Six Books for Leading and Living Well in 2021

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Six Books for Leading and Living Well in 2021

January is a time for fresh starts and clean slates. Its a time for setting big resolutions and bold, new intentions. If your aspirations include sharpening leadership skills and boosting personal growth, consider adding reading to the top of your list.  

As it turns out, ultra-successful people have reading in common. For Bill Gates, its 50 books a year, Oprah Winfrey selects a favorite book each month, and Warren Buffett consumes hundreds of pages a day. Inc. Magazine reports most CEOs and executives finish four or five books a month.  

Fast Company cites that reading also has significant health benefits. Consuming words on a regular basis can help prevent stress, alleviate depression, and fight dementia. Reading can also enhance confidence and empathy, while honing decision-making skills, and boosting life satisfaction. Win-win, anyone?  

Not a strong reader? Dont have a lot of time? Consider investing in audio books, which are a great way to consume new information while you commute or travel. For naysayers who argue that audio books arecheating,University of Virginia psychologist David Willingham asserts that from the perspective of cognitive psychology, there is no real difference in the mental process of listening to a book compared to reading it.  

Whether you decide to read or listen, there are so many wonderful books on the market today. This month, I chose five that moved and inspired me. Here is my must-read list:  

1. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Brene Brown  

Ill admit it. BreneBrown is my hero. Her insights and stories are real and raw. Shes spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy—not your typical descriptions of leadership characteristics. Her message, boiled down, is simple and clear. Brown challenges each of us to be better human beings. Her tenets include rumbling with vulnerability, living into ones values, and having the courage to make big, uncomfortable decisions that might fail. 

If youve read any Browns books, this is an amalgamation of her past work, synthesized with bold and exciting new research. She explains her process of daring to lead with personal stories that show her own imperfections, mistakes, and messy outcomes. As with achieving everything worthwhile, impactful, and good in life, the path is rarely straight and even. Its a bumpy, scary, and uncertain ride. For those of you who hate roller coasters, you know what I mean. 

The beauty of Browns book is that the information is easy to digest, heartfelt, and laughoutloud funny. Shes not pretentious, which I appreciate, despite working with Fortune 500 companies and top brass military leaders. A caveat—the book is not only for leaders and C-Suite folks in glass offices. I urge everyone to read her work. Parents, students, entrepreneurs, and workers at all levels will benefit. Dare to Lead is as much about taking control of ones own life as it is bettering the culture of a company or organization. If you opt for the audio book, the multi-talented Brown reads it herself and does a brilliant job.  

2. Almost Everything: Notes on Hope Anne Lamott  

For those of us seeking joy and happiness in tumultuous times, Anne Lamotts new release offers readers optimism, support, and reassurance. She writes, Hope springs from that which is right in front of us, which surprises us, and seems to work. With her usual candid approach and sharp wit, Lamott explores hope in life, love, families, food, writing, and more. In Almost Everything, Lamott reminds us that things are usually never as bad as they may seem. She cautions the reader to live in the light, not the dark of the sad past. 

At the core of this book about hope is the practice of gratitude. Gratitude, Lamott writes, is seeing how someone changed your heart and quality of life, helped you become the good parts of the person you are. She emphasizes the practice of trying to practice grace and see what is noble and worthy in everything and everyone. The practice, though imperfect and often challenging, allows us to lead much more satisfying, fulfilling, and enriched lives at work and at home, every day.  

3. Becoming Michelle Obama 

In Becoming, Michelle Obama thoughtfully connects with readers by sharing her own challenges in balancing her roles as a wife, mother, and first lady. In the book, she discusses two monumental and related issues: the ability to overcome adversity and the capacity to build personal confidence. I was sold. Both qualities are must-haves for female entrepreneurs and women leaders in any capacity.  

Though Obamas journey to the White House required intellect, skill, timing, hard work, and luck, she is also upfront that some of it wasnt up to her. Obama is clear that much in life can obstruct good, smart kidschances for a solid education and a bright future, she advises to act rather than remaining mired in burdens and obstacles. Empowerment, Obama says, comes from accepting what is and doing our best to work around it. Part of that empowerment is answering one simple question. When asked, Am I good enough? Obama urges a resounding Yes, I am.  

In her reflection on her time as First Lady, Obama concludes, I experienced a sense of progress, the comfort of compassion, the joy of watching the unsung and invisible find some light. A glimmer of the world as it could be.  

4. The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know Claire Shipman and Katty Kay  

The authors of bestselling Womenomics and the New York Times bestseller The Confidence Code for Girls provides a must-read manual on understanding the significance of confidence for women at every stage of their careers. If you havent checked it out, its a must-read.  

Authors and journalists Claire Shipman and Katty Kay reveal that while women today are better prepared and more educated than in any other time in history, men still populate most C-Suites across America. While this isnt surprising, Shipman and Kay felt compelled to investigate thewhy.After countless interviews with female CEOs, military officers, WNBA players, and some of the nations most influential women, the authors determined that the same stumbling block—a lack of confidence—exists for females at every stage of their career.  

Extensively researched and presented with honesty and candor, The Confidence Code is a quick read. Perhaps most interesting are the findings Shipman and Kay present on genetics and psychology. Yes, science has proven genetics influence confidence—but research also shows that our psychological states can be changed.  

With that encouraging news in mind, the authors outline a plan for lasting, authentic confidence. For those women willing to make hard choices and significant behavior changes, true confidence come from banishing people pleasing and perfectionism, trading the traits for action, increased risk taking, and a willingness to fail.  

5. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear Elizabeth Gilbert  

In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert tackles mindfulness for writers and all creatives who wrestle daily with self-doubt. I love this book because it is compassionate, gentle, and comforting. Its a celebration of the creative act. 

She boldly asks the reader to ponder this: Do you create to inspire or create to gain wealth and fame? If its the latter, dont pick up this book. For the former, read on for affirming, challenging, and tough-love advice on accepting fear and imperfection while embracing a joyful creative life.  

6. Women Leaders: With Inspiring Stories Naghilia Desravines 

Gain empowerment and inspiration from this just-released collection of stories from ten real-life women who made a place for themselves at the top. In this Amazon bestseller, author Naghilia Desravines explores the strength and courage of ten contemporary women who are executives, CEOs, mentors, and leaders in todays modern and competitive world. 

Each chapter examines deeply personal stories, struggles, and successes, while also sharing what each leader is doing now to inspire and empower other women. As one contributor stated, Leadership is an ongoing journey. Never stop learning! In a world with daily bad news and upset, its important to feed yourself a steady diet of positive, encouraging resources like this. 

This is a wonderful collection of stories and a comforting, reassuring read for any woman seeking personal enrichment, career motivation, and an abundance of encouragement.  

In reflecting on this list, the most powerful takeaway of all may be the ability of the written word to connect all of us on a global level. Books allow us to observe life from another persons perspective, eliminating judgment and bias. Its an amazing and stress-free way to spread love, respect, and understanding. 

Ill leave you with these three final thoughts: 

  1. Read what interests and excites you. If your coworker recommended a book, and its not resonating, move on to the next. No judgment. Your time is valuable.  
  2. Schedule 30 minutes a week to read. Anyone can find half an hour. Book it in your calendar. And dont cancel it. Wilkerson reports that only 30 minutes of reading can result in a twenty percent increase in life satisfaction. (Score!)  
  3. Find a reading partner or join a book club. Accountability is key. And sharing thoughts and ideas bonds us as leaders and women. Book clubs, in particular, have led me to find fabulous nonfiction I might have never discovered. What a gift!  

Best wishes for your most brilliant January ever! 

By Dr. Laura McNeill 

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