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Leaders Are Readers: Patton’s Book Picks from 2023

January 24, 2024

In my lifelong learning focus on nonprofit leadership, I've always championed the philosophy that deep reading broadens our understanding and enhances our ability to lead effectively. After reviewing my reading list from the past year, I've got a selection of books for you that are not only insightful but also highly relevant to the challenges and opportunities you're likely facing on your path to nonprofit leadership. Here's a closer look at each book, along with specific notes on their application to our field:

1. 10X is Better than 2X by Dan Sullivan and Ben Hardy 

guest-51a3a835-b54a-472d-87b9-a852b31546b5'10X is Better than 2X' by Sullivan and Hardy is a compelling advocate for exponential thinking in leadership. Particularly useful when completing your vision framework, this book encourages nonprofit leaders to set far-reaching goals and transcend traditional limits. It emphasizes the necessity of scaling impact and adopting innovative strategies aligned with your organization's vision. The book guides leaders in dreaming ambitiously and materializing those dreams through practical strategies. Its focus on transformative change is essential for leaders seeking to make a significant impact. An essential read for leaders at various career stages, especially when defining or refining their organizational vision.


2. Die With Zero by Bill Perkins 

61-4ehz4fal-ac-uf1000-1000-ql80In 'Die With Zero', Perkins provides a novel perspective on balancing wealth and life experiences, making it particularly relevant for personal vision work in the nonprofit sector. He promotes a life strategy that values enriching experiences over financial accumulation. This approach resonates with nonprofit values, urging leaders to invest in experiences that enhance both personal and communal life. The book guides readers in optimizing life's journey, stressing the alignment of personal and professional goals with deeper values and aspirations a vital concept for nonprofit leaders balancing personal fulfillment with professional dedication.


3. Poor Charlie's Almanack by Charles Munger 

51nnbsm9bfl-sl1200-24636'Poor Charlie's Almanack', a collection of Charles Munger's wisdom, serves as a tribute to Munger, who passed away this year. It offers invaluable insights for senior nonprofit leaders in decision-making and problem-solving. Munger's multidisciplinary thinking approach is especially beneficial for navigating complex nonprofit challenges. His principles, like lifelong learning and ethical living, resonate with nonprofit values and has me now capturing key mental models that I want to learn and utilize. This book is a guide to principled leadership and decision-making, continuing Munger's legacy of inspiring leaders to make impactful, thoughtful decisions.


4. Presence by Amy Cuddy

81k0aygzeol-ac-uf1000-1000-ql80Cuddy's 'Presence' is a groundbreaking exploration of how our physical presence influences our personal and professional lives. For nonprofit leaders, understanding and harnessing the power of presence can be transformative. Cuddy delves into how small changes in body language can significantly affect our confidence and leadership abilities. This is particularly relevant in the nonprofit sector, where leaders need to inspire, motivate, and engage with a variety of stakeholders. The book offers practical advice on using presence to enhance personal impact, from public speaking to team leadership. It's an essential read for leaders at all levels, helping them to project confidence, authenticity, and inspire trust.


5. Taking Smart Notes by Sonke Ahren 

screen-shot-2023-12-27-at-9-30-30-amAhren offers a wonderful guide to efficient and effective note-taking and knowledge management. This method is highly beneficial for emerging nonprofit leaders, helping them build and organize their knowledge base. Ahren's system facilitates the organization of thoughts and ideas, promoting creativity and productivity. This book is a valuable tool for personal development and professional efficiency, offering a method for managing the vast array of information that leaders encounter and need to synthesize in their decision-making processes.




6. The Manager's Handbook by David Dodson 

71vzboopspl-ac-uf1000-1000-ql80The Manager's Handbook' by David Dodson is a comprehensive guide for effective leadership and management, particularly relevant for mid-career nonprofit professionals aspiring to senior roles. It covers a range of topics crucial for leadership, including decision-making, team-building, and conflict resolution. Dodson's practical and empathetic approach provides actionable strategies for managing teams and projects, emphasizing the importance of emotional intelligence and clear communication in leadership. This book is a valuable resource for developing a leadership style that is both authentic and effective.



7. Unhackable by Kary Oberbrunner 

61egpvh-dfl-ac-uf1000-1000-ql80In today's world of endless distractions, 'Unhackable' by Kary Oberbrunner is a vital guide for nonprofit leaders striving to maintain focus and achieve their goals. Oberbrunner presents strategies for creating an 'unhackable' life, where one can stay focused and make meaningful progress towards their objectives. This book is particularly relevant for nonprofit leaders who need to manage their attention effectively amidst the constant demands on their time and resources. It offers tools and techniques for enhancing personal and professional effectiveness, helping leaders to achieve their goals with greater efficiency and impact.


Reading these books has deepened my understanding of and approach to nonprofit leadership. I hope they provide you with the same inspiration and guidance they have offered me.

Dr. Patton McDowell, CFRE, MBAis the author of the best-selling Your Path to Nonprofit Leadership and host of the weekly podcast, also titled Your Path to Nonprofit Leadership.  He founded PMA Nonprofit Leadership in 2009, and has coached and consulted with over 275 nonprofit organizations. A Certified Fundraising Executive and Master Trainer for AFP Global, he also serves as an Executive in Residence at Cornell University's Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy.