Over the years, I’ve been asked the equivalent of “What’s on your bookshelf?” many times. I always love getting the question. I’m a voracious reader. Some of the most impactful insights I’ve had into business and leadership have come from reading. Of all the books that have been on my bookshelf over the years, if I had to recommend three that have resonated with me most in terms of principled leadership, they would be:
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni
I love Patrick Lencioni’s storytelling style and accessible approach to business writing. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is my favorite of all his books because it focuses on the importance of teams working together to find success. While the leader is often the face of the company, the truth is that business is always a team sport. That’s why it’s a leader’s most important job to foster a cohesive leadership team and authentic collaboration throughout his or her organization. The importance of a cohesive team is especially vital at the executive level.
My biggest takeaway from the book is that everyone’s most important responsibility in the workplace is their “first team.” If your executive team is comprised of a CFO, CMO, CTO, and CRO, for example, it’s only natural that each member of the team may feel like job number one is managing – or even protecting – their department and direct reports. For your company to reach its highest potential, however, their main focus has to be the success of the executive team first and foremost. Of course each member of the executive team should fulfill their responsibilities to their direct reports and team. But if executive team members are more loyal to or are too narrowly focused on their department only, you’ll end up with siloed departments where the best decisions for the business aren’t always made. When I implemented this philosophy at 3Pillar, it changed the game.
The other nugget that I use from this book on a daily basis is the observation that trust sits as the foundation of all team cohesion. Pat does not just throw the concept of trust out, he dissects it, defines it and provides the tools to be able to intentionally develop it. These tools have been a transformational part of my leadership toolkit.
- Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Some Don’t, by Simon Sinek
Simon Sinek is another author whose work I can’t get enough of. Leaders Eat Last breaks down how vital it is for leaders to serve others, not themselves. He delves into the powerful loyalty and motivation that are returned in spades when leaders put others’ interests above their own, up to and including situations where military leaders risk their own lives to keep their teams out of danger. In the corporate world, there obviously aren’t going to be any opportunities for you to dive on a literal grenade for your team. But I’m sure that there are plenty of figurative grenades lurking out there. When they go off, is it in your nature to shield your team from the shrapnel or ask them how in the h#&* this grenade got through your fortress?
The most important insight I’ve taken from Leaders Eat Last is that I’ll only be successful if those around me feel like I have their back and their best interests at heart, even if it may put me in a perilous or uncomfortable position. This doesn’t mean you need to be a pushover. Far from it. It does mean, however, that you have to empathize and work on developing your emotional intelligence. You have to truly engage with others to understand how you can both protect them from perceived danger and provide them the resources they need to succeed. It’s also a must to learn how to read non-verbal cues like body language. For any number of reasons, your team members may not be completely comfortable sharing their concerns or insecurities with you. It’s up to you to learn how to draw these fears out of your team so you can tackle them together.
Your team shouldn’t have to worry about the future of the company or their future with the company. They shouldn’t have to worry about coming back to work before they’re ready. At 3Pillar, we’ve taken a few steps to make sure our teams know we are looking out for them – and listening to them. During COVID we made it a point to rally the entire organization around ensuring that not a single person was laid off or furloughed because of the crisis. It was amazing to see our team rise to the occasion and work tirelessly to ensure we navigated the turbulent times. I also make it a point to be proactively available and connected with the team. Just last month I hosted a dinner for all of the employees in our Dallas office during a business trip. We have regular town hall meetings where we share important updates about the direction of the company before opening up the floor for questions. I always make a point to say that there are no questions that are off-limits, and I’m frequently pleasantly surprised by the questions that come up that feel like they could otherwise take on lives of their own. It’s important for anyone in the company to be able to ask questions, get answers from leadership, and exchange direct communications about whatever may be on their minds.
- Extreme Ownership: How US Navy Seals Lead and Win, by Jocko Willink
Jocko Willink is the living, breathing epitome of “The buck stops here.” Extreme Ownership is about cutting through all the fluff and finger-pointing to say, “I am the one who is personally responsible for the success or failure of this ______ (mission, company, project, acquisition, launch, fill in the blank).” This approach to leadership ensures that others around you know that you have their back. It also inspires others around you to take the same approach to taking responsibility, shunning excuses, and getting the job done.
My biggest takeaway from this book is pretty simple: make no excuses and look to first diagnose your own leadership failure before you diagnose what anyone else did wrong. That’s not to say that there are no failures. Failure is inevitable in business and in life. How you handle those failures, how you diagnose them with your team, and how you share your plan to personally improve your performance is what makes the difference between a leader who inspires and attracts versus one who demotivates and repels. At the end of the day, if you want to establish a culture of high-performers that are more concerned with the success of your organization than who gets the credit, work on establishing a culture of extreme ownership.
If you can apply just a smattering of the lessons that are shared in these 3 books, I have no doubt you’ll see improvements in your own leadership style, the way your team operates, and the way your company performs.