Books That Stick

Feb 14, 2024 | Coaching, Leadership

Many years ago, when I was working in Indonesia, my boss, who was a bit of contrarian himself, recommended I read The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, by Steven Sample. I did. And, over 20 years later I still circle back and refer to my key takeaways. One his recommendations was to not read anything that was written less than 500  years ago (it IS named the contrarian’s guide…). His argument being that our focus and energy gets drained staying up to date with all the latest news, trends etc. but that none of these are long lasting. He believes that if something ‘current’ is really important we will hear from it from our networks and we don’t need to be doing the scanning. Given he wrote this book 20+ years ago, I only imagine how he would be framing the scrolling and social media epidemic that now exists!

To be clear I did not follow his advice! I enjoy reading and have a bias towards things that were written more recently, particularly in the world of non fiction. However, I was thinking recently (skip to the end to know why!) of books that I have read that have really stuck in my mind and whose key messages continue to influence me years after I first read the book. If you know me well, chances are I’ve tried to encourage you to read them at some point too!

I’ll start with the book above – I love the Contrarian’s Guide, in part because the author’s joy in challenging the received wisdom makes it a fun read. Other messages I took away included, asking yourself – which hills do you really want to die on? And that A-rated leaders often hire B-rated team members.

My second book, Overwhelmed was written by the Washington Post journalist, Bridget Schulte. While there are tons of books about this phenomenon, this was the first time I heard the clear argument for why most of us feel so busy at a point in history where technology is claiming to be giving us free time. My biggest ‘aha’ was her pointing to the fact that because we are wired for belonging and our brains crave the knowledge that we will fit it, in a culture where busyness is a sign of social status our brains make us feel busy EVEN when we aren’t actually that overwhelmed.

The third, also recommended by a former boss, is called Why Fish Don’t Exist, A Story of Loss, Love  and the Hidden Order of Life, Lulu Miller. This book blew my mind – part memoir, part history, part philosophy. By the end of it I realized that everything (or many things) that I thought were ‘fixed’ and ‘truth’ were actually not. It’s a gripping read in my mind – I couldn’t put it down.

And finally , Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems – is a beautiful collection of poems that I pull out at least weekly – to either use personally for inspiration or support or to bring into my work. The poets are from all over the world.

What prompted me to reflect on this, was the book 4,000 Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, Oliver Burkeman that I read at the start of January and have already written about in my newsletter. It’s clearly too early to be entered in my top list but I have a strong suspicion that it will be a contestant for 2030 as I am pretty sure the messages from that book will stick around in my head for a long time to come!

There is a difference in my mind in the books that I enjoy in the moment, and those that fundamentally shift my perspective in a way that sticks. I would soooo love to hear what books have stuck with you so I can put them on my list.