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The Two Books All Leaders Must Read for 2019

By: Aleta Norris

Two Books All Leaders Must Read for 2019


You’ve undoubtedly heard the saying, “Leaders are readers.”


Books are amazing.


Ideas change people.


During 2019, as I‘ve worked with leaders and leadership teams, I have been excited to introduce books I’ve discovered over the past several months.


In this blog, I would like to introduce you to two of my favorites.


Atomic Habits, by James Clear


James Clear is the habits guy. In Atomic Habits, he introduces us to a definitive approach to breaking bad behaviors and adopting good ones. He shows us how small incremental, everyday routines compound and add up to massive, positive change over time. We’re talking about a 1% change every day.


Clear helps us understand that it is our systems that lead to failure. If we want to change our habits successfully, we need to change our systems.


I want to share what Clear refers to as the Four Laws of Behavior Change.  Within each law, I will share just one example to give you the general essence. And keep in mind, I am barely touching the surface of an amazing book.

  1. Make it obvious.  Would you like to exercise more? Clear introduces us to the concept of habit stacking.
    1. When my alarm goes off, I will put on my workout clothes.
    2. When I see a set of stairs, I will take them instead of using the elevator.
    3. When I go to a shopping mall, I will park at the far end of the parking lot.
  2. Make it attractive. Below are examples of a motivation ritual.
    1. After I make five cold calls, I will reward myself with a piece of chocolate.
    2. After I work out, I will have my morning coffee.
    3. After I finish my run, I will enjoy a nice dinner.
  3. Make it easy.
    1. If you want to drink more water, put bottles of water in every room of your house.
    2. If you want to exercise, put your workout clothes right next to your bed.
    3. If you want to improve your diet, keep fruit in your fruit bowl, and don’t buy junk food.
    4. If you want to walk more, commit to a ten-minute walk rather than a one-hour walk.
  4. Make it satisfying. Below are examples of using reinforcement.
    1. If you want to eat more fruit, buy fruit you love.
    2. Keep a habit tracking journal as a visual cue.
    3. Don’t break the chain.

One of my favorite takeaways from Clear’s book is the concept of priming your environment. We fail at keeping most habits. If we prime our environment to support our success, we increase our chances for success. I’ll wrap up this brief review by sharing one way I have primed my environment:


I like to keep chocolate in the house for guests. The problem? I love chocolate. Applying Clear’s suggestion to create environmental systems that support our goals, I have made it difficult to eat chocolate on a regular basis. I close the bag, wrap it up in strapping tape, and put it in the freezer. It’s too difficult to grab a piece of chocolate easily! Environmental System?  Check.


Shop Atomic Habits on


Dare to Lead, by Brene Brown


If you have not been introduced to Brene Brown, I encourage you to watch her TedxHouston talk, The Power of Vulnerability. You can find this on YouTube.


Brown is a social researcher, and she has dedicated her professional career to the study of shame and vulnerability. Vulnerability, she describes, is “the emotion we experience during times of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.”


We are fortunate to have her books available to us. While I will be introducing you to her newest book, Dare to Lead, I also encourage you to look up the books that preceded this one.


In her book, Brown builds the case for courageous leadership, netting it out to the four requirements needed for true leadership:  vulnerability, values, trust and resilience. True leadership, she explains, is about vulnerability and connection, not power and strength.


I want to share a few nuggets from her book, not in any particular order.


First, I must say this is so difficult because I want to tell you everything about this book. To net it out to a few key thoughts simply does not do it justice. Here it goes:


  • Courage and vulnerability go together. You cannot be courageous if you are not vulnerable. Below is one of my favorite paragraphs in her book:

“A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance. The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives. For me, if you’re not in the arena getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

  • You can’t get courage without rumbling* with vulnerability.  Brene says, “Embrace the suck.”

*A rumble is a discussion, conversation or meeting defined by a commitment to lean into vulnerability, to stay curious and generous, to stick with the messy middle of problem identification and solving……to listen with the same passion with which we want to be heard.

  • Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.

Feeding people half-truths or bullshit to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable) is unkind. Not getting clear with a colleague about your expectations because it feels too hard, yet holding them accountable or blaming them for not delivering, is unkind.


I have introduced Dare to Lead to two of the senior teams I am working with. This book has made a measurable difference in the effectiveness of both of these teams. An increase in vulnerability has been key.


Shop Dare to Lead on


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*Living As a Leader is an Amazon Affiliate partner and makes a small commission from Amazon for purchases made from these links.




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