Inspiring Reads For 2021: Leading Teams

25 January

Posted by Andy Cooper

Leading a team is one of life's great privileges and one of its hardest challenges, and figuring out how to be a better leader is a life-long journey. I read some great books in 2020 including some about how you can be a better individual. Here are the ones that have helped me rethink and challenge my approach to leading teams.


1. Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by Stanley Gen. McChrystal

This book has been around for a while, and several people had recommended it to me. It is quite a deep book and hard going, but if you persevere, you are rewarded with some useful thoughts, a history of how modern work has come to be, and a detailed recap of how the US Army learned the hard way that its traditional ways had ceased to serve them well. The team-of-team approach challenges the traditional organisational top-down model with an approach that decentralises decision-making and allows small teams the freedom to experiment, learn, and share information to respond faster and better.  


2. Turn The Ship Around!: A True Story of Building Leaders by Breaking the Rules by L. David Marquet

I heard about David Marquet for the first time last year, even though he is well known in the agile and broader leader development world. The book is the story of how he inherited the worst performing submarine in the US navy. In the space of a few years, he turned it around and transformed the lives of the people he led by implementing a radical approach to developing leaders at every level. I particularly like and use the "ladder of leadership" model as a way of guiding you and your staff on a journey to self-management. There is a good video summary of this here


2.1 Leadership Is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say--and What You Don't by L. David Marquet

I also read Marquet’s latest book, Leadership is Language, where he builds on what he teaches in Turn the Ship Around! He shows how we can lead our teams to success through the language we use. This book is useful as a coaching tool to challenge and think about the language we take for granted and how much of this is rooted in industrial age thinking and practices that are no longer relevant today. I also find the Leadership Nudges from David Marquet good too. 


3. The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organisation and the World by Ronald A. Heifetz, Marty Linsky and Alexander Grashow

This is another oldie (2009) but a goodie. I must say I did find it quite dense, and at times I felt the same way myself, but I had learned in a few other books that challenging the brain with learning something hard was a good thing, so I pushed myself to read it. It really does contain many essential insights on how to go about thriving through change, so I can really recommend this as almost the starting point for evolving your thinking to become an adaptive leader. It also has some great insights on how to respond and deal with technical versus adaptive challenges. When you apply this with a framework such as Cynefin, you can start to assemble a set of tools and a mindset to deal with just about any problem.


4. The Advice Trap: Be Humble, Stay Curious & Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Bungay Stanier

I read this before reading The Coaching Habit, which, as it turns out, was okay because he summarises the key points in this book. I was able to read it in one sitting (literally on a car trip), which is a testament to how well it was written and how much I enjoyed it. No brain pain with this one except for the fact that it showed me how much of an advice monster I am.  That was a bit painful, and I winced more than a few times, thinking about how much I love regaling my own advice. I agree with the book's premise that true coaching is an art, and it is far easier said than done. Stanier encourages us to stay curious longer and gives some helpful language and tools to examine when and where the advice monster might occur and how to tame it. You can watch a funny summary of this here. I also really liked his Year of Living Brilliantly series. To my Aussie friends, I say Michael is a living treasure, and we'd be proud to call him a kiwi, which is frankly the reverse of what normally happens. 


5. Lead From The Heart: Transformational Leadership For The 21st Century by Mark C. Crowley

Mark Crowley's was one of the first podcasts I started following, and I've been impressed by the quality of his guests and his thoughtful approach and questions. I bought this book last year and finally got around to reading it a few months ago. Mark finishes his interviews with his tagline "when you lead from the heart your people will follow" so I knew that when I read this book, I would gain a lot of wisdom from someone that not only believes in it but has proof in how well it works. This is a useful book to learn how to lead from the heart through all stages of the employee experience from recruiting, motivating, developing, and rewarding employees, using evidence and examples from Crowley's own career. 



Some honourable mentions that I read last year include Dare to Lead by Brené Brown, Radical Candor by Kim Scott Malone, The Fearless Organisation by Amy C. Edmondson, It's the Manager by Jim Clifton, Trillion Dollar Coach by Eric Schmidt and Quiet Leadership by David Rock. Keep your eyes peeled for the last article in this series on the books that will change the way you think about improving your organisation.

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