Federal Coach

By Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service

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Federal Coach: Great leadership books for your holiday shopping list

(Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)

As the holiday shopping spree begins, consider picking up a gift that's professionally useful—a good book to help you or someone on your list gain insight on leadership and work-related issues.

There are a number of volumes worth reading, whether you’re looking to inspire your team to operate more like a start-up, to create a culture of innovation or simply to deal with stress more effectively.

For anyone struggling with too much work and too little time, I recommend Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.
McKeown’s experiences are relatable, his research solid and his advice practical. I’ve taken some of his recommendations to heart personally and seen positive results. His basic thesis is that you need to figure out what is absolutely essential, and then eliminate everything else. In short, do less, but do it better.

Another good book is The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by neuroscientist and author Daniel Levitin. Levitin uses an approachable style to introduce the latest research to help managers gain a better grip around organizing their office, their home and their time.

In addition to strong organizational skills, a successful leader must use and analyze information to make decisions. Despite best efforts, leaders from the front lines to the executive suite can all be susceptible to ignoring important information needed to make the best possible choices. Max Bazerman’s book The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See offers a step-by-step guide to discovering the information that others overlook and using that to improve strategic planning, daily decision-making and negotiation when conflicts emerge.

If you’re looking to energize your team, here are a few different options. You can look to modern American history and read Walter Isaacson’s latest book, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. Entertaining as all of his books are, The Innovators provides case studies of the diverse group of people who created the technology we rely on every day—computers, smart phones, tablets and the Internet. He also uncovers stories about the incredible women who played instrumental roles in developing our digital world, but who often have been relegated to the shadows as others enjoyed the spotlight.

One of my favorite business authors, Linda Hill, co-authored Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation with Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove and Kent Lineback. The book looks at companies like Pixar, Google and IBM, and reveals how leaders can create a culture of innovation.

You might also check out Eric Schmidt’s book, How Google Works: The Rules for Success in the Internet Century. Google’s former CEO, along with co-authors Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle, suggests that the balance of power has shifted from the company to the consumer in the digital age, and that success requires hiring smart, creative employees who can consistently deliver great products and customer service. Given the ubiquity of Google, it seems that federal agencies struggling to connect with citizens might learn something from his experience around talent, corporate culture, communication and strategy.

If you want to leave the modern era, take a look at Harold Holzer’s new book, Lincoln and the Power of the Press. It sheds new light on Lincoln’s leadership abilities, and Holzer vividly demonstrates how Lincoln managed his relations with the press (sometimes by leaking information or planting favorable stories) to help shape public opinion as he sought to preserve the Union and abolish slavery.

Last but not least, you might look to our nation’s veterans as a source of inspiration this holiday season.

For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroism, and Sacrifice offers a series of inspiring stories about the ordinary men and women in our military who perform extraordinary feats in service to our country. Written by Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz and Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the book not only looks at the contributions of soldiers on the battlefield but at their contributions to the community. The book highlights stories of veterans helping small towns rebuild after natural disasters, teaching inner-city students about leadership and academic success, and improving health care for other veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries.

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Dec 08, 2014 at 12:52 PM

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