Category Archives: Leadership

Best Books for Gifts

Unknown-4As we get closer to Christmas, what are your favourite books that you would buy as a gift?  like for a gift? or have waiting on your nightstand for reading over the holidays?

I will start with my choices:

I would gift:  Girl Runner (Carrie Snyder), Where the Air is Sweet (Tasneem Jamal) or Three Day Road (Joseph Boyden) – these were all fantastic books that I read this year and all are Canadian authors.  I have recommended all these choices for Canada Reads.

I would like:  Boston Girl (Anita Diamont), the second book from the author of the Red Tent which was a book club read in November.

I would like to read:   Lost in the Barrens (Farley Mowat), Trust Inc:  52 Weeks of Activities and Inspirations for Building Workplace Trust (because my good friend Dominique O’Rourke is published in this book filled with inspirations from the “world’s leading experts”)


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Filed under Canadian, Fiction, Historical, Leadership

Chris Hadfield – Book Signing: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth


After reading An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth (click for review), I was very excited to join my friend Shalom to meet the retired astronaut and get our books signed.  The book (which I now feel a need to reread) is inspiring!  He shares his boyhood goal of walking on the moon and describes his hard work and persistence that helped him become Commander of the Space Station.

It was a long wait for the book signing as Chris got stuck in traffic related to the mudslide on the 403.  He was the passenger and tweeted his progress.  He even had a live chat with the couple across from us and their children were awestruck that they were speaking to an astronaut.  The individuals in the line up were excited, children were dressed in space suits and people were very patient.  Costco handed out chocolates and water to help with the wait.

Finally, Chris arrived at Costco to hundreds of waiting fans.  He was gracious and not only apologized to the crowd but reassured everyone that he would stay and make sure that everyone had their books signed.  The store closed, the lights dimmed and still books were signed.  Chris shook our hands and apologized to everyone individually for the delays.  It was an honour to meet him and I am very happy to have a signed copy of his book!


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Filed under Canadian, Leadership, Meet the Author, Memoir

58. Mindset (Carol S. Dweck)

UnknownThis Growth vs. fixed mindset video was posted on my daughter’s class website and inspired me to read the book Mindset, describing the difference between these ways of thinking when learning and dealing with the challenges of daily life.  I found it interesting that this author quoted one of my favourite leadership books, Good to Great,  and drew parallels between her work and the success of leaders who had growth mindsets.  The growth mindset focuses on stretching, challenging and working hard to improve and learn new things.  This includes learning through failures.  As I describe the book, i have chosen to focus on the growth mindset from the perspective of appreciative inquiry, focusing on the strengths to “create not just new worlds but better worlds” (David Cooperrider).

This book described the movie Ground Hog Day (incidentally, this was my first date movie when I met my husband) and how Bill Murray’s character had fixed mindset of judging others and an attitude of superiority.  Until he changed his attitude and started caring about others he kept waking up to repeat the same day over and over again.  Deck also described tennis bad boy, John McEnroe and his epic temper tantrums due to his fixed mindset and belief that he was better than others.  In comparison, she used many other positive examples like Magic Johnson and Jack Welch.

The author shared that while talent is helpful, attitude and mindset is more important.  Brain growth is enhanced by challenge and learning.  Fixed mindsets don’t understand the importance of hard work and dealing with set backs while growth mindsets learn and improve through dealing with challenges and consider failures as opportunities.  The benefits of a growth mindset was described in settings of sports, leadership in business, education and in relationships.

“As growth-minded leaders, they start with a belief in human potential and development – both their own and other people’s”

Growth minded leaders don’t point the finger of blame and help others fix problems and grow together.  They also understand the importance of praising effort, practice, study and perseverance.  Hiring a team that focuses on the process and a commitment to learning and improvement is key to a strong, quality team.  Knowing that great learning comes from trial and error, having a tolerance for failure as a way of learning is essential.

“When you learn new things, these tiny connections in the brain actually multiply and get stronger.  The more that you challenge your mind to learn, the more your brain cells grow.”

This book is a great read for leaders, teachers, parents and partners – anyone that is working with others.  It gives concrete examples of both mindsets and helpful suggestions to work towards a growth mindset.  It is an easy read that helps the reader to reflect and grow.


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49. Failing Forward (John C. Maxwell)


“Failure is simply a price we pay to achieve success”

This easy read, leadership book, details how failing forward, making mistakes and learning from these “failures” leads to success. We all know that everyone makes mistakes but it is important to recognize that it is how these obstacles are dealt with that makes all the difference. This author uses recognizable examples to inspire the reader to embrace the learning from mistakes including Amelia Earhart, Einstein, Mozart and George Bernard Shaw.

The book shares the importance of taking responsibility for mistakes, learning from these mistakes and accepting that failure is just part of a process leading to success.  Readers need to understand that failing is not a life event but does provide that opportunity to learn so that past mistakes are not repeated.  It is important to recognize that failure can build momentum and lay the framework for success.

  “Failure is a process.”

Embracing a positive attitude, expecting the best, remaining upbeat in combination with seeking solutions, believing in yourself and  hope are essential skills to dealing with challenges and adversity.  An important lesson is to stop worrying about things that you can’t control. It is also key to not dwell on your own success but to focus on ways to help others (example the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus).  The journey to success includes developing resilience through adversity, which leads to opportunity, motivation and innovation

“To change your world, you must first change yourself”

Maxwell defines qualities for success including excellent people skills, a positive attitude, a good fit, focus, commitment and accepting that change is a “catalyst for growth.” While the book is an easy read, it is quite receptive.  It does have many good examples of well known individuals who have dealt with adversity and become famous success stories.

“Failures are milestones on the success journey. Each time you plan, risk, fail, reevaluate, and adjust, you have another opportunity to begin again, only better than the last time”

For a more in depth synopsis of this book, check out:

(254 e-pages)

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Filed under change management, Leadership

41. Great by Choice (Jim Collins & Morten T. Hansen)

Unknown-6This book was written ten years after Good to Great (#34) and studied how some companies thrive in the ever-changing environment while others do not. Each chapter employed storytelling with vibrant examples to imprint the learning. This book proves that greatness is a matter of choice and discipline that can be attained through hard work, preparation and diligence.  The chapters included:

  1. Thriving in uncertainty – This chapter begins with the quote “we cannot predict the future.  But we can create it” (p1). The authors share that the successful companies could not predict the future but did observe what was working building on this success in a disciplined manner to thrive.
  2. 10Xers – Using examples of the explorers, Roald Amundsen (who successfully reached the South Pole) and Robert Falcon Scott (who died trying) this chapter describes what needs to be done to reach the success of being 10 times better than comparators. It describes Amundson’s precise training (including apprenticing with Eskimos) so that he could was prepared with contingency plans for every conceivable sitation that could happen on his trek. This example describes the fanatic, unrelenting discipline, consistency of action and focus to reach goals without letting external pressure change the course. Considering empirical evidence helped make good decisions leading to preparation, consistency and vigilance.
  3. 20 Mile March – This chapter discussed the importance of a ‘slow and steady’ approach , never growing too much, too quickly and maintaining consistency in performance over time. This builds confidence, reduces likelihood of catastrophe and helps to exert self-control in an environment that can’t be controlled. As progress is measured, there is time to course correct and make improvements along the way.  It is reminiscent of the children’s fable, The Tortoise and the Hare.
  4. Fire Bullets, Not Cannonballs – While considering innovation, it is important to test ideas in an orderly fashion. Once evaluation takes place, decisions can be made with confidence to fire cannonballs towards success. Bullets need to be low cost, low risk and low distraction. It is important to view “mistakes as expensive tuition; better get something out of it, learn everything you can, apply the learning, and then don’t repeat” (p87).
  5. Leading Above the Deathline – This type of preparation is ensuring that important decisions are made ahead of time, conditions will change and having proactive decisions help survival. This can include cash reserves, hypervigilence, building buffers and preparation. 10X companies tended to let events unfold over time and then react with clarity. The authors talk about zooming out, sensing the change in condition and assessing before zooming in and executing focus in planning and objectives.
  6. SMaC – This is described as a recipe to be Specific, Metholodical, and Consistent including things to do and things NOT to do. It helps keep a company on track and focused, “forcing order amidst chaos” (p131). This adherence to goals creates focus even as the recipe may be evolved at times.
  7. Return on Luck – This chapter examined the impact of luck on success. It determined that it is really the reaction to luck or to bad luck, which makes the impact on success. Experience, diligence and preparation distinguish greatness. Seizing the luck, working hard and driving towards success through the 20 Mile March, firing bullets and building that culture of discipline leads to success. “10Xers use difficulty as a catalyst to deepen purpose, recommit to values, increase discipline, respond with creativity, and heighten productive paranoia. Resilience, not luck, is the signature of greatness” (p169). The essence of luck is to recognize it, know when to let luck disrupt plans, be prepared to withstand bad luck and creating a positive return on luck.

While I did not enjoy this book as much as Good to Great, it does provide some excellent examples of a how to be “great”. The examples of the explorers, the climbers and Bill Gates are inspiring and show how preparation, diligence and hard work make all the difference! This book is terrific for individuals, companies, athletes and anyone interested in “greatness”

“Greatness is not primarly a matter of circumstance; greatness is first and foremost a matter of conscious choice and discipline” (p.182)


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34. Good to Great (Jim Collins)


A trusted leader recommended this as her favorite leadership book. It was an inspiring read describing how some companies make the leap from Good to Great and sustain their greatness. Collins’ team studied a large number of companies that went from good to great and analyzed them with comparator companies that did not make the leap, to discover key concepts that aided companies to become great. This was a terrific book that I will definitely recommend to others. 

Collins shares a chapter on each of the following philosophies: 

Level 5 Leadership – Collins described these leaders as quiet and unassuming. These were not the flashy, hero type of leaders that often are idolized. Descriptions of fierce, stoic, modest, willful, humble, fearless, gracious and understated were used. These leaders worked towards the greatness of the company rather than worrying about their own success. It was essential to them to ensure that the company would be even more successful with the next generation. These leaders did not speak of their own accomplishments but highlighted the team. While they attributed success to the team, they took responsibility for the challenges.

First Who…Then What – This concept deals with the analogy of getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off and then deciding where to go. When you have the right people, they are self-motivated. The concept included hiring the right people, building them into the best team members and then making sure to keep them!

Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith) – To move from good to great, companies need to face the realities, accept the brutal truth and act on it. Leaders need to ask questions and try to understand, engage in dialogue and debate and conduct autopsies without blame. Working in health care, this is very resonant as we try to improve the patient experience. Maintaining faith that the organization will prevail provides focus. 

The Hedgehog Concept – This concept is built on the fact that hedgehogs simplify their complex world, seeing what is most important and ignoring the rest. Companies that became great framed all decsions based on their hedgehog concept which included: What could they become the best at? What drives their economic engine? And what are they deeply passionate about? 

A Culture of Discipline – The challenge of discipline is thought to disappear when you have the self-disciplined “right people on the bus” who are disciplined to remain within the confines of the Hedgehog Concept.

Technology Accelerators – Collins shares that it is important to stop and think before making decisions on new technology. Technology can accelerate momentum towards greatness if it fits the Hedgehog Concept and is introduced with disciplined thought.

The Flywheel and the Doom Loop – good to great transformations are a cumulative process or “a whole bunch of interlocking pieces that built upon one and other” which evolve over time.

This is a fantastic read with real examples of companies who have been good and those that have sustained greatness. It gives positive ideas and a new way of thinking that will be helpful for leaders and rather than a strategy, can become the way we do things.

(300 pages)

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24. The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict (The Arbinger Institute)

51wjFcv0ZOL._SL500_AA300_This leadership fable was recommended by a colleague and is an inspiring read that helps the reader reflect about their own relationship as a leader within their family, their workplace, their community and their world.

The fable describes a weekend session that a group of parents experience when they drop their children at a retreat to help them deal with drug abuse.  The families’ learn about themselves, their relationships and the state of their hearts.  They learn that they need to help things “go right” rather than “simply correct the things that are going wrong”.  By spending time helping things go right and building positive relationships, there is less correction required at home and at the office.

This book is a quick read that causes a reader to reflect and reframe situations.  It is easy to navigate the lessons and consider the pyramid model that is described.

“however bleak things look on the outside, the peace that starts it all, the peace within, is merely a choice away.  A choice changes everything.”

(368 pages)

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18. Leaders Eat Last (Simon Sinek)

leaders-eat-lastLeaders Eat Last is a great leadership read that focuses on leaders creating a Circle of Safety to positively influence success by caring for members of the team so that they can work together to provide protection from outside influences. The book starts off with a description of a fighter pilot, acting on a hunch, to protect his troops below, risking his own safety to look out for his team.   This example reinforces the importance of prioritizing the well being of the team – while not all teams would have life and death situations, loyalty is fostered when the team looks out for each other.  Sinek stresses the importance of listening, telling the truth, trust, empathy and treating every member of the team the same regardless of whether they were management or front line staff.

Sinek talks about the Circle of Safety and how leaders can encourage trust and cooperation within the company to build a stronghold against pressures from outside that are beyond the organization’s control.  With a strong Circle of Safety, self-preservation is unnecessary and members trust that the organization will look after them.

The book describes the era of consumerism and disposability.  How it started that organizations started to employ layoffs as tools to increase profitability at the expense of the team.  Sinek tells how political parties would once work together behind the scenes, even socializing to lead to positive results.  He compared this camaraderie to the politics of today when politicians prioritize themselves and their parties.  He described how companies look at situations in terms of numbers, not thinking that each number may represent a person with a family who is impacted by decisions.  As the metrics become the focus, there is less focus on the individual and the team.

“When a leader is able to personally know everyone in the group, the responsibility for their care becomes personal”

Leaders Eat Last is an inspiring read that makes the reader understand how important a team can be in sticking together, caring for each other and standing strong against outside threats.  For those of us living in Ontario, it is interesting to think of the principles that Sinek shares when considering the events leading to the June election.  Are these leaders looking out for the good of Ontarians?  Are they considering gaining our trust, caring for individuals and setting a positive tone?

 “if your action inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”

(422 pages)


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10. An Astronaut’s Guide to the Universe (Chris Hadfield)


“I wasn’t destined to become an astronaut.  I had to turn myself into one.”

 Chris Hadfield’s book:  An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth was inspiring and his leadership lessons are blended into the stories Hadfield shares about following his dream to become an astronaut.  The lessons are skillfully woven into the text and are valuable to all leaders whether you are a parent, a volunteer, a teacher, a health professional or a chief executive officer.  The lessons are applicable in all settings – in your home, at a swimming pool, the hockey arena, in the boardroom and, of course, even in space, a place that most of us will never visit but will admire from Earth.

The value of hard work, dedication and planning are described as essential skills to meeting goals.  He had a dream and worked towards that dream knowing that it may not be a possibility.  He joined the military, became a test pilot, earned a Masters of Business Administration and prepared for being an astronaut while knowing the chances of becoming an astronaut were slim.  He enjoyed himself along the way and valued his accomplishment and the success that he had.

It is hard to imagine applying for a job with over 5000 other applicants.  Through preparation, education and hard work his dream became a reality.  He described himself as “square astronaut, round hole.  It’s the story of my life, really:  trying to figure out how to get where I want to go when just getting out the door seems impossible.”

“There’s really just one thing I can control:  my attitude during the journey, which is what keeps me feeling steady and stable, and what keeps me headed in the right direction”.

A key theme throughout the book was the support of others.  His wife Helene, stood beside him, encouraged him and supported him to be live his dream by picking up the household tasks, caring for their three children and experiencing life in other parts of the world.  He balanced both his dreams and day-to day life and he commented: “while achieving both things may not take a village, it sure does take a team.”

“Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts.  It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter.  It is about laying the groundwork for other’s success, and then standing back and letting them shine”


Filed under Book Club Pick, Canadian, Leadership, Memoir

7. Our Iceberg is Melting (John Kotter)


Our Iceberg is Melting is a fable written by one of my favorite change management experts, John Kotter (author of Leading Change).  This story brings the steps of change management to life through storytelling.  It describes a penguin colony whose iceberg is melting.  It describes the courage of one penguin who needs to convince the other members of the colony that change was needed and to pull together a team to create their vision of the future.  It speaks of the importance of conquering obstacles and communicating change which empowers the group through early successes and short-term wins.  While I prefer reading the model from Leading Change, this is a memorable fable that reinforces Kotter’s change management steps.


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