My 2016 Personal Library

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 15, Issue No. 8b
December 15, 2016

By Dan Coughlin


Normally at this time of year I recommend books you might consider as a Holiday Gift to yourself or someone else. In this article I’m going to share with you the books I’ve finished reading this year in the order that I read them, and a few that I almost finished. It’s been a very good year for reading.

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom

All of Mitch Albom’s novels have a touch of the bizarre in them, and this book is no exception. It is a bizarre story, but I enjoyed it a ton. As usual, Albom touches on important topics like relationships, purpose, and meaning in life.

Humans are Underrated by Geoff Colvin

In this well-researched book Colvin makes the argument that humans can do two things better than any computer. Those two things are communicate with empathy and collaborate with other people. These are two essential skills to be an effective business leader. It doesn’t matter if you have all the right answers. You have to understand what another person is thinking and feeling in order to create more appropriate value for that person. Also, you have to generate ideas with other people, and not just tell them what to do.

Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor

Barbara Taylor was a very successful minister who left her church and became a teacher of ministers. This is a powerful and thought-provoking book about not burning out the head of an organization. When congregations or organizations constantly ask the leader to do more and more in an unrelenting fashion, they are asking for trouble. And the trouble is the leader simply burns out. You have to be on the lookout for this before it’s too late.

Peak by Anders Ericsson

Anders Ericsson is one of my favorite thinkers in the world. He spent 45 years studying experts in multiple fields, and in this master class book he explains step by step what it takes to be an expert and to develop expertise in other people. Fairly easy to understand, not so easy to do.

Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer

I’ve also finished most of his books A Hidden Wholeness and The Courage to Teach.

Parker Palmer is an amazingly good writer on the general theme of understanding your true Self and staying true to it. He takes on this topic in multiple ways, but comes back to the same general themes over and over again with more and more depth.

Washington by Ron Chernow

George Washington provided life-changing leadership over and over again as a new organization (the United States of America) emerged and went through its first decade of existence. This book explains Washington in minute detail, and maybe a little too much detail.

The Brothers Warner by Cass Sperling

We went to Hollywood for a family vacation, and I brought this book home as a souvenir. It’s a true rags-to-riches story, but also explains how riches affect people in very different ways. Some become less and less committed to their family commitments while others become more committed to their family.

On Fire by John O’Leary

This is both a remarkably inspiring story of a man who was 100% burned as a child, and a remarkably practical book about leadership. It’s definitely worth a read.

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

This is the story of a man who built and sold a company, made a ton of money, and then risked it all to build a truly great, sustainable organization, Zappos. I found it both inspiring and useful in a down-to-earth way.

Grit by Angela Duckworth

This book is like an encyclopedia on the type of thinking necessary to persevere until you succeed. Duckworth has basically invested herself in a lifetime homework exercise to understand how to succeed, and then explains a wide range of valuable ideas that she has garnered and developed.

Million Dollar Maverick by Alan Weiss

Alan Weiss is a very, very, very, very self-confident person. You will quickly see that if you read this book. If you can get past this extreme version of self-confidence, then I think you will find many golden nuggets of practical wisdom on how to create the life you want for yourself. He is certainly the world’s leading expert on how to build an independent consulting firm.

The Churchill Factor by Boris Johnson

Related to this is a book called Never Surrender by John Kelly that I’m almost finished with.

I found both of these books to be fascinating as they describe what might have been happening in Churchill’s mind as he decided to fight the Nazi Germans during World War II even though the odds of succeeding were approximately zero. I think you will learn ways to push forward in even the most difficult of circumstances.

Start with Why by Simon Sinek

This book had one purpose: to explain the importance of having a purpose in whatever you do. Without a clear sense of purpose, you will likely give up. I enjoyed this book quite a bit.

Know Your Story and Lead with It by Richard Hester and Kelli Walker-Jones

This book was completely new to me. It is the story of two people who interacted with groups of church ministers over a period of many years. Church ministers have one of the most difficult organizational leadership positions I can imagine. They are literally on-call virtually every minute of every day and the issues being thrown at them have an incredibly wide range. One of the most important ideas I learned in this book is the concept of not-knowing. Once we become okay with the idea that we don’t know the answer to a given problem we can begin to interact with other people as together we search for an answer. That’s so much more powerful than saying, “Here’s the solution. Just do it my way.”

Drive by Dan Pink

I enjoyed this book greatly. It emphasized the great importance of intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic motivation. Pink makes the case that the keys to employee motivation are autonomy, purpose, and mastery. If you study this book and watch his TED talks, I think you will see what he is talking about in a very practical way.

Rising Strong by Brenee Brown

Also, I’ve read most of Daring Greatly by her.

A friend of mine recommended Brown to me, and I found her to be incredibly insightful about topics few people talk about: shame, humiliation, failure, picking yourself back up, and getting back into the challenges that matter to you. Her style of writing is combining academic research with west Texas swearin’. If you read her work, you’ll see what I mean.

Balancing Heaven and Earth, He, and Inner Work by Robert Johnson

A friend recommended Johnson to me. I had never heard of him. He is a masterful writer who challenges the reader in a very down-to-earth manner to work to understand himself or herself in many different ways, and then to apply the aspects of that true Self in his or her daily life. He was a Jungian psychologist who emphasized the internal, unconscious self as much as the conscious self. He encourages the reader to find a balance between the pragmatism of making money and the intrinsic meaning in staying true to your purpose in life.

Teacher Man by Franck McCourt

I haven’t read McCourt famous novels, but I found this book to be remarkably refreshing. It’s about the 30 years that he taught high school English. It is very genuine and real in its explanation of what high school teaching is really like in many situations.

The Autobiography of Charles Chaplin by Charles Chaplin

I found this old book in a used bookstore in Fayette, Missouri. It is a great story of a person who honed his craft and stayed true to himself on the road to impacting millions of people through his unique ability to combine comedy and tragedy. I think there are great implications in this book for anyone who wants to master a craft and impact the world. Chaplin was a true Artisan.

Cousy by Bill Reynolds

I’ve always heard about Bob Cousy, but this book helped me to understand the degree of hard work and self-reliance and independence that allowed Cousy to be a part of one of the greatest teams in history, the Boston Celtics of the 1950s and 1960s.

Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey

This is one of those books that once you read it you never see people the same way again. He goes into tremendous detail in explaining four types of temperament and character. They are Guardians, Artisans, Idealists, and Rationalists. It’s the most complex book I read this year, but if you read it all the way to the end it will establish within you a way of seeing the world that is very helpful.

The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo

A great friend loaned me this book with the understanding that I would write in it and then give it back to him. On almost every page I found myself underlining great ideas and then jotting in my notes. In essence, it explains how a simple compelling message rooted in a deeply meaningful purpose can resonate with audiences all over the world. I think if you read it carefully you will become a more effective presenter.

I hope you find something on this list for your stocking this year.

Happy Holidays!



Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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