Here’s what’s on my nightstand. . .

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So I thought I would share a little bit of what books are on my nightstand this month. Here’s a collection of books I’m either in the middle of, or have just recently finished. First of all, “Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps” by Jennifer Garvey Berger.

Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps: How to Thrive in ComplexityI’ve actually just finished this book. It’s a small volume, so very readable – even among those of you who don’t love leadership reading as much as I do. What Garvey Berger does is really delve into the things that tend to hook, or ensnare leaders, whether you’re a newer leader, or even when you’re a very experienced leader. She does an excellent job, both of outlining how easy it is to fall into certain mindtraps, and then highlighting a few simple habits that leaders can develop to make sure that they’re not regularly falling into those same traps. Having only read this book a month ago, I constantly find myself referring back to it with coaching clients.

I have to admit that I completely adore Jennifer Garvey Berger, I am a huge fan of her work, her teaching, and her being and I have already taken a couple of classes with her; so know that this is coming from a biased place. But in my mind, this is the kind of book that every leader should read, because all of the leaders I coach are regularly falling into these same mind tricks that she illustrates in the book. The more that leaders can be aware of the simple stories they tell themselves that might actually undermine their effectiveness, the better you can be at recognizing when it’s actually happening to you; then either with your coach or on your own, you can design and plan how to move out of any current traps you might have fallen into.


The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of ConflictThe second book I’m in the middle of right now is “The Anatomy of Peace” by the Arbinger Institute. Truth be told, I’m really not reading, but listening to this book on Audible. It’s one of those books that has a non-fiction message that is told in the format of a fictional story. That means instead of reading an author explain about their model, the model is being enacted out by several people in the story, similar to the well-known leadership fable, the Five Dysfunctions of a Team. (Which if you haven’t read, you should!)

So, first of all, you have to know this book is incredibly readable because you’re just following along a fictionalized story. But so far, I’ve really found it to be a powerful illustration of how we end up in conflict with others around us, and what it takes to move out of this conflict. Rather than being a book of tips and ways to have difficult conversations, this book goes straight to the heart of what happens inside of us when we’re in conflict with others, how that makes us behave, and then how to choose different ways to first manage the conflict within ourselves. It feels like a worthwhile book, especially for people who either find themselves regularly in conflict or have one major conflict in their life that is really eating away at them over time. (One other great conflict resource is this awesome Ted Talk done by my friend and colleague Jen Goldman).


I’ve also just started reading Paul Tough’s newest book on the college system in the US “The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us.” My son, who’s applying to college, was actually reading it so I picked it up and started it, too. I’m only a couple of chapters in though since it’s his book and I’m waiting for him to finish. I’m not sure I recommend it to parents of soon-to-be college bound seniors; it might fuel some of the fire of this time. But it’s an amazing sociological look at the college system in our US society and how it both furthers or could heal a lot of the income inequality we see in our country today. My friend Gretchen Wegner just interviewed him and at the end of her podcast, she asks Paul what takeaways parents like me should have for their own college process with their kids. You can find it here and listen.


Ask Again, Yes: A NovelIf you’re more of a fiction buff (like me) then I have two recently read recommendations. First of all “Evvie Drake Starts Over” by Linda Holmes was unbelievably sweet, engaging and had lots of real, flawed people who you genuinely liked. It was both an entertaining read and a reminder of how having it go “our way,” or fixing everything that’s wrong, isn’t always the point of the story, or our lives.

Secondly, “Ask Again, Yes.” It’s hard to describe what this book is about without giving it away, but it follows the story of two seemingly similar families who live next door to each other but can’t connect in meaningful ways. Until their kids do. Which leads to trouble. But it’s also a really beautiful story about the different ways we lose and find ourselves in creating a life with another person, both in marriages and in parent-child relationships. The language was crisp, the book’s story carried me along and I didn’t want to stop reading – one of my biggest requirements for a recommendation to others.

How about you? Let me know what’s on your bookshelf in the comments below, whether you’re reading it already or just keep meaning to? I’d love to hear what you’re up to in your reading life. . .

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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