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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Grobman

These 5 Books Expanded My Mind in 2018

culture code, daniel coyle, mindset, carol dweck, psychopath test, jon ronson, leadership presence, Belle Linda Halpern, Kathy Lubar, Brotopia, Emily Chang

When I was little, I was a huge bookworm. Every week, my grandma would to take me to our neighborhood's library and by the time I reached the 4th grade, the librarian was complaining that she was running out of 6th grade books to lend me. In my twenties, life became too busy and complicated and I could barely find any time to read anymore. In my thirties, I started my own business and finally got the flexibility and mindspace to resume my old reading habits. Later, when I began teaching, reading extensively became paramount as I looked to understand deeper concepts and build my knowledge in behavioral psychology, organizational culture and sociology. This year I read 25 books (yes, I counted). Here are the 5 non-fiction books I enjoyed reading the most: 1) The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle Coyle is an extremely talented storyteller (I previously wrote about his fantastic book, The Talent Code) and he shares stories about the DNA of the most effective teams ranging from the Navy SEALs, a Comedy troupe, a movie studio and others. Leaders create these cultures with a specific set of skills (which the book explains in detail):

  1. Building Safety - using signals of connection to generate bonds of belonging and identity

  2. Sharing vulnerability - habits of mutual risk drive trusting cooperation

  3. Establishing purpose - creating narratives around shared goals and values

I shared this book with several leaders who were trying to define the cultures of their growing start-ups and they absolutely loved it! 2) Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck Mindset is a great book for entrepreneurs, educators, parents, and basically anyone dealing with uncertain and challenging environments. Dweck identifies two sets of mindsets that drive people's behavior: Fixed Mindset is the belief that talent is determined at birth. Some people are just smarter / more talented than others. Failure is taken personally as an indication that one is not destined for a particular path ("I'm just not good in math", "I'm not a good leader") and therefore should desist trying. Growth Mindset is the belief that we can develop skills with more effort, determination and trying alternative approaches. Failure should be tackled as a temporary state to learn from. If you are entrepreneur, you would especially appreciate the discussion about growth mindset. My biggest takeaways from Mindset were:

  • Praising people (or kids) for their talent (versus for taking initiative, seeing through a difficult task, learning something new) can encourage fixed mindset and make them more complacent

  • Teachers and managers' beliefs in one's potential can become self-fulfilling prophecies (positive or negative)

  • Groupthink happens (also) when a fixed-mindset leader punishes dissent. Controlling and abusive bosses put everyone into fixed mindset

  • You can help people reach new highs and get unstuck by stimulating growth mindset (teaching them how to tackle learning and failures)

3) The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson I have always been fascinated by deviant behaviors and tried to make sense of them. British journalist, Jon Ronson, goes on a global investigation about the characteristics of psychopaths. He interviews criminals in jail, the former dictator of Haiti, a corporate executive specialized in firing people and Scientologists, among rest. Ronson explores the thin line between sanity, insanity and eccentricity. My biggest takeaway from this fascinating book was that psychopaths are extremely skilled at studying human behavior and they can be very charming while completely lacking empathy for other human beings. They can, therefore, be very tricky to identify when you first meet them. 4) Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate, and Inspire by Kathy Lubar and Belle Linda Halpern The authors are both former actresses turned executive coaches and trainers. The book shares an important insight: what makes a great actor/ess is not the ability to pretend that he or she is someone else but rather the ability to relate to the character they are portraying, find part of it in their own story, and then project these similarities from within. Lubar and Halpern explain that gaining self-awareness and learning to tell one's story can help executives connect with and inspire their employees. They tell many interesting stories of executives using acting techniques to project credibility and composure in critical moments such as negotiations, managing conflict, leading corporate restructuring or transformations. This is one of the books I recommend to my Executive Presence Lab participants. 5) Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys' Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang Brotopia is a fascinating account of the evolution of the boy's club culture in silicon valley. Chang demystifies the "pipeline problem" and shares how the industry from its early stages made women feel unwelcome. One striking example is how in the 1960s a vocational study conducted by two male psychologists with a group consisting of only 10% female participants, determined that the individuals most suited to become programmers were those who liked solving analytical puzzles (ok) but also "didn't like people and activities involving close personal interactions, generally were more interested in things than in people." This "Programmer Scale" became the go-to personality test for two-thirds of companies well into the 1980s! Chang tells the stories of the "work hard, party hard" (but really) culture propagated by mostly-male start-up founders and venture capitalists who form a tight and exclusive group that transects within itself and continues to reinforce dysfunctional social norms. She reminds us about the major risks for our society not having female voices shaping the future of technology and offers solutions.

Leadership and Women Newsletter

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