10 Non-Education Related Books Every School Leader Needs to Read

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Some of the most popular posts on my blog recommend the best books for principals and other school leaders. And if you are familiar with my work, you know that picking an edge is important in terms of standing out.

Schools often don’t pick an edge. They pick all the edges.

The temptation is to try and please everyone.

But pleasing won’t create remarkable results at your school. Pleasing is not service. You can’t be all things to all people.

Which brings us back to edges …

One edge that we’ve chosen at Better Leaders Better Schools is that we only read books in the mastermind outside of education.

Why?

The kind of leaders I coach and mentor have already read all the books in education. So why repeat that?

One of my superpowers is helping people expand their perspective and worldview. The best way to do that is to read a diverse array of books.

So it is the goal of this post to suggest 10 non-education related books that every school leader should read.

Leaders often ask the wrong question. Here is the right question to ask.

“There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets credit.”

–Ronald Reagan

Dr. Benjamin Hardy teamed up with the Strategic Coach founder, Dan Sullivan, to create a book called Who Not How.

The gist of the book is simple.

As a high performer, immediately after we set an aspirational goal our brains go into trying to figure HOW to accomplish the goal.

This is the wrong question to ask.

Instead, we should ask WHO can help us accomplish our goal. That’s because we cannot be great at everything and the best-in-class performers in any industry are clear on what their Zone of Genius is and stay in their lane.

For example, I have an eye for design. I can create an adequate graphic using Canva (that’s the beauty of the tool). But there are individuals whose Zone of Genius is design. So when I needed a brochure created for the mastermind, I hired Nikki and her team at Fetching Finn to create something with pizzaz for me.

What school leaders can learn from a 1950s ad-man.

“Nobody should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read Scientific Advertising seven times. It changed the course of my life.”

–David Ogilvy

If you haven’t figured it out by now, your school is a business.

You may not sell widgets and focus on increasing revenue year after year.

But you do sell the idea of education and look to maintain or increase your student population. Schools compete for students (even public schools who have to prove that they are better than the independent, faith based, and charter schools also in the neighborhood).

Published in 1966, My Life in Advertising & Scientific Advertising is a training manual for thinking about how to advertise your school.

And it’s still an incredibly popular book, which tells you that the ideas are solid, since Scientific Advertising still sells a half a century later!

Trust is essential in leadership. So why aren’t more principals focused on this topic?

“Trust is the glue that bonds great people, processes, and environments, and ensures long-term success. If this critical component is missing, everything else falls apart.”

–Rita Bailey

My two friends at Spotlight Trust wrote a great book on trust called The Future is Trust.

When I give talks to school leaders I often use a metaphor of two roads …

Road A exhibits bumper to bumper traffic. It is a frustrating path to drive with the constant starting and stopping. You will arrive at your destination, but the entire trip is stressful.

Road B is an open road. There is not another car in sight. There are also no police, so you can drive as fast as you’d like to arrive at your destination. This path is not stressful … it’s even enjoyable to drive!

Road A is a metaphor for leading in an organization where trust is low.

Road B represents a school where trust is important and the leader does everything in their power to build trust among staff. Why would any leader choose to drive on Road A?

“When you solve for trust, everything gets better.”

— Rick Kitigawa and Lisa Lambert.

Food is fuel. The food you eat might also be killing you.

“The primary reason diseases tend to run in families may be that diets tend to run in families.”

― Dr. Michael Greger

My wife is a scientist. She cares about stuff like peer reviewed articles and the number of citations articles get (which demonstrate credibility and authority).

That’s why when she handed me the book, How Not to Die, and told me the research is sound because she checked, I agreed to read it.

Many school leaders skip lunch or consume what is a sorry excuse for lunch (e.g. power drink and cheetos).

In How Not to Die you’ll learn the power of a plant based diet and how it can help you not only perform at a higher level, but also how to heal current ailments you may struggle with. This book also shares how what you eat may actually be harming you.

Because of this book I eat mostly a plant based diet and the results have been amazing. If you are looking to level up your health, what you put in your mouth should be your focus and How Not to Die should be the first book you read.

This powerful reframe will help you embrace the hard bits of leadership.

“Do not say or do anything. Whatever you say or do in a state of anger may cause more damage in your relationship.”

–Thich Nhat Hanh

I’ve struggled with anger my whole life.

In high school, I was driving to see the latest movie with Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson. So I called my mom to let her know where I would be.

“I am going to Anger Management,” I told my mom.

“I’m so proud of you,” my mom replied.

I called my mom to tell her I was going to the movies. She thought I was going to therapy she thought I needed. This was back in high school.

At some point, enough is enough. I went on a journey to find a better way to deal with this emotion. The best book I found on this topic is called The Cow in the Parking Lot.

The book opens with a common scene where someone might take offense and get angry — someone steals your parking spot!

But if that someone was actually a cow, how would you react? Nothing changed about your reality — you still lost the parking spot. But if a cow was the offender, you could only laugh …

What a powerful reframe!

The Cow in the Parking Lot is so much more than a ridiculous story about losing a parking spot. It contains tons of tools for you to explore your emotions and replace anger with contentment.

Why are so many leaders poor at presenting and communicating? Nobody taught them how and their models for communication are poor.

“Powerfully land a small number of big ideas.”

–Tim Pollard

School leaders would benefit from learning how to become better storytellers and presenters.

One problem that most communicators have is that they focus too much on themselves rather than their audience as illustrated by this comic:

In The Compelling Communicator, Tim Pollard gives a framework for improving your presentations. This is a crucial skill for leaders.

The framework is called the Pyramid of Planned Outcome™. It challenges the presenter to backwards map the design of any presentation.

Every presentation solves/addresses some kind of problem.

At the end of a presentation, you want the audience to take some kind of action. But for them to take action they first need to believe something about the problem. Pollard calls these beliefs insights.

And before the audience believes something about the problem, they must know something about it. Here Pollard encourages us to use data and illustrations that will set the foundation for the beliefs that will then influence the audience to act.

School leaders present information every day. If there is one book you invest in this year to improve your presentation skills, it should be The Compelling Communicator.

Conflict is guaranteed in every school. Managing it tactfully is not.

“The first principle [of scientific inquiry] is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”

– Richard Feynman

School leadership is rife with conflict.

There are student, staff, parent, district, state, and federal level conflicts every day.

Learning how to successfully manage these conflicts is an essential skill.

What if you could effectively predict, avoid, and manage these conflicts?

Rory Miller’s Conflict Communication is the book that will teach you exactly how to do that.

The book is broken down into three parts: background, fundamentals, and tactics, tools, and techniques.

Conflict Communication can change how you operate your school and have your staff wonder where you learned your newfound Jedi powers.

Have you read my latest book?

If you’re in the market for an education-related book, I encourage you to pick up Mastermind: Unlocking Talent Within Every School Leader.

This book unpacks the ABCs of powerful professional development™ framework. By integrating more authenticity, belonging, and challenge into your school experience, I guarantee you will improve your culture.

Get your book today (for 25% off + FREE shipping) here: https://betterleadersbetterschools.com/go and use the code IMPACT25.

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The Teachers on Fire Magazine features articles written by agents of growth and transformative change in K-12 education today. If you write about education, reach out to @TeachersOnFire to become a writer for this publication. Writers keep full ownership of content.

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Daniel Bauer

Daniel Bauer

Host of the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast with over one million downloads 🚀

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