Leaders need to work on the business as well as in the business. One of my favorite sayings to our leaders at Hancock Lumber is, “If you want to help Hancock Lumber, work harder on yourself than you do on your job.” Organizations are about people; therefore, organizational development and progress is really about individuals within the organization improving and progressing.
In our industry it is easy for leaders to get pulled so deeply into the day-to-day details of their work that they become insulated from the larger world in which we live. When this happens the world slowly starts to pass our companies and industry by. Taking the time to step back and think about national trends, global trends, and best practices is an essential responsibility of leaders. And one of the best ways to do this is to read.
Here are five books that have been of great value to me in my personal effort to become a more effective leader and to help Hancock Lumber improve:
Built to Last(Jim Collins, Jerry I. Porras) This book “sets out to discover the timeless management principles that have consistently distinguished outstanding companies.” In this book you will learn that visionary companies are “clock builders” not “time tellers” and that visionary leaders learn to celebrate the “genius of the AND” over the “tyranny of the OR.”
Good to Great(Jim Collins) This book explains why “good is the enemy of great” and “why some companies make the leap from good to great and others don't.” Key concepts from this book include “first who ... then what” and that “the essence of profound insight is simplicity.” “Who + Focus = Success” is the key formula in leading an organization through a “Good to Great” transformation.
Failing Forward(John C. Maxwell) “We are all failures—at least, the best of us are,” is the quote Maxwell uses to open his book. “I've written this book to change your attitude about failure,” he says. “When it comes right down to it, I know of only one factor that separates those who consistently shine from those who don't: The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure.” Maxwell concludes the book by asking, “If the possibility of failure were erased, what would you attempt to achieve?”
The Tipping Point(Malcolm Gladwell) This book uses case study methodology to examine how change happens and describes the precise moment of cultural or organizational change as “The Tipping Point.” “The expression first came into popular use in the 1970s to describe the flight to the suburbs of whites living in the older cities of the American Northeast. When the number of incoming African Americans in a particular neighborhood reached a certain point—20 percent, say—sociologists observed that the community would ‘tip': most of the remaining whites would leave almost immediately. The Tipping Point is the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”
Leadership and the New Science(Margaret J. Wheatley) This book contends that traditional leadership thinking is based on old Newtonian 17th century science, and that to improve leadership in today's global world we should look at what the scientists of the 21st century are telling us about the irrefutable laws of the universe. “I am not alone in wondering why organizations aren't working well,” says Wheatley. “Somewhere there is a simpler way to lead organizations. One that requires less effort and produces less stress than the current practices. We are all searching for this simplicity.”
I believe that reading about the best thinking on leadership and organizational excellence outside our industry is key to success in the lumber business. Learning is a lifetime process; leaders need to study leadership as long as they are interested in leading.
Perhaps most importantly, leadership is a choice, not a title, and every human being can lead. That's why I purchased 600 copies of another of my favorite books—The Fred Factor by Mark Sanborn—one for every employee at Hancock Lumber. —Kevin Hancock is president of Hancock Lumber in Casco, Maine, and is chairman of NLBMDA.