Reading books across a wide spectrum of topics can help you develop the skills needed to calmly and confidently tackle the challenges you face as a firm leader.
As an AEC firm leader, you are confronted daily with tasks and challenges spread across a broad range of topics. One minute you could be navigating an HR dispute over your company’s hybrid work policy, the next you’re reviewing the firm’s quarterly financial results and trying to diagnose why revenue is 10 percent below the projection. These challenges come with the job description, but your architecture or engineering degree coursework probably didn’t cover these thorny problems.
Rather than succumb to the burden of juggling flaming torches outside of your comfort zone, let me suggest an alternative: unleash your full potential through borrowed wisdom. Reading books across a wide spectrum of topics can help you develop the skills needed to address your crisis du jour confidently and calmly. Over the years, I developed a habit of reading for 30 minutes each morning on topics crucial to my role as a firm leader, and it is the most valuable investment I have made in my career. Here’s why:
- Reading allows me to develop skills for which I received no formal training. My mechanical engineering degree had fabulous courses on thermodynamics, heat transfer, and fluid dynamics (and some not so fabulous classes on differential equations), but courses on corporate finance and human psychology were notably absent. I’ve found that reading books on these topics equips me to better understand real human emotions and real dollars and cents.
- Reading allows me to learn from the wisdom of others. Most issues facing AEC firm leaders today are not new; at the very least our modern conundrums rhyme with those that have been present for decades. If the only way to tackle these challenges was by arming ourselves with personal experience, it would take multiple lifetimes to be prepared. Instead, reading books allows us to learn from the wisdom and experience of those who came before. They have developed best practices and learned from their mistakes, and you can benefit from the summary of those life lessons.
- Reading allows me to stay on top of the latest developments. While most of today’s challenges are not new, some challenges are unique to the current moment. Academic researchers are constantly probing new questions and applying new research methodologies in service of making our organizations stronger and more effective. Reviewing publications like the Harvard Business Review and The Zweig Letter will allow you to glean up-to-the-minute insights from professionals in these unique areas of study. If preparing a hybrid work policy or figuring out how to make your firm more diverse and inclusive is causing you anxiety, fear not because great minds are hard at work collecting best practices on these very topics.
Reading allows me to better serve the people that matter most: my employees and my customers. All the benefits noted above are not valuable in and of themselves. It is the application of these lessons to the benefit of those in our care that creates true value. Better understanding how our human brains work (or don’t work, in some cases) allows me to relate to my teammates and customers more effectively and empathetically.
For example, our EEA book club recently read Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead, and among the dozens of valuable insights about vulnerability and interpersonal relationships was a very succinct but powerful nugget: “Clear is kind.” The idea is simple but profound, and directly impacts our ability to hold each other accountable. As humans we tend to hedge and sugarcoat our difficult conversations, but this does not serve the individual or the organization. We have to learn to be clear in all of our communications, and this phrase is now part of the internal lexicon for several of us in the firm.
So, what now? For some of you, tackling a stack of business and leadership books can seem as imposing as climbing a mountain. My suggestion is to just get started: pick a topic of interest, or a problem that is currently plaguing you, and head to your nearest used bookstore. For less than $10 you can get your hands on some valuable information and insights to help you along your journey. If you’re looking for a place to start, here are a few general-purpose gems I recommend:
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
- Good to Great by Jim Collins
- The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni
- Start With Why by Simon Sinek
One final word of advice: life is short and there are millions of books. If the first one you grab doesn’t grab you back, ditch it and move on to the next one. Enjoy the journey and remember, not every superhero wears a cape, they may just read a lot of books!
Morgan Stinson is chief operating officer at EEA Consulting Engineers. Contact him at email@example.com.