Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Best Leadership Book!

I've been working in and around leadership development for over 30 years and I was recently asked, "what's the best book on leadership?" I had to come up with an answer on the spot. I ran through corridors of books in my mind. But there are thousands of books on leadership, and thousands more published every year! Most fall into the category of "the [x] steps to success", or "I did it my way". A few are based on empirical research.

If I had to come up with one book, which one would it be? No, I'm not going to sell you "my book". In fact, I'm not going to sell you anything at all. The one book that I recommend most to my executive coaching clients and to my wisdom in leadership program participants is...

..."The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz, first published in 1997. This amazing little book claims to derive from the wisdom of the pre-Aztec "Toltec" teachings of Mesoamerican culture dating back to 800-1000CE. It seems they gave us more than tacos! But what could they possibly tell us about leadership in the 21st Century?

Quite a lot as it turns out. Ruiz talks about our present reality as a dream, a shared dream. When we are young children we're taught about the dream, it's rules and codes of conduct. He calls this process the "domestication of humans". Yet, the dream is made up of a matrix of agreements. Most have been made for us. And many more we make with ourselves. I may agree that I'm "stupid", "not pretty", or that I'm "deserving" of good fortune or bad.

Leadership comes down to understanding the agreements that govern our own lives first. Outstanding leaders see through the dream. They release themselves from unproductive agreements and make new agreements that benefit their personal growth and the wellbeing of those around them. Ruiz says there are just four agreements that leaders need to practice:

1.  Be impeccable with your word

Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.

2. Don't Take Anything Personally

Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.

3. Don't Make Assumptions

Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

4. Always Do Your Best

Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret. 

It seems blindingly obvious, yet it's  very difficult to do. Most of the leaders I've had the good fortune of working with over the years have been transformed by this little book. It has shaped their careers, their families, and their leadership legacy. It's the most powerful leadership book I know! 

See "The Four Agreements - Introduction" here.