Good reads

by Jini Stolk

First of all, reading can make you happier, and bibliotherapy is a growing movement to use the empathy we experience when reading great literature to help deal with the daily emotional challenges of existence. I don’t know what a trained bibiotherapist would recommend for what ails me, but I’m sure enjoying my new book club and I eagerly await book suggestions from any of you out there. I’ll be reading on the beach.

Five Good Ideas, for those of you with a more professional turn of mind. A recent rereading reminded me that this little volume on Practical Strategies for Non-Profit Success, edited by Alan Broadbent and Ratna Omidvar, contains some succinct and very good advice on leadership, organizational effectiveness, communications, governance and more. Wisdom for the price of 6 lattes.

For those who want to delve deeper, I owe these suggestions in their entirety to Museum 2.0 – the 3 books on leadership that Nina Simon found most helpful in navigating an aspect of organizational change and leadership.

Nonprofit Lifecycles: Stage-Based Wisdom for Nonprofit Capacity by Susan Kenny Stevens. This slim book provides cogent and insightful analysis of organizational evolution from startup to growth to maturity to decline to turnaround (hopefully). Nina says “I have used this book in many ways over the past few years: to diagnose and understand an organization that was new to me, to plan for the future, and now, to relearn the needs and abilities of my organization as it moves out of turnaround and into growth. These 130 pages have a magical quality; I keep finding more in them. I didn’t know what “capacity building” meant when I first picked up this book. I still don’t entirely. But I do know that this book keeps helping me learn and grow… and that’s about as good a definition as I’ve got at this point.”

The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins. Nina says “I’ve been recommending this book to many friends and colleagues recently as they take on new leadership roles. Unlike the other two books on this list, this book is more about the individual in the organization than the organization itself. I found it to be incredibly helpful when I was preparing for and then taking on an executive director role, but it can be useful for anyone taking on a new role who wants to do so mindfully and successfully. This book uses the classic business book formula–pithy missives mixed with diverse examples–but it does so really, really well. The thing it does best is help you think about how to strategically plan out not just what you will do at work but who you will be, and how you can construct your position, relationships, and roles intentionally instead of having them “happen” to you.

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni. Nina says “I picked up this book on a whim at the beginning of the year based on the fact that Fractured Atlas, an organization I admire, was using it to guide their work. Like The First 90 Days, The Advantage employs a classic business book formula. But instead of focusing on individual leadership, this book focuses on organizational culture. I’m not sure I completely buy Lencioni’s big idea, but the content is solid and useful–regardless of what trumps what. For us at the MAH, this book has been helpful as we shift from a startup culture of change and experimentation into a growth culture of strengthening and deepening our work. We are using approaches from The Advantage to write meaningful organizational values, infuse those into our hiring, onboarding and performance review processes, and protect and cultivate the unique aspects of our interpersonal culture that make us thrive.”

And, perhaps, the big read: The Age of Culture by D. Paul Schafer, former chair of the Ontario Arts Council. “Paul Schafer’s vision of the centrality of culture to our lives, to societal development, and to the future of civilization has shaped policy development at the local, national, and international levels over the past four decades. His message cannot be ignored.” – Joyce Zemans, York University

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