Non-Business Books for Business Leaders, Vol. 2

Non-Business Books for Business Leaders, Vol. 2

A little over a year ago I shared one of my most commented and recirculated articles entitled “Non-Business Books for Business Leaders.”

You see, I’ve noticed that most self-aware business leaders, who also happen to be among the best of business leaders I know, have a few things in common.

First, they have a high degree of self-awareness. They understand their own internal driving motivations, values, and purpose, and they have a keen awareness of how they move through the world and affect those around them as they do.

Second, among the most successful business leaders I know are well-rounded wholehearted people who have interests, curiosities and activities that they immerse themselves into when not at work. These curiosities range from mountain climbing in places like Patagonia and Nepal, motorcycle riding and racing, long-distance sailing, triathlons, surfing, fine woodworkers, fine artists, musicians, poets, and fiction writers. (In case you didn’t know, I’m a fine art painter) These folks are living wholeheartedly and their fascinations outside of work feed their work in immeasurable ways.

Third, many of the more exceptional leaders and innovators are very well-read in fields of study outside their focus at work. The range of books they read often don’t fall into the realm of business books alone. It seems that thirst for a curious life makes for more wholehearted and well-rounded leaders.

Several of the books I’ve read and noted below have been recommended by leaders I’ve had the honor to work alongside. So, with the above in mind, I offer a handful (13 in all) of semi-recent books that I’ve found helpful to my life and my work.

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor

Drawing on thousands of years of medical texts and recent studies in pulmonology, psychology, biochemistry, and human physiology, Breath turns the conventional wisdom of what we thought we knew about our most basic biological function on its head.

The promise of the book is that “you will never breathe the same again,” and it delivers. For me, this was one of the most potent books I’ve read during the pandemic and it helped in ways that manage my stress, sleep, and meditation.

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself, by Michael A. Singer 

In addition to being a widely respected spiritual teacher, Michael Singer is also the creator of a software package that transformed the medical practice management industry which sold to WebMD. By tapping into traditions of meditation and mindfulness, Michael Singer shows how the development of consciousness can enable us all to dwell in the present moment and let go of painful thoughts and memories that keep us from achieving happiness and self-realization.

This book offers a frank and friendly discussion of consciousness and how we can develop it through practical application and exercise. I’ve read and re-read this book multiple times and keep coming back to learn and apply more.

Stillness Is the Key, by Ryan Holiday

I will read and have read nearly everything that Ryan Holiday publishes. This includes his multiple books on the Stoic ways of being, his blog, and his works on marketing. Among them are his books including The Obstacle Is the Way and Ego Is the Enemy, and Stillness Is the Key, where Holiday draws on not just Stoic but also Buddhist philosophy to show why slowing down and pausing for stillness as a regular routine is a secret weapon for those charging ahead.

More than ever, people are overwhelmed and during the pandemic, many of us have more of an opportunity to pause, reflect and contemplate in stillness. Stillness Is the Key offers a simple but potent antidote to ever-vying for our attention news cycles and social media addiction. If you seek a more peaceful everyday life, then stillness holds the key.

The Book of Delights: Essays, by Ross Gay 

I first learned about Ross Gay on one of my favorite podcasts On Being with Krista Tippet. Ross is a poet and essayist who offers up a soul-filled and spirited collection of short lyric essays, written daily over a tumultuous year. The Book of Delights reminds us of the purpose and pleasure of praising and celebrating life’s ordinary wonders. 

The Book of Delights is a meditation on delight (joy, pleasure, beauty) that takes a clear-eyed view of the complexities, in his life, including living in America as a Black man. Ross Gay serves it all up with a direct honesty and artist view.

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, by Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan is another author that I’ll read nearly everything he writes. From The Omnivore’s Dilemma, A Natural History of Four Meals to The Botany of Desire, A Plant’s-Eye View of the World to In Defense of Food, and How To Change Your Mind, Michael writes about the intersection of nature and culture—on our plates, in our farms and gardens, and in our minds.

A unique and elegant blend of science, memoir, travel writing, history, and medicine, How to Change Your Mind is a brave investigation into the medical and scientific revolution taking place around psychedelic drugs, and an insightful story of his own life-changing psychedelic experiences.

The real subject of Pollan’s “mental travelogue” is not just psychedelic drugs but also the eternal puzzle of human consciousness and how, in a world that offers us both suffering and joy, we can do our best to be fully present and find meaning in our lives.

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, by Steven Pinker

Think again if you believe the world is going to hell in a hand-basket. As best-selling author Steven Pinker demonstrates in Enlightenment Now, people are living longer, healthier, freer, and happier lives, and while our problems are formidable, the solutions lie in the Enlightenment ideal of using reason and science. 

Far from being a naïve hope, the Enlightenment, we now know, is working. But more than ever, it needs a vigorous defense. Pinker’s data of some progress for humans is, taken as a whole, is hard to argue with. The picture painted is of great progress in the past couple of centuries, and it is almost perverse to disagree with this. As evidence by the strife-filled states of much of Western culture, we certainly still have a long way to go, but Pinker’s point that we should appreciate what we’ve already accomplished is a clear reminder that all is not lost.

One Blade of Grass: Finding the Old Road of the Heart, a Zen Memoir, by Henry Shukman 

This is the story of how a meditation practice gave Henry Shukman a toolkit for integrating a spiritual awakening into his life and how his depression and anxiety were gradually healed through this practice. One Blade of Grass recounts Shukman’s journey from an academic to live as a wandering poet and writer, until he finally settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he now runs Mountain Cloud Zen Center. If you can see past some of the self-deprecating tones early in the book, you’ll find some real gems of insight within.

Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization, by Scott Barry Kaufman

When psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman first discovered Abraham Maslow’s unfinished theory of transcendence, sprinkled throughout a cache of unpublished journals, lectures, and essays, he felt a deep resonance with his own work and life.

In this book I particularly appreciated how Kaufman builds on the work of Maslow and integrates ideas from recent research on creativity, attachment, love, purpose and the foundations of a wholehearted life.

Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment,by George Leonard

In Mastery, George Leonard draws on Zen philosophy and his expertise in the martial art of Aikido and shows how the process of mastery can help us attain a higher level of excellence and a deeper sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in our daily lives. The book often references the principles of mastery through the lens of martial arts but makes practical transitions to how to apply these principles to your everyday life.

The Mindful Millionaire: Overcome Scarcity, Experience True Prosperity, and Create the Life You Really Want, by Leisa Peterson

In full disclosure, I’m honored to be friends with the author and have recommended this book in the past. Using techniques she’s researched and developed as a financial planner and spiritual coach, Leisa Peterson guides readers to dig deeper and discover the root of your financial thinking. Ultimately this book invites readers to change not just their relationship to money, but the way they live their life. It’s filled with great tools and practices to reset your money story and relationship to money.

Leadership in Turbulent Times, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

The current political environment, for me, brings to question what leadership means now. In Leadership, Goodwin, a historian who I was introduced to through various Ken Burns documentaries, draws upon four of the presidents she has studied most closely. These leaders include Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson.

The book paints vivid and contrasting portraits of how these leaders first recognized leadership qualities within themselves and were recognized by others as leaders. As Goodwin’s book unveils, there is no common pattern that describes the path to leadership or the style of leadership that is right for all. However, it is shown that each of these leaders was guided by a sense of moral purpose that allowed them to navigate some of the greatest challenges our country has seen.

The Big Leap, by Gay Hendricks

OK, I have to admit that this book is mostly a business book or at least it’s a leadership book, but I found the principles within it applies to our lives, too.

I was first introduced to the work of Gay Hendricks by a coach I once worked with. In The Big Leap, author Gay Hendricks outlines what he calls the Upper Limit Problem—a negative emotional reaction that occurs when anything positive enters our lives. I’ve seen this occur in many successful people I know, and I’ve experienced it, too.

The Upper Limit Problem not only prevents happiness, but it actually stops us from achieving our goals. Gay believes, this “problem” is the ultimate life roadblock. In The Big Leap, Hendricks outlines a simple program for overcoming this barrier to happiness and fulfillment.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,by J. D. Vance

There’s a high likelihood that you’ve at least heard of this book as it’s been on bestseller lists since its release in 2016. Written by J.D. Vance, a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, it’s an insightful (and at times, entertaining) account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. For me, this book sheds light on part of our culture in crisis and the declining breed of white working-class America.

I hope these books, or at least some of them, add fuel to your world and insight into your life. And, I’m curious what you’re reading. Are there other books that you’re read and loved? If so, drop me a line—I’m always looking for recommended readings.

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