A longtime federal IT executive shares his thoughts on recent books that inspire and challenge anyone who seeks to lead in these trying times.
During tough financial times, people tend to take one of two paths. Some rise to the challenge and use looming financial pressure as a “burning platform” to push for radical change and transformation, while others hunker down in a vain attempt to protect the legacy they know and love. In this drive to hang onto the past, they inevitably end up missing an opportunity to reach out and embrace the future.
As Ernest Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics, once said, “We’ve got no money, so we’ve got to think!” With that thought in mind, here are some of the books I’m reading. I hope you’ll find one or two that will help you reflect, think differently, be challenged or inspired — or at least help you beat the sequestration blues this summer.
“Start With Why” by Simon Sinek
We spend too much time describing what we want to do and not enough time explaining why we want to do it. Far too often, we become enamored with the bright, shiny new IT system without understanding why we should be embarking on the effort. Sinek presents a compelling case for why you should focus first on why, followed by how and what. Understanding first and foremost the answers to questions such as “Why do you get out of bed in the morning?” and “Why does something matter?” will change how you manage both your professional and personal lives. If you want a quick sample, check out Sinek’s TED Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” at ted.com/talks.
“How Will You Measure Your Life?” by Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth and Karen Dillon
Christensen has offered tremendous insights in must-read books such as “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” His latest book is a much more personal reflection. Anyone who reads this book will be changed, and it all starts with understanding what really matters, why it matters and whether you are allocating your time to the things that matter most.
“Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
Kahneman is a Nobel Prize winner in economics, and his book describes how we rely on two thinking “systems”: a fast, intuitive, emotional system and a slower, more deliberate and logical system. He then reveals how to avoid cognitive biases by knowing how the two systems shape our judgments and decisions. (If you want to read more about the book and its author, check out Steve Kelman’s column that FCW published in May.)
It strikes me as an important read for those who would champion new technology solutions and approaches. As I have often said, being a successful IT professional in this town demands a fascinating blend of patience and impatience — coupling a bold commitment to moving quickly with the resilience to not be deterred by the inevitable pitfalls along the way.
George Labovitz and Victor Rosansky recently published “Rapid Realignment,” the follow-up to their groundbreaking book of the 1990s, “The Power of Alignment.” Aligning large, disparate groups is still a crucial job skill in today’s environment.
And if you still haven’t read “The Speed of Trust” by Stephen M.R. Covey, then you’re way behind in understanding that continuing to work in low-trust environments results in a heavy tax on both time and money — at a moment when we can least afford it.
Moving a little further afield, in “Founding Brothers,” Joseph J. Ellis has written a compelling tale about incredibly gifted but very human individuals confronting incredible challenges. It’s a book of big issues and big personalities. It wasn’t all “sunshine and light” among the Founding Fathers, but oh, what a set of accomplishments in the end.
And, finally, if all this talk about change seems overwhelming, you could always escape to an epic fantasy saga with a twist. In the books in the “Game of Thrones” series, by George R.R. Martin, good guys die and bad people survive. It will make your current fiscal woes seem pale by comparison.
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