8 Great Reads to Play Bigger, Grow Professionally, and Level Up Your Leadership Skills

When you’re stuck in a four-year rut at work, or in your startup, or on a project—how do you get out of it? How do you step back, see the big picture, and find a way to level up? Whether it’s chasing the next promotion, doubling down on your current project, or finding a way to get better at the work you’re currently doing, here are the best books I’ve read on playing bigger, taking the leap, and doubling down on your professional wisdom.

And I’d love to know your recommendations, too, so scroll down to the comments and leave a note with your favorite book that’s helped unlock something for you professionally.

The ONE Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

This is a book I could (and need) to read on repeat, alongside Essentialism. Narrowing down what we do is critical to success. The question they ask throughout the book is this: “What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” It’s a great way to start your morning, and a great way to clarify the work you’re doing if you’re planning for an upcoming quarter.

The Big Leap, by Gay Hendricks.

If you’ve heard of the idea of “Upper Limit Problems,” or the concept of transcending from working in your Zone of Excellence to your Zone of Genius, this is the book those ideas are from. Reading this again opened my eyes to a lot of ways in which I’m staying stuck in my “good” areas of working and not shifting into the areas where I’m truly phenomenal.

Captivate, by Vanessa Van Edwards.

I found out about the nerd of nerds, Vanessa Van Edwards, by listening to Jenny Blake’s podcast, Pivot, and devoured the entire episode. It’s behavior science meets research meets interpersonal psychology, and I’m loving it. Fun fact: there’s a clear demarcation between TED talks that are viral and those that are not, and it has a lot to do with your physical body language. And it can be learned.

Body of Work, by Pamela Slim.

In a world of work that can feel disjointed and disconnected, how do you find the thread that connects your story together? Pam was one of my first business coaches and taught me to see my multiple threads of employment as “projects” within a larger portfolio of work.

Playing Big, by Tara Sophia Mohr.

This month is all about re-reading a few classics, for me. The books that you buy on kindle and on paperback, and sometimes buy an additional paper copy of because you highlight it and use it so frequently. Every time I level up in my business and my work, and expand into the edges of my comfort zones, I re-read Tara’s notes on the different ways we feel fear, and remind myself that “playing big” comes with it a special, delicious, different kind of fear. The good one.

The Coaching Habit, by Michael Bungay Stanier.

I was alerted to this book because of the incredibly in-depth post the author writes about how he sold 180,000 copies of his book the first year and each of the strategies he used to sell the book. I’ll confess I also felt some empathy with his book-writing process and the years it took, since my book is on a seemingly similar pace.

The book outlines seven key questions we can use to insert coaching strategies into our work as managers and leaders, in less than ten minutes a day. The art of asking great questions is such a critical skill, and I’ve noticed that we don’t seem to take enough time to dive deeply into the asking of questions to find the shape of the puzzle. Often, we leap headfirst into advice mode and leave the listener feeling steamrolled, rather than helped. I’d buy a copy of this book for everyone.

Unsubscribe, by Jocelyn Glei.

Written by the founding editor of 99U, the book is something I wish I’d written—and it’s edited down to an easy manual that’s also a fast read (win!). Yet while this primer on how to write, send, and manage email goes a long way, I still think the topic on the whole needs more study, that is, I’m not sure the book solved the problem of “killing email anxiety,” at least for me.

Exactly What to Say, by Phil M Jones.

Word-for-word scripts for sales, negotiations, conversations, and talks that matter. The phrases and arrangements are super useful (for example, giving people three options, where the first is the current world and the last is your proposed solution, can be a very strategic move). It’s a fast read, about 90 pages, with about 20 different chapters. The hard part is putting it to practice.

What about you? What books have helped you level up, either professionally or personally? Leave a note in the comments.


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