Winter – A Great Time for Reflection and a Good Read

By Sallie Lesemann-

Been looking for a good read in the self-help genre? Check out these books reported on by our Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services coaches:

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Last fall, an alumnus I met in Seattle recommended, rightly, that I read Ego is the Enemy. The author, Ryan Holiday, who at an early age found ego to be his enemy, demonstrates the ways in which ego is a great limiter in the various cycles of one’s career: during aspiration, during success and during failure. By sharing the stories of past and present fallen heroes whose egos sealed their fate, Holiday holds up the proverbial mirror, forcing you as his reader to reflect on your own ego and how it impedes your progress. He also gives refreshing examples of leaders whose humility, service-orientation and resilience enable great success. I derived many takeaways both personally and as a coach:

Never stop learning. You are never done. You are never entitled to sit back. “…updating your appraisal of your talents in a downward direction is one of the most difficult things to do in life — but it is almost always a component of mastery.”

Help yourself by helping others. Don’t worry about getting the credit; let others have it. “[You will] develop a reputation for being indispensable [and] have countless new relationships [and] an enormous bank of favors to call upon.” Be a team player. Holiday quotes soccer coach Tony Adams: “play for the name on the front of the jersey and they’ll remember the name on the back.”

Know what is important to you. Know why you do what you do so you can ignore what doesn’t matter. “Find out why you’re after what you’re after. Ignore those who mess with your pace. Let them covet what you have, not the other way around. Because that is independence.”

Failure does not define who you are as a person. It’s the way you handle failure that defines you. Take responsibility and admit you messed up. “[Don’t] throw good money and good life after bad and end up making everything so much worse.”

And my favorite…

“Perfecting the personal regularly leads to success as a professional, but rarely the other way around.”

Reviewed by Jen Coleman


Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

“If you are successful, you will be happy.” Designing Your Life dispels this success myth and offers a design-thinking framework to guide us in building our ways toward meaningful careers and fulfilled lives. The book grew out of the Stanford course where Burnett and Evans teach the concepts of design as applied to the question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Reframing this notion of an endpoint is key to the work of design — accepting and embracing that a happy life is constantly evolving and there is no one right path.

The approach begins with a very simple self-assessment, then builds a guiding compass through answering a set of thoughtful questions about your views on life and work, develops a lot of possibilities, adapts those into some real alternatives, then explores the alternatives by asking good questions and creating new experiences. Methods like brainstorming and prototyping are applied to our life and career paths, and we’re encouraged to practice designer mindsets:  curiosity (seeing opportunity everywhere), bias toward action (trying lots of stuff), reframing (confronting and changing dysfunctional beliefs), awareness (focus on the process, not the outcome) and collaboration (asking for help).

Designing Your Life has excellent advice for anyone struggling to find meaningful and satisfying work.  The authors present an actionable framework and also expose the inherent flaws in traditional job search, presenting a compelling case that a well-lived life is a rich portfolio of failures, experiences and adventures.

Reviewed by Marty Speight


Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader by Herminia Ibarra

This book turns the concept of becoming a better leader on its head. For most leadership coaches, the process of working with a leader is focused on introspection and learning even more about yourself. Ibarra, however, suggests that the most important thing to do as a leader is to “Act First, Think Later.” She highlights three areas where a leader should work on this: redefining your job, diversifying your network and becoming more playful with your self-concept. She threads her “outsight” principle throughout the book, encouraging people to develop from the outside rather than the inside.

I’d recommend this book more for newer leaders than extremely seasoned leaders. Her theories are very interesting and she offers many anecdotes where her ideas have been successful. She offers suggestions on how to play with the three areas mentioned above to help a leader accelerate their progress. She even tells an amusing story about her struggle to command the classroom when she was a new professor at Harvard Business School and had to “fake it ‘til she made it” to succeed. The concepts are all good for new leaders to consider, but may be a bit redundant for those more experienced.

Reviewed by Lindsay Guthrie