own need as a choose a spa to try: a relaxing quite pedicure to unwind from weeks of work Zoom calls and treat my runner’s toes. I also realized that when I spoke to the patron I didn’t express myself well but rather made it about her, which wasn’t fair. Rather than feel attacked (a likely pre-book response), I thanked the owner for clarifying the boundaries of her business. I also told her if I knew folks who wanted a social spa I’d refer them. I didn’t want her worried I’d be a vindictive customer. We ended on positive terms with boundary clarity.

Here’s to our improved ability to claim, communicate, and support boundaries – ours and others.