After a long day at the office, the last thing most of us want to do is sit and read a book. But reading in the evening, especially before bed, can actually help you de-stress, get more sleep, and even improve your overall cognition. In addition to all of these benefits, the right book can help you learn things about yourself and improve your habits.
As Vice President for Leadership and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service, Tom Fox spends much of his time reading books with insights on innovation and leadership in the workplace. In an interview with Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program, Fox discussed nine books that can help govvies improve their own leadership skills as well as their agency’s work environment.
#1: The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
What it’s About: The author of this historical account of the famous aviators delves deeper into the Wright family history. Using family letters and other first-hand materials, McCullough unearths the Wright brothers’ innovative experimental approach to flight.
Why it’s Useful: According to Fox, many of McCullough’s revelations about the Wright Brothers’ experimental approach mirrors the innovators of today. This book gives readers key insights into how they can get their own ideas off the ground by becoming more flexible and innovative.
#2: Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution by Joseph Ellis
What it’s About: This book explores the six years between 1783 and 1789, a time after the American Revolution when the founders were attempting to write the Constitution. “It humanizes these mythic figures that have monuments established to them all throughout the city and country,” Fox said. The author examines the hard work required to form a functioning federal government and how that effort formed our modern democracy.
Why it’s Useful: By documenting this overlooked, uncertain period of time, Ellis provides leadership lessons that are valuable for people in all levels of the government. It demonstrates how every individual should be, “rolling up your sleeves and getting into the dirty work required to make things happen,” Fox said.
#3: Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Ruben
What it’s About: In her book, Ruben takes a research-based approach to determine how people carry on in their daily lives. She finds that, “There is an invisible architecture of our lives,” Fox explained. As much as 40 percent of what we do is based on habit. “We basically are operating on autopilot,” Fox said. The premise of the book is that if we change our habits, we can change our lives through simple, practical steps.
Why it’s Useful: Ruben provides insight into how individuals can be more productive and efficient on a daily basis. Government employees could apply these tips and tricks to improve their agencies and become better leaders.
#4: No One Understands You and What to Do About it by Heidi Grant Halverson
What it’s About: Halverson finds that folks in leadership positions are often disconnected with their employees. Using lessons from her social psychology background, she delves into the ways that leaders can change their communication styles to connect with people more deeply and have a lasting impact as a leader.
Why it’s Useful: With federal employee satisfaction taking a serious dip in the past year, there’s no time like the present for government leaders to connect with their employees. This book can show them how to do it.
#5: Triggers: Creating Behavior that Lasts, Becoming the Person You Want to Be by Marshall Goldsmith
What it’s About: As an experienced professional executive coach, Goldsmith takes insights from the work he’s done over the years to list the best ways leaders can tackle management areas that need improvement.
Why it’s Useful: “Every single one of us has something we do really well and some things that we need to improve upon,” Fox said. This book provides a short list of daily questions for individuals to assess their progress as a leader around their goals.
#6: Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashley Vance
What it’s About: As CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk is figure with a Steve Jobs-like set of mythic qualities around him. Author Ashley Vance gets below the surface, talks about “the good, the bad and the ugly” of Musk’s leadership style, effectively humanizing the most difficult leadership characteristics.
Why it’s Useful: Vance uses Musk as a holistic example of both the leadership characteristics people may want to adopt, as well as the ones that they want to avoid. She reminds us that successful leaders are not successful at all times and helps us learn from their failures.
#7: The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain by John Kounios and Mark Beeman
What it’s About: The authors explore the neuroscience behind creativity and innovation, making creativity a little more accessible for everyday people. They accurately depict how leadership and innovation are almost always a team effort, and how hard it is to get there.
Why it’s Useful: This book provides readers insights into how they can create an environment of creativity and consistently replicate it to spark innovation in their workplace.
What it’s About: As Chief Human Capital Officer for Google, author Lazlo Bock discusses how his organization navigates the delicate balance between flexibility and structure to foster creativity among employees.
Why it’s Useful: “Everybody wants to know Google’s secret to employee engagement,” Fox said. While the government space can’t mimic exactly what Google does, it can derive lessons about good leadership and ways to improve the public sector from this book.
#9: Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing Work World by Brian Robertson
What it’s about: The author details a new-age management system, known as “holacracy,” that turns everyone in an organization into a leader by redistributing authority and decision-making across the organization. This system is intended to increase an organization’s agility and efficacy.
Why it’s Useful: The book gives tips on how leaders can implement “holacracy” in their organization or agency. In the public sector, “You may not be able to do everything that [the private sector] can, but it may provide you with some key insights that can at least make your workplace a more engaging organization for your employees,” Fox said.
Individuals at every level of government can apply lessons from these books to improve their agencies and their own work habits. Next time you feel like reading, pick up one of these and see what you can do to make your agency better.