My Favorite Books in 2018

What were the best books you read this past year and why?

It’s obvious that successful people read. These people are at least as busy as you are …

  • Warren Buffett reads 5-6 hours a day
  • Bill Gates read 50 books a year
  • Oprah calls reading her “personal path to freedom.”
  • Mark Cuban reads 3-4 hours a day

Successful people read.

“The quality of our thinking is proportional to the models in our head and their usefulness in the situation at hand. The more models you have—the bigger your toolbox—the more likely you are to have the right models to see reality. It turns out that when it comes to improving your ability to make decisions variety matters.”

-Shane Parrish

So what you’ll find below are my favorite books I read in 2018. Some I read in the mastermind I lead, while others I read outside of our leadership community. Each book impacted me in profound ways and helped me level up this year.

This list is not built in order of importance. All of these books are awesome. You can’t go wrong with any of them.

The Happiness Advantage

This book is made up of a number of principles that bring happiness (and therefore greater results) to your organization.

Some ideas and questions I found interesting:

People + project fit = happiness? Do you know what your people enjoy doing?

Do you have a job, a career, or a calling? How does your staff view the profession? Does it need to change? If so, how?

If optimism is a powerful predictor of work performance how could we test for this?

If we really believe that failure is an opportunity for growth how do we handle failure in school?

“Habits are like financial capital — forming one today is an investment that will automatically give returns for years to come” — William James. What is one habit that YOU need to form right now?

This book is for leaders who want to improve their culture.

Thinking, Fast and Slow

Buckle up! This book may be dense, but it also offers huge ROI on making better decisions.

The mastermind still makes fun of me for choosing this book, but I get tremendous delight in how often it is actually cited even though it was tough.

The big idea I took away from this book is that we have two systems that guide our thinking. The author calls them System One (S1) and System Two (S2).

S1 governs our “gut” thinking and represents decisions we make so fast they’re basically automatic. These decisions are based on our countless experiences and occur underneath our radar. Often we don’t even know we’ve processed a decision this fast. S1 decision are nearly undetectable. Mood also highly impacts our S1 thinking.

“The emotional tail wags the rational dog” -Jonathan Haidt

S2 represents slower, laborious decisions. We are using S2 when we heavily weigh multiple options, consider why we shouldn’t move forward with a project, and engage in other deep thinking.

A few questions we discussed in the mastermind:

What is the benefit of being able to identify biases with our language (e.g. the halo effect)?

In what situations do you find that you make the most mistakes?

If priming is so influential what images should we have in our schools to prime our kids and adults to be their best?

Mood impacts System 1. If we are unhappy or uncomfortable we lose touch with our intuition. What are the implications for leadership?

If you want to make better decisions in 2019 this is the book for you.

The Power of Moments

One of the first books we read in the mastermind was Switch written by the brothers, Chip and Dan Heath. The Heath Bros are back at it again with The Power of Moments. This book teaches the reader how to capitalize on the special moments available to all leaders in every organization.

Although this book is not a traditional “education” book, it does mention how schools can capitalize moments.

I bet you don’t know any schools that celebrate an educator teaching her 1000th student? I certainly haven’t ever considered this, but what if we tracked that and made a really big deal about it? I think that would be fantastic tradition to start. This how the book teaches you to think.

The Power of Moments, pushed me to consider each members’ mastermind anniversary. I haven’t taken action on this yet, but I want to start celebrating when someone has been in the mastermind one year, two years, etc.

This text also discusses how one school leveraged home visits to increase parent engagement and propel student achievement to the highest levels in school history.

A few questions we discussed in the mastermind:

  • Would you (or have you) asked students, staff, parents, community to take a notebook and write down their observations of your campus? What do you think they would find?
  • What milestones could we create for teachers, students, or leaders to achieve badges in school for or otherwise celebrate?
  • How can we have teachers “trip over the 💩” in order to elevate their rigor and relevance of instruction?

This book is for leaders who want to boost their culture by creating memorable moments.

The Art of Possibility

This book is in my personal “hall of fame.” I’ve read it twice in the last two years. As the title indicates, the focus is on leadership that is creative, compassionate, and full of potential.

The Art of Possibility is organized into a number of practices (e.g. It’s all invented, Giving an A, and Rule #6).

“It’s all invented” is the idea that our assumptions drive our behavior and lead to undesirable outcomes. This idea actually is very much like S1 in Thinking, Fast and Slow.

In the book, the authors share a story of two businessmen that are looking for opportunities to sell shoes around the world.

The businessmen find themselves in a remote village in some corner of the earth and they have two vastly different responses to the same situation.

One businessman sees the villagers wear no shoes and as a result he writes back to headquarters with this message, “Business venture hopeless — no one wears shoes in this community.”

Given the same facts, the second businessman responds in a positive way and writes to his company, “The opportunity here is limitless! No one wears shoes yet!”

A few questions we discussed in the mastermind:

  • How do you promote generosity and abundance at your school?
  • To get rid of the “calculating self” the authors recommend asking this question: What would have to change for me to be completely fulfilled? How would you answer that question?
  • What are you describing negatively that you want to change? What could you do? What would happen if you saw a person as “the best thing to happen” to you and then treated them that way? Could you do think that? Could you act on that?

Those that listen to The School Leadership Series might remember this episode on “The Letter Activity” which comes from The Art of Possibility.

If you are interested in how you can leverage creativity and optimism into running a world-class organization, then this is your book.

Great at Work

There are seven principles the author suggests will dramatically increase the value you bring to your organization.

They are:
1. Do less, then obsess
2. Redesign your work
3. Don’t just learn, loop
4. Passion and purpose
5. Forceful champions
6. Fight and unite
7. Two sins of collaboration

Of all the principles, the first is the most important. I understand the demands of a school leader are quite high — in some districts the demands may be unreasonable, but the fact remains …

You can’t be everything to all people.

You also can’t be great at everything.

Working with my mentor, Aaron Walker, I have had a few messages drilled into my head. One being — We have a choice in who we want to be. We can either be a mile wide and an inch deep or an inch wide and a mile deep.

It pays to be great at a very small set of things. In my life I have narrowed my focus to three things myself. So when I go an inch wide and a mile deep, it looks like this:

  • I create inspiring content for school leaders.
  • I coach powerful school leaders
  • I connect incredible school leaders

A few questions we discussed in the mastermind:

When is enough, enough? Do you struggle with turning it off before going home? If you are able to do it well, how do you do it?

Which group do you belong to?

  • Do less, then obsess (great focus, great effort)
  • Do more, then stress (poor focus and great effort)
  • Do less, No stress (good focus, poor effort)
  • Accept more, then coast (poor focus, poor effort)

Ockham’s Razor – As few as you can. As many as you must.

What would you like to apply this idea to? Imagine using only one slide for a presentation. Or what if you were more like Apple? When you add a feature, you take one away. The simplest solution with the fewest assumptions is often the best. This is also a design thinking principle

This book if for leaders looking to improve their impact and the value they add to their organization.

QBQ

I read this book with my mentor in his mastermind. QBQ is a shockingly impactful yet short read. I had the audio version. In total the book is under two hours long.

QBQ focused on building personal accountability which is huge in top performers.

Why?

Because we can’t change others. We can only change ourselves.

According to the QBQ questions are either helpful or unhelpful.

You probably guessed it, but unhelpful questions are “victim” questions. They sound like this, “Why doesn’t my staff show more ownership during PLC meetings?” Unhelpful questions always focus on others, what’s not getting done, and is completely void of personal ownership. I see these type of questions posted far too frequently on social media.

Helpful questions on the other hand …

“How can I structure PLC meetings in such a way that my staff finds them meaningful and engaging?” or even better, “How can I develop my staff in order to ensure they use this time for maximum impact?”

See the difference? Helpful questions are focused on the self. It’s all about ownership.

That’s because the only person you can change is yourself.

A Guide to the Good Life

William B. Irvine illustrates the “ancient art of Stoic joy” in this book. What is your grand goal for living? When you can identify that and form a philosophy for living, you are much more likely to live a good and satisfying life.

Read A Guide to the Good Life and you’ll learn Stoic techniques (e.g. Negative visualization) and Stoic advice (e.g. How to handle insults).

Invest in this book if you’ve been curious of Stoic philosophy or could benefit from identifying your grand goal for living.

The Big Leap

The Big Leap was probably my favorite book in 2018.

In the first chapter you’re asked four questions:

  • Am I willing to increase the amount of time each day I feel good inside?
  • Am I willing to increase the amount of time that my whole life goes well?
  • Am I willing to fell good and have my life go well all the time?
  • Am I willing to take the Big Leap to my ultimate level of success in love, money, and creative contribution?

You’ll also learned about four zones our activities fall into ranging from the “Zone of Incompetence” to the “Zone of Genius.”

Operating in your zone of genius will lead to a fulfilling life. These are the things only you can do by drawing on your unique gifts and strengths. By age 40 many of us have ignored this and as a result we get depressed, frustrated, and experience agony. Even if you can only spend an hour a day to work here it’s worth it.

This is how I wrote my book!

Read this book ASAP. You’ll learn how to identify and break through your upper limit challenges and operate in your zone of genius.

Option B

I love this quote: “Option A is not available. so let’s just kick the s— out of Option B.”

The tag line of the book is facing adversity, building resilience, and finding joy.

Leadership is really hard. The Option As we so meticulously plan rarely play out like we expect …

In therapy one of the key aha moments for me is that I have scripts, stories, and plans for every single day and every single moment in each day. I know how I want things to play out.

When my plans get thrown off, it can be hard for me to adjust. That’s not good if you are in a leadership position. If you don’t know it by now, Option A to rarely works out.

So I learned how to readjust my expectations and do my best with Option B.

When life hands you lemons make lemonade.

This book teaches you how to build resilience (in yourself and your students) and I also found it very helpful to understand grief and best support others through it.

The One Thing

You won’t accomplish 25% of what you’re capable of if you’re distracted. This book is all about focus and can be summed up in one question — What can I do today, that by doing it, will make everything else easier or unnecessary?

This question guides one of the core values at BLBS. We call it Search for the Big Domino.

Read The One Thing if you want to focus on establishing clarity around your goals.

The Better Leaders Better Schools Roadmap

Have you ever wondered, Why didn’t they teach me about this in school?

While I was training to be a school administrator, my graduate classes talked about the structure of school: budget, rigorous curriculum, and how change takes years to implement.

What was missed?

Everything needed to create a truly memorable place for your staff, students, and parents.

In this book, you’ll learn

  • how to unleash the creativity inherently found in every classroom!
  • mindset strategies to help you lead in an increasingly fast-paced, constantly changing environment.
  • multiple approaches to the hard conversations that we need to have—daily!
  • the importance of servant leadership. You know it’s important, but how do you actually do it?
  • leading within a community and NOT in isolation.
  • building, growing, and then sustaining a culture focused on positivity and empathy.
  • and so much more . . .

You can buy the Better Leaders Better Schools Roadmap here and download the discussion guide here.