Leaders Are Readers: Q2 2024 Reading List

min read

The suggested readings in this installment of the "Leaders Are Readers" series encourage leaders to value diverse perspectives, remember lessons from the past as they lead through change, explore strategies for turning a stressful mindset into a productive one, and create culturally aware AI policies and practices.

open book with a lightbulb over it
Credit: NeMaria / Shutterstock.com © 2023

I've been thinking a lot about the seasons of life. I've reflected on them figuratively, considering which seasons are best to surrender to rather than fight against (parenting young kids, anyone?). I've also thought about them literally, considering the impact of changing light, temperature, and weather patterns embedded in the four seasons.

In modern society, the effects of the four seasons have, in many ways, been eliminated. We have temperature-controlled homes, lights that turn on and off with the flick of a switch, alarm clocks, and knowledge work that need not fluctuate with the weather. These advances are great, and I would never advocate ridding ourselves of them. But in our sprint to advance, we've created a seasonless world.

However, if we return to the idea of seasonality, we know that spring is a season of renewal—new leaves, crisp mornings, and new graduates. It's also a season of refreshment—fresh grass, fresh air, and fresh opportunities.

Some great reads have inspired me to refresh my thinking about leadership and life. As we enter the spring-to-summer season, I encourage you to pick up one or more of the following readings to reengage with seasonality and revitalize your thinking!


By Rob Henderson

Troubled by Rob Henderson is the first memoir I've included in the "Leaders Are Readers" series, and it's worth your time. On paper, Henderson is the perfect higher education success story. He had a tough childhood but overcame it by serving in the Air Force, attending Yale University as an undergraduate, and completing his PhD at the University of Cambridge.

But, as with most brief biographical outlines, that summary misses most of reality. Henderson never knew his birth father and grew up in foster care after he was removed from his birth mother as a young child. He bounced between foster homes for years before he was adopted. Henderson was drinking by the time he was in middle school, smoking marijuana and experimenting with other drugs shortly after, and doing his best not to get caught along the way. He struggled in school—not because he found the content difficult but because he just wasn't interested in it. A guidance counselor convinced him that the military might be a good option for him. With some reluctance, he joined the United States Air Force. Then, a long-odds scholarship program for military veterans at Yale helped Henderson get admitted—a fairytale story for higher education.

Yet, Henderson is now critical of parts of the higher education system, particularly elite universities like those he attended. He struggles with the entitlement of the "elite class"—students from wealthy, upper-class backgrounds who seem to fight for their right to be victims. He posits that their battle to be victims and paradoxically overcome their victimhood status has "spawned a potent blend of victimhood and superiority" through which "college extends adolescence to a laughable age."Footnote1

Whether I agree with Henderson or not is beside the point. The fact that he raises some thoughtful questions about higher education is important. Leaders should know that not everyone on college campuses shares the same ideology, even if the loudest voices broadcasting similar perspectives suggest as much. According to a March 2023 Wall Street Journal-NORC poll, 56 percent of respondents no longer believe a college degree is worthwhile.Footnote2 Yikes. Henderson would likely ask us to consider whether some of that skepticism results from the disenfranchisement that accompanies the politicization, polarization, and profundity of some college and university experiences.

You may not love everything Henderson says, but that's precisely why Troubled is worth reading.

Same as Ever: A Guide to What Never Changes

By Morgan Housel

Morgan Housel has been a favorite author of mine for years. He regularly writes for the Collaborative Fund, which you might enjoy if you're into shorter, blog-style writing. He's also the author of the bestselling book The Psychology of Money.Footnote3 Housel is incredible at breaking down how people collectively think and act at the intersection of psychology, money, and history.

We live in a world that is perpetually changing. Here's an example: I recently attended a conference where 78 percent of the sessions included "AI" in the title. At last year's conference, only 8 percent of them did. Interestingly, many of the conversations at this year's conference echoed years past but through this new lens. The higher education community asked the same "What do we do now?" question during the financial crisis in 2008, amid the rise of the massive open online course in 2012, when GenZ students started bringing their smartphones to campus in the late 2010s, during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, and more. You can trace the history of higher education through these moments.

I love Housel's new book, Same as Ever: A Guide to What Never Changes, because it reminds me that many things stay the same even when everything else changes:

  • Traumatic events always leave scars and always change mindsets. From childhood trauma to organizational change, people affected by trauma will never forget it or think the same way afterward. Leaders who implement change as if people will simply switch their mindsets and move forward forget everything they've ever learned about changing people's lives.
  • Trying too hard and creating unnecessary complexity always separates people. Many leaders use jargon and complexity to make themselves or their work seem more important or impactful. That approach has never worked. Instead, it creates—and will always create—division and confusion.
  • Building things takes time and complexity; destroying them is simple and fast. From human life to thriving organizations, growth is often slow and requires immense intention. Destruction, though, can happen in seconds with very little work. This truth hits home in the context of building teams, impacting communities, and advancing important work.
  • The best story always wins. We live in a world of data, but the fact remains that the best data always falls short of the best story. PowerPoint slides full of charts are interesting, but the stories behind the charts and figures are transformative.Footnote4

Everyday Vitality: Turning Stress into Strength

By Samantha Boardman

I came across Samantha Boardman's book Everyday Vitality: Turning Stress into Strength a few years ago. I was immediately drawn to her definition of vitality: "The positive feeling of aliveness and energy that lies at the heart of a good day."Footnote5 It is the strength to be resilient—to bend but not break under the stresses and challenges of everyday life.

We often use distancing strategies to handle stress—escaping to Netflix, gazing into our refrigerators, scrolling on our phones, and planning the next vacation. Perhaps we've made too much of a good thing. Our hyper focus on self-reflection and personal development may be preventing us from the change we need the most. Boardman argues that the key to vitality is "productive and meaningful actions" that are not "internal, not individual, nor do they require sustained self-immersion. On the contrary, they require engagement and interaction."Footnote6

In many cases, change is best achieved comprehensively. When two or more changes complement each other, adherence is more likely. For example, I am more likely to reach my goal of being more present for my team at work if I link this effort to my ongoing war with the little glowing screen I take everywhere. Less screen time equates to more presence in the physical world—a win-win.

Boardman lays out practical ideas for connecting with others and moving beyond the self to contribute broadly from a place of vitality instead of stress. I can't imagine that a leader who operates from vitality wouldn't be more effective, ethical, and enduring than one who operates from stress and fear.

Spring is a good season for vitality. Go for a walk this week and look for vitality all around you. Then, check out Boardman's book and embrace a vitality-based leadership approach.

"Creating a Culture Around AI: Thoughts and Decision-Making"

By Courtney Plotts and Lorna Gonzales

Leadership cliches abound, but one adage that has resurfaced in many of my recent conversations is "culture eats strategy for breakfast." It's a fun metaphor, but it's far too narrow. The truth is that culture eats everything.

Courtney Plotts and Lorna Gonzales bring AI conversations to their most important inflection point in their article "Creating a Culture Around AI: Thoughts and Decision-Making."Footnote7 Most of the discussions about AI that have bloomed in higher education since the launch of ChatGPT have focused on strategy—keeping students from cheating, creating syllabus statements, using AI to design courses or write emails, etc. Yet, the intriguing and impactful ideas have percolated beneath that focus, seemingly ignored in favor of simpler, cleaner questions.

As I read Plott's and Gonzales' work, I was struck with a few enticing questions. How will AI impact value, purpose, diversity, leadership, and workplace culture? No matter how clear the AI policy is in a syllabus statement, can an institution thrive if faculty members are worried, scared, or confused? If an institution has the best handbook on AI ever written, yet staff members are unclear on how integrity and service interact with AI, is the handbook better suited as kindling?

Plotts and Gonzales thoughtfully reflect on bias within and around AI and offer useful questions to ensure that the culture stays in the driver's seat during AI strategy discussions. They cover three approaches to AI adoption and share cultural questions that leaders should ask as they consider how to leverage AI at their institutions.

Leaders with AI on their agendas need to take a culture-focused approach. This quick, well-written article starts that conversation.

Closing Thoughts

Spring and summer are the perfect seasons for rejuvenation. I hope these readings inspire you to engage with seasonality and revitalize your thinking about life and leadership.

Be curious. Be well.


  1. Rob Henderson, Troubled: A Memoir of Foster Care, Family, and Social Class (New York: Gallery Books, Simon & Schuster, 2024), 248. Jump back to footnote 1 in the text.
  2. Douglas Belkin, "Americans Are Losing Faith in College Education, WSJ-NORC Poll Finds," The Wall Street Journal, March 31, 2023. Jump back to footnote 2 in the text.
  3. Morgan Housel, The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness (Hampshire, UK: Harriman House, 2021). Jump back to footnote 3 in the text.
  4. Morgan Housel, Same as Ever: A Guide to What Never Changes (Hampshire, UK: Portfolio, 2023). Jump back to footnote 4 in the text.
  5. Samantha Boardman, Everyday Vitality: Turning Stress into Strength (New York: Penguin Life, 2022), x. Jump back to footnote 5 in the text.
  6. Boardman, 15. Jump back to footnote 6 in the text.
  7. Courtney Plotts and Lorna Gonzalez, "Creating a Culture Around AI: Thoughts and Decision-Making," EDUCAUSE Review, April 22, 2024. Jump back to footnote 7 in the text.

Ryan MacTaggart is Associate Director, Professional Learning, at EDUCAUSE.

© 2024 Ryan MacTaggart. The content of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.