What Books I Read for “Fun” Taught Me About Leadership

I enjoy reading.  I try to read at least one book every couple of months.  In the last eight months, I’ve read books like Traction, Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why”, and two Tim Ferris books.  But I decided to change course and read one for “fun.”

I first read a book called “Lost on the Appalachian Trail” written by someone who walked away from a good job to rediscover himself on a 2,185.3 mile hike.  I was hooked and could not set that book down.  I was so enamored with it, I bought another book called AWOL on the Appalachian Trail.  Again, it was someone who had a good job, wife and 3 kids, but wanted to take a break from the grind to test himself in ways never before imagined.  And again, a book I couldn’t put down.

These books were great from an entertainment perspective, but also had lessens about being a project management leader:

Even Though Things Suck, They Could Be Worse.  And sometimes it’s way worse.  Imagine walking through the woods with sore, blistered feet.  It’s 90 degrees, humid, and you’re getting eaten alive by mosquitoes.  Just when you think it can’t get any worse, there is a sudden and frightening thunderstorm and you can’t find your rain jacket.

The same goes at the office.  When all hell breaks loose and you think it can’t get any worse, BOOM, it does.  Things can always get worse!

When All Else Fails, Don’t Lose Your Sense of Humor.  Now image you’re wet from the thunderstorm and the bugs are still on you.  Do you sit down and cry?  No.  Instead, you laugh because you thought things couldn’t get any worse and they did.

There will be times in your life where things get tough.  Instead of sitting in a corner sulking or getting angry with your team, try to find your sense humor.  This can help keep moral up for both you and others.

When You’re Struggling, Building Others Up Will Help You Too.  On the Appalachian Trail, hikers get to know each other well.  They learn their story of wanting to hike 2,185+ miles, have shared experiences, and if they hike at the same speed, spend considerable time in each other’s company.  Every one of them had moments where there was doubt in what they were doing, but held each other up.

At work there will be struggles.  Sometimes they’re small, and other times they can negatively impact you and your team.  During these turbulent times, build your people up and show them better times are ahead.  In doing so, you build yourself up also.

Don’t Let Minor Setbacks Distract You From Your End Goal.  Based on what I read, EVERYONE gets hurt on that trail.  From falls between boulders and breaking arms to ending up in the ER for a severely infected blister, hikers had to take days if not weeks off to recover.  But even with these setbacks, they didn’t lose sight of their goal; the other end of the trail.

Projects always have risks and frequently have issues.  Don’t let these issues, which are usually nothing more than minor setbacks, distract you from the ultimate goal.

Be Flexible, Because Plans Change!  Everyday hikers had a plan to make it a certain number of miles.  Good sleeping conditions and sometimes food depended on it.  However, unforeseen factors (weather, elevation, a wrong turn) can derail those plans.  Hikers needed to stay flexible when these events happened.

The most successful teams and organizations have a level of organizational agility to be able to pivot when changes occur.

Next time you read a book for “fun”, look for things that can help you be a better project management leader.  Not only will you enjoy the book, you can also find value for your work-life.

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