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My Favorite Books for 2021

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Over the past several years, I’ve written a blog post listing my favorite books of the year. When we do our is-anybody-actually-reading-any-of-this-stuff marketing review at the end of the year, the “books” blog post is always one of the most popular. 

Here is last year’s post. 2019 is here. And finally, 2018 is here.

First, a short commercial for the value of reading. If you are a leader, I hope you regularly engage with content and ideas that are not your own. In today’s world, that can be physical books, electronic books, audiobooks, podcasts, blog posts, or even our very own weekly, The Huddle. Leaders who aren’t learning new things, over time, lose some of their potency as a leader. The message becomes stale and bland. We read to clarify our thinking. We read to put ourselves, vicariously, in the shoes of others—what would we do if given similar circumstances?

Before we get to my list, I want to encourage you to compile your list. I’d love it if you’d share your list with me. More importantly, share with your team. Our job as leaders is to grow and develop our people. Encouraging them to be lifelong learners—and you being the example—is a great leadership tactic. You may have heard of Bill Gates. He is a regular these-are-my-favorite-books guy. If you aren’t a reader right now, vow to put out your list next year.

Below are the seven books that I liked the best from my 2021 reading, in no particular order.

Patriots: The Men Who Started the America Revolution

Patriots The Men Who Started the America Revolution

If reading about history isn’t your thing, I challenge you to give this book a shot. By itself, the American Revolution is a gripping story. Some folks in Boston who are angry because the Mother Country is taxing their tea, their rum, and their newspapers start to get the attention of other colonists. They declare war on the most powerful Army and Navy in the world. The patriots have commanders who “learn their army” by reading books. They have a dysfunctional Congress. They don’t trust each other. Yet somehow, through defeat after defeat, they hang in there long enough to turn this little family dispute into a world war. The author does a fantastic job of telling this story. It’s a page-turner.

The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West

The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West

The book focuses on the settlement of the Ohio territory, which leads to the development of the Northwest Territory. We get a glimpse of what it was like as Americans went west. The Ohio River was the highway that led from Pittsburgh to the Mississippi, and a lot was going on. These settlers faced everything from floods to fires to bears to crooks. Yet, the evidence of the towns, governments, and way of life are still present today.

Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life

Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life

Whether you love or hate him, Jordan Peterson has a unique way of distilling complex ideas into simple concepts. I like the “rules” layout. If I can remember the rule, I can recognize its concept. It helps me keep it top of mind. The one I found myself thinking about the most after I read the book was Rule VII, “Work as Hard as You Possibly Can On at Least One Thing and See What Happens.” I also liked his take on gratefulness in the face of suffering. There is a lot to learn in this book.

The 9 Types of Leadership: Mastering the Art of People in the 21st Century Workplace

The 9 Types of Leadership: Mastering the Art of People in the 21st Century Workplace

I’ve always been interested in assessments and tools that help us understand ourselves. I was certified by Gallup on their Strengths Finders assessment in a former life. I’ve studied and used DISC since my earliest days in the business world. I use other assessments in my business to help me (and clients) better understand job candidates and team members. I was introduced to the Enneagram a few years ago, and I’m a fan. It’s the best tool I’ve found, not just to understand my type, but to help build a path for being better. There is no science behind it. The origin story is bizarre. Yet, I have found it to be as helpful as any tool of its kind. This book uses the Enneagram as the context for leading others. It’s a good read.

The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life

The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life

A short read, this book gave me several great takeaways. Written by an orchestra conductor and a psychotherapist, the book offers some creative thought exercises about living a better life. Two that I liked were: Practice giving other people A’s. We tend to grade others on our “always correct” standards but approach them from a place of encouragement. That idea was a gut punch for me. The other big concept for me was that life is a story. It’s one big narrative. And my happiness and contentment depend on what story I tell myself. I’m not a big Self-Help book reader, and this one is certainly in that camp. But there were several thought-provoking ideas that made this a valuable investment of time.

Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park

Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park

More of a travelogue, this was a book I had trouble putting down. So, here’s the story: an aspiring television news contributor—after his fiancé cancels their wedding—decides on a lark that he will visit every national park in one calendar year. That feels like something many of us would put on a bucket list—and he did it. The fact that he is a native West Virginian, like me, made it all the better. It’s a great read with some poignant takeaways about life and what it means to live it well.

60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Richmond, Virginia

60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Richmond, Virginia

I said that these are in no particular order. But if I were ranking this list from one to seven, this would be number 1. Weirdly, this little guidebook has had more impact on me than any book in the past several years. Allow me to explain. For my birthday in June, my daughter gave me this as a gift. I’m sure it was, “Hey, mom and dad have been doing a little bit of hiking. He might like this.” I did. I flipped through it, looked at some places I’d been…and then it hit me. I should hike each one of these hikes! I mean…I love challenges, and I love lists! Just cross ‘em off. That’s what I’ve done. As I write this, I’m precisely halfway finished. This book has allowed my wife and me to reconnect with the outdoors. Hiking has become one of my favorite things to do…and it’s primarily due to receiving this book as a gift.

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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.