Leaders Are Readers: Book Recommendations for Your Leadership Team

by Phil Gore, PhD, Division Director at Texas Association of School Boards

Books on Leadership

The multi-state Lighthouse Research Project showed a clear link between school boards learning as a team and improved student learning in school districts. School boards in districts showing improvements had regular learning sessions with each other, with administrators, and with outside facilitators. In the Lighthouse Study, boards in “stuck” districts with stagnate or declining student learning failed to meet regularly to learn together as a team. The team mentality drives districts to succeed more often than not.

While the study focused on school boards, its findings can also be applied to the boards and leadership teams of any organization.

A board and the organization’s leader, whether it’s a superintendent, executive director of an association, or CEO of a corporation, can learn together in multiple ways.

  • Focusing on data by reviewing it, asking good questions about it, and comparing it to other data over time is one essential way that all boards and leadership teams can learn together. In school settings, the relevant data are usually student achievement data. In other types of organizations, finding and studying other success metrics can be an important learning opportunity, too.
  • Attending conferences or having facilitated workshops are additional great methods for learning together. Investing in professional development pays off as better prepared, more informed leaders are more effective in achieving results.
  • Book studies on governance, leadership, and school or organization improvement are excellent resources for the governance team to focus on together to sharpen its skills.

After all, leaders are learners. Leaders and learners are also readers.

Reading books about leadership together as a governance team serves as a gateway toward improved organization success. It helps create dialog and form a clearer, more unified understanding and approach in how the members of the leadership team could work individually and cooperatively towards the vision of the organization.

Any organization leader, which includes board members and executives, could benefit from the nuggets of wisdom found in the following books:

The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Success

In The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Success, the authors promote personal awareness and accountability for success. Our commitments reflect our values and determine our actions. Personal commitments are important for leaders. More important, the collective commitments of your board of trustees determine the performance and success of your organization.

The first of the 15 Commitments is “I commit to taking full responsibility for the circumstances of my life, and my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing.” This means we quit blaming (or crediting) others for our situation.

A leader can’t reasonably claim, “I procrastinate because my father was a procrastinator.” Nor can we claim that we have an attention problem because our parents didn’t feed us enough spinach. The world needs leaders that boldly proclaim, “The buck stops here!”

Another of the Commitments is “I commit to seeing that the opposite of my story is as true or truer than my original story.” A requirement of great leadership is to explore all sides of an issue. Intelligent people sometimes change their minds. Belligerent people rarely do. The people we lead need us to explore possibilities and remain curious about the potential for what could be.

Radical Candor

Another commitment mentioned in the book is candor: “I commit to saying what is true for me. I commit to being a person to whom others can express themselves with candor.” In her book, Radical Candor, Kim Scott insists that candor is not something to be scheduled for a specific place and time. Instead, it is an in-the-moment expression of authenticity.

She does not promote being rude, mean, or abusive. Rather, she promotes caring about those around us enough to be honest with them and ourselves in the moment. Candor reduces drama and confusion and provides clarity. Radical candor among the board and the organization’s leaders is essential for exceptional governance.

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t

Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, also touts caring for people as a key focus for leaders. He says, “When a leader embraces their responsibility to care for people instead of caring for numbers, then people will follow, solve problems and see to it that that leader's vision comes to life the right way, a stable way and not the expedient way.”

His book shows that an organization’s culture is the reflection of its leadership. Leaders set the tone and direction for the company as their decisions flow from the executive board to management, which in turn cascades down to those in the organization on a daily basis shaping the culture, and ultimately affects the success of the organization, whether it’s a school, nonprofit association, or corporation.

Without a doubt, there are myriad books that can help guide your board toward your collective goals—find ones that resonate best for your team because board members, trustees, and leaders committed to improving outcomes must discipline themselves to make a lifestyle of learning their priority.

For more information and articles on leadership and school board governance, visit the Leadership Team Services Resources on the TASB web page.