Bossypants by Tina Fey and Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.
Leaders to learn from who couldn’t be more different:
Tina Fey’s biography is full of laughs going back to early childhood humiliations, learning improv, breaking into Saturday Night Live, and finally to 30 Rock creator and executive. Amongst the laughs are insights on leadership and motherhood. Use your energy on your work and ignore people who want to distract you. Don’t believe people who try to pit you against other women (“cat fight!”)—you have to compete against everyone. Don’t forget to check out her definition of a “crazy” woman—it uses language I can’t repeat in a family friendly publication!
Steve Jobs falls into the category of great man as enormous jerk. Extraordinary mind—check. Creative genius—check. Don’t build the best product the customer wants, build something no one knows is even possible and they will want it. Control everything! Believe your intuition even where others have greater expertise (e.g. iTunes and the music industry). Ego, yes, but the iPhone would never have happened without that self-confidence. Jobs proved it is possible to make people reach higher than they ever thought possible by sheer force of will but, the book shows the human cost.
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan, and In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson.
Two very different books offer unique perspectives on a historical moment:
Edugyan’s prize winning novel’s protagonists are jazz musicians living and performing in Germany at the dawn of WWII. Largely freer in Germany than in the racially segregated United States at the beginning of the story, the layers of fear, oppression, and ultimately death for some and escape for others build against a not quite love story that pits ambition alongside self-preservation and rewards us ultimately with a surprising ending that is painful in its ambivalence.
Larson’s book depicts statecraft through one family’s experience. It chronicles William Dodd, new US ambassador to Germany, and his 24-year-old daughter Martha for their four years in Berlin as Hitler rose to power. Outsiders both in Berlin and in the diplomatic corps, neither understood the impact of what they were witnessing. Entranced by the social whirl of Berlin, Martha romanticized Nazi officers. Dodd underestimated his impotence even once he belatedly realized the gravity of the circumstances. Too alienated from corridors of power to be influential, Dodd is ultimately a tragic figure.
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and Willpower by Roy F. Baumeister.
Harnessing the insights of neuroscience to understand yourself and influence your organization:
These books use neuroscience to look at why some of us seem so much better at pushing through adversity and building habits that create success. For example, Duhigg examines the training of Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps and the habit of winning that was drummed into him by the reinforcement of cue, routine and reward. Research shows academic success is more dependent on “grit,” the ability to consistently work through obstacles, than IQ. Willpower isn’t an innate quality, you aren’t born being able to eat just one chocolate chip cookie! You can build, store, deplete and strengthen willpower. By creating good habits and building willpower, you can develop new personal strengths and organizational capacities. Harness the neuroscience to create an Olympic medalist, the safest factory or the most profitable business.
Julia Hanigsberg is currently the Vice President of Administration and Finance at Ryerson University. She sits on a number of committees and boards and holds a B.C.L. and LL.B from McGill’s Faculty of Law. She also acted as interim dean for the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education from 2008-2009. You can follow Julia’s blog at vpag.blog.ryerson.ca.