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Books on Leadership, Learning, and Personal Growth That Led Me Through 2020

J. Schatzel works in healthcare administration in rural upstate New York and has a master's degree in history.

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The Books That Led Me Through 2020

In 2020, a pandemic, American politics, my company restructuring, and the unexpected shift to remote work and remote learning turned my world upside down. I found myself working from home, with young children, while taking college courses on the side. For part of the year, I was furloughed and paralyzed by uncertainty. For another part of the year, I was operating on overdrive, trying to keep up with infinite work. The following books are those through which I intended to distract myself from my insecurities, confusion, and frustration with the world in 2020. Rather than dwelling on vulnerability and grief, I sought some semblance of purpose, presence, and growth.

Had it been the year I had anticipated, I may have read about half of the books that made their way into my life in 2020. I did not have much time to read, unencumbered from toddlers or work, without losing that precious little sleep my brain was capable of amidst the chaos. My reading time was limited to my lunch breaks, time on the exercise bike after my kids went to bed, or on weekends before my kids woke up. Or… in those few and far between surprise instances… that both kids napped at the same time.

I have grouped the books into three areas; Professional Growth, Educational Growth, and Personal Growth. Everyone’s situation is unique, and whether you found yourself becoming a teaching assistant for your children, becoming a tech guru as you navigated remote work, seeking career advancement, trying to keep the job you already have, or just trying to survive the chaos, I hope you will find the following books as helpful as I did!

Professional Growth

I will begin with the Professional Growth books, as when 2020 began, I had determined it would be my year of professional learning, networking, stepping out of my comfort zone, and developing new skills. I work in healthcare administration, and was aiming to improve my leadership and project management skills in 2020. I planned to read some pertinent books, attend some local networking events, booking my seat in an industry conference across the country (my first time away from my children for more than a day!), and attending online classes for 4 professional certificate programs. While the year did NOT deliver on my expectations, the following were the books I thought were going to be the most enlightening reads of the year for me. It was the challenge I had posed to myself, before I knew just how much the world was about to challenge all of us. They were helpful books, and have certainly improved my approach to my work. I posted a highlight from each book on my LinkedIn as I read through the list, and became somewhat of a professional development mini-library in the office; loaning out books to colleagues, and enjoying the opportunity to discuss them further.

  • Leading from Your Best Self: Develop Executive Poise, Presence, and Influence to Maximize Your Potential (Rob Salafia) 2018
  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Carol Dweck) 2007
  • Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work (David Rock) 2007
  • Entrepreneurial You: Monetize Your Expertise, Create Multiple Income Streams, and Thrive (Dorie Clark) 2017
  • Making Sense of Change Management: A Complete Guide to the Models, Tools and Techniques of Organizational Change (Esther Cameron) 2015
  • Contagious: Why Things Catch On (Jonah Berger) 2016
  • The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals (Chris McChesney) 2016
  • The Board Game: How Smart Women Become Corporate Directors (Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire) 2013
  • The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control (Walter Mischel) 2014
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (Susan Cain) 2013
  • The CCL Guide to Leadership in Action: How Managers and Organizations Can Improve the Practice of Leadership (Stephen Rush) 2004
  • True Leaders with Heart: Weekly Meditations for Leaders (Karla Nivens) 2019
  • Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change (Joseph Grenny) 2013
  • The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability (Roger Connors) 2010
  • The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters (Priya Parker) 2020
  • The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact (Chip Heath) 2017
  • Toolkit for Organizational Change (T.F. Cawsey) 2007
  • Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It (Dorie Clark) 2015
  • Monday Morning Leadership for Women (Valerie Sokolowski) 2017
  • The Certified Six Sigma Green Belt Handbook(Roderick A. Munro) 2015
  • Managing Up: How to Forge an Effective Relationship With Those Above You (Rosanne Badowski) 2004
  • Organizational Culture and Leadership (The Jossey-Bass Business & Management Series) (Edgar H. Schein) 2016
  • Reinventing You, With a New Preface: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Dorie Clark) 2017
  • Built to Change: How to Achieve Sustained Organizational Effectiveness (Edward E. Lawler III) 2006
  • The Leader Assistant: Four Pillars of a Confident, Game-Changing Assistant (Jeremy Burrows) 2020
  • Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown New York: 200 Years of Health Care in Rural America (John S. Davis) 2016

Educational Growth

In early 2020, I was working full time in the office, and my children attended daycare and preschool. Then came March, COVID-19 reaching my hemisphere, and suddenly I was trying to work full time remotely from home, while my toddlers adjusted to seeing Mommy all day. A Mommy who couldn’t stop what she was doing to play with them whenever they asked. A Mommy who was like a mannequin at the computer, that occasionally found snacks or assisted with potty breaks. I wanted my kids to be learning, discovering, and not losing their curiosity during this time (especially without knowing how long it would last). I wanted to help them learn, while not falling behind in my own work. The following books helped me navigate our situation, in which my children were too young to be offered any guided remote-learning assistance from their school, but were otherwise not getting the same level of stimulation and learning they would be if they were still with their teachers and classmates. I wanted my kids to say things like “I wonder how that works” to each other, not “Shhhh, I’m in an important meeting, ask me again later” while pretending to type on an imaginary laptop. I wanted purpose and understanding, rather than falling down the Pinterest rabbit-hole of educational activities for toddlers. I sought to better understand why those teachers who hold a special place in my heart, were so inspiring and effective. I wanted to better understand the world my children’s teachers are facing, and how they’re tackling the challenges of providing an inclusive, equitable, and empowering educational world for the next generation.

  • Questioning for Classroom Discussion: Purposeful Speaking, Engaged Listening, Deep Thinking (Beth Dankert Sattes) 2015
  • Building Equity: Policies and Practices to Empower All Learners (Dominique Smith( 2017)
  • The Best Class You Never Taught: How Spider Web Discussion Can Turn Students into Learning Leaders (Alexis Wiggins) 2017
  • Contemporary Assessment for Educators (Clinton Chase) 1999
  • The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners (Carol Ann Tomlinson) 1999
  • Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn: The Key to Student Motivation and Achievement (Mike Anderson) 2016
  • Dynamic Teachers: Leaders of Change (Anne Brackett) 1995
  • Cultivating Curiosity in K-12 Classrooms: How to Promote and Sustain Deep Learning (Wendy Ostroff) 2016
  • Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom (Thomas Armstrong) 2017
  • Disrupting Poverty: Five Powerful Classroom Practices (Kathleen M. Budge) 2017
  • Peer Feedback in the Classroom: Empowering Students to Be the Experts (Starr Sackstein) 2017
  • Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom (Kristin Souers) 2016
  • I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (Malala Yousafzai) 2013
  • Students at the Center: Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind (Bena Kallick) 2017

Personal Growth

If 2020 taught me anything, it was that you have to let go of some of your expectations. I am typically a very organized, scheduled, (my hubby would say OCD) individual. I like to be busy, and enjoy the planning and anticipation, as much as the doing. I have a tendency to over-schedule myself, between work, activities with the kids, volunteering, serving on a local board, and taking classes on the side. My mind and body didn’t know the meaning of down-time. My kids’ Mommy-and-Me swim classes were cancelled. I couldn’t participate in the volunteer events I had been looking forward to. My evening classes went entirely remote, cancelling the networking events we had previously enjoyed. Work went remote, and I no longer had a commute to daycare and work. The biggest challenge for me in 2020, was learning to let go of my expectations, to ditch my previously over-packed schedule, and to just be present in the silence. I had to let go of always being in control, and surrounding myself with a nonstop white-noise of activities. We are never in control of everything, but I hadn’t realized just how much I was trying to control, until 2020 when it all came crashing down. The following books helped me pick up the pieces, and I am a happier, more fulfilled, and more present person in 2021 than I ever was before, because of them. I am a better wife, mom, friend, employee, neighbor, and person than I was before 2020. I selected these books in my longing for certainty and answers, but instead found myself empowered by my own sense of presence and agility, and realized I can survive (and thrive!) without all of the answers.

  • Big Magic: How to Live a Creative Life, and Let Go of Your Fear (Elizabeth Gilbert) 2015
  • Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future (Peter Senge) 2008
  • Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (Brene Brown) 2017
  • Grace, Not Perfection: Embracing Simplicity, Celebrating Joy (Emily Ley) 2016
  • Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done (Laura Vanderkam) 2018
  • The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life (Janice Kaplan) 2016
  • Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life (Jude Bijou) 2015
  • Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone (Brene Brown) 2019
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (Mark Manson) 2016
  • Optimal Thinking: How to Be Your Best Self (Rosalie Glickman) 2008
  • Kickass Confidence: Own Your Brain, Up Your Game (Alyssa Dver) 2015
  • I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't): Telling the Truth about Perfectionism Inadequacy and Power (Brene Brown) 2008
  • Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living (Shauna Niequist) 2016
  • Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (Brene Brown) 2015
  • What Can I Do?: My Path from Climate Despair to Action (Jane Fonda) 2020
  • Dissenter on the Bench: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Life and Work (Victoria Ortiz) 2019

© 2021 Jess Schatzel

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