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Books I Read in 2020

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For the past couple of years, I’ve done an end-of-the-year blog post on the books I’ve read and the lessons I’ve picked up from reading them. Last year’s list is here and 2018’s top reads can be found here.

Before we dive in, a quick message for leaders. Leaders who stop learning will gradually find that their message becomes stale. They begin to lose their influence. Reading and exposure to new people and new ideas tweak our thinking, give us new ideas, and often, put us on a new path.

In 2020, we were hit with an unexpected curveball in mid-March. All plans were no longer valid. Playbooks were irrelevant. The old way quickly became antiquated. Personally, some of the insights I gained from reading (and having a close circle of accountability partners to help drag me into the new environment) allowed our company to thrive, even in the midst of the chaos.

That said, here are 10 books that I enjoyed – and found profitable – in 2020.

Letters from a Stoic, Seneca the Younger

Seneca letters from a stoic

Classic book from one of the giants of the Stoic philosophy. Seneca was a power broker. In Nero’s inner circle, he often lived his life in conflict. Seneca reminds us that life is hard and whining does no good. He tells us that our futures are always uncertain. In January of 2020, that would have been a good thing to be aware of! In this book, through Seneca’s letters to his friend Lucilius, we capture deep, plainspoken wisdom to help guide our thinking through troubled times. This book is one of the all-time greats; one to read and re-read.

Band of Brothers, Stephen Ambrose

Stephen E Ambrose band of brothers

I’d read this book before and re-read it this year. Prompted by watching the mini-series for the first time (I may have been the last person in America to watch it), I wanted to dig through the book again. I’m glad I did. If you haven’t seen the series, find it and watch it. It’s perhaps the best television production I’ve ever watched. This book reminded me that the greatest leaders among us are those that are selfless. It’s not about the chest thumpers, it’s about those that put the mission, the people – their brothers – ahead of self. It’s a beautiful, wonderful story that makes me proud to be an American. I also recently learned from my son-in-law, an Army officer, that Lt. Sobel and Maj. Winters are used as case studies in training young officers.

Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton, Killand & Fretwell

lessons from the Hanoi Hilton

If you don’t know the story of Admiral James Stockdale, do yourself a favor and learn about this great man. Shot down over Vietnam in battle, he parachuted down into enemy territory. His description of his thoughts as his parachute was floating him down are chilling. He knew what it meant for him. He knew the suffering that was to come. There is no great example of courageous leadership – selfless leadership – than Admiral Stockdale. There are some business lessons sprinkled in this book but really, the juice is in the stories. These men were treated like animals much of the time, yet when they came back to the States after the war, they led amazingly productive lives. It’s a great story of mindset and what I’d call “realistic hopefulness.”

Who Not How, Sullivan & Hardy

who not how

This book probably could have been a long-form blog post but the ideas at the heart of the book are strong. When we want to grow our business, our first question is too often to ask How? We work harder, more, longer…add now offerings…get more wallet share from our clients and so on. This book challenged me to think about Who more than How. Who has unique abilities that I can employ or partner with that can help me grow? If you are an owner/operator and aim to create a company, this book is worth a quick read.

Company of One, Paul Jarvis

company of one

I read this book about the time I was reading the “Who Not How” book and between the two, they really tweaked my thinking about my business. The premise of this book is that we are hard-wired as business owner to seek growth for the sake of growth. Bigger is better. $3 million is better than $2 million, right? But the bigger the business, the bigger the monster that needs fed every day. Bigger might not be more profitable. Bigger might be more stressful. Bigger might not be better. Better is better.

Sell with a Story, Paul Smith

sell with a story

The message in this book resonates with me. If you have been in any of my training sessions, it’s rare that we don’t talk about stories in some form or fashion. Using Third-Party stories in your prospecting and selling efforts is a must; otherwise, we come off as preachy, pushy, and no different than any other annoying salesperson. Stories help us connect and engage deeper. This book went deep on the topic and I enjoyed every page of it.

Courage to Lose Sight of Shore, Kelley Powell

courage to lose sight of shore

There is a lot of chatter in the business world about start-ups, venture capitals, angels, etc. If you have never been in that world, it’s easy for it to come off as “blah, blah, blah” Silicon Valley wanna-be buzzwords. This book presents the VC world in language we can all understand. I learned a lot about that part of the business ecosystem that I didn’t know before. On top of that, the author is a Sandler client, and even includes a quote from me on page 156!

The Man on the Mountaintop, Susan Trott

the man on the mountaintop

An Audible-only book, this one was a joy to listen to. I actually listened to it twice. The production and narration are tremendous and the story? Even better. It’s the allegorical tale of pilgrims coming to visit the holy man. It’s a fast-moving tale where we learn that it’s the running of the race and not breasting the tape that make life worth living. Goodness is inside each of us and we must clear away the clouds and the barriers to find it. Not typically my cup of tea, but this one struck a chord with me. I can’t wait to listen to it again on my next long road trip.

The Road Less Stupid, Keith Cunningham

the road less stupid

Keith Cunningham is a no-nonsense business coach who says that to have a successful business, it’s as much about NOT doing stupid things as it is being brilliant. I began to implement a scheduled “Thinking Time” after reading this book. The author poses some great questions to help think about things in a bit of a different way. Good book and one that I continue to go back to as a reference.

Influence, Robert Cialdini

the psychology of persuasion

This book is a classic. I’ve read it multiple times and always learn something new. It’s hard to summarize this book in one pithy paragraph. I’ll just say this – if you are in sales or marketing, this must be on your bookshelf. You and I think we have control over our choices, emotions, and will. The truth is, and Cialdini gives many examples, we are very predictable. Similar triggers will produce similar responses. This book will help you understand yourself and others in ways you probably haven’t thought of before.

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Robin Green

Robin Green

Robin Green is the President and Owner of Ascend Performance, Inc., a certified and award-winning Sandler Training Center in Richmond, VA. He specializes in helping companies of all sizes to develop the Attitudes, Behaviors, and Techniques that will help them reach new levels. Robin is a keynote speaker and podcast host. You can reach him at robin.green@sandler.com. We help companies and motivated individuals with sales, management and customer service training.