3 Books To Help Shape Your Leadership Philosophy

Some claim we are born with an innate ability to lead. Yet, in reality there are multiple factors that define who we are and who we become.

As a child, our house was always filled with books and I fell in love with reading at a young age. I remember my uncle constantly bringing home used books from charity shops, meaning we had an abundance to choose from. Whether it was Orwell’s classic 1984, or the Burgess masterpiece A Clockwork Orange, exposure to such literary greats helped open my eyes to the world we lived in.

With age, I’ve come to realise the impact that reading has had upon me and how it has shaped my philosophy on both life and leadership. As my own writing has started to gain in popularity, I’ve attempted to step back and consider how I constructed my leadership philosophy. These three books are not necessarily atypical leadership books, yet each has taught me different lessons. They have opened my eyes to the world that we live in, the challenges we all face and ultimately, that every time we open a book, we open our minds to the power of possibility.

They have opened my eyes to the world that we live in, the challenges we all face and ultimately, that every time we open a book, we open our minds to the power of possibility.

#1 A Long Walk To Freedom, Nelson Mandela

As a child, a street close to where I grew up in Camden Town was renamed Mandela Street, a move that riled many conservatives, yet was popular in a part of London often referred to as an anti-apartheid battleground. The Specials hit “Free Nelson Mandela” was supposedly coined in a Camden bar, and locals were vocal in their protests against the apartheid regime.

At this time I knew little about the great man who was then imprisoned on Robben Island. Yet my interest was sparked as to who could have a street named after them, and became intrigued by both the man and his politics.

I read Mandela’s autobiography at around 18 years of age, one of the most formative years of anybody’s life. Mandela’s book doesn’t describe a superhero. Indeed, in many ways he doesn’t describe our typical view of a leader.

Yet this is its greatest appeal, and perhaps why Mandela was the greatest political leader of his generation — we could relate to his vulnerability and humanity.Mandela speaks honestly to his flaws. We are now in an era where talk around authentic leadership is common, yet Mandela’s words emerged long before this.

The great man’s strongest message perhaps comes from his self-conviction. Despite spending 27 years in prison, Mandela never appealed his prison sentence, recognizing that doing so would have undermined the morals that had guided his actions. Yet upon his release he also refused to show resentment towards the regime that had detained him for most of his adult life.

Self conviction, authenticity, vulnerability, moral compass and a lack of resentment. This book provides leadership lessons in abundance, If you have the time to read one book, Mandela’s would be a great choice.

#2 The Art of War, Sun Tzu

Rarely can books transcend generations, yet the Art of War has done just that. I have always held a fascination with History — hence my degree choice — and it was at university I first came across this ancient class text. As years have gone by, perhaps more so than any other work, Tzu’s words have resonated with me on how to have a successful career.

In reality The Art of War is not the most riveting read. Yet its succinctness and to the point approach are the key to its beauty. I see this book as THE manual on leadership. It’s lessons still run true for a reason, their simplicity and their adaptability to the world we live in.

The Art of War is a great day to day leadership guide. It has taught me amongst many other lessons the power of self-reflection — we must recognize our own flaws and understand which behaviors can ensure both defeat and success. As Tzu noted, “if ignorant of your own enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril”.

Furthermore, Tzu’s work has influenced my views on the power of a people centric culture and treating colleagues as ‘family’. As Tzu told us, “treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you in to the deepest valley.”

Tzu’s work is the closest we have to a ‘Leadership Bible’. It’s guidance teaches us the importance of knowledge, self-discipline, character, patience, self-sacrifice, empathy and clarity and its message is as important today as it was 2500 years ago.

#3 The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

A fictional novel, yet as Ralph Waldo Emerson told us, fiction can reveal truths that reality obscures. Coelho’s classic is indeed filled will lessons in both life and leadership.

I have long argued that more than anything else, we should pursue happiness. The Alchemist agrees. After all, without happiness what do we have? Furthermore, happiness is contagious and as leaders, we set the tone. Bringing a positive approach to all that we do will inspire and motivate. Equally, happiness provides us clarity on why we do what we do.

The Alchemist also highlights the power of mindfulness. Mindfulness, both in life and leadership is something we should all pursue. The Power of Now is a more practical guide, but The Alchemist’s message is just as strong- “if you can concentrate always on the present you’ll be a happy man…..because life is the moment we’re living right now.”

Coelho’s novel also teaches us about the power of continuous improvement. I’ve long said that my career successes stem from my desire to always seek new ways to keep improving, whether in work or life. Alchemists feel the same way — ”they show that, when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too” Thus, when we seek to improve ourselves, we also have a positive impact on those we live with, work with, spend time with.

Finally, one of the most important lessons we can ever learn is that whilst others can act as mentors, teachers and leaders, our journey is exactly that-ours. The Alchemist highlights that we can only be ourselves. Although this seems obvious, it can be easy to become distracted from our own journey in the belief that we need to follow a different path. To successfully take this journey we require mindfulness, clarity, positivity, a thirst for knowledge and self improvement and a good heart; the Alchemist delivers this message perfectly.

“Finally, one of the most important lessons we can ever learn is that whilst others can act as mentors, teachers and leaders, our journey is exactly that -ours”

All three books are hugely different texts, yet each has had a profound impact on who I am. We also all interpret books differently. Ultimately, as Victor Hugo stated, “to learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark”. For all of us, this is a fire that we should never seek to put out.