Lessons in leadership and other stories
The world has undergone profound change in the past few months and we have all felt the impact in the way we live and work.
We have faced challenge and uncertainty and continue to do so. But one of the positive aspects of these changes is that it has given us the chance to reassess; to be thoughtful, to be curious, and to consider what is really important.
We asked a range of senior leaders across Visa Europe what has inspired them and what has challenged them to think differently as they face into the new normal. Specifically, which books have left a lasting impression – whether that’s on the way they lead teams or the way they think about life.
The eclectic mix below offers something for everyone.
Charlotte Hogg – CEO Visa Europe
The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Volume 4) by Robert Caro
I usually recommend Defeat into Victory by Viscount Slim, which is amazing on the topic of leadership and also very humbling. However, the absolute best biography ever is Robert Caro’s one of Lyndon Johnson. It is better researched than you can ever imagine – to the point of believing that you were actually there. Of the four (very long) books in the series so far, Passage of Power is the best. The description of the events running up to and after Kennedy’s death is just extraordinary. Robert Caro is a master of describing the taking and use of power – and the complexity of good and bad in how it is used.
Ian Lundberg – Chief Officer Client Services, Europe
Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
Oftentimes, books on leadership can come across as very theoretical – as indeed was Goleman’s prior book on emotional intelligence. But this one brought it all to life for me with practical and pragmatic applications of using emotional intelligence in everyday leadership. The key takeaway for me is that your emotional intelligence is as important as your IQ – and in my opinion even more so.
Rajiv Garodia – Global Head, Real Time Payments
Autumn Light by Pico Iyer
I connected with Autumn Light because of the lock down; missing travelling and exploring the world. It’s part-travel book, part-memoir and very thoughtful around the passage of time, nature, relationships and life’s big questions. Iyer captures all of this during one autumn in Nara, Japan. While living there with his wife, he looks at Japanese culture with fascination as he follows the seasonal changes and how people deal with big changes in their lives.
It has important takeaways – from staying in tune with nature to paying attention to the smallest of things. It’s about how to hold onto things we love, accept the process of constant change within and outside us.
Sarah Holmes-Hackerd – SVP HR, Europe
Leadership from the Inside Out by Kevin Cashman
This book focuses on finding your purpose and how that influences who you are as a leader, as well as how you lead. It introduced me to the concept of purpose-driven leadership and the importance of linking my own personal purpose to my goals at work.
Claire Sunderland Hay – Europe Chief of Staff and Head of Business Operations
Making Money by Terry Pratchett
My recommendation is slightly left field – Making Money by Terry Pratchett. It demonstrates the importance of confidence in the monetary system and how that links to economic growth, boiling down to the key questions about what money really is. And if it is just what we all believe it to be worth, then how much is about what we believe it enables, versus any inherent underlying value. It’s also very funny and has a number of leadership lessons in making the most of your skilled leaders and keeping them engaged. Although part of the Discworld series, it can be easily read as a stand-alone.
Ilaiy Elangovan – Chief Information Security Officer, Europe
The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama, The Art of War by Sun Tzu and The Art of Deception by Kevin Mitnick
The Art of Happiness is an easy read with great, practical suggestions that you can apply to the daily chaos. The Art of War provides a classic defense strategy that is useful in cybersecurity everyday. The Art of Deception is a fascinating book about real-life cyberattacks on business and governments that rely on human deception as well as technology.
Emma Slatter – General Counsel, Europe
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby, Cherry by Sara Wheeler and If This Is A Man by Primo Levi.
I found all three of these very different books to be profound, as they really demonstrated human spirit and resilience, whilst being self-aware and stoical but lacking self-pity. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is about an editor who got "locked in" syndrome, Cherry is a biography of Apsley Cherry-Garrard – a turn of the century polar explorer – and If This Is A Man recounts the author’s experience as a prisoner in Auschwitz.
Rob Livingston – Chief Financial Officer, Europe
The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson & Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin
The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson is a terrific trilogy about the dispute about the invention of calculus; the rise of trade finance, cryptography, 17th century currency devaluations; and a healthy dollop of piracy and Versailles court life thrown in for good measure. It’s fascinating imagining Isaac Newton at the Mint engaging in alchemy and monetary policy at the same time.
In non-fiction, I was riveted by Too Big to Fail – the story of the Wall Street collapse and rescuer in 2008 by Andrew Ross Sorkin. It’s about the hubris and tactics of the titans of US finance as they faced multiple prisoners’ dilemmas about the bailout of the American banking system. It’s an especially good case study in leadership, with the flaws in each of the bank CEOs and regulators exploding into the light under the pressure of a collapsing system.
Nick Atkinson – SVP European Operations and Infrastructure
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start-up by John Carreyrou
This book is a cautionary tale about what not to do as a leader. It’s the story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. It’s compelling reading but shows you how important integrity is as a leader and the responsibilities you have to your team and your customers.
Antony Cahill – Managing Director, Europe Regions
The Attacker’s Advantage by Ram Charan
The book provides a ‘game plan’ for seeking opportunities in a period of uncertainty rather than hunkering down and staying in a world of incremental gains or defensiveness. In the current world in which we find ourselves, it could be tempting to adopt a defensive posture. This book is well worth a read if you want to challenge yourself and others around you to adopt an open and expansive mindset.
Hemlata Narasimhan – Head of Merchant, Sales and Acquiring Europe
Team of Rivals by Doris K Goodwin
Team of Rivals is the story of how Abraham Lincoln formed his cabinet with at least three of his adversaries, all of whom had run against him. It highlights how he reconciled the conflicting factions and personalities to form a cabinet that put America on the path to Civil War victory. A great lesson in leadership.
Adrian Farina – SVP Marketing, Europe
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
The book talks about ‘…the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering. Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, The Four Agreements offer a powerful code of conduct that can rapidly transform our lives to a new experience of freedom, true happiness, and love’.
It is evidently not intended to be a book about leadership. But it is a book about leadership – particularly when someone aspires to a type of leader that is inspiring and human.
Jeni Mundy – Regional Managing Director, UK & Ireland
The New Leaders by Daniel Goleman, Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss
The New Leaders was highly impactful for me in my early career as I transitioned from being an engineer into becoming a manager and leader. It remains one of the books I refer people to as they make big changes and need to redefine what a great day at work is all about. It’s not about having all the answers, it’s about the impact we have and being positively deliberate about that impact, as well as developing the ability to ask the right questions.
My other recommendation is Oh, the Places You’ll Go. We will have points in our life where we are flying and points where we are in the doldrums with seemingly no energy and no way out. Dr. Seuss gets right to the heart of this and gives all the reasons to believe you won’t be there forever – you will fly again. Best read out loud and with a lot of energy.
Rabah Ghezali – Co-Head of Government Engagement
The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn’t What It Used To Be by Moisés Naím
Naím’s view is that power has become ‘easier to get, harder to use, and easier to lose’. Current political trends may be proving him right.
Karina McTeague – Chief Risk Officer, Europe
The Mandibles: A Family 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver
The year is 2029 and nothing is as it should be. It’s a dystopia where Shriver imagines imminent economic collapse. Daily life is disrupted and initially people adapt to their new circumstances with ease, until the niceties of life slowly disappear. During lockdown, some of Shriver’s themes seemed darkly prescient.
Elvira Schachermeier – Vice President Corporate Communications, Europe
Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera
I’ve always been fascinated by Frida Kahlo and her relationship with Diego Rivera. There is a painting in San Francisco by Rivera that features Kahlo, which has stayed with me. She had polio as a child and then was seriously injured in an accident that left her crippled. Because of this, she had to learn to keep still – so she began to paint. From her adversity came a unique talent. Her vision and determination to overcome hardship is expressed in her bold, haunting style.
Ray Lee – Head of Corporate Strategy, Europe
Two Years’ Vacation by Jules Verne
This is the fictional story of a group of schoolboys from New Zealand who become stranded on an uninhabited island. They must pull together for their survival, but individual egos, group dynamics, and factionalism threaten to pull them apart. There are lessons from this 19th century adventure story about adolescent boys that are applicable to any team or organization: common purpose, building trust, clear roles and responsibilities, character traits that make or break leaders, and the destructive power of divisive cliques. Perhaps the best thing about this book is that it is short, fun and easy reading to breeze through in one sitting on a lazy afternoon.
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