C-Suite Agenda

CEOs: Listen to This!

There’s no shortage of content when it comes to how CEOs can lead stronger organizations. Whether it’s a blog post, magazine article, podcast, or TED Talk, insights that will help you grow your business abound. Determining what information is worth your time is another matter.  During the pandemic, I got hooked on listening to audiobooks. It’s a practice that feeds my brain and keeps me physically fit because while I listen, I run the trails near my home or enjoy a scenic ride on the Peloton. It’s become my daily self-care cocktail.

That said, during 2022, I listened to some fantastic books – some brand new, others that have been around awhile. I want to share 15 of these books in the hope that you will add them to your listening list. If you listen to more than one book a month, this list will get you through 2023. In alphabetical order by title, here they are: 

Beginner’s Mind, Yo-Yo Ma

Is your (mental) cup full or empty? Engage in a conversation with a full cup, and you won’t learn anything. Only the empty cup has room for something new. The incomparable Yo-Yo Ma reminds us of the riches we can experience if we are open to them. The music is pretty good, too! 

The Business of We, Laura Kriska

In a world where political divisiveness abounds, Laura Kriska takes lessons from being an American growing up in Japan and later working with Fortune 500 companies on four continents to address an all too common “us versus them” mentality with what she calls WE Building. Laura walks you through the steps designed to foster an inclusive and respectful workplace for all employees – a critical yet often widely mismanaged key to success. 

Competing in the New World of Work, Keith Ferrazzi

From the man who brought you Never Eat Alone and Leading Without Authority, Keith Ferrazzi speaks to the importance of radical adaptability in today’s organizations. Combining primary research with a no-nonsense look at what’s next in a fast-changing world, this book is worth a listen.

Connect, David Bradford & Carole Robbin

Based on the well-known Interpersonal Dynamics (“Touchy-Feely”) course at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, Bradford and Robbin guide us through building healthy relationships in our personal and professional lives. As a CEO, you probably give lots of advice. The authors in this book will make you rethink that practice and show you a better way.

Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull & Amy Wallace

I remember reading this book years ago, so I wanted to listen to what Pixar has to teach the world about innovation through a Peernovation lens. It was an extraordinary experience. If you want to raise the standard of excellence in your organization, Catmull and Wallace share stories, experiences, and practices that will show you how.  

Energize, Simon Alexander Ong

I consider Simon Alexander Ong a friend and one of the most insightful people I know – wise beyond his years. I had been waiting for this book since I learned he inked the deal with Penguin Books to write it. To listen to the content is to receive the best 7-hour coaching session money can buy, no matter who you are. So don’t speed up the pace. Slow down and allow yourself to absorb every word.   

The Fearless Organization, Amy C. Edmondson

When innovating in a changing world, Harvard Business School’s Amy Edmondson makes a case for why psychological safety is central to that endeavor. Without a culture of psychological safety, you’ll never unlock the potential of your people, create a healthy culture of accountability, nor retain your people for very long. Among the recommended books on my list, it’s a must-listen. 

The Four Stages of Psychological Safety, Timothy R. Clark

If you don’t listen to Amy Edmondson’s book, then be sure not to miss this one – ideally, consume both. Clark approaches psychological safety in a different yet equally compelling way. In case it isn’t apparent, psychological safety is central to leading today’s organizations. The more deeply you understand it, the stronger and more adaptable your company will likely become. 

Hot House, Lisa Towles

There’s more to life than what’s found in most business trade books. Live a little! I don’t read nearly enough fiction. So if you’re like me, you’ll appreciate a diversion into the world of Lisa Towles. Hot House is just one in an incredible collection of crime novels (including Ninety-Five and The Ridders, among others) that will captivate you from the start. Moreover, you’ll discover that this dive into the fiction world is not a diversion at all.   

The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner

For my money, it’s the best leadership book ever written. Now in its 6th edition, it’s timeless and always timely – a once-a-year revisit. Enough said.

The Measure, Nikki Erlick

Yes, another novel. A friend recommended it to me, and I jumped all over it. Without giving away the story, the premise alone will grab you immediately. Then prepare for the journey.    

Primed to Perform, Neel Doshi & Lindsay McGregor

This book is as good as it gets. I can’t describe it any better than the authors: “Primed to Perform explains the counter-intuitive science behind great cultures, building on over a century of academic thinking. In addition, it shares the simple, highly predictive new measurement tool—the Total Motivation (ToMo) Factor—that enables you to measure the strength of your culture and track improvements over time.” Don’t miss this one.

The Remix, Lindsey Pollack

With five generations working in so many of today’s companies, Pollack describes the challenges and the necessity for these cultures to understand each other more deeply. The metaphor of the remix is pitch-perfect. The content is priceless. Combine this narrative with Laura Kriska’s work to your company’s benefit. 

Strategic Doing, Edward Morrison et al

Strategic planning is one thing – strategic doing is quite another. The authors of this book will redefine what real collaboration looks like for you. Smart and practical. This book is for you if you’re looking for a well-defined leadership strategy for getting your arms around what’s to come. 

The World: A Brief Introduction, Richard Haass

If you wake up every once in a while, shaking your head about today’s world and wondering how we got here, you may want to listen to Richard Haass. There’s no better primer about where we’ve come from, how it’s evolved, and the state of today’s world than to listen to this book. It’s one of those “aha” context books that you’ll find invaluable to charting your course for the future.  

Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game, Dr. Joseph Parent

This book is not just about golf – although it will help your game. It’s bigger than that. Golf is simply a metaphor for Parent’s mental approach to life. You’ll love the narration. Fight your tendency to speed up the narrative, as it only defeats any semblance of the Zen experience you are invited to enjoy. 

Summary 

What better way to improve your listening skills, exercise your brain and body, and experience the passion behind the words than enjoy a great audiobook? If you want to be a better CEO, you’ll find something in every one of these books that will help you to that end. I hope this short list of my favorites will inspire you to try a few of these titles, explore the larger universe of audiobooks readily available today, and share them with your team.


Written by Leo Bottary.
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Leo Bottary
Leo Bottary is the founder and managing partner of Peernovation. He is a sought-after thought leader on Peer Advantage and Peernovation, emerging disciplines dedicated to strategically engaging peers to achieve personal and organizational excellence. A popular author of three books, including Peernovation: What Peer Advisory Groups Can Teach Us About Building High-performing Teams (Archway; October 16, 2020), he is also an author, keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, and thought leader on the topic of peer advantage.

Education
Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) (ABD) in Organizational Leadership Studies at Northeastern University.
M.A. in Strategic Communication & Leadership at Seton Hall University.
B.A. in Political Science and German at Jacksonville University.

Books by Leo Bottary:
Peernovation: What Peer Advisory Groups Can Teach Us About Building High-performing Teams (Archway; October 16, 2020).
What Anyone Can Do: How Surrounding Yourself With the Right People Will Drive Change, Opportunity and Personal Growth (Routledge; September 3, 2018).
The Power of Peers: How the Company You Keep Drives Leadership, Growth & Success (Bibliomotion; March 22, 2016).

Leo Bottary is a member of the External Advisory Board (EAB) for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.