Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 1.16.16 PMEvery summer my wife creates a reading list. She’s ambitious; she typically tries to read a book a week. My goal is much more subdued; I try to read a book a month. Perhaps you find yourself somewhere in between.

Whatever your reading pace might be, I’ve solicited suggestions from respected leaders in our community. What are they reading? What are they finding most helpful about it? Why?

Cindy Sheltmire, who has been a longtime (and highly successful) real estate agent in Columbia, was quick to recommend the classics. Sometimes people are looking for the next big thing or the newest/latest thought on sales and marketing. But Sheltmire emphasized the idea that the classics remind us of what establishes a strong and credible foundation. “I still refer back to books like How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey because the basics are the things we typically overlook or underestimate,” Sheltmire says. “These books reinforce their importance in my mind.”

Greg Steinhoff CEO of Veteran’s United shared a couple books that have been instrumental in shaping his thinking, including The E Myth by Michael Gerber. “This book helped me understand the difference between working in a business and running a business,” Steinhoff says. The other is Speed of Trust by Stephen R Covey. “This book looks at trust as the foundation of leadership, and although this may sound simplistic, we have discovered that without trust teamwork is unsustainable, but with it teams invariably exceed expectations.”

Andrew Last Name, the newly appointed executive director for Heart of Missouri United Way, shared two of his favorite leadership selections: The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner and Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. He finds them both helpful on a personal and professional level. Specifically, The Leadership Challenge provides a practical, research-based framework for personal and professional discovery that helps everyone learn how to courageously lead themselves and their organizations toward success. Never Eat Alone outlines the power of relationships based on generosity, authenticity, never keeping score and always seeking to help others in reaching their goals. This type of relationship-building is beyond networking and seeks to build real value in every connection.

My daughter Mallory Van Waarde, who recently started her own Internet company, Magnifyre, reads anything and everything that Malcolm Gladwell writes. She’s also heard him speak and finds him deeply inspirational. “I love that Gladwell digs deep into various subjects — psychology, crime, sports, art, politics, religion — and uncovers truths in ways most of us don’t think of,” she says. “His books have challenged me to re-examine my worldviews, live outside of the norm and embrace intellectual curiosity.”

The three books I’ve found most helpful lately are:

  • John Maxwell’s The 5 Levels of Leadership: This book gave me such practical insight into the leadership journey and what it looks like (in its various stages of development). What I found most helpful was that his recommendations for improving and growing in leadership have broad application, and they’re relevant in both the social service and business sectors.
  • Patrick Lencioni has also written a whole series of helpful and practical books, and his style, using story or what he calls “leadership fables,” make his books entertaining to read. The one I’ve found most helpful is his book Naked. In it he talks about the value of openness and honesty, and he describes it not simply as an important ethical move, but he connects it quite compellingly to profitably and employee engagement.
  • The final book I recommend as a potential summer read is Start with Why by Simon Sinek. The book focuses on motivation, and Sinek builds a profoundly compelling case for understanding the importance of our “why” over and above our “how” or “what.” He challenges people and organizations (that want to increase influence or market share) to lead from the inside out. I found he gave me language for what I already intuitively believed but didn’t have the words to describe.

So wake up 20 minutes earlier, grab your cup of coffee, pick up one of the aforementioned books, find your favorite chair and go back to school. Your brain will thank you.

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