10 Books for Aspiring Young Leaders

There are many things you do not learn in an academic setting, but need to be successful as an adult and a successful leader. These include fundamentals for your professional and personal life. I have been giving a lot of thought lately to my favorite books to transition from school to becoming an adult with a trajectory towards successful leadership.

My top 10 fit into a structure of five developmental domains. These domains are:

  • Self Awareness: Understanding your own purpose, values and mission. Understanding your own personality type and how it differs from others. Being able to notice your needs, emotions and tap into your intuition.

  • Self Development: Taking care of your health is fundamental to all other development. This includes the basics of sleep, exercise, nutrition, mental health, meditation, having a primary care doctor and visiting the dentist regularly. Managing your money and your time effectively are critical as well. At the root of self development is developing a sense of agency over your life, maintaining gratitude, developing resilience and creating positive relationships.

  • Social Awareness: The centers around noticing other's emotions and perspective, and being respectful of all people regardless of differences in beliefs.

  • Relationship Building: To have strong relationships, you need to listen deeply to others and hear their needs, act empathetically and meet your commitments to others. This develops trust between people and allows relationships to flourish.

  • Leadership: Developing the ability to inspire others to journey down the same path as you, to achieve a shared vision.

My top 10:

Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves - The definitive book to develop self awareness, self development, social awareness and relationships.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck - Instills the belief that you can become better at anything with the right attitude and practice. This is a necessary fundamental to believing that you can grow competency in these five domains.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey - These habits cross all five domains. This is a classic best seller for a reason.

How to Be a Star at Work by Robert E. Kelley - Another book that has something to offer in each of these domains. It is not as well known as many of the others on my list, but one of my personal favorites.

Type Talk: The 16 Personality Types That Determine How We Live, Love, And Work by Otto Kroeger and Janet Thuesen - Personality models help you with self awareness and develop social awareness of others. This book is based on one of the most accepted personality type models, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

Freedom from Your Inner Critic by Jay Earley and Bonnie Weiss - Learning to notice your inner voice and how it drives your emotions is a key self development learning. Once you have awareness you can shift your inner critic into an inner cheerleader.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen - A classic book about how to manage your time, tasks and projects to be effective and organized, freeing your mind to focus on creative thinking.

The Wealthy Barber - Everyone’s Common Sense Guide To Becoming Financially Independent by Dave Chilton - This is a great concise book about building personal wealth.

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg - Becoming aware of and learning to meet the needs of both yourself and others is a fundamental strength necessary for social awareness and building meaningful relatioinships.

Dare to Lead by Brene Brown - There are so many great books on leadership that it was hard to choose just one. This made my list because of its comprehensive list of leadership tenants and meaningful examples from Brene’s own life.

Please add your wisdom by commenting on this post with your favorites!

Come Dance with Me

I was at a party with a DJ a few weeks ago and I got out on the dance floor and had fun dancing. I was not concerned about doing it wrong, looking silly or looking uncoordinated. This may seem normal to you, but for me this was a huge breakthrough, although I had been building up to it for months without realizing it.

While at my coaching certification program workshops we danced to a few songs after lunch each day. This was a small group of about 20 people who were all going through the certification program together. I had never danced in public before and it felt very uncomfortable. But I basically had to participate so I did it with a high level of discomfort. I would secretly watch other people that I thought looked good and try to copy them. That actually worked reasonably well and it got a little easier with time.

Each student in my program also had to take up certain practices during the year. I was given the practice of dancing for five minutes each day, by myself, to soulful songs like Aretha Franklin’s Respect. I did this dancing practice most days for about 3 months. At our final coaching workshop, I felt much more comfortable dancing, but did not think too much about it.

But that buildup of practice with the small group and my daily five minutes made all the difference in the world at the recent party. I was able to let go of my story I have told myself for years that I am a bad dancer and just move with the music and have fun. It was liberating. There is clearly a lesson in here somewhere, but I am just enjoying that I can now have fun dancing.

Please Call Me Linda

In different countries and even in different regions around the US, the norms for how to address another person vary. In the tech culture of Silicon Valley where I spent my adult working life, addressing people by their first names without a title is the norm. When you are interacting with me within my cultural “zone” I want to be called Linda. When I’m in a different country or cultural zone of the US, I will adapt to those norms as gracefully as I can.

I feel strongly about the addressing other adults (regardless of age) on a first name basis because I feel it sends a message of equality. This can be particularly powerful in the workplace. By using first names regardless of position, it sets a tone that every person is a valuable contributor to the company and every person has creative ideas that are worth hearing. I was lucky enough to work at Hewlett-Packard for most of my career, one of the ground-breaking tech companies that instituted a first name culture when the company was founded in 1939. At the time, it was a huge break from a traditional US company. I felt I had a voice at HP as a young engineer. And I felt comfortable using my voice to offer an idea or two directly to my division manager, even in the early days of my career.

Other people may feel strongly that addressing someone by their first name is not showing respect. So if I have asked you not to call Ms. Tobia, how can you show your respect? There are many powerful ways to demonstrate respect to another human being, particularly through meaningful actions. Some respectful actions to consider:

  • Be on time to meetings. This is respectful of the other person’s time and subtly indicates their level of importance and value.

  • Listen deeply when in a conversation, without interrupting or spending your energy thinking about your response rather than listening.

  • Do what you say you will do consistently.

  • Acknowledge another person’s opinions and ideas, even if you do not agree.

  • Acknowledge another person’s feelings as valid, even if you do not understand the feelings.

  • Words of appreciation, even a simple please or thank you.

So I invite you to respectfully call me Linda and I hope you will invite me to call you by your first name as well. I will do my best to show you respect through my actions and value you as an equal.

Advice Giving is Not Coaching

I recently slipped into one of my most ingrained bad habits, advice giving. Worse, it was unsolicited advice giving. The victim of my advice thought I was trying to coach him. Thankfully he was willing to take the risk of being honest with me and sharing that he did not appreciate my “coaching”. I was able to hear what he said, apologize and we moved on with the conversation. But I have continued to think about that conversation, hence this blog was born.

Coaching is never giving advice. It is a shared conversation where two people explore possibilities together. The coach’s job is to notice where a client might be setting up blocks for himself, such as a limiting belief that he is not good enough at something. The coach may paint a picture of a possible future that the client has not yet seen for himself, opening a new door for the client. Sometimes the coach’s job is to just be fully present with her client and acknowledging his pain or difficulty. But in coaching, the client carries all the power. He makes all the decisions. He chooses his actions. He chooses his path but has invited the coach along to explore possibilities with him.

Unsolicited advice giving takes the power away from the recipient. But even more insidious, it is a form a judgment. By giving advice, the advisor is implying that the recipient is currently not doing the right thing. She has the answers to “fix” the recipient’s problem. With her smartness and life experiences, she is going to help the person by telling him what to do. And he should be grateful to receive her amazing and sage advice.

It is easy for me to fall into this trap of believing I am being helpful when I give advice, when in fact I am acting in a way that disempowers and judges the other person. As a coach, I am continually fighting my advice giving habit. I have a goal to fully empower my clients through a thoughtful partnership. I will continue to strive towards this goal and one key step is to ditch the advice giving.

Separating Work and Personal Time

Today’s technology allows us extensive flexibility to work anywhere at any time. This can be really beneficial because it allows you to make personal choices about when your work. You can make the choice to coach your child’s afterschool soccer team, then finish up your work later in the evening. It can feel comforting to know that if there is a real work-related emergency you can be quickly available to handle it.

 But it is easy to get caught in the trap of being too available to work too much of the time. In the last 15 years we rapidly moved from clear separation between work and home into this world of constant connection to everything. At work, we can use our phones for personal use. At home, we can use our phones to continue to work well into the night. Is this healthy? Have we lost our ability to focus on one thing at a time and do it well?

 It is worth taking a few minutes to ask yourself what drives you to stay connected to work in the off-hours. Do you feel pressured by your peers and manager to respond to every email quickly? Do you feel that you will be passed up for the plum assignments and promotions? Or is your drive to stay connected more internal? Maybe your ego is fed by constantly responding to emails quickly. Maybe you take pride in being the first one to respond to a query at 10pm from your boss. If you opted out of playing the game of 24x7 availability via your phone, would something bad happen? I made the decision to not read emails on my phone, ever, and I don’t think it negatively affected my performance. In fact, I enjoyed many benefits and I feel that my performance improved! One of the most obvious benefits was that I was fully present with whatever I was doing. If I was watching TV with my family, I was actually watching it with them, not half watching and taking care of emails at the same time.  When watching my son’s soccer game, I was fully present with the game. I never missed his goal kick or great defensive move because I was “on my phone”.

 I do still work from home on my laptop, but when I open my laptop to work, everyone in the family knows that I am working and not pretending to engage with them when I’m really not there.

 Another benefit is that I sleep better. If I do have evening work to complete, I do it as soon as possible after dinner, then turn off my laptop and turn off my work thoughts. I consciously shift out of work mode through some simple evening rituals; writing in my journal, stretching, and reading.

 By separating work and personal time, I have more creative flow when I am working. My energy level is high and I have much better focus on the job at hand. With enough sleep and high creative energy, I feel that I keep with my peers despite not being connected to my email all the time. 

 I invite you to separate your work time and your personal time for a week and then evaluate the outcome for yourself. You might surprise yourself.


Leading Change in the Workplace: Balancing Time

Time is one of your most valuable assets. If you are a leader in your workplace, you can influence the culture around time management. As a leader you influence through your actions and your words whether you intend to or not.

 If you are emailing your employees late into the night or on the weekend, you are sending a message that you expect others to be available to receive and respond to emails in the “off-hours”. If you want to promote better work/life balance among your employees, you need to demonstrate that it is important to you. You can do this in many ways.

  • Limit your off-hour emails. If you personally want to work during these times, you can schedule your outgoing emails to not be sent until the next workday morning.

  • Set clear expectations with your team about when you expect them to respond to an email vs. a phone call or a text.

  • Demonstrate your value around family, by taking time occasionally during the workday to volunteer at your child’s school, or go to see her sporting event.

  • Demonstrate your value around good health by taking the time to exercise and take short walking breaks during the workday.

  • Lead the effort to create a meditation and prayer room in your office.

  • Schedule your workday to take best advantage of your peak productive hours and encourage others to do the same. For example, if you know that your best time for focused work is between 2pm and 4pm, block that off in your calendar. Schedule meetings in the morning instead.

Living in Balance: Where do I spend my time?

Time is one of your most valuable assets. Are you spending it in a way that is consistent with your values?

As I start the New Year, I typically reflect on the past year and what I want to do differently in the coming year. One practice I have is to evaluate if I am spending my time in the areas I value the most. I want to ensure that I spend my time and energy in areas that serve my purpose and values.

My methodology is simple. First, I attempt to define my purpose and values. This is an iterative process and one that I come back to every couple of years.

Defining my purpose: This is difficult to do and evolves over time. Questions I ask myself are:

  • What contribution do I want to make?

  • Am I making a meaningful difference for others?

  • What legacy do I want to leave?

  • How do I feel fulfilled and at peace?

  • What am I passionate about?

  • What does my best self look like?

Defining my values: I have a couple of online tools I like to use to figure out my top 5-10 values. I use these tools and then write down my top values.

  • https://www.think2perform.com/our-approach/values

  • http://thegoodproject.org/toolkits-curricula/the-goodwork-toolkit/value-sort-activity/

The next step in my process is to write down where I spent my time during the previous week. It helps if I am as specific as possible. Some domains I use to map my time are:


  • Sleep

  • Nutrition

  • Exercise

  • Calming the Mind


  • Recreation

  • Art/Music

  • Self-development

  • Learning

  • Time in Nature

  • Spiritual development


  • Close family

  • Extended family

  • Friends

  • Community


  • In the office

  • On my phone

  • In home office


  • Volunteering

  • Donations

  • Helping an individual

Extras (most likely time wasters)

  • TV

  • Social media

  • Others

Once I have completed the exercises above (purpose, values, time analysis), then I have what I need to look at my time choices in a cohesive way. Did I spend enough time on the foundational elements and in renewal? Was my time spent in a way that was consistent with my values? Am I comfortable with my choices?

After I identify areas I want to change, then I have to create a game plan to actually institute the changes.

There are many resources available to help with goal setting and creating lasting change. The basic tenets that I follow are:

  • Start with the foundational elements. If I don’t have a strong foundation in place, then I won’t have the energy to do anything else at my best.

  • Focus on one change at a time.

  • Define a SMART goal: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

  • Make the commitment to yourself to make the change

  • Create habits and rituals to support the change.

    • Schedule time in your calendar.

    • Link the new habit to one you already do consistently. For example, when I wanted to start brushing my dog’s teeth consistently, I committed to doing it right after I brushed my own teeth in the evening.

    • Use your phone as a tool (Alarms, Reminders, Habit tracker)

In 2018, one of my goals was to spend consistent time with my mother. I made the goal SMART by committing to have dinner with my mother every Wednesday evening. I scheduled it in my calendar and it became a ritual that we both enjoy.

For 2019, my first change is to develop myself musically. My commitment is to listen to music every day, practice singing and playing the piano. I am using the app Habit List to track my progress. I am already enjoying the positive feeling of marking each item as completed each day in Habit List and seeing my streak grow.

What is the first change you will make to bring your time into alignment with your purpose and values?

Reframing Adventure

I am noticing that I am using the word “adventure” to describe my current state in life. It thrills me to realize that I am in an adventure right now, as I have a belief that my life has been lacking enough adventure.

My default definition of adventure is an epic outdoor experience, like hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or riding your bicycle across America. Another option is a lengthy travel experience like touring southeast Asian with just your backpack.

But I am in an adventure of a different kind. I have given notice at my safe corporate job and am launching my own coaching business. When I originally started to pursue my coaching certification, I was planning to just coach a few people at a time and continue at my current job. So this is a big departure from “The Plan”. I am experiencing all the essential qualities of adventure; risk-taking, facing the unknown, experiencing something new, and feeling excitement. It feels great to be excited and scared at the same time.