Summer reading: 10 books to become a better leader

Leadership is not an abstract concept, but a skill that can be sharpened with time and attention. One excellent way for leaders to grow and thrive is by drawing on the wisdom of experienced professionals through the written word.

Mike Harbour is president and founder of Harbour Resources, a leadership consulting, training and talent management firm based in Little Rock, Ark. He has spent over 20 years in the healthcare industry as a leader in hospital operations, leadership development and executive searches.

Mr. Harbour curated a list of books for healthcare leaders that can help educate and engage in the fields of self leadership, culture development and leading others.

1. Developing the Leader Within You 2.0 by John Maxwell

"People don't follow leaders, they follow courage, character and vision. And those traits have to first come within," said Mr. Harbour. "This book helps develop your leadership philosophy and belief systems so you can figure out how you're going to lead, communicate and develop others along the way. This is going to help you lead yourself so you can lead others more effectively."

2. Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results by Judith Glaser

"The No. 1 challenge in every organization is communication with others, and what Judith has done is coin the term CIQ: conversational intelligence. This is really tapping into how people receive messages based on how they are delivered," said Mr. Harbour. "She's helping people connect with someone's heart. People hear with their ears but they listen with their emotions. So when leaders want to move people emotionally, they are really connecting with them."

3. High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Became That Way by Brendon Burchard

"Everything we do is driven by habits. Often we don't think about what we do, we just do it. If we want to affect change, we have to look within and discover our habits and seek clarity," said Mr. Harbour. "This author studied the habits of high performing individuals and found they all shared five habits; seeking clarity, generating energy, raising necessity, increasing productivity and developing influence. Until you change your habits, you cannot remove barriers to your individual or organizational success."

4. Leaders Made Here: Building a Leadership Culture by Mark Miller

"Mark Miller is the vice president of high performance leadership at Chick-fil-A, which is known for company culture. The book is written in parable and he does an excellent job describing how they developed their culture," said Mr. Harbour. "When I go into healthcare organizations, lots of CEOs talk about culture development. This is a great book about the steps Chick-fil-A went through to develop a culture of leadership, where every employee has ownership of the company mission and sees themselves as leaders."

5. The Culture Cure: Transforming the Modern Healthcare System by Pamela Tripp

"Pamela took over a community health organization that was literally on the brink of bankruptcy and started putting pillars in place that were somewhat different than what we usually see in healthcare. She created an internal leadership development program. Her entire leadership team had to go through the training, then go teach the same skills to other employees," said Mr. Harbour. "Where a lot of organizations fail is by holding some leadership classes, but that's as far as training goes. What Pamela did is help create leaders who could develop other leaders downstream and create a ripple effect throughout the organization, which raises all boats."

6. Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller

"Donald Miller is a branding and marketing guy who's helped organizations develop their brand message, and in this book he's really talking about why we do what we do and how we share that story with others. Here's the key: You're not the hero. Hospitals and leaders aren't the heroes, others are the heroes. So how, when we're talking about our story, how can we make the customer the hero?" said Mr. Harbour. "The more often leaders can share those hero stories with others, the more buy-in you can generate from employees and customers and the more positive word of mouth you get."

7. Micro-Resilience by Bonnie St. John

"This is a self leadership book. We in the U.S. are overwhelmed by burnout, and Bonnie St. John is talking about how to reset yourself and refocus your brain when you're burned out," said Mr. Harbour. "She outlines how to reset your primitive alarms and create new habits, how to reframe your attitude, refresh your body and renew your spirit. So this is a book about resilience, but she's really talking about the small things we can do after a long day, week or month to get centered again and not lose ourselves in the stress."

8. Making Vision Stick by Andy Stanley

"Healthcare leaders often cast a vision in big important meetings but then they don't make it sticky. In this book, Andy lays out five things leaders should do: state their vision simply, cast the vision convincingly, repeat the vision regularly, celebrate systematically when you accomplish something of significance because what gets celebrated gets repeated, and then embrace the vision personally," said Mr. Harbour. "We as leaders have to be completely bought in and talk about it regularly. People don't follow titles, they follow courage and character. When we are bought into it personally, others will embrace the vision. Healthcare organizations are great about putting vision statements on the wall and never doing anything about it, so leaders really have to take the charge of the vision."

9. When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink

"This is about unearthing the hidden science of timing. What Dan Pink means by timing is understanding when we should pull the trigger, push the button, take action. When should we speak the words and hold someone accountable or let them find their own way?" said Mr. Harbour. "For instance, organizations that got into the habit of buying up hospitals, health systems and physician practices thought they had to get bigger to stay competitive, but creating a better culture internally may have been more effective. This book is about how can we build organizations that take the invisible thing of timing into account."

10. American Icon: Alan Mullaly and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company by Bryce G. Hoffman

"This book is about transformational leadership. It's the story of Alan Mullaly, the CEO Ford hired to come in and save the company in 2006 before the recession. They brought him in because he understood how to transform an organization on the brink of bankruptcy, put a solid leadership philosophy in place, hold people accountable and drive them forward," said Mr. Harbour. "It's an important read for healthcare leaders. Healthcare is in such as state of flux right now that it's going to take transformational leaders like Alan Mulally to really make a turn in any organization. I think it's a capstone book to all the others."

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