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  • Writer's picturePaul LaLonde

Paul’s Top 5 Reads in 2021

“The world has changed. I see it in the water. I feel it in the Earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Do you ever wonder about how much knowledge has been forgotten? How much has been lost to history? From ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Ideas, biographies, history – so much we used to know that burned like books in the Library of Alexandria.

Similarly, organizations suffer from this when they lack sufficient institutional knowledge. Long gone are the days where folks stay at organizations for decades. When people leave, they take more than their skills. They also take their knowledge.

And both are linked. Without knowledge, there can be no skill. Where does one get knowledge? Many places, but the place where I prefer to get mine are in book! When Jon Snow asked Tyrion Lannister why he read so much, Tyrion replied: “…a mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone. That’s why I read so much, Jon Snow.”

This is why I read so much, too! When people leave, you can figure out a way to weather the storm by learning more through consistent reading! It’s a way to build some relief when institutional knowledge leaves.

Without reading and thinking, the mind – much like the body without exercise – becomes withered and useless. I encourage everyone seeking to be a leader, or a better version of themselves (often the two are not mutually exclusive), that reading opens the pathway to many abilities some consider to be marketable!

2021 was no exception. So, here are my top five reads of 2021!

Anyone who knows me knows how much Stoicism has influenced who I am as a person. When Ryan Holiday announced that he was releasing a series of books on the four key virtues of ancient philosophy. The first in the series is incredibly timely – COURAGE. It’s a concept that Holiday notes is needed (seemingly) now more than ever. Without courage, according to Holiday, as well as many ancient philosophers, there can be no other virtues. Being a better person and bettering yourself begins with and ends with courage.

Key take away: Courage is not an absence of fear. Courage is acting in spite of your fear! To go through the journey of courage, one must face fear. Facing it and concurring it is courage. This ultimately helps you become something more: Heroic. Heroes put the interests of others above their own self-interest.

Key passage: “Courage is risk. It is sacrifice. …commitment …perseverance …truth …determination. When you do the thing others cannot or will not do.” (pg. xix)

I cannot recall when I first came across Laurie’s name, but she has deeply influenced me and my career for years. Her attitude of “this is who I am, deal or don’t” is something I try to aspire to! It’s not in a cocky or “I’m better than you” way. I think this ethos is incredibly poignant in her former motto “Punk Rock HR!” As a metalhead, this is something I’ve become deeply inspired by. Her book is a culmination of her story and journey of not coloring inside the lines and still making beautiful art.

Key take away: Work sucks, or at least most of it does. And you cannot fix work unless you fix YOU first. This makes total sense when you think of the flight attendant’s instructions. Put YOUR mask on first, and then you can help others put their masks on. Do the work to fix yourself.

Key passage: “Recruiting conferences are notoriously dull, but Lars [Schmidt] took the stage and expressed a passion for radically reinventing the world of work around talented employees. He asked people to stop thinking the worst of workers and start designing HR policies and programs that highlighted the best in employees. And he challenged the audience to be better versions of themselves, too.” (pg. 203)

This book is a game changer. It NEEDS to be a text book in EVERY HR program in the country. It’s that important and ground breaking, in my opinion. The influence needs to be extended to every HR professional from here to Taiwan and back. The book centers on how HR is changing, and for HR professionals to take ownership in this change – be active in it, not simply be passengers in the revolution.

Key take away: The key take away for me is Lars’ emphasis on changing “legacy HR” to “modern HR.” For any HR system to thrive, Lars argues, it needs to shift and embrace Modern HR, as outlined below:

Legacy HR:

  1. Elaborate programs with them as gatekeeper of corporate decisions

  2. Needlessly complex processes, forms, policies

  3. Go to HR when you’re in trouble

  4. “That’s the policy.”

  5. “You need to file this form before we can process.”

Modern HR:

  1. Refocus on the “people”

  2. Common sense programs supporting an environment where employees can do their best work

  3. Go to HR when you need strategic support and guidance – strategic thought partners

  4. Solutions based ideas – get to “yes” unless it’s illegal or stupid

  5. Analytics – DATA driven

Key passage: “The modern CHRO holds one of the most difficult positions in the C-Suite. You have to possess a deep understanding of the business that’s on par with your executive peers. You need to be able to influence and guide the CEO as a trusted advisor on all things people. You must grasp the nuance of your business and strategic plan so that you can align your people strategy for where you are today an where you’re going over the next several years. All while overseeing the company’s most volatile asset – its people.” (pg. 26)

Adam Grant is a national treasure. His ability to take complex problems and offer approachable solutions is uncanny. I have been a huge fan since I saw him on the keynote stage at National SHRM Conference in 2018. His ability to be “real world” with academic ideas can help anyone up their work and personal game. In this book, he clearly lays out that you are not as smart as you think you are, and that’s OK! We all have what’s called “bounded rationality,” or knowledge is limited! We don’t know, and cannot know, everything, or even a majority of things! It is impossible, so we need to be open to changing how we think and understand information!

Key take away: I think this entire book can be summed up in these amazing quotes:

“It is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks one already knows.” – Epictetus

“You must unlearn what you have learned.” – Yoda

Key passage: “Who you are should be a question of what you value, not what you believe. Values are your core principles in life – they might be excellence and generosity, freedom and fairness, or security and integrity. Basing your identity on these kinds of principles enables you to remain openminded about the best ways to advance them.” (pg. 64)

A revolutionary book to the way I think is Essentialism, so when I saw the sequel come out, I pounced! Both books are about simplicity being key! So, in keeping with that theme, I will keep this short and sweet. Buy the book! You won’t regret! 😊

Key take away: There’s a theory called Occam’s razor. Essentially, it means the simplest explanation is the likely correct one. Applied to decision making, you can ask the question “What is the simplest way to achieve my desired results?” That’s the key to the book!

Key passage: “Essentialism is about doing the right things; Effortless is about doing the right way.” (pg. 12)

Honorable Mentions:

I had three other books I read in 2021 that really hit me different. However, they were not released in 2021… so, I just wanted to mention them in case you were interested!

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