Part of being a great leader is being a lifelong learner. I’ve found so much value in continually reading and gleaning wisdom from others. Now, as I raise up other women to lead our world towards a brighter future through the Sseko Fellows program, I find myself recommending these five books constantly. It’s a bit “off the beaten path” as leadership books go, but I hope you find it as useful as I do!
Braving the Wilderness: Brene Brown
Let’s be honest. This entire post could just say if you want to be a great leader, READ ALL BRENÉ’S BOOKS. BYE. But in the spirit of diversity, I limited myself to my current favorite Brené Brown book. When thinking about leadership, we’re quick to define a leader by someone who has ‘followers.’ But the truth of the matter is that TRUE leaders are almost always required at various points in their leadership journey to stand alone and ‘Brave the Wilderness’.
Her concept of True Belonging is actually our NUMBER ONE principle of leadership here at Sseko. (We call it “Rootedness.”) I truly believe that in order to be a great leader you must first be rooted in your own worthiness and truly ‘belong to yourself’. Until we belong to ourselves, we cannot create spaces of belonging for others and inspire others to do the same. As I like to say, “The deeper the roots, the bigger the bloom.”
Start with Why: Simon Sineck
As Maya Angelou says, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” As leaders, we must inspire those around us to help co-create a brighter future. And you truly cannot make someone feel inspired if you’re not deeply connected to your WHY. When I walk into a room with a great leader who knows their WHY, I can feel it immediately. I want to join them, support them, eat what they are eating for breakfast.
But as “fluffy” as knowing your WHY can sound, it requires (like ALL good things) it takes actual work and commitment. And reading this book is a great way to start!
The Artist’s Way: Julia Cameron
Now, I realize that this isn’t quite your standard leadership fare BUT I’d say it’s been one of the more helpful books in my leadership journey! Even if you’re not an “artist” this book is an incredibly practical guide to unlocking your creative potential. And before you have a second to caw, “But Liz, I’m not a creative, I’m a leader” imma say you better SHUT YO MOUTH. Leaders, by my definition, see the gap between the way things are and the way things could be. And then? They build the freaking bridge. And if building a bridge from your present reality to a brighter future THAT DOESN’T EVEN EXIST YET is not CREATING, well, then I’m not sure what is.
Julia’s “Morning Pages” practice helps every creator move through their stupid insecurities and ego battles (we all have them!) so you can get to the work of actually creating. This book requires commitment but I promise it’s worth the work.
Captivate: Vanessa Van Edwards
If you’ve ever seen Vanessa Van Edwards speak in person, it will not come as a surprise that her new book Captivate presents a cohesive collection of works from the Science of People. Whether that’s in informal settings or visibly leading in front of a large crowd, Vanessa weaves together years of research, data, anecdotes, and humor to give you one of the most practical resources on how to influence others.
In order to lead others, understanding your body language and how others are receiving you is critical! A good leader knows that she sets the emotional tone for a room and uses her influence to make others feel known and welcomed. Van Edwards gives us practical tools and tips on how to do this well and create habits in our daily life to create a great first impression and leave others feeling empowered and understood. Compelling, interesting, and engaging, this book sets the stage for any effective leader.
Traveling Mercies: Anne Lamott
Ok. Now I know I’m going to lose some of you with this one. What does a middle-aged, sober alcoholics’, spiritual journey and motherhood musings have to do with leadership? And to this, I’d say: Well friend, unless you’re leading a bunch of Jetsons made of steel and wire, you’re probably leading humans. And as leaders of humans, I think it’s critical to remember the importance of just being and celebrating and mourning and laughing at the absurdity of life here on Planet Earth as we all just try to figure it out the best we can.
If you’ve got a bookshelf full of leadership gurus and how-to manuals but you’re not seeking out beautiful, human writings and thoughts longer than Tweets, I say skip the above recommendations and take a minute to connect with the human experience through a great memoir or novel. I truly believe that the vulnerability, humor, and honesty we encounter when we read books like Traveling Mercies, will ground us in a love, tenderness and appreciation for your fellow human which is perhaps the number one requisite for being a great leader. After all, at the end of the day, “We’re all just walking each other home.” -Ram Dass
If you’re someone with a desire to grow and lead others, please consider this my personal invitation to join our community of brave and bold women who are making the world a brighter place. You can apply to be part of the Sseko Fellows program here and schedule an interview with us to see if this is the right fit for you! I’d LOVE you join you in your leadership journey and learn from one another!
I hope we get to meet soon!