Last week, John Coleman posted a list of recommended books, 11 Books Every Young Leader Should Read.
There were no books by women on the list.
While part of me cries “unfair” more than I would like it to, this is John’s list, and he gets to recommend as he chooses. What actually concerns me — and I hope you as well — is that in his canon of leadership books there are no women’s voices, at least not in the top 11 that he relies on and that inspire him to greatness. John’s picks, however, are not an anomaly among men, or even really among women. When I recently asked a group of successful professional women to list their favorite books about entrepreneurship, the list skewed largely male. Not too long ago, my list did too. And that is a problem. Unless of course, we believe women have nothing to offer as leaders.
Which brings me to my first book recommendation:
WE, by world-renowned Jungian psychologist Robert Johnson In this book, Johnson explains that every man and every woman comes equipped with a psychological structure that includes qualities characterized as “masculine” and “feminine.” Our ability to wield power and control situations is our masculine side, while the capacity for relatedness and love is feminine. To become a complete man or woman, each must develop both sides of the psyche. Johnson then explains that both men and women have been taught to idealize masculine values at the expense of the feminine side of life. Perhaps this explains why so few of our “Lists on Leadership” include the voices of women. Johnson’s book makes it clear: we can only truly lead when we tap into and value both sides of our psyche — male and female.
In Mindset, psychologist Carol Dweck writes: “it isn’t just our abilities and talent that bring our success — but whether we approach our goals with a fixed or growth mindset.” It’s vital to seek out opportunities to stretch so that you are challenged. But as a leader, it’s vital not to regard your followers’ abilities as fixed, but rather to believe that those you lead can change, adapt and grow.
The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen (which is also on John Coleman’s list) builds on the notion of a growth mindset more specifically within a business context. He lays out the theory that has changed the way we think about innovation: disrupters enter the market with low-end or new market innovations and eventually upend an industry. Whether disruptive innovation involves a product, service, company, or especially, an individual, Christensen provides a robust theory for learning how to lead.
With all this learning by doing, setbacks will be inevitable. In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown, shame and vulnerability expert, helps us understand that we live in a culture of shame. It evidences itself for men as never being able to be perceived as weak, and for women as never having permission to dream big in the first place. Ultimately, shame disconnects us from others. And yet, it is only when we are connected to others (and paradoxically, willing to be vulnerable) that can we lead.
Next on the list is Marcus Buckingham’s Standout. This is a quick read after you’ve taken an online assessment to identify your top two strength roles. You’ll want to initially focus on reading about your own strength. Then, I’d suggest having those who you lead take the test as well, delving into the book for tips on developing their strengths. The book outlines the circumstances where you are most powerful, how to deploy these strengths as a leader, and potential pitfalls.
For a case study on how to pair your masculine and feminine strengths as a leader, I recommend Warren Buffett Invests Like a Girl by Motley Fool’s LouAnn Lofton. If you are a man, it’s a great tutorial on how to incorporate your feminine strengths. For women, it’s validating. Some have construed Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men as a death knell. At a deeper level, she’s making the case that traditionally masculine — and feminine strengths matter. This book helps articulate that.
It’s easy to think of a leader as one who brooks neither dissent nor compromise, but in fact, great leadership involves the ability to no-gotiate until you say yes. Steve Jobs said, “innovation requires a thousand no’s.” So does leadership. In order to lead, you must also learn to say ‘yes.’ Formative for me on this front was William Ury’s The Power of a Positive No. One of my favorite takeaways from Ury is that “yes is the key word of connection, no of protection.” Leadership weds the two.
To lead into the next era, we must understand the power of gamification: the application of game elements and design techniques to non-game problems, like business and social impact challenges. Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal is one of the few business books I could persuade my 16-year-old son to pick up and read — and that, not surprisingly, he enjoyed. A leader leans into the future.
In The Lean Start-Up, Eric Ries, a next generation thought leader and a clear successor to Clayton Christensen, provides a scientific approach to managing innovation, whether at a one-person start-up or Fortune 100 company. One of the key takeaways here is that all leaders are entrepreneurs trying to create something under conditions of extreme uncertainty. Especially compelling is the idea of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), an iterative process of idea generation, prototyping, presentation, data collection, analysis and learning, which I think also applies to people — a terrific hack for circumventing perfectionism.
I also recommend the book Sabbath by Wayne Muller. While I would recommend this simply because it is beautifully written, Sabbath reinforces my view that the greatest leaders must have a moral compass. Muller underscores the importance of a Sabbath, of taking a break, of disconnecting to connect to all that really matters, all essentials to a moral compass.
And a bonus: Les Misérables, because it’s one of the greatest pieces of fiction ever, and because Jean Valjean is a leader who embodies the best of both the masculine and feminine.
Is this the list for you as a leader? I can’t say. It’s my list. You will have your own. But for those of you who may someday be leaders, know that when you value both your masculine and feminine strengths, you will not only be revered as powerful and beloved; you will be on the path to becoming a truly great leader, one that many will follow, perhaps not fully even knowing why. In the meantime, this list is my own canon of books, my lodestar, as I learn to lead.
This post originally published at Harvard Business Review