We all know that books play a critical role in both personal and professional learning. They have the power to transform your life and help you achieve your potential in all areas of life. And when it comes to lifelong learning, there are quite a few that stand out as classics.
In fact, Jerel Bonner, managing director and co-founder of Corralling Chaos, recently reached out to us to share the particular books he’s found most valuable in his work focused on creating authentic leaders and high-performing teams.
In this episode of the Leading Learning Podcast, co-host Jeff Cobb talks with return guest Jerel about four classic books he believes to be essential career resources: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport, Mindset by Carol Dweck, and Grit by Angela Duckworth. They discuss key concepts from each and how to use them to maximize their impact and value.
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[00:00] – Intro
The Powerful Role of Books in Personal and Professional Learning
[01:21] – How do you view the role of books in general versus other types of resources in your own personal and professional learning mix?
Jerel thinks audio listeners are losing out on the learning process because of all the possible distractions. However, when reading, he can tag the page and add notes into an Evernote file of everything he’s reading. This makes it easy to reference when talking to clients. He also talks about how reading helped him realize and tap into his unconscious competence.
[05:34] – Jeff points out that people often view books as static, passive artifacts. But if you’re really engaging with a book, taking notes, etc., it actually makes it active. Hopefully, you will go back and review books over time because encountering them at different points in time can be a really eye-opening experience.
Jerel recalls reading several different books and how they were all connected by the author’s work. Your mental algorithm makes those connections and then you want to stay on the path because you’re really learning and growing, and you’re able to use it. He now takes his book covers when he makes presentations to show clients the methodologies he’s using, which is important because they want to know. Using those books as the anchors and showing them those are the tools he’s going to use is really helpful.
Four Essential Career Books
[09:26] – You reached out with four specific books for the purposes of this podcast, and those were:
- The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
- So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport
- Mindset by Carol Dweck
- Grit by Angela Duckworth
What makes these four books in your mind so essential as a career resource?
These four books, I think, are really, really core because they’re the fundamental tools and mindset you need to actually deal with the world we live in today and your career path. And, if you don’t have these four principles locked down and using them in an unconscious competence fashion, you’re going to really struggle.Jerel Bonner
[12:28] – At Tagoras, we’re experts in the global business of lifelong learning, and we use our expertise to help clients better understand their markets, connect with new customers, make the right investment decisions, and grow their learning businesses. We achieve these goals through expert market assessment, strategy formulation, and platform selection services. If you are looking for a partner to help your learning business achieve greater reach, revenue, and impact, learn more at tagoras.com/services.
[13:03] – For anyone who needs a refresher or isn’t familiar with the book, the seven habits outlined in the book are:
- Be Proactive
- Begin With the End in Mind
- Put First Things First
- Think Win-Win
- Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
- Sharpen the Saw
Do you have particular habits that you value more than others? Or any that you would really focus on from a career standpoint?
The three that Jerel thinks are most important are:
- Begin with the end in mind
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood
- Sharpen the saw
If you don’t begin with the end in mind, then you won’t know where you’re going. Part of that is also being proactive and choosing. Also, you can’t have relationship power or success if you can’t first listen to yourself and understand your own wants and needs. Because if you can’t understand yourself, you can’t understand others.
Jerel made a mission statement about the six competencies of success, which was a result of The Seven Habits. This is sharpening that saw so he can better understand who he is and get better in his mission statement. He references a quote that said, “There’s nothing worse than getting to the top of the mountain and realizing you’re on the wrong mountain.”
You’ve got to have your mission statement so you know where you’re going, and you can put it all together. In today’s world, we talk about personal and employer branding and having a life with purpose and meaning. You can’t go anywhere without your mission statement.
[18:03] – This book challenges the idea that if you’re just passionate about something, everything else is going to follow. From Cal’s perspective, it is about doing the work to develop the habits and craftsman-like practices that are going to make you great at something, and then passion will follow. What do you think about Cal in this mix that we’re talking about?
So Good They Can’t Ignore You was the last piece of the puzzle for Jerel to help him fill in the blanks. The book explains how you need to first figure out your economic engine, and then figure out if you’re passionate about it. Also, you’re not going to figure out your purpose tonight, it’s going to take years.
When people ask Jerel, what makes him happy, it’s saving lives. He works blood drives, hikes for cystic fibrosis, and helps people in ways that most people don’t because that’s what he’s about. But, at the end of the day, he’s not going to get paid for this. You can’t make a successful living donating your blood for free every two months. You have to have some mechanism to make money so you can have a healthy lifestyle, so your blood is even good enough to donate.
The book explains that if you don’t put the 10,000 hours in, you’re just not going to get that good at it, and, if you’re not good at it, you’re not going to be able to create value. If it takes you five years to figure out what you’re good at, Cal says that’s what you should be doing. You have to get on the path and figure out what is valuable to other people on that path so that you can have an economic engine.
Jeff adds that both Covey and Newport lead the way to points that Carol Dweck and Angela Duckworth make. It is this idea that you invest in doing the work and becoming better and better. Even though Covey says you start with the end in mind, it doesn’t mean the end is crystal clear. It’s still sort of shaping as you invest in the work overtime.
In Cal Newport’s world, as you do the work and become better at it, you have that economic engine, control, and autonomy that’s related to your work, and the passion starts to emerge from that. Underlying both of those is the idea that this is possible. If you’re not necessarily born with enormous talent or genius, as Angela Duckworth would put it, you don’t necessarily know what your passion is right out of the gate. You can do the work and get yourself to the point where you become who you’re going to value in life.
[23:37] – Carol Dweck’s Mindset is based on the idea that there’s a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe they aren’t going to be able to learn, grow, develop, and achieve what they want to in life even if they invest in doing the work. Whereas somebody with a growth mindset believes if they focus, do the work, and develop good habits over time, that good things are going to happen.
It takes 10-15 years on average to get up the corporate ladder (whatever ladder it is), whether you’re jumping from one business to another or from one industry sector to another sector. You’re leveraging those skills and there’s always got to be a set of habits. There’s a course of habits in the marketplace that you’ve got to have, regardless of which market you’re in.
Jerel’s mission statement was two sentences, and he has about 30 different rules that he follows. The rules of life and the fixed mindset versus the growth mindset are that you have to be open to seeing the upside potential and then evaluate the risk. Then it’s about how you make that calculation, and how you deal with it when you’re finished with it.
You can see when you’re dealing with people that have groupthink—a fixed mindset where they can’t see the upside. Anybody that can’t see the upside is going to fail, or they’re going to plateau out. Organizations aren’t going to be able to make jumps if they’re not innovative enough and don’t have a growth mindset in their organization.
[26:14] – Grit focuses on perseverance and that it tends to compound over time. Essentially, that good things happen when you do the work. How do you think about this?
Angela Duckworth’s Grit and Carol Dweck’s Mindset, both anchor on a quote Jerel has heard, “Hard work beats talent ’til talent works hard.” You can have talent, but, if you don’t actually put the hard work behind it, you’re just not going to get there.
You’re going to have obstacles, you’re going to have to overcome them, and you’re going to dig down. Again, if you have your mission statement and you’re good at it, you’re not going to worry about the mistakes you make. Grit and Mindset work hand in hand because you’re going to grow from your mistakes.
We learn how to practice in safe environments to get it right, so we can go into environments that aren’t safe and not make mistakes. We know where to test new material and ideas, and what to look for. This makes it so we can try it in uncharted waters—because we have the growth mindset and grit not to give up.
How to Use the Four Books to Maximize Value
[30:27] – How might you recommend listeners make use of these books? How do these actually factor into your own life and your own career so that you’re continuing to get value out of them?
Based on Seven Habits, Jerel has his mission statement, so he knows and is comfortable with who he is. He knows what makes him good and where he provides value. If somebody isn’t interested in learning about growing, then he knows that’s not going to be a fit. Mindset, knowing that we can adapt, and looking for the upside versus the negative, is really important. With Grit, it’s not giving up—you have to look for answers and to find different solutions.
If you want to get to the top, you can’t give up, and you’re not going to give up on something that you’re so good at and you love doing it. If you love doing it, you’re not going to give it up. So that’s where you just keep trying and keep trying until you find the right combination.
Jeff suggests reading these four books either for the first time or revisiting them, maybe carving out some time to reread all four of them over some time. He also recommends getting them in either a print or Kindle version so you can interact with the text in the way that was previously mentioned. These are four great classics to have on your “golden bookshelf” from both a career standpoint and a lifelong learning standpoint.
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