I know, I know. Your schedule is filled from morning to night, every square on your google calendar colored in with pitches to partners, deep-dive synergizing strategy sessions, and lots of caffeine-fueled coffee meetings. There’s no way you can find the time to sit down and read, right? Think again — it can be one of the best investments you make in yourself both as a leader and for your organization.
Read on for 5 books every changemaker should read, and some of the lessons they have in store for you.
1. The Alchemist — Paulo Coelho
A book of fiction at the top of the list? Absolutely. As a changemaker, you are always brining in new ideas and synthesizing information all around you to create change. One of the best ways to keep your mind nimble is to let yourself get inspired by a powerful narrative and The Alchemist is the perfect tale for a changemaker: a parable about a young shepard, Santiago, setting out in search of treasure.
A recurring theme of Coelho’s comes in this oft-repeated mantra: “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” I’ve found this to be one of my most oft quoted pieces of advice for budding changemakers. When you believe in something with all of your heart, and your put your intention out there in the world, it’s incredible how people and opportunities become drawn to you. All of us have Santiago within us, and this book reminds us to dare to set out in search of our treasure.
2. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less — Greg McKeown
How often do you find yourself as a changemaker feeling overwhelmed by all of the things you need to do, and then disappointed in yourself that you simply can’t do your best work. Essentialism is not a ‘life hack’ or management strategy, but rather a discipline which empowers the reader to apply Dieter Rams’ design tagline ‘less, but better’ to everything we do— both personal and professional.
The book has helped me filter out the essential from the ordinary. The highest potential from the pretty (or even very) good potential. And it’s given me the confidence to say no to bad and even very good ideas and projects so that I can focus on the highest value ones. It’s a book I’ve recommended to my team and to many entrepreneurs I meet because nearly every fellow changemaker feels so pulled by their passion that they want to do everything for everyone. This book reminds us that time is our most valuable resource and it gives us a framework to make sure we maximize it.
3. Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives — Gregg Vanourek and Christopher Gergen
As I was just starting out my changemaker journey, my girlfriend gave me this book to read and every time I now re-read it, I am transported back to that amazing moment where I started realizing that I (and indeed anyone and everyone) can create change and where I finally gave myself permission to do so.
Vanourek and Gergen — two talented changemakers in their own right — tell the stories of 55 diverse business and social entrepreneurs and through their inspiring narratives give both moving examples as well as practical strategies to align one’s personal values, talents, and energy towards their lives. It stands out from many books that preach learning entrepreneurial skills to better one’s business as it calls on us to take our entrepreneurial energy and apply it to every single part of our lives: our families, our friends, our recreation and, yes, our work. This book, more than any other, helped me align my values with my vision and to grow from a ‘social entrepreneur’ to a ‘life entrepreneur.’
4. Good to Great — Jim Collins
You’d be hard pressed to find an MBA student that hasn’t pulled up their pleated khaki pants and read this book. It is equally filled with lessons applicable to changemakers of all kinds. Collins’ and his team spent five years researching and writing this book (producing over 2,000 pages of interview transcripts and 6,000 articles in the ‘read’ pile along the way), analyzing why some companies become long-lasting, enduring, great companies while other, seemingly similar companies achieve only moderate success or even fail completely.
One of the key traits that distinguished a great company from a merely good company was the presence of a ‘level 5 leader.’ While a level 4 leader could produce high levels of success, greatness was only possible with a level 5 leader: someone who combines professional will with personal humility. In a world where we tend to sensationalize and ascribe greatness to leaders, paradoxically, the ultimate leaders are the ones who are quick to reflect any external praise intended for them to their team instead, and to absorb themselves any blame ascribed to their team. Empathy and emotional intelligence are often talked about as defining factors of a great changemaker, and Collins and his team give us data to back up this claim.
5. Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us — Seth Godin
Okay, fine, I probably could have made a list just of Seth Godin books. This one stands out as a must-read for changemakers, though, because it teaches a lesson we must constantly remind ourselves if we want to change the world: stop waiting for permission, and just do it. We are the people we have been waiting for.
Changemakers need not only be risk-seeking entrepreneurs jeopardizing health and home on their latest venture; truly, changemakers come in all shapes, sizes and forms. Tribes reminds us that the intrepreneur innovating from within a big organization is a changemaker as is the woman who has a ‘regular’ job, but a burning passion, around which she grows a community in her free time. It blows to pieces any excuses we have for sitting on our idea, and implores us to get out there and try. After all, the downside is low, and the upside is connecting with, building and leading a tribe of people just waiting for us to start. Every changemaker needs a tribe, and this book inspires us to start.
Bonus tip: not a fan of sitting down to read? Do what I often do and download the audiobook version. This means that you can be getting inspiration and learning new changemaker skills while you are commuting on public transport, sweating on the elliptical or at home washing dishes.
What’s your top recommendation for a fellow changemaker? What books did I miss? I’d love to hear your favorites by commenting below!