Leaders are learners. The best leaders never stop working to make themselves better. As Kobe Bryant once said, "There is power in understanding the journey of others to help create your own." That's really why the Learning Leader Show exists. To come together to understand the journey successful leaders are on so that we can better understand our own.
Many podcast listeners/friends have asked me what books they should read to become a better leader. The totality of this list is in the hundreds… But for now, let’s start with seven. You’ll notice I’m more interested in reading about fascinating stories and the heroes in them than I am about “business” type books. There is so much to learn from real stories and the action taken (and the subsequent consequence of those actions) by the leaders in those stories. Note** This list will evolve over time…
Not many people are aware that President Roosevelt was the first to chart and navigate a totally unknown river in the Amazon… And he did that AFTER he was President.
Along the way, Roosevelt and his men faced an unbelievable series of hardships, losing their canoes and supplies to punishing whitewater rapids, and enduring starvation, Indian attack, disease, drowning, and a murder within their own ranks. Three men died, and Roosevelt was brought to the brink of suicide. The River of Doubt brings alive these extraordinary events in a powerful nonfiction narrative thriller that happens to feature one of the most famous Americans who ever lived.
The simplicity and beauty in which this story is told is inspiring and useful.
James Kerr goes deep into the heart of the world’s most successful sporting team, the legendary All Blacks of New Zealand, to reveal powerful and practical lessons for leadership and business.
Leaders “keep a blue head.” Wise leaders seek to understand how the brain reacts to stress and practise (this is how it’s spelled in the book) simple, almost meditative techniques to stay calm, clear and connected They use maps (an operating system), mantras, and anchors to navigate their way through highly pressurized situations.
The word automatic is from the Greek, Automatus, and means “self-thinking.” By training with intensity, we make our performance more automatic.
Leaders do extra. Leaders “sweep the stalls.”
Values: “Humility, honesty, integrity, respect. You know, I say all those words and for me and for the people I’m speaking to I’m saying, “Look, you shouldn’t really need to work on those because they should just be a given.”
Values “cannot be espoused and adopted by us at a conscious level – they are something that we are.”
An incredible story of curiosity, determination, and an immense desire to teach the world how to fly.
On a winter day in 1903, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, two brothers—bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio—changed history. But it would take the world some time to believe that the age of flight had begun, with the first powered machine carrying a pilot.
Orville and Wilbur Wright were men of exceptional courage and determination, and of far-ranging intellectual interests and ceaseless curiosity. When they worked together, no problem seemed to be insurmountable. Wilbur was unquestionably a genius. Orville had such mechanical ingenuity as few had ever seen. That they had no more than a public high school education and little money never stopped them in their mission to take to the air. Nothing did, not even the self-evident reality that every time they took off, they risked being killed.
This is a non-fiction book written like a beautiful novel. This is a book written by someone who “just did it.” And continues to do so…
Fresh out of business school, Phil Knight borrowed fifty dollars from his father and launched a company with one simple mission: import high-quality, low-cost running shoes from Japan. Selling the shoes from the trunk of his car in 1963, Knight grossed eight thousand dollars that first year. Today, Nike’s annual sales top $30 billion.
Bill Gates gave one of the best recommendations I’ve read about this book: “an amazing tale, a refreshingly honest reminder of what the path to business success really looks like. It’s a messy, perilous, and chaotic journey, riddled with mistakes, endless struggles, and sacrifice. Phil Knight opens up in ways few CEOs are willing to do.”
Tom Peters and his coauthor Robert Waterman profiled 43 companies in what Bloomsbury Publishing has said is the “greatest business book of all time.” It describes the eight basic principles that made these organizations successful: 1) A bias for action 2) Staying close to the customer (frontline obsession) 3) Autonomy and entrepreneurship 4) Productivity through people 5) Hands-on, value-driven 6) Stick to the knitting 7) Simple form, lean staff, and 8) Simultaneous loose-tight properties. There’s a reason this book was checked out of the library more than any other for 17 years! Tom has a no BS approach. Straight, to the point. And always useful.
This book will help you better understand the evolution of mastery: The keys to it. The hidden force. The strategies for finding your life’s work. The importance of apprenticeship. Why you should value learning over money. The seven deadly realities. Strategies for acquiring social intelligence.
Each one of us has within us the potential to be a Master. Submit to a rigorous apprenticeship, absorb the hidden knowledge possessed by those with years of experience. Study the behaviors of Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Leonardo da Vinci and the nine contemporary Masters interviewed for this book.
Ryan Hawk runs the Leadership Advisory practice at Brixey & Meyer. He works with clients all over the world to help them be personally excellent and more effective leaders. He does this through keynote speeches as well as 1 on 1 leadership advising. He’s learned the commonalities of sustaining excellence from interviewing 275+ of the most thoughtful leaders in the world on his hit podcast, The Learning Leader Show.
Over the past week, I met with two college athletes who asked me “what I wish I would have known (and done) while in college?” In order to be better prepared for those conversations, I wrote down some of my thoughts. As I did this, I realized I had a few regrets (primarily for not taking action when I had the chance). My goal was to make sure the people I met with knew this so perhaps they wouldn’t make the same mistakes.
Following the meetings, I expanded the notes a bit… While the advice was originally meant for college athletes, I quickly learned that it could apply to anyone. Here they are…
Learn to speak in front of people. Public speaking is one of the most useful skills in the world to develop. It’s a “reps” game. The more you do it, the better you will be. (Bonus points if you have someone in the audience who is able to coach you and make you better). Warren Buffett still says the greatest investment he’s ever made was the $100 Dale Carnegie class he took early in his career that taught him how to be a better public speaker. Don’t wait to do this. Episode to listen to: #263 with Charlie McMahan. Book to read: TED Talks by Chris Anderson.
Learn how to sell. No matter what your major is, you will need to sell. Join the Sales Club at your school (they exist at most schools). Ohio University has one of the best in the country. I did not join the Sales Club and I regret it. Episode to listen to: #221 with Phil Jones. Book to read: To Sell Is Human by Dan Pink.
Write great papers. The best way to become a better writer is to write. Again, developing quality communication skills (speaking and writing) will help you long term regardless of what you decide to do after college. Also, think about documenting your experience as a college athlete in a journal or even a blog. I wish I would have journaled in college. I would love to look back on those writings now to remind me what it was like being a college quarterback. I have memories, but it would have been even better if I had written them down… Episode to listen to: #242 with Daniel Coyle.
Seek out mentors. Ask your coaches, professors, and other interesting people if they’ll meet with you (just like you did with me). They’ll say yes. Bonus: After you meet with someone who helped you and taught you something, do this: Write them a follow up email. Share with them everything you learned and how it will positively impact your life. Ask them if you missed anything. Tell them to forward your email to any other person they mentor so you can have a “multiplying effect” on your meeting. This will differentiate you from 99% of the people out there… And it will show your mentor that you care. Not only about yourself, but about others as well. It will also create another person who will root for your success, and that is never a bad thing. Episode to listen to: #245 with Maria Taylor.
Develop curiosity for something outside of sports or your direct major. “Read what you love until you love to read.” Go deep on something that is outside of your normal studies. Build the framework now (at a young age) for the ability to master a topic. This will help you as you continue to progress in life. Episode to listen to: #217 with JJ Redick.
Visit your professors. If they have office hours, make a point to connect with your professors. They love it, and you’re able to learn directly from a wise person who has more life experience than you. This serves multiple purposes: 1) You learn something new. 2) If you’re on the border of getting a B+ or an A, those meetings can push you over the edge. Episode to listen to: #216 with Jim Collins.
Talk to your coaches about life. I played for interesting coaches who traveled the world and had a lot of great experiences. And I never met with them outside of our standard football meetings. I regret that. Make time to talk with your coaches about things other than your sport. (I’m assuming you have good coaches). There is a lot to learn from people who have more “life reps” than you. Episode to listen to:#244 with Bill Curry.
Build real friendships with your teammates. You have a shared experience and a bond you’ll remember for the rest of your life with your teammates. Don’t take it for granted. Be curious about your teammates. Ask them questions, visit them in their hometown, meet their parents. I remember visiting the home of one of my teammates from Miami. I met his entire family, shared a great dinner, and learned a lot more about him. It created a bond and I felt more empathy and care for him moving forward. I wish I would have done this more. Episode to listen to: #78 with Kat Cole.
Be smart on social media. Everything you put on social media is searchable forever. Be defined by what you love. Don’t complain, degrade, or be negative about anything on social media. If you choose to use it, share things you love: good stories, great people, good books, inspiring videos, etc… Episode to listen to: #211 with Vanessa Van Edwards.
Be known as someone who speaks positively behind someone’s back. My favorite teammate and one of the most likable people I’ve met is Austen Everson. He’s known as someone who always spoke positively of others, whether they were there or not. Be someone who spreads “positive gossip.” Lift others up, share great news/stories about people. This will differentiate you from the rest of those who spread negative gossip. Be positive about your friends, teammates, other people in general. Episode to listen to: #127 with Adam Grant.
Remember your fundamentals. You will continue to improve in both your sport and school when you focus on the little things. “How you do anything is how you do everything.” Be focused when you prepare, practice, study game plans on opponents, review film, or spend time in the weight room. Episode to listen to: #207 with Liz Wiseman.
Focus on continual improvement. Focus on getting 1% better every single day. Over time, this compounds (just like interest) and a year from now, you will be exponentially better. Focus on today and getting better today… And then tomorrow… And so on. Episode to listen to: #248 with James Clear.
Ryan Hawk played quarterback at Miami University and Ohio University. He is the host of The Learning Leader Show, a podcast with more than 275 episodes with the world’s most thoughtful leaders.