An MBA from a prestigious university and the ability to create a compelling strategic plan will only take you so far up the executive ladder. What differentiates excellence from mediocrity — and is pivotal to your leadership success — is attention to your inner game.

However, we find that an overwhelming percentage of attention is paid to external factors when executive coaching clients first reach out to us. In fact, it is often only after a major setback, financial loss or similar blow that some leaders reflect on their own mental dexterity.

It should be the other way around.

Like a professional athlete, honing your leadership inner game drives your performance to new levels. Step one involves developing an awareness. By noticing your own thoughts, moods and perspectives, you begin to invite change.

The next phase encompasses learning — and implementing — your new skills.

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7 Must-Read Books to Improve Your Leadership Inner Game

Akin to training for an athletic event or becoming proficient in a foreign language, working on your inner game requires constant and consistent practice, but the payoffs will quickly become evident.

As you cultivate your emotional intelligence and gain greater control of your own mood states, you’ll notice a shift in your performance — buoyed by a greater capacity to read the cues and nuances in your environment, and the ability to adjust your leadership strategy effectively.

One way to boost your leadership inner game is to read.

I firmly believe that books can help us live far richer, more robust lives by enhancing our ability to see the world through new perspectives. The following books are my top picks for leaders:

  1. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman

Across demographic, geographic and industry lines, the most powerful leaders possess a high level of emotional intelligence. Rather than being stuck on one octave, playing just a few keys of the piano, these leaders have access to the full range of the keyboard. A positive psychology classic, this groundbreaking book explains why intelligence — measured by IQ — simply isn’t enough to ensure success.

  1. Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy

The somatic messages we convey often speak louder than our words; in fact, by some estimates, 93 percent of our communication is non-verbal. Our gestures, posture, gait and tone of voice not only influence the way others see us, but how we feel about ourselves as well. Making small tweaks can have a significant bearing on our confidence and impact, as Amy Cuddy explains in this book.

  1. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler

Difficult situations have the potential to cause unease among even the most seasoned executives, who would prefer to avoid, rather than confront, the problem. Unfortunately, as we often remind our executive coaching clients, ignoring it doesn’t work and, in fact, can come at a great cost to individual employees, team, organization — and the leader themselves. This book can help you break the comfort barrier in order to engage in crucial conversations with greater finesse and impact.

  1. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Taking ownership of your thoughts allows you to move forward along the path to success and fulfillment. As a leader, it also enhances your ability to take stock of the bigger picture. As Eckhart Tolle explains in this profound book, understanding that perspective is a choice ultimately leads to accountability — and meaning. He emphasizes the importance of taking responsibility for our thoughts and actions throughout the book, which highlights the benefits of fully embracing the present moment.

  1. Maslow on Management by Abraham H. Maslow

This classic book, intertwining psychology and business, stands the test of time. Dr. Abraham Maslow is well known for his work on the hierarchy of human needs and self-actualization. Based partly on his observations as a factory worker, as well as on psychological theory and research, this book offers great insight into what drives people at their core.

  1. Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute

executive coaching enhance leadership skillsForcing us to look at our blind spots is the first step in correcting them, paving the way for enhanced communication, increased productivity and long-term success. Cultivating the ability to see things from another person’s perspective is among the ways this book helps break the cycle of “self-deception,” which, as its authors explain, prevents leaders from reaching their full potential.

  1. The Success Principles: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be by Jack Canfield

While there is no shortage of books about success, this one rises to the top of our list because it encompasses over 60 proven principles and strategies derived from success stories throughout history. Its author, Jack Canfield, co-creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, understands success based on his decades of research. As a result, he not only walks the talk, but is able to provide a wide variety of proven strategies that you can incorporate into your leadership inner game — today.

As you work on your leadership inner game, you might also be interested in attending MindMastery, our one-day, immersive workshop that teaches you how to change your thoughts, moods and behaviors, allowing you to respond to situations with greater mental acuity. Contact us to see when the next workshop will be offered. Workshops include two individual follow-up sessions with one of our certified coaches.

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