In my 40 years of dealing with businesspeople, I’ve found that effective leaders often go back to the classics that had a profound impact on their business lives.
Reading and rereading classic books can put us in touch with principles and concepts that have stood the test of time. Here are three books that I go back to time after time, and a brief summary of the insights they contain.
The first is How to Win Friends and Influence People. I admit, as a long-time Dale Carnegie instructor, I’m prejudiced, but this book has impacted millions of readers over the past 80 years.
Its basic message, often misunderstood, is to become genuinely interested in other people, and if you wish to have any influence on others, talk in terms of their interest.
The book’s principles are direct, simple, and clear. Unfortunately, they are sometimes applied in a manipulative way, which quickly becomes evident to discerning adults. However, your life will be richer if you choose to embrace these principles as a way of life, rather than manipulative tips and tricks.
Stress is a big part of today’s world and Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living is packed with practical advice. The sound advice of asking yourself the question “What’s the worst that can happen?” was first published in this book.
Carnegie went on to suggest preparing yourself mentally to accept the worst and then working toward improving the situation.
His thinking was that once you mentally prepare yourself, you are level-headed enough to deal with reality. Excessive stress and panic renders you incapable of dealing with life as it is.
Albert Ellis is another source of practical advice. In his 1961 classic, A Guide to Rational Living, co-authored with Robert Harper, he reminds us of our ABC’s. When over-emotionalizing events he suggests reviewing the following:
A: Activating event (He needed something that began with an A.)
B: What we believe is happening (This is usually an exaggerated view and irrational cause of our stress.)
C: Emotional consequences (Our emotions are caused by what we believe is happening. If we believe something negative is happening, especially if we have an exaggerated or irrational view of it, our mistaken thinking can lead to varying degrees of negative emotions/stress.)
D: Dispute our irrational belief and offer a clear view of reality.
A simple example is contending that “He/she makes me mad!” Actually, we make ourselves upset by over-emotionalizing what happened rather than rationally choosing our response to the situation. Think Pinocchio—”there are no strings on me!”
In step B, Ellis exposes our tendency to “awfulize” and to demand that the world be the way we want it to be. For example, “It’s awful, he/she shouldn’t have done that. It shouldn’t have happened. I can’t stand it!”
By replacing this exaggeration with statements such as, “He/she should have acted as they did, they ought to have said what they said, and that event, whatever it is, should have happened, because it did happen.
“I don’t like it, and I’d prefer another approach, but I’m not in charge of the world or other people’s behaviour, just my own. I’ve handled much worse situations than this and I’ll do it again.”
“Should,” “have to,” and “must” are engrained in our business conversations, but once we replace them with phrases such as “It’s better if …” or “It’s in our best interest to …,” we reduce our stress and clearly seek practical actions.
It’s a tough choice, but eliminating self-defeating behaviour is worth the effort. Ellis calls our tendency to become over-emotional “stupid behaviour by non-stupid people.”
These are only three of the books that have impacted me over the years—there are many others. I suggest seeking out similar timeless classics as a source of inspiration and level-headed thinking.