November 1, 2012

Yet More Leadership Books You Should Read

“I cannot live without books.”
– Thomas Jefferson

More outstanding leadership books that have influenced me.

“Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson

A whopper of a book at 656 pages, “Steve Jobs” is packed full of learning on technology, entrepreneurship, management, leadership and zen philosophy.

Author Walter Isaacson conducted hundreds of interviews with Jobs as well as past and present colleagues, family members and friends.  What emerges is a rich portrait of an incredible man’s journey from orphan to business titan.  Jobs created or revolutionized no fewer than seven industries, in the process creating the world’s most valuable company.

A few of my big takeaways:

  • Demand high performance.  Jobs was famous for pushing his people to achieve things they thought impossible.  It wasn’t always pleasant to work for Jobs, but people often recall their time with Jobs as the best and most productive years of their career.
  • Wear your passion on your sleeve.  People followed Jobs because he was so passionate about great products.  Jobs would often ask “Is it great?”  Passionate leaders inspire hard work and loyalty.
  • Focus focus focus.  Jobs was incredibly good at clearing clutter to focus on the one or two things that really mattered.  When he returned to Apple in 1997 he was appalled at the confusing variety of products.  He saved Apple by killing all but four product models, focusing the team to make those four models “insanely great.”
  • Tell stories.  Jobs was famous for his new product presentations.  Jobs knew that people don’t care about product specs — people care about how the product can benefit their lifestyle.  Remember “1,000 songs in your pocket” for the first iPod?

“Steve Jobs” is an absolutely amazing book.  It reads like an epic novel.

“It’s Your Ship” by Michael Abrashoff

Abrashoff was Captain of the USS Benfold, a guided missile destroyer.  When he took command he found a sullen crew, little trust between officers and enlisted men and some of the poorest ship ratings in the US Navy.

His book details the leadership techniques he used to turn the Benfold into the decorated “Best Damn Ship in the Navy” in less than two years.   What makes Abrashoff’s book so powerful is its colorful stories.  Abrashoff writes simply and clearly about leadership ideas he applied and their effect on the crew and the ship’s performance.  Abrashoff doesn’t tell you what good leadership is, he shows you.

There are so many great takeaways in this book.  Here are a few:

  • Get to know your people.  Abrashoff met individually with each of the over 300 crew members on his ship.  Not only did he learn names, but he learned the personal backgrounds and details.  Walking the ship, he was able to address each crewman by name.  His crew loved it.
  • Recognize good performance.  Abrashoff wrote to crewmen’s parents when they did an especially good job.  It had the effect of making the crewman feel important and proud, resulting in even better performance.  Smart.
  • Celebrate success.  When the crew achieved an especially important goal Abrashoff made sure to celebrate with a party.  Everyone likes to celebrate and be recognized when they’ve earned it.
  • It’s the leader’s fault when someone screws up.  A leader’s job is giving clear goals and responsibilities, enough time and enough training to get a job done.  When someone fails at their job a leader must ask himself “Which of these areas did I fail in?”  Failures are almost always because the leader didn’t do his job properly.
  • Ask for suggestions from your people, then listen.  Abrashoff knew that the crewmen were experts in their jobs, not the officers.  He made a practice of asking crewmen for ideas on how to do things faster and better.  Then he recognized crewmen publicly over the ship’s public address system.  In this way he got everyone thinking about improving performance.
  • Promote people into their next job Abrashoff took calculated chances to promote crew and officers into their next roles, even if they didn’t have experience.  His crew learned quickly that Abrashoff was a captain who would give them chances to learn and grow.

Outstanding book.  Highly recommended reading for you and your team.