Holiday reading list: 7 CEOs name their favorite books this year

That busy executives can find time for leisure reading is commendable in itself. Indeed, many make it a priority, as professionals at all levels — including those in the C-suite — can still learn a thing or two from a good book.

Six hospital and health system CEOs told Becker's Hospital Review some of their favorite books this year. Our own CEO, Jessica Cole, revealed her favorite read, too.

Rod Hochman, MD, president and CEO of Providence Health & Services (Renton, Wash.): The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown.

"This is a quintessential American success story, but there is lots of analogy between rowing and how you manage business and work," said Dr. Hochman. "I require my senior team to read it. It's a great metaphor for the work we do."

Dr. Hochman also named The Road to Character by David Brooks. "This is a tremendous book for leaders," he said. "There are great examples in it. It talks about how each person has two personalities. One personality is your résumé or CV, and the other is what people say about you at your funeral. You really want people to think about what they would say at your funeral, not about your resume. It speaks to your character versus what you did."

Mike Schatzlein, MD, senior vice president of Ascension Health (St. Louis) and president and CEO of St. Vincent's HealthCare (Jacksonville, Fla.): American Caesar by William Manchester.

"This is the biography of Douglas MacArthur, who I think is one of the most fascinating men in history," said Dr. Schatzlein. "When you read biographies, you learn what to do and what not to do. This is a good book for that because this man had an outsized ego that ultimately did him in."

Chris Van Gorder, president and CEO of Scripps Health (San Diego): Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, MD.

"I've liked almost all of his books, especially since he was our keynote speaker at our Scripps Quality Summit a few years ago," said Mr. Van Gorder. "We have an aging population — we are all mortal — and we have to do a better job with end-of-life care. Scripps has a strong and expanding Home Health, Hospice and Palliative Care program that I'm very proud of, and Being Mortal hit home for me."

Mr. Van Gorder also named The Heart of Power: Health and Politics in the Oval Office by David Blumenthal and James Monroe. "I think some young people think that politics in healthcare is a recent phenomenon, but it's not," he said. "The Heart of Power is a great book about the history of healthcare in the White House from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to George Bush."

Nancy Howell Agee, president and CEO of Carillion Clinic (Roanoke, Va.): Two books that are by Ms. Agee's "reading chair" now are A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and The Railway Journey by Wolfgang Schivelbusch.

"I can almost recite the words," Ms. Agee said of A Christmas Carol, which she rereads every year as part of a Christmas tradition, "but it remains such an inspiring and satisfying read."

Ms. Agee said The Railway Journey is "a fascinating perspective of the 19th century dawn of technology and our collective culture." She pointed out, "Imagine how distance, time, autonomy, speed and economic development were altered by railway travel. The similarities to digital travel are eerily similar!"

Teri Fontenot, president and CEO of Woman's Hospital (Baton Rouge, La.): Like Dr. Hochman, Ms. Fontenot also named Boys on the Boat as one of her favorite reads this year.

"I learned about the book when a few health system CEOs were discussing it during a break at a meeting last summer," she said. "I knew nothing about rowing (and had not considered learning!), so it is not a book I would have selected, however, their enthusiasm about it was enough for me to download it. It is an incredible story about family struggles, poverty, teamwork, discipline and commitment."

Ms. Fontenot said another favorite is Oh, the Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss. "The book was a gift from friend and colleague Diane Appleyard and is full of wisdom and inspiration," she said. "The messages are applicable in both our professional and personal lives, and simplify leadership in a unique and succinct manner."

Stephen Mansfield, PhD, president and CEO of Methodist Health System (Dallas): Dr. Mansfield listed several books he has recently read, including The Raven: A Biography of Sam Houston by Marquis James, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne, Texas: The Land of Beginning Again by Julien Hyer, David Crockett: The Lion of the West by Michael Wallis and The Santa Claus Bank Robbery by A.C. Greene.

"As a native Tennessean transplanted in Texas almost 10 years ago, with the help of a physician friend of mine I got hooked on Texas history, reading biographies of Tennesseans who, like me, relocated to Texas — albeit several generations ahead of me," said Dr. Mansfield. "To me Texas — love it or not — has been, and continues to be, a bit of an American enigma and I am fascinated by the people and circumstances that came together over the centuries to make it what it is."

Dr. Mansfield said he is most interested in historical accounts of Texas from the earliest recorded history to modern time — anything that lends insight into the state's "lore and unique aura," he said.

"I read a lot and usually have a half-dozen books going at a time but for 2015, I think the biographies of Texas and famous Texans stand out most in my mind," said Dr. Mansfield.

Jessica Cole, president and CEO of Becker's Healthcare (Chicago): The One Thing by Gary Keller.

"It's a simple and quick read, but within that simplicity is absolute brilliance," said Ms. Cole. "Keller believes in laser-beam focus, utter dedication to your 'one thing' and driving to break through barriers to get to your one big purpose. Some might call it obsession, but it really gives basic rules about how to be focused and successful. Completely applicable to personal and professional life; whether its drive to complete a marathon or hit key benchmarks and goals at your workplace." 

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