Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.
— Socrates

I have a confession. I dropped out of college in my sophomore year.

Later I was hired to be a stockbroker by the largest brokerage firm in the world. I am convinced it was, at least in part, because I knew details about a city in Europe. How did I know anything about Europe, having never been?

Reading. Paying attention. Curiosity.

The conversations I had with the hiring manager convinced him that I was educated and could speak to him as a peer. This helped me land a professional job and a few years later, the same attributes helped me realize it was the wrong job. Both were valuable.

Later, I enrolled at the University of North Carolina-Asheville really ready to take advantage of what was, and still is, offered. Later, as a graduate student, I was expansive in my interests. My desire to study things outside of my field perplexed others, even professors-perhaps especially professors. I ignored them, which has benefitted me greatly.

Years later, having observed hundreds of leaders, I can say without equivocation that if you are a leader, or want to be, there is no better investment than that in your own learning.

Breadth of knowledge is of inestimable value.

I’m often asked: “What should I read?” The best answer is–as much and as broadly as you can. A more specific answer, with commentary, is offered below in both written and video format:

Watch my reading list, with commentary:

Drive – The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.
—Daniel Pink

This is the most dog-eared book I own. It is by a writer who has the ability to read and understand original research then creates a highly useful and engaging book. Dan Pink’s ability to make scientific knowledge accessible is astonishing.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
—Carol Dweck.

A breakthrough book that argues against the mainstream belief that intelligence is fixed and unitary. Important for anyone who wants to help others develop or do so themselves.

Influence, Science and Practice.
—Robert Cialdini

Cialdini is the expert on influence. His research reveals principles that any leader, or any person for that matter, can apply.

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.
—Adam Grant

Grant, a Wharton professor, writes about important business ideas and concepts in an engaging and memorable way. He shows us how breaking the B-school rules can work out and gives examples that not only surprise the reader but surprised him.

Thinking Fast and Slow.
—Daniel Kahneman

Kahneman is the only psychologist to win a Nobel in Economics for his work with colleague Amos Tversky. His work set the foundation for the field of behavioral economics, a young but vibrant field of study with broad application. This is a dense book but worth the effort.

Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life.
—Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D.

A fascinating look at optimism, based on research but with obvious practical use. Like Dweck’s work, Seligman debunks the notion that a construct is both fixed and unitary.

“Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases.”
—Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. Science, 185 (1974), 1124–1131.

A seminal piece of research that illuminates way in which human cognition, even in very smart people, is fallible and is so in systematic ways. It is one of, if not the most cited scientific article ever published.


My new book High-Stakes Leadership: Leading through crisis with courage, judgment and fortitude, is available for pre-order at Amazon.