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Billy's Book Bag - January Edition

Three books Genii Earth recommends you consider reading and why.

Rough Sleepers: Dr. Jim O’Connell’s Urgent Mission to Bring Healing to Homeless People

by Tracy Kidder

Published January 2023

How often do you find yourself walking past a homeless person in your city and wonder how this person got there, how they manage to survive there, and worse yet, why do there seem to be more people living on the streets in the United States?

Tracy Kidder, in his book, “Rough Sleepers,” unpacks these questions, dispelling many of the myths around why people become homeless and stay that way in the United States. He does this through the eyes of Dr. Jim O’Connell. Kidder tells the story of Jim’s career, which plays more like a way of life, helping to heal the homeless on the streets of Boston.

Kidder takes a deep dive with Dr. O’Connell by shadowing him over many months through a typical day in the life of a physician and his response team serving the homeless population. This often includes riding along in the medical response van in the middle of the night searching out rough sleepers, a term that refers to those people who, under the most challenging conditions, find themselves sleeping on sidewalks, in doorways, on public benches, under cardboard, and blankets in well-below freezing temperatures.

One prevalent myth about people who are chronically homeless is that it is their own fault, that their poor life choices are reflected in their situation. Through the personal stories of rough sleepers, Kidder reveals many of the underlying systemic societal, financial, medical and political issues that result in people landing on the streets and staying there. Living rough on the streets compounds all other problems. Often heavy drug and alcohol use is a coping response to the conditions in which homeless people find themselves. Kidder points to the lack of social safety nets for domestic abuse, medical, mental health issues, and lack of safe, affordable housing.

A common mistake made by the systems set up to address homelessness is that they don’t take into consideration the deep human need to have connection and community where one lives.  Often homeless people are housed in apartments that are cheap or run down, unsafe, or remote, and lacking the surrounding social systems needed to sustain independent living. Often this results in them returning back to the streets, where they learn they can be safer or less alone.

Kidder’s book is a very personal and compassionate look at those who live on the street and those who dedicate their lives to healing them. I will never look at people on the street the same way again.  I look past a needle in an arm or an unexplained rant in the middle of the street by a disheveled stranger. I see a society which has failed its own children, failed to provide basic human needs such as food, shelter, safety, health, and most of all, connection and community.

If you seek answers to homelessness on the streets in your city, this book is a great first step to answering your questions and offers perspectives on what is needed to solve chronic homelessness in our communities.

To learn more about innovative and effective approaches for addressing homelessness, check out the inspiring work of Community Solutions, a Genii Earth Collaborations for Systems Change client.

For which systems are you committed to finding the next way?

Certain Uncertainty: Leading with Agility and Resilience in an Unpredictable World

By Des Dearlove

Published August 2023

Do you have a long list of leadership and strategy books you intend to get to but never seem to find the time for most of them?

Often, when I ask someone, “Have you read (fill in the blank),” I get the answer, “It’s on my list.”  Des Dearlove’s book, “Certain Uncertainty,” has done much of the work for you by highlighting in each chapter the best takeaways from some of the best leadership thinkers of our time, including many of the Thinkers50 listers.

His overall message? Stop trying to create predictive work environments that provide a false sense of security. Rather, get comfortable with navigating uncertainty and your ability to respond successfully to it. You will be more innovative, agile and competitive when you cultivate the ability to bring your organization and your people along in the same mindset. Dearlove refers to some of the best business thinking of the 21st century to back his assertion of chronic uncertainty in a world that needs curious, compassionate, agile and disruptive thinking now more than ever.

Here are a few of my favorite chapters and why:

Chapter One: Resilient, Net Positive Leadership. Dearlove quotes directly from “Net Positive,” by Paul Polman and Andrew Winston, to make the overarching case that the time is now to shift how business leaders view success, and that enterprise organizations are primary players in solving the biggest, unprecedented challenges of our time. Through creating organizations that go beyond how to do good business by asking the fundamental question, “how are we being good by doing good?” With this as the framing for the existence of all business, a new and historic stage is set for laying out the qualities of people and organizations that will help us succeed in the times we are in.

Chapter Four: Leading From the Future (not the past). Dearlove highlights some of Terence Mauri’s thinking on what leaders can do differently to be better future-prepared, including the critical ability to unlearn from the past.  As leaders today, we face multiple overlapping complex forces that come at us constantly and so we need to ask ourselves, are we creating cultures for future leaders or cultures of conformity?

Chapter Ten: Navigating Paradoxes. Adapted from Mary K. Smith and Marianne M. Lewis’s book “Both/And Thinking”, this chapter points to the number one thing that keeps leaders around the world up at night: paradoxes. Leaders spend unnecessary time trying to solve dynamic tensions rather than see how differing sides of the same coin offer a lens for managing and leveraging natural tensions rather than struggling to eliminate them.

Chapter Twelve: Developing a Curious Culture at Work. Drawing on Diane Hamilton’s work on culture in the workplace, Dearlove points to the critical skill future leaders need to cultivate curiosity both personally and, in the workplace, to develop resilient and innovative environments. Curiosity is a foundational quality for leaders who are creating new futures. My key takeaway is that to better understand how to cultivate curiosity is to better understand what inhibits curiosity.

I found this book to be a great primer for beginning to understand the qualities of leaders of the future and the characteristics of organizations that will best serve the times we are in.  If I want to do a deeper dive into any of these chapters, I can pick up the book Dearlove references and add it to my list of books to read!

Read Genii Earth’s perspective on the essential skills of leaders for our future.

Guest Review by Elyse Knudsen

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times

by Katherine May

Published November 2020

What if embracing what we most resist in leadership, is exactly what is needed for navigating the challenges of today?

Katherine May’s Wintering offers leaders a fresh perspective on what it takes to move boldly into uncharted waters. She points us to the value of “wintering” a perspective and practice rarely found in the most popular leadership books and theories.

Wintering is not a leadership or business book per se.  However, if you are up for it, you can start seeing some deep life lessons very relevant to the leadership qualities most needed now.

What became clear to me as I read this book, is that there is a new capacity for leadership brewing. And we can take it directly from Earth’s playbook.  In this book, May reframes winter, a season often misunderstood or overlooked, as a time of reflection and rest, essential for growth.

In my experience, leaders are often hardwired—trained and rewarded—to anticipate the next step and swiftly act. While these attributes are undoubtedly useful, relying solely on this approach may cause leaders to overlook transformative alternatives. To address this, May suggests that when confronted with challenges, rather than immediately springing into action, there is profound power in leaning into what you often avoid in a perceived time of action—pausing and holding space for quiet.

What can be acknowledged, accepted, and cleared in this moment of pause? Just like winter’s rest that brings forth spring, this is your time to hold space between actions that can bring clarity. It is suggested that mirroring winter’s approach in facing your own hardships will give you a far stronger foundational stance for making your next courageous move.

May represents the practice of stillness by drawing inspiration from nature’s wisdom, exploring literary and historical references and highlighting cultural practices. She vividly illustrates the transformative power of quiet moments, encouraging readers to navigate life’s metaphorical winters with resilience and self-discovery.

May’s book can serve as a map for leaders of the next way, reminding them that the metaphorical “uncomfortable cold” you may feel is natural, necessary, and integral to the rhythm of life. You will be invited to – sit with silence and the fear of unknowing and sit with it longer than you even thought possible. She shows us that doing so avails us of perspective and insight that becomes the source of wiser, even transformational leadership moves that we couldn’t have found any other way.

At Genii Earth, we serve as coaches in this evolving realm of leadership, a capacity crucial for the demands of today’s leadership landscape. Ready to elevate the leadership capacities for you and your team? Let us know.

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