Most of us have longer reading lists than available time. There are traditional hard cover books, PDFs and books saved onto our tablets, case studies our bosses have asked us to read and summarize, trade publications that continue to arrive when we least expect them via snail mail, and e-zines that appear in our email boxes in a never-ending stream. But when it comes to leadership strategies, corporate culture, and leadership development, there are never too many perspectives or books to read. Here are five books I highly recommend you add to your early 2014 reading list.


When Mark Herbert, a leadership expert and management consultant, asked a supervisor who was taking a six-month sabbatical if she were interested in the job on a long-term basis, she answered yes. So Mark suggested that she “embrace the job as if she owned it” rather than going through the motions as just the job’s caretaker. How many times have we, as employees, gone through the motions of a job – only to wonder at the time of the annual review: why didn’t we receive a raise or a bonus? Now ask yourself, do you act as if you own your job each and every day? The answer might surprise you – but you shouldn’t be surprised when your next review takes place because you can make changes NOW.

Another example emphasized corporate culture. A man went to a hospital in Texas because he wanted to meet a famous heart surgeon. As the man left the hospital one evening during his visit, he met an elderly man who was mopping the floor. The man asked, “What do you do here at the hospital?” The elderly man replied, “Dr. DeBakey and I save lives together.” The elderly man explained that Dr. DeBakey had told all staff members that hospital infections kill more patients than disease, so the elderly man was doing his part to keep the hospital clean. Have all the employees in your company jumped on the bandwagon to support each other and work toward the same goal?

What does workforce engagement mean to you and your company? More importantly, what steps do your leadership team, management team, and human resources team all take to make sure that the culture allows for respect, responsibility, rewards, information sharing and open communication, and loyalty? If you cannot answer these questions, then you need Mark Herbert’s roadmap.

[2] LEMONADE, THE LEADER’S GUIDE TO RESILIENCE AT WORK by Alan Graham, Kevin Cuthbert and Karlin Sloan

As a leader, how do you define challenges in the workplace? How do you triumph in difficult times? Alan Graham, Kevin Cuthbert, and Karlin Sloan characterize workplace challenges as “lemons” in their book. Some of these lemons or challenges include low morale, lack of resources, downsizing, and competition – but these authors explain that it’s easy to make lemonade from lemons. What’s the key? The key to turning lemons into lemonade as a leader is resilience. The examples below offer inspiration, but note, leadership development and failure are intertwined.

Leadership and resilience go hand-in-hand – and there are three domains of resilience: 
1. Relationship to Self: “Leadership requires us to know ourselves…it requires self-confidence, self-management, and overall perspective that we have the power to effect positive change.”
2. Relationship to Others: “Leaders cannot lead without followers – so this domain is critical for everyone in a leadership role.”
3. Relationship to Environment: “Leaders with a positive relationship to their external environment are goal-oriented, future-minded, purposeful, and proactive. They are able to reframe whatever comes at them no matter the scenario.”

In the words of Graham, Cuthbert, and Sloan: “Make your own personal brand of lemonade…Stay inspired by reading and watching resilience stories wherever you can find them. And tell your own! Leaders who can tell their own stories of making lemonade inspire others to do the same.”

[3] THE STRATEGIST by Cynthia A. Montgomery

Readers are urged to embrace the role of strategist and confront the most compelling questions at the heart of their businesses. “The strategist is the one who bears the responsibility for setting a firm’s course and making the choices day after day that continuously refine that course. That is why strategy and leadership must be REUNITED at the highest level of an organization…What’s been forgotten is that strategy is not a destination or a solution. It’s a journey. It needs continuous, not intermittent, leadership. It needs a strategist.”

Leadership expert Cynthia Montgomery posed difficult questions: If your company disappeared today, would the world be dramatically different in the days ahead? Would your customers miss your product or service? If your customers wouldn’t miss you when you’re gone, how much do they really need you NOW? If you don’t possess this uniqueness, then you’re missing a strategy – which begins with a clear business purpose. By the time you’ve done reading the book, you will be asking: Does your company have a strategy statement that explains your purpose, means of competition, and unique advantages? If not, you know work needs to be done.

[4] ALL IN by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

This book lets the secret out of the bag: Culture is what makes teams and organizations great. According to Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, “Whether you manage the smallest of teams or a multi-continent organization, you’re the proud owner of a culture. If it is clear, positive, and strong, then your people will buy into your ideas, and most important, will believe what they do matters and that they can make a difference. On the other hand, if your culture is dysfunctional – chaotic, combative, or indifferent – employees will spend more time thinking about why the people sitting next to them should be fired rather than getting fired up themselves.”

Consider this example from the book: A company recognized excellent work by employees by welcoming a band with drummers and brass instruments into the office. The band would walk around the company, and at every opportunity, more and more employees would join the “marching band.” But, best of all, the CEO actually led the band and would stop at the star employee’s desk to recognize the individual’s accomplishment. What does your business do to recognize employee achievements?


What’s the core of leadership? I have often wondered about this. Like everyone, I have worked for people with the capacity to inspire and energize an army, and I have also worked for people who would have been better off in a cave far from civilization. Liz Weber, the Dragon Lady of Leadership Accountability, shared a quote in the book, “Being a manager or a leader is a privilege. It’s an honor to have others respect your abilities enough to allow you to lead them. It’s an honor to have others trust you to guide them and support them as you work together.” 

Ask yourself, how often – between meetings, conferences, projects, employee reviews, etc. – have you considered being a leader or manager to be a privilege? Ever? Be honest when answering. If more managers and leaders considered the process of supervising, guiding, teaching, training, mentoring, and managing others as a PRIVILEGE, our workplaces would run more smoothly, and employees would be more engaged. As Liz Weber writes at the end of the book, “Someone needs to change around here…you.” I challenge all leaders reading this post, alter your mindset and behavior, and then watch your employees. You just might notice a difference.

What else is on your 2014 “Must-Read” Leadership Reading List?

Follow these authors on Twitter:
Mark Herbert         @NewParadigmer
Karlin Sloan        @KarlinSloanCo
Cynthia Montgomery    @leadstrategy
Adrian Gostick        @adriangostick
Chester Elton        @chesterelton
Liz Weber         @lizwebercmc

Debbie Laskey has 15 years of marketing experience and an MBA Degree with a concentration in International Marketing and Management. She developed her diverse marketing expertise while working in the high-tech industry, the Consumer Marketing Department at Disneyland Paris in France, the non-profit arena, and the insurance industry. Currently, Debbie is a consultant to small businesses and non-profits in California, and specializes in brand marketing, social media, employee engagement, leadership development, and customer experience marketing. Since 2002, Debbie has served as a judge for the Web Marketing Association’s annual web award competition and has been recognized as one of the "Top 100 Branding Experts" to follow on Twitter.


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