At h3 we host a book club every couple of months, broadly focused on topics like adult development, leadership, change and business psychology. A diverse group of coaches, change agents and leadership development professionals meet in the basement coffeeshop of a large bookstore for a ranging, relaxed discussion about a book that has captured the group imagination. If you'd like to join us, just let us know.
Recently, we invited each member to share with the group a book that has had a profound impact on ourselves, our work and our clients. In many cases, we found ourselves recommending or giving away these books often. In case you're
looking for ideas for presents or something to read over the break, here are our recommendations.
Andrew's choice - Black Box Thinking (Matthew Syed)
I’m so drawn to this book’s central premise - that failure is an opportunity to learn, and not a dirty word. By redefining failure, we become braver, more transparent, more able to have meaningful conversations, and more capable. By learning from its tragedies and near-misses, airline travel has become vastly safer in the past few decades; but major surgery is as prone to critical errors as ever, because ofI love the strap line. a deeply-ingrained habit of saying, ‘there was nothing more we could have done’.
Syed’s message helps us reconsider our own personal failures and how we integrate them, and it’s changed how I consider my own journey. It’s a great frame for helping leaders find the courage to be more vulnerable and inclusive; and I use it often to help people and teams to try things faster and with less fear in complex environments, by positioning them as opportunities for rapid, safe experimentation and incremental learning.
Shauna's choice - The Chimp Paradox (Prof. Steve Peters)
This is a book that describes the hugely complex human brain in a deceptively simple way. It can put people off as it can feel very basic and it's not terribly well written (the first 3 chapters are enough). However, Steve Peters has been very clever in describing brain complexity in a way that most people can grasp from 10 years old to CEOs. It helps individuals to understand why they might have voices in their head, and I love that it helps to normalise mind-talk, as everyone has a chimp (mine is called Stella). It also shows how patterns of behaviour are not necessarily based on truth and how behaviour that can spill out from their chimp can be helpful and unhelpful.
As a framework for compassion it can be liberating to know that we all have demons, get triggered and have helpful/unhelpful behaviour. That awareness then creates choice for us as human beings and lets us start to take responsibility for our choices. In the words of the great Dumbledore from Harry Potter “It is our choices, Harry, that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities”.
Helen's choice - The Games People Play (Eric Berne)
I borrow ideas from Transactional Analysis like Parent Adult Child, Drama Triangle or Scripts, and really enjoyed revisiting the source.
Eric Berne’s classic work is an accessible take on the dynamics of human relationships - the games we play to meet our innate hunger for recognition. He examines the ego states of parent, adult and child, and transactions or moves that happen between people in these positions. Like a chess master, he showcases classic sequences of moves or games you might recognise from coaching, work interactions, and life in general. Check out Kick Me, Now Look What You’ve Made Me Do, and Why Don’t You....Yes But.
Timeless gems here about human relationships but written in 1964, it’s a little time capsule too. For me a free bonus was a sense of how far gender politics have come...
Phil's choice - Love's Executioner (Irvin D. Yalom)
This extraordinary, beautifully written book is a series of ten case study/stories from renowned psychiatrist Irvin Yalom. First published in 1989, it has stood the test of time well.
Why do I love this book? Irvin Yalom writes from the first person (therapist) perspective, and is unflinchingly honest about the dynamics, emotions, challenges and tribulations of both patient and himself. It is his deep and moving reflections on his own process while working with his patients that lift a veil on the impassive face of therapy, and to me at least are an inspiration to be bolder and more courageous. It highlights how involved the therapist, or practitioner, or coach, inevitably is in any kind of work with depth, and ultimately, how this can be used in the service of great outcomes and good (although not necessarily happy) endings. This book shines a light into some dark places, and what a revelation it is to read about it in such a clear way.
Roger's choice - Leadership that gets Results (Daniel Goleman)
Daniel Goleman has been writing about the importance of emotional intelligence for thirty years and published his seminal works on Emotional Intelligence in the mid-nineties. I love the way he has managed to apply his academic thinking to provide practical advice for leaders by discussing the importance of “Situational Leadership”.
He achieves this by describing six different management styles that mature leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence can deploy depending on the prevailing circumstances. It resonates loudly with me in my work with leaders who initially believe that they “have a style”, then discover that they can move effortlessly from one style to another, as long as they can develop the emotional intelligence to judge the circumstances wisely.
This tiny HBR classic captures the six leadership styles brilliantly in less than 10,000 elegant and coherent words. It’s an ideal stocking filler for leaders with only one style of leadership.
Jonathan's choice - The Path of Least Resistance (Robert Fritz)
I first read this book in 1989 and it’s had a profound effect on my life. Fritz shows how to move from the reactive-responsive orientation (the socialised mind) to the creative orientation, in which individual choice and creativity become the predominant force in one’s life.
The key is to learn how to create structural tension – the gap that exists between current reality (how things are now) and our vision (that which we want to create). This creative force moves us toward the vision. You may be worried that this sounds all very individualistic with echoes of Ayn Rand, but Fritz positions creative ability and responsibility within a larger social and universal context. Top tip – try to find the hardback first edition – IMO it’s better written than the paperback revised edition.
Stevie's choice - To Sell is Human (Dan Pink)
Pink wonderfully curates the research, concepts, ideas and thoughts of others, and repackages them in a way that helps you think and approach life and work differently.
This book is in two segments. In Part one, he lays out how everybody now sells - parents to children at bedtime, doctors to patients to change lifestyle, teachers when pupils don’t want to learn! He lays out in a compelling, engaging and sticky way that a key component of everybody’s job is to influence those around us, and debunks the fears and limiting beliefs people have around influencing and selling. In Part two Pink creates a new A,B,C - not ‘Always be Selling’ but ‘Attunement, Buoyancy, Clarity’ – which repackages in a fresh way the old ideas of reading those around you and connecting with them as effectively as possible. I used these concepts with managers of teams of Child Psychologists providing therapeutic support to children in schools. They found the concepts transformational, and went from being averse to ‘selling’ to being comfortable with their need and ability to influence those around them.
Margaret's choice - Time to Think (Nancy Kline)
I like this book for three reasons – It is easy to read and understand; it describes, with stories of real situations, a practical approach; and the techniques, in my experience, work.
The core message of the book is that we must help people to think for themselves through listening. Nancy’s listening is much more than we normally achieve, it is all about paying real, uninterrupted attention to people.
Added to listening is the use of short incisive questions, designed to help someone think some more. There are behaviours and ways of being described in the book that add up to creating what Nancy has termed a ‘thinking environment’. I have used the techniques, one to one in coaching, in business meetings and peer to peer to clear my own thinking and for me they have worked.
Jane's choice - Your Brain at Work (David Rock)
The appeal of this book to me is that it uses storytelling to illustrate how our lack of understanding of the brain’s structure and foibles leads us to do things that deliver the exact opposite of what we want! David Rock draws on the research of many neuroscientists as well as real life interviews and case studies to educate us about the brain’s structure, needs and constraints, then introduces practical ways that we can respect and utilise these to get more of what we want – more productivity, less stress, better relationships. He uses a day in the life of Paul and Emily to contrast a brain-unfriendly approach (e.g. multi-tasking) with a brain-friendly approach (e.g. focused attention), describing the impact on the brain and the consequential results. There are instantly applicable processes and techniques, and there is a stack of neuroscience. The book includes an introduction to the SCARF model of the brain’s social needs (status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness), which is the single most useful tool I’ve come across this century for helping coachees with influencing others and having quality conversations.