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Learn from Those Gone Before

Learn from Those Gone Before

“One of the most depressing facts about military history is how very little of the great warlords ever learn from the mistakes – indeed, the calamities – of their predecessors.”

Alistair Horne: Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century

Sir Alistair was 90 years old when he published the book quoted above after having made a career of learning from the past. Today we have a historically unprecedented vehicle from learning from the mistakes and calamities, and the achievements and triumphs, of others: the availability of books on every subject imaginable. I’ll share a few that contain particularly important lessons for problems that we all, at one time or another, will face.

The War of Art: My brand new book Winning the War with Yourself Field Manual is dedicated to author Steve Pressfield because in this indispensable book he clearly identifies the nature of the inner enemy that we all must overcome in order to be our best selves and achieve our most important goals. He calls it Resistance (I call it YOWE – Your Own Worst Enemy). The solution to beating Resistance (he capitalizes the word the way a historian capitalizes Black Plague or Great Depression) is to turn pro – to show up every day with your hard hat and your lunch pail and do your work.

The Total Money Makeover: Dave Ramsey’s classic book takes a tough love approach to getting yourself out of debt and getting your finances under control. You must, he says, have “gazelle-like intensity” about wiping out your debt, and prescribes a very practical approach for staying focused on that goal.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: Marshall Goldsmith is one of the world’s top executive coaches and this book is about how to grow into a bigger career, but it is based on much deeper wisdom that applies to growing in every other dimension of your life. I think of it as a practical handbook for being the Level 5 leader described by Jim Collins, a blending of genuine personal humility (including being willing to welcome constructive criticism) coupled with ironclad determination (including being willing to make tough personal changes after absorbing the lessons of that criticism).

Younger Next Year: Murphy’s Law of Combat says that a good scare is more effective than good advice. After a career of working in and for hospitals, late last year I had my first ever horizontal experience – two weeks as an inpatient with acute diverticulitis. So I am now much more receptive to the advice of Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge, which essentially boils down to eat less, eat better, and exercise more (like every single day, no exceptions).

Art & Fear: In this fascinating study authors David Bayles and Ted Orland show that art students who are challenged with making the largest quantity of ceramic pots make higher quality pots than students who are charged with making the highest quality pots. The lesson? Never allow yourself to fall into the trap of analysis paralysis. Or as I put it in – Proceed Until Apprehended (and if you proceed fast enough by the time they figure out what you’re doing, it will be too late to apprehend you :-).

The Truth About Leadership: Another great book by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, creators of The Leadership Challenge. In the chapter “Values Drive Commitment” the authors make two vital points: 1) clarity of personal values individual effectiveness and achievement; and 2) the more clear an individual is about his or her personal values, the more solidly they will embrace the values and vision of their organization. This is one of the reasons at Values Coach we like to say that culture does not change unless and until people change.

How about you? What are your favorite lessons from your favorite books?

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