Rob Skinner

Leaders are readers.  Everything you want to become or achieve by definition is something you will have to learn to do or imitate from someone else.  The quickest path to get there is to read and imitate those who have gone before you.  John Wooden, who coached his UCLA team to 10 NCAA basketball championships, was a reader.  On the day of his high school graduation, his father gave him $2 and a card with the following advice:

1. Be true to yourself.
2. Help others.
3. Make each day your masterpiece.
4. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
5. Make friendship a fine art.
6. Build a shelter against a rainy day.
7. Pray for guidance and count and give thanks for your blessings every day.

This is a great list, but I want to concentrate on item four:  Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.  Here are a couple of things to note about this advice.  First, he mentions good books.  There are a ton of books that aren’t worth reading.  You know you are reading a good book if the following criteria are met:

  • You can read and reread it
  • It inspires you to action, change or imitation
  • It moves you
  • It typically focuses on principles that are useful in a variety of situations
  • It’s often been around a while and has a reputation for being good

Secondly, Joshua Wooden highlights the Bible as especially unique.  The Bible meets all of the above criteria while adding:

  • A clear path to eternal life
  • How to know who God is, what he is like and what he expects of us
  • Comfort, encouragement and guidance in life

Reading won’t necessarily make you a great coach, but it will increase your chances of making this life count.

I’d like to give you my top ten list of good books.  These are books that I’ve read and reread many times.  I’ve read many books and these have impacted me greatly.  I will classify them by genre.

  • The Bible.  This goes without saying, but there is a reason we should be reading, rereading and memorizing this on a daily basis.  If we don’t read anything else, this is the one book that we need to know cover to cover.
  • Spiritual Book:  “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a’ Kempis
    • This is my most read book outside of the Bible.  “Spiritual Formation” is a buzzword in Christian circles today.  A’ Kempis wrote the book on spiritual formation 500 years ago.  Written by a man living in a monastery, it is filled with scripture and insight into living a godly and holy life.  I can’t read it without getting completely convicted about the state of my interior life, motivations and sinful nature.  Two bits of advice when starting this book:
      • Read it one chapter a day along with your Bible.  This is a book for meditation and consideration not rapid consumption
      • Get past the age and religious bias against this book.  Yes, he was a Catholic monk.  Yes, it’s an old book.  However, human nature doesn’t change and the issues he deals with in this book are as relevant as the day it was originally printed.
  • Time management and priorities, “The One Thing” by Gary Keller
    • Keller is the founder of Keller Williams Real Estate Corporation.  He helps us get out of the weedy third soil by advising his readers to daily ask themselves the question, “What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
    • This book will enable you to overcome paralysis caused by too much information, distraction, busyness and other demands that can overwhelm us.
  • Personal Growth:  “How to fail at almost everything and still win big” by Scott Adams
    • Adams created the Dilbert cartoon series.  In this book he shares about his life, medical challenges, setbacks and successes and offer suggestions on how to find a path for growth that fits how God made you.  Some of the ideas that I go back to over and over again:
      • Develop your “Talent Stack.”  You may not have legendary talent in one area, but through grit and determination you can become really good at five or more skills.  The combination of five “pretty talented” areas is remarkable.
      • Use affirmations.  I find this advice an updated and repackaged version of Jesus’ teaching on faith in Mark 11:24, “…Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
  • How to build your faith level and become more optimistic.  “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale.
    • Peale wrote this book while working as a church minister.  He borrows scripture from the Bible and creates a “crossover” book that helps non-disciples apply Jesus’ teaching on faith to tackle real world problems like making money, getting promoted or anything else.  As a disciple, this book has incredible value in both the spiritual and secular parts of life.  Since Jesus said, “According to your faith will it be done to you” in Matthew 9:29, we should be constantly looking for methods of increasing our faith in an increasingly cynical world.  Peale offers sound advice on how to build a firm foundation of faith.
  • Books on Relationship Building.  “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.
    • This is the GOAT (greatest of all time) when it comes to building and developing relationships.  Your Friendships, business relationships, family relationships and relationships with non-believers will start multiplying and deepening when you put Carnegie’s lessons into practice.
    • Carnegie’s advice to be interested in people and ask questions is worth the price of the book alone.  This trait is completely missing in about 90% of the people I meet and leads to dead, one-way relationships.  Assimilate this one tip and you will immediately distinguish yourself as a friend magnet.
  • Books on money and money management.  “The Millionaire Next Door” by Thomas Stanley.
    • This was a tough one.  There are a lot of books on money out there.  I’ve never been great at handling or saving money.  In order to compensate for this weakness, I’ve read a ton of books on money management.  This area is an example of how knowing more won’t make you better, it’s all about practicing time-honored principles.  The reason why I like Stanley’s book is that he devoted his life to understand how rich people get rich.  The paradoxical message is that most rich people got that way by not acting “rich.”  They save money from every paycheck, never pay more than $10 for a bottle of wine, and don’t drive fancy cars.  Instead of reading mind-numbing insight on the benefits of hedge-fund investing, it helped me identify and imitate the key traits of people who were better at money management than me.  It’s paid off for me.
  • Fantasy books.  “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy by JRR Tolkien
    • My mom was an English teacher and she would bring home books from her classes for me to read at home.  I became a fantasy fan by reading from Robert Heinlein and JRR Tolkien.  I remember reading “The Hobbit” and falling in love with fantasy.  Upon rereading Tolkien’s work, I’m struck by how writers have gotten much better over the last 100 years.  Tolkien needed a good editor to cut out entire chapters of his trilogy.  Peter Jackson did a great job reducing the trilogy to its essential content in his movie series.  However, the Lord of the Rings is still the gamechanger when it comes to fantasy.  All other books are measured against his groundbreaking “world-building” novel.  Another side benefit is the messianic theme running throughout the book.  This book honors courage, masculinity, sacrifice and brotherhood in an age where these qualities are often under attack.
  • Biography.  “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris.
    • I’ve read so many great biographies that this was hard to choose.  Morris highlights Roosevelt’s journey from sickly, weakling childhood to robust, vigorous, and courageous manhood.  In the past, people learned from biography as the primary source of instruction.  I couldn’t help but be both inspired and called higher by Roosevelt’s conscious labor to become a better man.  Here is his counsel on how to overcome fear:
      • “at the outset almost every man is frightened when he goes into action, but that the course to follow is for the man to keep such a grip on himself that he can act just as if he was not frightened. After this is kept up long enough it changes from pretense to reality, and the man does in very fact become fearless by sheer dint of practicing fearlessness when he does not feel it.”
  • Books on mindset.  “As a man thinketh” by James Allen
    • The King James Version of Proverbs 23:7 reads “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”  This book develops the idea that our outer, physical world is simply a reflection of our inner, mental or spiritual world.  Nothing is more relevant for a strong disciple than this concept.  Paul echoes the importance of taking charge of our thought life in 1 Corinthians 10:5, “…we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  This book went on to form the foundation for so many other books like “Think and Grow Rich” and “The Secret.”  Each one is built on the idea that if you change your thinking, you will change your life.  If you don’t like to read, you’ll like this one.  It’s a tiny book.
  • Books on Marriage.  “The Seven Principles for making marriage work”  by John Gottman.
    • This book is the best of all books on marriage.  He studied marriage in his “love lab” and found out how to predict whether a couple would be stay married or divorce with over 90% accuracy.  The principles of strong marriages and the traits of weak marriages offer a pathway to a life of ever-strengthening love.  One of the primary triggers for me to seek God originally was my desire to have a successful marriage.  The combination of God, God’s word and advice from books like Gottman’s have enabled me to exceed my most fanciful wishes.
  • Other notable mentions
    • Any book by Brian Tracy.  His books repeat over and over, but his best is “Maximum Achievement.”  You will hear echoes from this book in his other books.
    • I would hate to be limited to only ten books.  I read voraciously and don’t want to give the impression you should cap your reading at only a few.  But I’d like to leave you with a few more thoughts:

It’s better to choose a few “good books” and reread them than to simply hope the next book will offer a silver bullet for your problem.

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