5 Books You Should Be Reading This Summer

Professional Development

Jun 06

​Sometimes as educators, we go so immersed in the world of education that we miss out on the larger conversations going on around us. So each year, I search for non-education books that I believe have HUGE implications for the way we think about education and particularly our roles as Builders.

This year’s list is a doozy, from a book that has significantly changed the way that I think about my work and purpose in the world, to a book that dramatically altered how I approach dealing with toxic cultures, to a book that has highlighted for me the power of defining moments. This list of non-education books has HUGE implications for the work that we do.

The Big Leap

by Gay Hendricks

Summary: I really don’t remember how I came across this book. Oh wait a minute. Yes I do. I heard someone reference it on a podcast interview I was listening to. I was curious so I bought the book the next day.

From the moment I started reading it, I grabbed my notebook and furiously started scribbling notes. There is so much good stuff in this book!

It starts out by talking about how most of us has an upper limit problem, meaning that we often self-sabotage our success because we have an idea in our heads of just how successful we’re supposed to be. When we exceed that limit, it’s uncomfortable to us so what we do is that we subconsciously sabotage our success.

Well we could stay there all day but there’s more.

You see we all have what he calls a zone of genius. That is where we are our best selves and we do work that we were uniquely gifted to do. Hendricks argues that we should be spending the majority of our time in our zone of genius.

But there are also the zones of excellence, competence, and incompetence and more often than not, we tend to spend our majority of our time doing work at which we are competent or excellent but that does not represent our zone of genius.

Why I Love it: ​Trust me, this book is really eye-opening and helping us realize what is really our zone of genius and showing us how to re-orient our lives and operate more fully in our zone of genius and banish those upper limit problems for good. So I am going to devote an entire ​podcast to this sometime in the near future.

Implications for Education: I see so many educators who are so used to operating in their zone of competence or even their zone of excellence, but rarely operating in their true zone of genius and ​I honestly think this is the reason so many of us are so overwhelmed and dissatisfied with our jobs right now. I see this all the time in my life where I am doing something inside of my zone of excellence but not my zone of genius​. That stopped me in my tracks right there and it has stayed with me ever since.

Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change 

by Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, & Al Switzler.

Summary: The authors are part of the Vital Smarts Community that brought us the classic book Crucial Conversations but I have to tell you that this book is much better than Crucial Conversations.

It’s about how to lead a change effort. In particular it’s about how to change people’s behavior and I almost didn’t include this book on the list because the strategies they talk about in this book are so powerful that in the wrong hands, it could really be dangerous.

I’m serious. This book breaks down exactly how to achieve rapid, profound and sustainable behavior change. Think about that. You could literally change people’s behavior and change your organization with a few simple tools.

The tools they use are what they call the 6 sources of influence and as soon as I read them, I got excited because they align so well with the will skill continuum that I teach. I told you this book was brilliant.

They break down each of the six sources of influence and show you how they work and how you can leverage them to create behavior change. It’s fascinating. The authors use stories from real life change efforts to illustrate their point and they back up everything with tons of social science. Their writing style is engaging and their stories are fascinating. They make everything so plain so obvious that it’s a fairly easy read even though they are dealing with some pretty heavy stuff.

Why I love it: Can I tell you I LOVE this book. I mean when I first read about the 6 sources of influence, it literally blew my mind! It was so clear, it made so much sense. I thought, this is the key to changing culture right here. In fact, it heavily influences how I teach about culture.

Implications for Education: The implications for education are HUGE. This book not only breaks down how to have more influence over those you are building, it shows you exactly how to shift your culture so that the people in your culture consistently move towards your goals. If you are struggling to move your culture forward or if you have a big goal but seem to be getting no where fast, you need this book. I am going to do an entire ​podcast on it in just a few weeks. It’s that important.

Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less

by Sam Carpenter

Summary: Sam Carpenter was the owner of a service business but he was totally burned out. His business was failing, he was working long hours just to keep things afloat and he needed to do something different. Sound familiar? So he figured out a way to develop systems in his business and once he did, he went from a literal 80 hour work week to working ONE hour per week while multiplying his revenue 20-fold.

This book is about how he did that and how we can use systems to significantly lighten our workload while still making our organizations more efficient and effective. His big argument which I happen to agree with is that any organization is simply a collection of interconnected systems. If you have a mediocre to failing organization, it’s because you have mediocre or failing systems. Once you understand that, then you know that if you want to change your organization, you need to look at and change the systems within the organization.

The good news is that establishing and optimizing systems is really an uncomplicated process. Carpenter lays out the exact steps, gives great examples, and shows you how to develop the right systems you need to build a more effective organization and save yourself a TON of headaches in the process.

Why I love it: What really resonated with me about this book is the shift in perception it gave me. I mean think about it. If an organization is simply a collection of systems, then if my organization is not doing well, I can find the system or systems that are the cause fix them and my organization runs better. I love the simplicity of that.

Here’s something else that I’ve been thinking about ever since I read this book. He says that rarely do organizations have a people problem. If you think you have a people problem, look at your systems and almost always will you find a flaw in the system somewhere that is causing the people problem. Fix the system and you fix the people problem.

I mean I LOVE that. That resonates with me as a builder because the big excuse I hear over and over again is that people think that they cannot move their schools unless they get rid of certain people first.

For years I’ve been saying, no you CAN move your school with the people you have. Don’t let the people in your school hold your vision hostage. But now, after reading this book I can show them exactly what I mean. Any time I work with a school and they show me a people problem, I can show them a flaw in their system that if fixed, would make their supposed people problem obsolete.

Implications for Education: To me, that’s the biggest take away I got from this book and the implications go beyond just a people problem. Your entire school is a collection of systems. If something is not working in your school it means that there is a flaw in one or more of your systems. Fix the system and you fix your challenge.

Here’s something even more interesting. A lot of times we are experiencing overwhelm or fatigue because instead of having a system for something, we are making things up every single time. Think about it. Most of the time our discipline issues are very similar. In fact, I would argue that 80% of our discipline problems in school can probably be divided into 3 or 4 types of issues. And yet, every time a student is referred to the office, we make up our process from scratch.

Guess what else. Every year, many of us make up our summer leadership team meeting agenda and process from scratch. Or, we make up each and every staff meeting agenda from scratch. Or we create every post-observation conference from scratch. What would happen if we had systems in place for these types of things, systems that could run WITHOUT our direct involvement. Uh oh. I said something blasphemous.

You see leaders tend to be super-heroes. They are the system in their schools. That’s why so many of you are so exhausted right now. Builders build systems and they make the SYSTEMS the heroes. When you do, you not only make your school run better, you actually free up more time and space for you to operate inside of your zone of genius each day. 

An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization 

by Robert Kegan and Laura Laskow Lahey

Summary: This next book was recommended to me by someone I met at this year’s ASCD Annual Conference. As soon as he told me about it, I downloaded it on my kindle. Here’s the first paragraph of the book:

“In an ordinary organization, most people are doing a second job no one is paying them for. In businesses large and small; in government agencies, schools, and hospitals; in for-profits and nonprofits, and in any country in the world, most people are spending time and energy covering up their weaknesses, managing other people’s impressions of them, showing themselves to their best advantage, playing politics, hiding their inadequacies, hiding their uncertainties, hiding their limitations. Hiding.”

The rest of the book explains a new model for how organizations can create an “everyone culture” where the entire organization is an incubator for people’s development.

Why I love it: Now this book is not as easy to read as some of the other books on this list but it made it to the list for two very important reasons. First, one of the underlying messages of this book is this: Get over yourself. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Create a culture where others feel safe to be vulnerable as well so that everyone in the organization can become a better version of themselves. I mean how can you not love that message. It’s something we all need to hear, especially in schools right now.

Implications for Education: The second reason this book made the list was chapter 6: Uncovering Your Biggest Blind Spot. This chapter uses something called the Immunity to Change Map and by the way, don’t you just love that title, the Immunity to Change Map. Anyway they use this map to help you figure out your own personal blind spots that are keeping you from being your best self as a builder.

What I love about this map is that it can also be a great tool for helping you understand the blind spots in your school. They describe it as having one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake. In other words there are a lot of times when we as a school say that we want to change but we having competing hidden agendas and hidden commitments that put the brakes on our progress and keep us from reaching out goals. 

The Power of Moments 

by Chip and Dan Heath.

Summary: The Heath Brothers have done it again. If you loved Switch (which is in my personal top 100 most influential books) then you are going to love The Power of Moments. In typical Heath brothers style, they examine the idea of what makes a moment a defining moment and then use research and engaging stories to explain how to deliberately create defining moments. It’s really an enjoyable and insightful read that challenges your thinking. I found the book really inspiring.

Why I love it: Okay, I’m gushing a bit here. Can I tell you that I love these guys? I think it’s because like them I adore Malcolm Gladwell. I mean how can you not love anyone who loves Malcolm Gladwell? Come on.

Implications for Education: But seriously, as I was reading this book, I thought about the HUGE implications it has for educators. How often do we intentionally create meaningful moments for our students? For that matter, how often to we intentionally design meaningful defining moments for teachers? I mean think about that. What would happen to your school culture if you intentionally created powerful, positive, defining moments around the things that reinforced your core values?

I don’t know about you but my mind is already racing so much so that I’m going to do an entire ​podcast around this.

Okay, enough gushing. 

Organize Tomorrow Today: 8 Ways to Retrain Your Mind to Optimize Performance at Work and in Life

by Dr. Jason Selk and Tom Bartow.

Summary: One of the biggest complaints I hear from most administrators and instructional coaches is that they never have enough time to do what really matters in their jobs. Well this year, an entrepreneur friend of mine told me that this book was one of the most influential books he’s ever read and since he’s so successful, I had to read it.

It’s written by two top performance coaches and they talk about how to achieve what they call extreme success. They argue that doing more is not the answer. Instead, they walk you through how to achieve more by doing less. Sounds almost too good to be true doesn’t it?

But they do deliver. The book is organized by 8 strategies none of which are particularly earth shattering, but they do offer a slightly new twist to many of them. For instance, they argue that we should stop making “to do” lists. Instead, each night before we go to bed, we should figure out which item on our to do list is most important and make sure that we get that thing done first. Again, Covey told us this years ago, but their twist I think works particularly well for busy school builders is that we usually have more than ONE thing that is important to accomplish each day. So what they teach is that you write down your 3 most important tasks each day and then you figure out which one is the MUST do task and you do that first, before you do anything else. And, by deciding that the night before, you give your subconscious mind time to process that task while you sleep. So, you wake up the next morning with an extra boost, more prepared and more ready to accomplish that task.

Why I love it: I chose this book because I like the really practical suggestions they offer for busy professionals. They argue that busy has for far too long been used as a substitute for productive and I see that a lot in schools. We’re really busy but at the end of the day, how productive were we? What did we really accomplish.

​Their focus is on helping you be productive instead of busy. They also argue that we need to seriously simplify things. I love that. I think many of us and that includes me for sure, we make things way more complicated than they have to be. I’ve been on a simplification kick lately and I have to say, every time I simplify my life or my work, I am exponentially happier.

​Implications for Education: So this is a great read for busy educators who are doing way too much. If you are overwhelmed and becoming more so, then this book can help you take a good look at how you are spending your time and help you find ways to multiply time and operate at your best and get more of the important things accomplished each day. 


These are some really good books that have personally had a big impact on the way that I think about the work I do. 

​I'm curious, what books have had a big impact on the way you think about the work that you do? Share below in the comments.

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