Over the years, I will often launch the new year by posting some of my favorite books I read from the past year. These aren’t the only ones I digested this year, but these are ones I’ve recommended to leaders, educators, parents, coaches and employers I meet as I travel. Below are nine of the best books I read in 2018.
The Coddling of the American Mind, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
Far and away, this was my favorite book I read this year. Both of these authors have spent much time with college students and wrote an article in The Atlantic three years ago by this title. It got so much press, they turned it into a book. The sub-title says it all: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting a Generation Up for Failure. It speaks of alarming new norms in society today that are especially affecting students. Three untruths in particular are discussed: the untruth of fragility (what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker); the untruth of emotional reasoning (always trust your feelings); and the untruth of Us vs. Them (life is a battle between good and evil people). Full of data and conclusions, they make a case for building students with grit and perspective.
Leaders, by General Stanley McChrystal
This book was recommended toward the end of this year by my great friend, Steve Moore. I am so glad he did. General McChrystal finished his career in the U.S. Army as a four-star general, in command of all coalition forces in Afghanistan. A follow up to his previous best-seller, McChrystal addresses the question: What makes a leader great? His answer, of course, is not that simple. In the book, he examines thirteen leaders through history (from corporate CEO’s, to politicians to revolutionaries). He explores the myths of what made Walt Disney, Margaret Thatcher, Coco Chanel, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Martin Luther…extraordinary. Finally, the book explores McChrystal’s former hero, Gen. Robert E. Lee who seemingly did everything right in his military career, yet led the Confederate Army to a defeat in the service of an immoral cause. If you like leadership, you’ll love this book.
Lost Connections, by Johann Hari
Every now and then, I read a book that challenges conventional wisdom and psychology. This was such a book for me this year. The sub-title is: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and The Unexpected Solutions. Johann Hari is a best-selling author who takes you through his journey of depression and anxiety and what he learned from the years he battled it. He argues for healthy, cognitive behavioral therapy as opposed to merely resorting to medication for the anxiety in our culture today. He argues for strong real (as opposed to virtual) relationships with people as well as deep values and meaningful work as solutions to our struggle. This book will make you think and question this huge issue our culture faces today.
The Courage to Teach, by Parker Palmer
While this is a 20th anniversary edition of the book, I just now got around to reading it. Parker Palmer is a respected voice in the world of education, and beyond. He often addresses the heart of teaching, not merely the logistics of it. The book’s premise is that good teaching cannot be reduced to technique, but is rooted in the identity and integrity of the teacher. It takes readers on an inward journey toward reconnecting with themselves, their students and their colleagues, in a sometimes “toxic context” of a school. Good teachers are everywhere (not just in schools), but they take on one similar trait: they are authentically present in the classroom; deeply connected with their students and their subject. This book enables you to recover why you do what you do.
The Power of Moments, by Chip and Dan Heath
This is not the first book by Chip and Dan Heath that I’ve recommended. Do you recall Made to Stick? This book is another collaboration of these two brothers, this time explaining and illustrating how leaders can actually “create” teachable and memorable moments for young people (or anyone else for that matter). They argue we do not remember entire speeches, or vacations, or programs—but we remember moments. These moments contain similar ingredients that secure them in our memories and emotions. The Heaths leverage stories from schools, workplaces, sports teams and homes to demonstrate how moments can be influential. The book will benefit any employer, educator or leader who cares about impacting people.
Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior, by Leonard Mlodinow
This book was recommended to me by my friend Collin Harmon. Wow. It’s loaded with research and case studies on the subject, explaining how humans assume we are logical creatures making decisions based on reason and fact, when in fact, much of our conduct stems from our subconscious mind and even our unconscious memories.
Sometimes I need to read books or listen to speakers who see realities from a different perspective than me. This was one of those books. I am a better thinker—and hopefully educator—thanks to this book. It nudged me to rethink how to frame my communication and our workplace at Growing Leaders.
Your Teenager Is Not Crazy, by Dr. Jeramy Clark and Jerusha Clark
This book was written by a married couple who not only teach adolescents, but they are raising some of their own right now. The Clarks take a scientific approach, as well as a spiritual and heart approach to leading your teenagers, sharing brain research, and explain why so many parents have the same encounters with their middle school and high school kids like: “You don’t understand me!” Or, “Why don’t you leave me alone?” Or, “Why are you freaking out?” Or, “I hate my life!” As they examine how our brains develop from the back to the front, teens naturally are ahead in some areas of maturation but behind in others. The book is a practical, data based approach to parenting teenagers in a world of smart devices and includes faith in the process.
The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt
This book is an academic treatment of how and why good people are divided by politics and religion. Jonathan Haidt is the Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He is a social psychologist who is making a profound impact in our society with his understanding of how we make decisions and why we act the way we do. His now famous analogy of the “elephant and the rider” are explained in this book. The “rider” is our conscious reasoning and the elephant is the other 99 percent of our mental processes. What we fail to understand is—it is the job of the rider to serve the elephant. Our “gut responses” are much more powerful than we realize, and far more powerful than our logic. This book will make you think and rethink how you’ve come to your current worldview and make the choices you do.
The Softer Side of Leadership, by Eugene Habecker
This book has come into its time. I read a previous book by this educator and former college president, The Other Side of Leadership and loved it. Habecker has a way of finding and uncovering dimensions of leadership that most other books fail to cover. This book is all about soft skills—but not the ones you’d immediately think of in that category. It addresses the personal dimension of soft skills, (such as protecting sacred space and welcoming self-discovery) as well as the corporate dimension of them (like enhancing trust, cultivating creativity and organizational accountability). This book was a great reminder for me and made me rethink how I look at leading organizations.