Readers are Leaders & Leaders are Readers

Another great post from Darren…

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body”, said Irish writer and politician, Sir Richard Steele.

On September 15, 2017, I walked out of my office, which I occupied for the past 5 years, and to my car in the parking garage and began my commute home.  This day marked a significant milestone in my life.  It ended what I consider to be the first half of my career and my time with Fidelity Investments.  I began my tenure at Fidelity Investments on June 1, 1993, immediately following my graduation from Southern Methodist University in May of that same year.  Now, 24 years, 3 months and 15 days later, I found myself beginning my commute home from a Fidelity campus for the last time.

Leaving Fidelity office #lasttimeforeverything

One of the greatest honors I received in my final weeks with my organization was the question on what books would I suggest for my staff and team members.  I have grown to greatly appreciate the opportunities to learn from others – both those I meet and work with as well as those I only meet through their published works.  In our final staff meeting together, I was so excited to hand out personal notes and copies of the top 13 books that have had a profound impact on me thought my career to this 24 year point.

So, other than the Bible in its entirety and the book Celebration of Disciplines by Richard Foster; here are the books I handed to my direct staff and managers reporting to me:

  1. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith.  This book was required reading for me assigned by my executive coach, Marian Spitzberg.  Choosing to engage with an executive coach was one of the best decisions I made in my career, but that is another topic for another day.  Goldsmith’s book tops my list simply due to the fact it literally unlocked good behaviors in me.  In addition to the 20 habits to break, the emphasis he places on the power of “Thank You” and “How can I do better” is powerful yet so simple.  The concept of maturing from an “achiever to a leader” held great impact on me.  I recommend this book for anyone seeking to jump from mere managing to leading and engaging others.
  2. An Autobiography, Tom Landry with Gregg Lewis.  I admire the life of Tom Landry.  I appreciate the way he carried himself, stuck to his values and instilled discipline.  I enjoy reading about the way he influenced the game of football when all he aimed to do is play and coach to his best abilities.  It is pretty incredible to see how his innovative coaching schemes and player selections still impact the game today.  He was a great man that impacted more people than his players.  I recommend this book for anyone looking for an inspiration leader without reading a leadership book.
  3. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell.  This book is a classic.  I know Maxwell has published many books but only 2 make my list.  This one was introduced to me by one of my managers at Fidelity Investments.  He strived to grow as a leader and instilled leadership principles in his staff along the way.  One of the best aspects about this book is that it is easy to read and understand; so much so that you realize much of it you already knew but needed someone to tell you :-).  These laws are foundational to growing your level of leadership.  If you are looking to develop yourself and your team, this is a great starting point.
  4. The Noticer by Andy Andrews.  I like the way Michael Hyatt describes this book, “The Noticer is part auto-biographical, part fiction, and all inspiring. It is the story of “Jones,” a mysterious old man who has a knack for showing up at just the right time in people’s lives. He notices stuff—stuff that they miss. And he gives them the one thing we all so often need: perspective.”  The book provides a huge dose of perspective which is what spoke to me.  In particular, one quote from the book is “what you focus on increases”.  I love it because I have a tendency to focus on a problem or something I don’t like when I should be focusing on the improvement or solution.  This is quick read, which is good because you should read it a few times.
  5. That’s Not How We Do It Here by John Kotter.  This is a fun, short allegory of a meerkat clan that has thrived and is now facing new challenges to survive. The allegory is about an organization that is reluctant to let go of traditional ways of doing work while new challenges begin to erode the morale, productivity and the group membership.  Change is inevitable.  Adopting to change is required.  Getting an organization to adapt can have its challenges and this short book is a great way to get the discussion on the table.  If you are in a situation where you need your team to consider new methods to new problems or new methods to old problems, I highly suggest this short read.
  6. Crucial Conversations, Tools for Talking when the Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Swiztler.  This is one of those books that you need to read a couple of times in order to let the concepts sink in and become more habit forming than merely informational.  As a matter of fact, as I start my new job, I think I need to read this again.  This book is an excellent book for improving how you communicate and prepare for stressful (important) conversations both personally and professionally.  I read this description which pretty much sums up the content of the book: Prepare for high-stakes situations, Transform anger and hurt feelings into powerful dialogue, Make it safe to talk about almost anything, Be persuasive and not abrasive.  I recommend this book for any manager and husband…although, like I mentioned, I need to go read this one again.
  7. Same Kind of Different As Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore.  I read this book several years ago, and I hear the movie is coming out this year (2017).  This true story about Ron Hall and Denver Moore impacted me in very real ways.  It is amazing how much we let physical and socio-economical “differences” shade our perspectives about people.  The story about how a rich art collector (Ron Hall) and a homeless man (Denver Moore) crossed paths and become true life long friends is not just heartwarming.  It should cause true introspection.  I appreciate how the book allowed me to open up and embrace diversity and different cultures in a deeper manner.  Whether in the workplace, in the community, online or even with family, I have come to appreciate the fact that the more different we think we are, the reality is we are more alike than we choose to believe.  Additionally, following the life change in Ron through his marriage and the challenges he and his wife faced also required much introspection in me even to this day.  I recommend this book for anyone in any walk of life in any circumstance.
  8. Kill the Company:  End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution by Lisa Bodell.  Lisa is the founder and CEO of FutureThink which enables organizations to embrace change and become ‘world class” innovators.  The aspect I like about this book is that it emphasizes the role that thinking and collaborating has in innovating.  I come from a background that values action above anything and therefore innovation is about doing things rather than think through and challenging ideas, processes and products.  I really like how FutureThink provides helpful tools to stimulate breakthrough thinking that then leads to proper experimentation (action).  I recommend this book for those people (mainly leaders) that are looking for a boost or kind of B12 shot into the organization to adjust the why people think about solving problems and opening new ways to challenge the status quo.  As a bonus (ha!) I am putting the link to the FutureThink site here.  Check it out – – be sure to check out their tools.
  9. Leading Change by John Kotter.  John Kotter is a well known thought leader in the area of organizational change management.  Sounds boring, I know.  However, this concept is so important.  Kotter lays out his 8 step process to leading a change effort.  I undervalued the aspects of communication and collations required to implementing change.  This is a great book at detailing the value of every step.  Think of this book as the “text book” to the allegory “That is Not How We Do It Here”.  If you are leader or even an individual needing to push change in your organization, I recommend this book to help you learn and evaluate your effort along the 8 step process.  Reading the book is ideal, but here is the link to an updated ebook on the 8 step process that can help you get started –
  10. Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris.  I love this book; mainly because of the idea behind the book.  Alex and Brett Harris are twin brothers who wrote this book when they were teenagers.  Their passion was/is to challenge the idea of low expectations society places on teenagers.  They promote the idea that teenage years are meant to be spent purposefully and with high impact.  The book lays out recommendations on how to break through mediocrity and “do hard things” to make a difference in your life and the life of others.  The reality is that the concept does apply to adults as well.  Why settle for a life that is compliant with society when you can push the limits and do things the stimulate growth in you and others and especially in helping others start and mature in their relationship with Christ. Everyone should read this book.  Kim and I bought copies for all five of our family members.  The Harris brothers started what they call the Rebelution, a rebellion against low expectations.  You can read more on their website –
  11. Developing the Leader Within You by John Maxwell.  This is one of those books i read early in my career and revisited it periodically.  As a matter of fact, I need to revisit it again!  This book is a great tool to have in your arsenal for self development.  I recommend it for anyone and everyone, no matter of your age or career or stage in life.  This review describes the book very well, “Developing the Leader Within You also allows readers to examine how to be effective in the highest calling of leadership by understanding the five characteristics that set “leader managers” apart from “run-of-the-mill managers.” In this John Maxwell classic, he shows readers how to develop the vision, value, influence, and motivation required of successful leaders.”
  12. That’s Why I’m Here by Chris Spielman.  This book was a recommendation to me by Kim’s Aunt Carolyn.  I appreciate the message in this book.  It is a reminder that while we all pursue a career and have personal goals and such, we cannot forgot that our time, money and accomplishments are not meant for our own consumption but for the benefit of others – starting with our family.  In his book, Chris walks you through his football career, the dating and marriage to his wife, Stefanie, his family experiences and their struggles and challenges – all of which most of us can relate.  I recommend this book as a means to help anyone focus on family, relationships and the higher calling we all have in the work we do every day.
  13. Notes to a Software Team Leader by Roy Osherove.  Roy’s book is a to-the-point piece of work that every person managing or leading a software development team or organization needs to read.  Don’t let the “team leader” label fool you.  If you feel you are above that position because of your title then you definitely need to read this book.  Roy lays out the concepts that plague every software development team from communication to over commitment to continuous improvement.  The book is extremely practical.  I can’t emphasis how much of a must read it is.  I also found this video presentation Roy posted about 5 years ago –  It is long (over an hour) and like the book, worth it.  You can also get more of Roy’s concepts on his website –

I have been asked what is next on my reading list.  Given that my new position at First Command Financial Services is purely an enterprise data strategy and implementation role, I am making my way through a couple of data and analytic books first.

First day at First Command

Here is a list of current reads and next up on my list:

  1. The Chief Data Officer Handbook for Data Governance by Sunil Soares
  2. Growing Business Intelligence by Larry Burns
  3. Paid to Think: A Leader’s Toolkit for Redefining Your Future by David Goldsmith
  4. Surprised by Joy:  The Shape of My Early Life by C. S. Lewis

One of our best family friends always says, “Readers are Leaders.”  I agree and think everyone should supplement their life experiences with a healthy habit of reading.  Don’t worry about the amount or speed at which you read.  Just read.

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