103rd Edition – January 24, 2021
Tammie Jo is more than a hero; she is a role model to young and old, in her community and across the country.Darren Ellisor, First Officer of Southwest Flight 1380 – his description of Captain Tammie Jo Shults
What Were the Best Books You Read in 2020?
I maintain a spreadsheet with a list of all the books I read and listen to annually, I’ve been doing this since 2006. As I was creating my 2021 worksheet, I noticed some trends in my completed list from 2020. If you don’t mind, I’m going to mention some of my favorite books during a year we’ll never forget.
A Book of Inspiration
If I could just meet one person from the books I read in 2020, my pick would be Tammie Jo Shults. She was told repeatedly that she would never be a fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy. But she did.
Years later, she would safely land a crippled Boeing 737 after a freak accident that occurred 20 minutes after takeoff. I’ll never forget the words, aviate, navigate, communicate – the three words that guided Tammie’s mind while she and her crew problem-solved their way to a safe landing. All but one person lived – a miracle.
The name of her book is Nerves of Steel and was by far the most inspirational book I read in 2020.
Books By or About CEOs
My reading journey started after my work at KPMG as a grunt auditor. After reading CEO: Building a $400 Company from the Ground Up by Sandra Kurtzig, I became hooked on books by or about CEOs.
Each year, I get lucky by unearthing a few such books. Before reading about these business leaders, I knew next to nothing about them. Here were the best five either by or about chief executives:
- Bill McDermott is the second person I’d want to meet of the people I read about in 2020. Winner’s Dream is motivating, educational, and moving. Good guys really can come out on top while having a great family life too. Highly recommend.
- The Gambler is a biography of the life of Kirk Kerkorian. I had no intentions of reading or listening to it. Yet, it kept popping up in my Audible list. I gave in and probably walked extra miles each evening because I wanted to know what would happen next.
- Many of you have already read Robert Iger’s, The Ride of a Lifetime. If you like the book, don’t forget his Masterclass – very well done.
- I had no idea what to expect when I started listening to Who Is Michael Ovitz? While obviously debatable, his strategic mindset is on another planet. He’s a borderline genius when it comes to achieving results where many obstacles and conflicts exist.
Sandra Kurtzig was an outlier. So were Jobs, Gates, and Katherine Graham. But what about all the other CEOs who live and struggle in the middle of the bell-shaped curve of CEOs. One of the best CEO books I’ve read in years is Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business by Paul Downs. Honest, open, engaging, touching, and so much more. The book is relatable and teaches us valuable lessons in both surviving and growing a small, private business.
Books That Bent the Mind
Each year, I want that one book that will leave a deep dent in my mind. These are books that cause me to think or act differently. In 2020, that book was Boyd by Robert Coram. Boyd is someone we would have avoided given his bizarre personality, yet he was a mastermind in both air and ground tactical training and fighting. He’s possibly one of the greatest military strategists in history.
Why the adulation for Boyd? While reading the book, I had to pause and reread the sections about his discovery of the Energy Maneuverability Theory (EMT). This is where thermodynamics meets fighter pilots. Boyd had the uncanny ability to take concepts from other fields where he knew nothing and apply them to the areas he knew well. But he kept proving and improving his concepts. Great CEOs and CFOs do this with regularity.
I’m not a history buff, but I try to read a book or two a year about my country’s past. When I pick books like these, I start with the author – in this case, Michael Korda. As an FYI, Korda is the author of Lawrence of Arabia.
I enjoyed IKE: An American Hero. The heart of the book is Ike’s service time in World War II. But I wasn’t done. I wanted to know more about the man as a person. Accordingly, I enjoyed David Eisenhower’s Going Home to Glory which is mainly about his post-presidential years.
I still couldn’t let go. I wanted one more book during this time period. Somehow, I found Upstairs at the White House by J.B. West, the longtime chief usher for four First Families. This 1973 best seller was a surprisingly good read.
A Focus on Business
I find management books dull and uninspiring. Every once in a while, I’ll find a great title and even go back to review my notes. After a podcast interview with Dave Kellogg, I finally picked up Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt. of the hundred or so books I’ve read on strategy, this one is near the very top.
I’m a Christina Wodtke fan, and her book Radical Focus is the best book ever written on OKRs. If Patrick Lencioni were to write a book about OKRs, he would have written The Team That Managed Itself. Christina appreciated that comment during a conversation we had last week. If you are an OKRs coach, know that more than 60 percent of the work is about behavioral change and it starts with the leadership team. This is a book that had to be written.
My goal is to read one novel a month. So far, my track record stinks. But I did read two memorable works of fiction – the kind that made me want to find others who had read the books so I could talk about the main themes and the key characters. A big thumbs up to The Book Thief and The Alice Network. No, this was not pop fiction, but my mind was forced to think and ask questions such as, “What would I have done in their situations?”
Books That Made Me Smile
One of my favorite activities is working on one of our properties where we have about 20 acres. Six to seven hours of weekly mowing is something I look forward to even during the hot and humid Missouri summers.
When I’m on the John Deere, I’m consuming books that are easy listens which require little if any thinking. My two favorites by a mile were Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Trevor’s book was one where I couldn’t stop laughing.
What were your favorite books in 2020?
By the way, thank you for reading and your encouraging and kind comments you’ve been emailing me along the way.
Thank You For Reading. Thank you for making this a successful newsletter.
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Always be learning and growing.