Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Everyday Life (Gretchen Rubin)


“Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life.  We repeat about 40 percent of our behaviour almost daily, so our habits shape our existence, and our future.  If we change our habits, we change our lives.”

Gretchen Rubin has become known for not only her own search for happiness but for helping others in their search for happiness.  The Happiness Project and Happiness at Home have become bestsellers and she is now promoting her new book, Better than Before.  I was privileged to meet Gretchen at an event hosted by Canadian Living earlier this month.  Her enthusiasm is contagious and I had looked forward to reading this new self-help book.

It is easy to relate to the challenges in forming habits.  Many of us struggle to sustain New Year’s resolution, lose that final baby weight and exercise routinely but Gretchen addresses this issue by helping the reader get to know themselves and offering helpful suggestions.  For me, it is like the Hawthorne effect – just thinking about habits and shining a light on some of my goals makes me focus and work towards success.

The book starts with chapters on self-knowlege – understanding your motivation and personality is key to working on your habits.  This is followed by the pillars of habits including monitoring, foundation, scheduling and accountability.  Each chapter is filled with personal examples or stories about her family or acquaintances.  She reviews the best time to begin including a chapters on first steps, a clean slate and the lightning bolt and then looks at both excuses and ways to sustain your habits.  These include abstaining (all or nothing – it always amazes me when colleagues can leave a bowl of chocolates on their desks without eating them all), convenience, inconvenience, safeguards, loophole spotting, distraction, reward, treats and pairing one positive task with something that might not be something you want to do.

Many of the ideas are common sense but it is great to have them all in one concise book as a reference to inspire action in changing habits.  One of my new habits is to listen to podcasts or books.  You will see that I have listened to two Terry Fallis books during my drives and I have also listened to Gretchen’s Happier podcast which she records along with her sister, Elizabeth Craft.  If you are looking to make changes, this will give you some simple ideas and provide motivation and inspiration.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

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An Evening with Margaret Trudeau


Tonight I enjoyed attending an event, featuring Margaret Trudeau, with my friend Kim.  I had seen Trudeau speak at a work event 8 or 9 years ago and had appreciated her open conversation about her bipolar disease.  Wordsworth Books (Waterloo) hosted the evening and she spoke about her new book The Time of Your Life.

She shared how it was shocking to turn 65 years old and that her age had crept up suddenly while she felt like a “perpetual teenager” full of optimism, enthusiasm and always ready for an adventure.  She spoke of her past history, having a secret wedding when she married Pierre Trudeau at the young age of 22 years old.  At the time, she felt like she was living in a fairy tale, was not thinking of what would come next  and was ill prepared for the public life being married to the prime minister.

The loss of her beloved mother, “the one person who really got me” and her friend’s diagnosis with early onset alzheimer’s disease woke her up and helped her realize that it was time to live her life.  She highlighted the importance of relationships – the fun she has with her grandchildren when they come to visit (she buys pyjamas in all their sizes at costco) and how her girlfriends have helped her get through life with laughter and wine.

Although she divorced two husbands, Trudeau suggested that it is important to fight for your marriage.  Pierre was mentioned numerous times as he had been a mentor and had a large impact on her life despite feeling trapped and having to get away from it.  She got giggles from the crowd saying “husbands need wives, wives don’t necessarily need husbands” while she shared her own value of freedom and not having to look after others in  her third act.

Trudeau told the crowded church how women used to ‘gradually disappear’ as they reached retirement age, without a network, after the single focus of raising their families.  Women need to fight this by having a purpose, by finding things to do and people to meet and by learning new things.  She commented that “you never know what is going to cross your path unless you get out there” and gently encouraged women to be involved politically as senior women is one of the largest demographics that could make a difference.

The importance of staying health, getting a good night’s sleep, eating well, maintaining healthy weight and giving up sugar was discussed.  Sugar was equated to a similar experience with bipolar disease, giving a person a small high and then later a crash as the energy wears off.  Trudeau indicated that giving up sugar was one of the hardest things she had ever done.  Keeping healthy leads to a healthy third act and she certainly looked healthy and strong!  Depression was declared her her enemy and the importance of maintaining a spark, chasing away the dark thoughts and thinking of life in a positive way was encouraged.

“Change the negative  to positive, change bitterness and anger into love and hope”

When asked about whether she had any regrets, she shared that no on is perfect and that “everything you go through in life builds  you“.  She told the audience that apologizing, learning from mistakes, holding your head high and forgiving yourself is important.

Margaret Trudeau was an inspiring speaker.  She was open and shared her past and present life with an audience of mainly senior women.  She was comfortable on stage and during the signing was very generous with her time and comments.  She paused for the picture about despite the discouragement by the organizers and took a moment to discuss the importance of health and living independently as long as possible with me.  I look forward to reading both The Time of Your Life and her previous book, Changing my Mind and wish that I could have talked with her longer.

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The Happiness Advantage (Shawn Achor)


“Studies show that simply believing we an bring about positive change in our lives increases motivation and job performance, that success, in essence, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy”.

Shawn Achor, Harvard professor, shares that success does not lead to happiness but that happiness leads to success.   He uses many examples from both his personal and professional life which make his suggestions attainable to readers.  Achor outlines his seven principles leading to the happiness advantage which are described below:

  1. The Happiness Advantage – He shares how our brains “capitalize on positivity and improve our productivity and performance” and how the “broadening effect” (which relates to happiness triggering dopamine and serotonin in the brain) makes us feel good, helps us organize, retain and retrieve, think quickly and creatively and be innovative and creative.     He posits that happiness is a “powerful antidote to stress and anxiety, which in turn improves our focus and ability to function”.  Stressing the positive, hearing encouraging words, smiling and thinking about your best strengths can provide a boost of positive emotions and improve performance and function. The author suggests the following happiness boosters:
    • Meditation – We all need to take more time for ourselves and he suggests taking just 5 minutes a day to meditate, focusing on your breathing can increase happiness and lower stress.
    • Finding Something Positive to Look Forward to – We all remember the excitement of waiting for our birthday or a special event as a child. Achor talks about how anticipation can create happiness almost as much as the event itself. Start thinking about that event, vacation or time with friends!
    • Committing Conscious Acts of Kindness – Random Acts of Kindness have been in the news with good reason. It can change a person’s mindset and improve their day when someone does something kind like pay for the coffee for the car behind you.
    • Infusing Positivity into Your Surroundings – spend time outside, just sitting in the sunshine or going for a quick walk can improve your mindset.
    • Exercise – something many of us should make more time for!
    • Spend Money (not on stuff) – He suggests spending money on activities, which can bring more pleasure than material items. This reinforces my decision to give my kids the experience of camp for birthday and Christmas gifts. Not only do they have something positive to look forward to but they have a wonderful experience, meet other kids and can benefit from the experience long after the two weeks are over.
    • Exercise a Signature Strength – everyone is good at something! Try the following survey: to find your signature strengths – not surprisingly one of mine is a love of learning, which I can take advantage of by reading a great book and writing this blog.
    • The best leaders use the Happiness Advantage to motivate teams and create positive environments.
  1. The Fulcrum and the Lever – This chapter deals with mindset, how we experience the world is dependent on mindset – he states “while we can’t change reality through sheer force of will alone, we can use our brain to change how we process the world, and that in turn changes how we react to it”. For activities you are not looking forward to, he suggests creating a goal such as learning three new things or learning from a speaker to help your brain think more positively about the task. He draws on the work of Carol Dweck in her book Mindset. He shares what a difference leaders can make when they express faith in employees, choose positive words and “prime employees for excellence”.
  2. The Tetris Effect – I laughed when I saw the title of this chapter recalling hours spent paying Tetris and going to bed seeing the shapes float down like the author describes. The game was addictive! This section talks about spotting patterns and possibilities and that individuals who look for negatives miss out on the positive items that can increase happiness and lead to success. It is important to train your brain to scan for opportunities and ideas that can grow our success and key tools are happiness, gratitude and optimism which can help attain goals, face difficulties and cope in stressful situations. “Expecting positive outcomes actually makes them more likely to arise”. At dinnertime, our family talks about the 3 best things that happened in our days. This not only helps keep focus on what is positive but it gives everyone a chance to share with each other.
  3. Falling Up – Everyone is going to fail at times, but it is how we deal with this challenge, whether we can find the “mental path that not only leads us up out of failure or suffering, but teaches us to be happier and more successful because of it”. It is about resilience and recognizing that there is a path up, away from the setback, which can lead to growth, opportunity and powerful lessons by capitalizing on strengths, reevaluating goals and turning challenges into an opportunities.
  4. The Zorro Circle – This chapter uses the example of Zorro by teaching the reader to gain control by focusing on small, manageable goals before expanding to larger challenges. He speaks about the internal locus of control, which is a belief that individuals have a direct effect on their success, looking for what could be done better, improving and believing in ourselves rather than thinking that others have all the control. He talks about writing a list of challenges and identifying what you have control over and what you don’t which you need to let go of and focus on what you can change.
  5. The 20-second Rule – This section discusses willpower and ways to create a path of least resistance to replace bad habits with positive choices since we are drawn to things that are “easy, convenient, an habitual”.   He describes how email and distraction creates loss of concentration and procrastination in the workplace and suggests. He suggests making your bad habits harder (having healthy snacks ready for example or, as the author did, sleeping in his gym clothes so he had no excuses not to work out).
  6. Social Investment – The author discusses how important social capital is to dealing with stress and how relationships matter more than anything else to thrive, bounce back from setbacks and be successful.   He notes that the “people who actively invest in their relationships are the hear and should of a thriving organization” and talks about the importance of making team members feel cared for.  He suggests eye contact, asking interested questions, face-to-face conversations that are not always work focused, sharing upbeat news and learning new facts about colleagues each day.

After describing the seven principles he talks about the ripple effect. As individuals, we have the greatest power to change ourselves and once we share a positive mindset, the happiness ripples out impacting the lives of others. He talks about happiness as a contagion, infecting others and improving lives of those around us. The simple act of smiling is contagious much like yawning.  This book is inspiring and gives the reader easy suggestions to make small changes that make a difference.

“Small successes can add up to major achievements”

TedTalk by Shawn Achor

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Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (Atul Gawande)


“There is no escaping the tragedy of life, which is that we are all aging from the day we are born.”

Although this is not a typical leadership book, it is essential for health professionals and individuals to read this book to facilitate conversations and consideration of what is important in relation to illness, aging, death and dying.

This book, written by physician Atul Gawande, is a very interesting perspective on aging, quality of life, death and dying.  It is divided into 8 chapters, each worth of discussion by both health professionals and individuals.  As a registered nurse with over 20 years of health care experience, I think that this is a book that everyone should read.  The text will start conversations, spark consideration and hopefully, help individuals and their family to make decisions about quality of life with support (as needed) from health professionals.  Having worked with seniors, in long-term care homes, the community, primary care and in palliative care areas, this book resonates with me both personally and professionally as we all consider quality of life issues.

Ch 1:  The Independent Self

Gawande introduces that surviving to old age has improved with advances in nutrition, sanitation and medical care.  He uses real family and patient examples to describe the value on independence, while the Western world may be quick to consider nursing home care once and individual requires assistance with activities of daily living and may have safety concerns.  This is contrasted with the care provided to his own grandfather, from India, who was revered and cared for by who valued his role as patriarch.  He described how is grandfather remained active, continued walking and died by falling off a bus at the age of 110 years of age.  he lived “as he wished and with his family around him right to the end.”  Not everyone can care for family with home and the decision to consider alternate care arrangements are difficult for families and their loved ones who value their independence and autonomy.  In my own experience, it is very difficult to allow competent people to make decisions to live at risk when we value the safety of our loved ones balanced with them living the life that they strive for.

Ch 2:  Things Fall Apart

As medical care improved, health of individuals also improved as “medicine has pushed the fall moment of many diseases further outward” and more individuals live to old age.  It was interesting to read that “by the age of sixty, people in an industrialized country like the United States have lost, on average, a third of their teeth” and I wonder if this is more typical in the United States than in Canada.  Gawande speaks strongly about the importance of the practice of geriatric care which is said to be lacking in Ontario also.

Ch 3:  Dependence

With aging, life can be fragile and transitions can be difficult.  There is a great range of services available dependent on care requirements but the loss of freedom can equal a huge sense of loss.  The author spoke of the historical implication of poor houses which were described as grim places akin to incarcerations.  My own grandmother remembers the local poor house which was located on the same location as a very popular long-term care home.  Even at age 92, she remembers this stigma.  Seniors have a right to choose and Gawande repeated the story of the senior who refused to leave his house near Mount Saint Helens in 1980.  I remember, as a teenager, reading this story in a National Geographic and learning how he ended up buried under lava but lived out the end of his life on his own terms, in his own home.  It sometimes becomes easy for families focus on the safety of care homes which based on medical models rather than promoting independence.

“Hospitals couldn’t solve the debilities of chronic illness and advancing age, and they began to fill up with people who had nowhere to go.  The hospitals lobbied for help , and in 1954 lawmakers provided funding to enable them to build special custodial units for patients needing an extended period of recovery.  That was at the beginning of the modern nursing home.”

Ch 4:  Assistance

As a mother of 4, i found it quite interesting that the author shared that the chance of avoiding nursing home care relates to the number of children you have and that having a daughter is crucial to the help that will be received.  I remember seeing residents with no visitors compared with those with big, supportive families who visited frequently during my shifts at my first nursing job in a long-term care home.  Perhaps this is part of the reason for my larger family!  Historically, families have had a stronger role in care but this has changed in a generation of dual income families who are responsible for sandwich generations.  Gawande described a family who experienced their father moving in when he required more assistance.  The daughter ended up feeling very overwhelmed as she balanced her dad, her family, her job and maintaining a household.  This example led to a discussion on Assisted Living which was originally meant to eliminate nursing homes and promote freedom and autonomy to residents.  This type of living was meant to give individuals freedom to make choices including control over their own schedule.  Assisted Living buildings started expanding yet the autonomy started to be eroded into continuum of care models with safety and potential lawsuits curtailing independence and autonomy.

Ch 5:  A Better Life

Quality of life is seen as key.  An example was provided of a home with an innovative physician who proposed and successfully added a large number of pets including dogs, cats and birds which engaged residents, created excitement and made the residents happy.  Decreasing institutionalization and residents live in household environments was reported to create significant  satisfaction of residents.

“All we ask is to be allowed to remain the writers of our own story.  That story is ever changing.”

Ch 6:  Letting Go

This chapter discusses palliative and end of life care along with the difficult decisions made regarding oncology, when to treat and when to provide comfort measures.  He spoke about the number individuals dying in intensive care units being given heroic measures to prolong their lives losing the importance of a quality of life.  He shares the importance of hospice care in striving to ensure that individuals live the fullest lives they can, at the moment and provides vivid examples of fierce battles to treat metastatic cancer causing harm to individuals without necessarily prolonging their lives.  The importance of advanced care planning is essential and helps make decisions during a period of calm that will guide decisions when complications arise.  These discussions can be challenging for health professionals and families alike but are essential conversations for future planning.

“people who had substantive discussions with their doctor about their end-of-life preferences were far more likely to die at peace and in control of their situation and to spare their family anguish.”

Ch 7:  Hard Conversations

The author shares that institutional care is being rejected, more people are dying at home and looking for quality of life solutions.  He discusses his own father’s cancer diagnosis and the struggle that the family had in making decisions regarding treatment decisions. He talked about how physicians tend to practice in models of either a paternal relationship, telling patients what is best for them; an informative relationship sharing the facts and figures; and more rarely, an interpretive relationship where the doctor helps patients determine what they want and share in the decision making.

Ch 8:  Courage

It is clear that Individuals need courage when dealing with their circumstances and making difficult decisions – taking treatments that offer the best quality of life and avoiding those that do more harm.  Individuals want “to end their stories on their own terms.  This role is, observers argue, among life’s most important, for both the dying and those left behind”.

This book had terrific, heart wrenching examples of individuals and families dealing with challenging palliative decisions.  The author used very personal examples (including his own father) throughout the book.  He shared how difficult it was for his own family to make decisions even though his father, his mother and himslef were all physicians and well versed in health care.  It is a difficult reality but all of us have a finite time on earth and need to consider our advanced care plans.  Reading this book is a good start to opening the dialogue with family and friends in a time where assisted suicide has been frequently debated in the media.

“Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set by genes and cells and flesh and bone.”

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Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Carol W. Dweck)

UnknownThis Growth vs. fixed mindset video was posted on my daughter’s class website and inspired me to read the book Mindset, describing the difference between these ways of thinking when learning and dealing with the challenges of daily life.  I found it interesting that this author quoted one of my favourite leadership books, Good to Great,  and drew parallels between her work and the success of leaders who had growth mindsets.  The growth mindset focuses on stretching, challenging and working hard to improve and learn new things.  This includes learning through failures.  As I describe the book, i have chosen to focus on the growth mindset from the perspective of appreciative inquiry, focusing on the strengths to “create not just new worlds but better worlds” (David Cooperrider).

This book described the movie Ground Hog Day (incidentally, this was my first date movie when I met my husband) and how Bill Murray’s character had fixed mindset of judging others and an attitude of superiority.  Until he changed his attitude and started caring about others he kept waking up to repeat the same day over and over again.  Deck also described tennis bad boy, John McEnroe and his epic temper tantrums due to his fixed mindset and belief that he was better than others.  In comparison, she used many other positive examples like Magic Johnson and Jack Welch.

The author shared that while talent is helpful, attitude and mindset is more important.  Brain growth is enhanced by challenge and learning.  Fixed mindsets don’t understand the importance of hard work and dealing with set backs while growth mindsets learn and improve through dealing with challenges and consider failures as opportunities.  The benefits of a growth mindset was described in settings of sports, leadership in business, education and in relationships.

“As growth-minded leaders, they start with a belief in human potential and development – both their own and other people’s”

Growth minded leaders don’t point the finger of blame and help others fix problems and grow together.  They also understand the importance of praising effort, practice, study and perseverance.  Hiring a team that focuses on the process and a commitment to learning and improvement is key to a strong, quality team.  Knowing that great learning comes from trial and error, having a tolerance for failure as a way of learning is essential.

“When you learn new things, these tiny connections in the brain actually multiply and get stronger.  The more that you challenge your mind to learn, the more your brain cells grow.”

This book is a great read for leaders, teachers, parents and partners – anyone that is working with others.  It gives concrete examples of both mindsets and helpful suggestions to work towards a growth mindset.  It is an easy read that helps the reader to reflect and grow.

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Failing Forward (John C. Maxwell)


“Failure is simply a price we pay to achieve success”

This easy read, leadership book, details how failing forward, making mistakes and learning from these “failures” leads to success. We all know that everyone makes mistakes but it is important to recognize that it is how these obstacles are dealt with that makes all the difference. This author uses recognizable examples to inspire the reader to embrace the learning from mistakes including Amelia Earhart, Einstein, Mozart and George Bernard Shaw.

Maxwell breaks to book down into 16 chapters, each with a lesson:

The Main Difference Between those that Achieve and those who are Average –This chapter details how people deal with failure and the importance of taking responsibility, learning from mistakes, accepting that failure is part of the process, challenging assumptions, taking risks and perseverance.

Get a New Definition of Failure and Success – Failure is not a life event, but in the big picture an opportunity to learn and work towards success, is the theme of this chapter. Acceptance that mistakes and failure are inevitable and the important facts is to understand that mistakes are lessons, that lessons are repeated until they are learned, that if you don’t learn the easy lessons, they get harder and that you will know that you learned the lesson when your actions change. “Failure is a process.”

If You’ve Failed, Are You a Failure? – It is essential to take responsibility for your actions but not to take failure personally. Failing is a point in time, not a lifelong stigma and the author encourages individuals to “take the You out of Failure”

You’re Too Old to Cry, but it Hurts too Much to Laugh – Some people become paralyzed by failure, some procrastinate and don’t take risks or make excuses but the fact is, getting moving and building momentum is key to success. Roosevelt said “He who makes no mistakes makes no progress”.

Find the Exit of the Failure Freeway – it is essential to take responsibility for your own failure rather than covering up your mistakes – this is growth! Mistakes are “an opportunity to take the right action, learn from your mistakes and begin again.”

No Matter What Happens to you, Failure is an Inside Job– having a positive attitude, expecting the best, remaining upbeat, seeing the solutions, believing in yourself and holding on to hope are essential skills to dealing with challenges and adversity is the key lesson in this chapter.   An important lesson is to stop worrying about things that you can’t control.

Is the Past Holding Your Life Hostage? – Moving forward means acknowledging the challenges, grieving your losses, forgiveness to yourself and others and moving on.

Who is this Person Making These Mistakes?“To change your world, you must first change yourself” and be open to feedback and the fact that you can grow.  This chapter reminds me of the Appreciative Inquiry approach of focussing on strengths.

Get Over Yourself – Everyone Else Has – This chapter discusses the importance of not dwelling on only your own success but focusing on ways to help others and gives the example of the remarkable movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus.  This fantastic movies follows the adult life of Mr. Holland who “settled” for teaching, always thinking about his goals to compose music,  yet realizes on retirement the amazing impact that he had on others.

Grasp the Positive Benefits of Negative Experiences – the journey to success includes developing resilience through adversity, which leads to opportunity, motivation and innovation. There is a benefit to each failure.

Take a Risk – There’s No Other Way to Fail Forward – The author describes the tenacity of Amelia Earhart as she raised money to take flying lessons and struggled to set flying records including crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Individuals that take risks find opportunities, finish their responsibilities, are motivated by impossibility, are enthusiastic, face their inadequacies and figure out why others have failed. They focus on their goals and force change. They don’t worry about being embarrassed if they fail and take risks.

Make Failure your Best Friend – The mindset of learning from failure is essential including analysis of the failure, determining what success can be found within that failure and deciding what can be learned from the experience.

Avoid the Top 10 Reasons People Fail – This chapter deals with reasons that people fail but I prefer to consider the positive reflection of what can help people move forward including excellent people skills, a positive attitude, a good fit, focus, commitment and accepting that change is a “catalyst for growth.”

The Little Difference Between Failure and Success Makes a Big Difference – Maxwell shares stories of R.H. Macy – his stores are well known successes – but what he also shares is the number of failed enterprises prior to developing Macy’s. He also shares the determination of Orval Redenbacher who worked on perfecting his popcorn for many years at the age of 67 years. That perseverance led to success but it was not easy!

It’s What You Do After You Get Back Up that Counts – This chapter discusses finalizing goals, having plans in order, taking risks, welcoming mistakes, advancing based on character, re-evaluating and developing new strategies for success.

Now You’re Ready to Fail Forward – This is a summary of the book and reinforces that, “obstacles are just opportunities” or “stepping-stones for success”.

This is a quick read and reinforces that we all make mistakes and reminds us that these failures can lead to success if we learn from them.  I found the book to be a bit repetitive but did enjoy and reflect on the individual stories that provided examples of failing forward.

“Failures are milestones on the success journey. Each time you plan, risk, fail, reevaluate, and adjust, you have another opportunity to begin again, only better than the last time”

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Great by Choice (Jim Collins & Morten T. Hansen)

Unknown-6This book was written ten years after Good to Great and studied how some companies thrive in the ever-changing environment while others do not. Each chapter employed storytelling with vibrant examples to imprint the learning. This book proves that greatness is a matter of choice and discipline that can be attained through hard work, preparation and diligence.  The chapters included:

  1. Thriving in uncertainty – This chapter begins with the quote “we cannot predict the future.  But we can create it” (p1). The authors share that the successful companies could not predict the future but did observe what was working building on this success in a disciplined manner to thrive.
  2. 10Xers – Using examples of the explorers, Roald Amundsen (who successfully reached the South Pole) and Robert Falcon Scott (who died trying) this chapter describes what needs to be done to reach the success of being 10 times better than comparators. It describes Amundson’s precise training (including apprenticing with Eskimos) so that he could was prepared with contingency plans for every conceivable sitation that could happen on his trek. This example describes the fanatic, unrelenting discipline, consistency of action and focus to reach goals without letting external pressure change the course. Considering empirical evidence helped make good decisions leading to preparation, consistency and vigilance.
  3. 20 Mile March – This chapter discussed the importance of a ‘slow and steady’ approach , never growing too much, too quickly and maintaining consistency in performance over time. This builds confidence, reduces likelihood of catastrophe and helps to exert self-control in an environment that can’t be controlled. As progress is measured, there is time to course correct and make improvements along the way.  It is reminiscent of the children’s fable, The Tortoise and the Hare.
  4. Fire Bullets, Not Cannonballs – While considering innovation, it is important to test ideas in an orderly fashion. Once evaluation takes place, decisions can be made with confidence to fire cannonballs towards success. Bullets need to be low cost, low risk and low distraction. It is important to view “mistakes as expensive tuition; better get something out of it, learn everything you can, apply the learning, and then don’t repeat” (p87).
  5. Leading Above the Deathline – This type of preparation is ensuring that important decisions are made ahead of time, conditions will change and having proactive decisions help survival. This can include cash reserves, hypervigilence, building buffers and preparation. 10X companies tended to let events unfold over time and then react with clarity. The authors talk about zooming out, sensing the change in condition and assessing before zooming in and executing focus in planning and objectives.
  6. SMaC – This is described as a recipe to be Specific, Metholodical, and Consistent including things to do and things NOT to do. It helps keep a company on track and focused, “forcing order amidst chaos” (p131). This adherence to goals creates focus even as the recipe may be evolved at times.
  7. Return on Luck – This chapter examined the impact of luck on success. It determined that it is really the reaction to luck or to bad luck, which makes the impact on success. Experience, diligence and preparation distinguish greatness. Seizing the luck, working hard and driving towards success through the 20 Mile March, firing bullets and building that culture of discipline leads to success. “10Xers use difficulty as a catalyst to deepen purpose, recommit to values, increase discipline, respond with creativity, and heighten productive paranoia. Resilience, not luck, is the signature of greatness” (p169). The essence of luck is to recognize it, know when to let luck disrupt plans, be prepared to withstand bad luck and creating a positive return on luck.

While I did not enjoy this book as much as Good to Great, it does provide some excellent examples of a how to be “great”. The examples of the explorers, the climbers and Bill Gates are inspiring and show how preparation, diligence and hard work make all the difference! This book is terrific for individuals, companies, athletes and anyone interested in “greatness”

Greatness is not primarly a matter of circumstance; greatness is first and foremost a matter of conscious choice and discipline” (p.182)


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Good to Great (Jim Collins)


A trusted leader recommended this as her favorite leadership book. It was an inspiring read describing how some companies make the leap from Good to Great and sustain their greatness. Collins’ team studied a large number of companies that went from good to great and analyzed them with comparator companies that did not make the leap, to discover key concepts that aided companies to become great. This was a terrific book that I will definitely recommend to others.

Collins shares a chapter on each of the following philosophies:

Level 5 Leadership – Collins described these leaders as quiet and unassuming. These were not the flashy, hero type of leaders that often are idolized. Descriptions of fierce, stoic, modest, willful, humble, fearless, gracious and understated were used. These leaders worked towards the greatness of the company rather than worrying about their own success. It was essential to them to ensure that the company would be even more successful with the next generation. These leaders did not speak of their own accomplishments but highlighted the team. While they attributed success to the team, they took responsibility for the challenges.

First Who…Then What – This concept deals with the analogy of getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off and then deciding where to go. When you have the right people, they are self-motivated. The concept included hiring the right people, building them into the best team members and then making sure to keep them!

Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith) – To move from good to great, companies need to face the realities, accept the brutal truth and act on it. Leaders need to ask questions and try to understand, engage in dialogue and debate and conduct autopsies without blame. Working in health care, this is very resonant as we try to improve the patient experience. Maintaining faith that the organization will prevail provides focus.

The Hedgehog Concept – This concept is built on the fact that hedgehogs simplify their complex world, seeing what is most important and ignoring the rest. Companies that became great framed all decsions based on their hedgehog concept which included: What could they become the best at? What drives their economic engine? And what are they deeply passionate about?

A Culture of Discipline – The challenge of discipline is thought to disappear when you have the self-disciplined “right people on the bus” who are disciplined to remain within the confines of the Hedgehog Concept.

Technology Accelerators – Collins shares that it is important to stop and think before making decisions on new technology. Technology can accelerate momentum towards greatness if it fits the Hedgehog Concept and is introduced with disciplined thought.

The Flywheel and the Doom Loop – good to great transformations are a cumulative process or “a whole bunch of interlocking pieces that built upon one and other” which evolve over time.

This is a fantastic read with real examples of companies who have been good and those that have sustained greatness. It gives positive ideas and a new way of thinking that will be helpful for leaders and rather than a strategy, can become the way we do things.

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Best Leadership Books


What is your favourite leadership book?  Which book has had the biggest impact on your leadership skills?  Is there a particular author that you reach for when you need inspiration?  Comment on your favourites!

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The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict (The Arbinger Institute)

51wjFcv0ZOL._SL500_AA300_This leadership fable was recommended by a colleague and is an inspiring book that helps the reader reflect about their own relationship as a leader within their family, their workplace, their community and their world.

The fable describes a weekend session that a group of parents experience when they drop their children at a retreat to help them deal with drug abuse.  The families’ learn about themselves, their relationships and the state of their hearts.  They learn that they need to help things “go right” rather than “simply correct the things that are going wrong”.  By spending time helping things go right and building positive relationships, there is less correction required at home and at the office.

This book is a quick read that causes a reader to reflect and reframe situations.  It is easy to navigate the lessons and consider the pyramid model that is described.

“however bleak things look on the outside, the peace that starts it all, the peace within, is merely a choice away.  A choice changes everything.”

(368 pages)

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