Leaders Bookshelf

Potential Realized


The Insightful Leader by Kellogg Insight

Leadership advice from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University

Why companies need a customer experience coach By Ajay Kelkar

Consumers are now accustomed to best-in-class user experiences both online and offline. A customer-centric organisational culture is no longer just a good thing — it is a necessity for survival.


Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything by BJ Fogg

Here are 3 of our favourite principles about making tiny changes to improve for good:

  1. Starting really small, it may be embarrassing, but start very small.
  2. Motivation is not good enough; you need to tap into the potential of behaviour.
  3. Be focused on the action: connect the habits that you want to build with prompts that are already in your daily routine

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Most leaders become far more self-aware with experience & yet they find that any change in leadership style is hard. Leadership coaching helps & does provide many leaders a clear direction to craft their own leadership style. And yet, most leaders find that motivation levels drop over time. How then do you create a system for yourself that can be successful in helping you create changes in your leadership style. It can be something that is critical such as developing your active listening skills or it may be something you want to do less of, eg looking at your email constantly. Tiny habits is a powerful model & framework that can help you with all sorts of behaviour change.

B J Fogg is a Stanford professor who has an interesting model that can help you make small changes that compound over a period of time. He is the founder and director of the Behaviour Design Lab at Stanford University. His personal experience of having experienced burnout & then having found a method of building healthier personal habits is the basis on which he has built his Fogg behaviour model. He combines the interaction of  emotion and habit, and summarizes his model as “behaviour happens when motivation and ability and prompt converge at the same time.” He recommends six steps: clarify the aspiration, explore behaviour options, match with specific behaviours, start tiny, find a good prompt, and celebrate successes. Fogg’s model for habit formation works because it takes willpower out of the equation. One of the first lessons you learn is that your proposed routine needs to be tiny. Don’t aim for large goals, start tiny & build from there.


Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders by Jennifer Garvey Berger, Keith Johnston

Here is what stands out for us in this book:

  1. Focus on building 3 interesting habits-asking different questions, seeking multiple perspectives, and seeing the system
  2. Designing Safe-to-Fail Experiments: “A safe-to-fail experiment…takes what is happening today and tries to change it a little in a desired direction rather than picturing the ideal future and building the steps toward it.”

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Leaders have grappled with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) for millennia, and today this has intensified to a new level. Complexity is not easy to deal with & as the book summarises: “It’s totally possible that this task of leading in times as complex and volatile as today is a bigger stretch for us humans than anything we’ve ever had to do.”

Leaders today have unlimited information & data , with most of it flowing in real time. Earlier what worked in the past was a good experience set on which you could model the future. But this does not hold good anymore. Superb leaders have long known that they need to find ways to “think anew and act anew,” especially as their plates become “piled high with difficulty.” Complexity theory teaches us that cause and effect are like sleight of hand in a magic show—distracting enough to keep our attention away from the millions of other things that might really be going on.

Leaders must consider more factors than they can predict by relying on the past. This is a new skill for most leaders & one that will need life-long learning to get comfortable with. Simple Habits for Complex Times provides three integral practices that enable leaders to navigate the unknown.

By taking multiple perspectives, asking different questions, and seeing more of their system, leaders can better understand themselves, their roles, and the world around them. They can become more nimble, respond with agility, and guide their organizations to thrive in an ever-shifting business landscape. The more leaders use these simple habits, the more they enhance their performance and solve increasingly common, sticky business issues with greater acumen.

Presence-Based Leadership: Complexity Practices for Clarity, Resilience, and Results That Matter by Doug Silsbee

Here is what we like about this book:

Doug helps the leader develop 3 overarching metacompetencies. “These represent three core processes of organizing ourselves and responding to the world: Sensing (the way we take in information about our world and about ourselves), Being (our inner condition as we process this information moment-by-moment) and Acting (what we think, say, and do, all of which arise out of this internal experience)”.

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Presence-Based Leadership is founded on this premise: today’s complex problems are just the triggers that leaders need to become who they need to be. This book talks about meta-competencies. These are in Doug’s words: “a capability that underpins everything else that we do. It becomes deeply woven into the fabric of who we are and how we organize and respond to our world. A meta-competency includes and enables other competencies. It is a way of being as much as a way of doing”.

Here is a rich field guide to the territory of complexity, and how leaders can navigate it and create a leadership presence that helps them act in today’s VUCA world.

Silsbee’s integrates fields as disparate as complexity, leadership and adult development theory, mindfulness, and interpersonal neurobiology into a deeply human exploration of how leaders can be more complete in their own style of working with people.

Modern Monopolies by Alex Moazed and Nicholas L Johnson.

Here is what we learnt through this book:

Leaders need to be aware of how new business models may disrupt what they are currently doing & how they need to be future focused. We are reminded of the famous 3 box model by Harvard Professor, Vijay Govindrajan: Box 1: Manage the present, Box 2: Selectively forget the past & Box 3: Create the future. We hope this book, Modern monopolies reminds leaders to continue to focus on Box 3.

We also looked for leadership lessons from the modern platform companies. Here is what we learnt from Google: There is a 70-20-10 norm about how employees may spend their time at Google: 70 percent of the time may be focused on Google’s core business of search and advertising, 20 percent to off-budget projects related to the core-business, and 10 percent to pursue ideas based on one’s own interest and competencies. It is interesting to see that allowing 30% of time to be decided flexibly by employees demands a very different leadership style. An approach which respects employee autonomy & fosters innovation through it.

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Google, Snapchat, Tinder, Amazon, and Uber have one thing in common, besides huge valuations. They are platform businesses – a new business model that has quietly become a dominant game across industry. A platform, by definition, creates value by facilitating an exchange between two or more interdependent groups. So, rather than producing goods in factories, they simply connect people. The Internet today is awash in platforms. A few examples: The Apple Appstore where 3rd party developers create apps for users, Amazon’s 3rd party Marketplace where businesses sell goods to customers within the network.

The beautiful thing about platforms is that as networks increase, their utility increases, their marginal cost goes down and they become even more profitable.

In Modern Monopolies, Alex Moazed and Nicholas L. Johnson tell the definitive story of how platform businesses were created & how leaders can begin to understand this new business model and thrive in this new era.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

Here is what stands out for us in this book:

The checklist manifesto categorises Checklists into 2 types for complex problems: task checks (to ensure that routine, simple items are not overlooked) and communications checks (to ensure people coordinate and make decisions effectively). While leaders are good at task checks, sometimes they may not delve deeply enough in the communication checks. And in today’s world of Millennial workers & younger leaders, these communication checks also need to be different & not control oriented.

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The New York Times bestselling author of Better and Complications reveals the surprising power of the ordinary checklist. Most successful people have a method to list & organize their pending tasks. It is such a simple tool, the checklist. First introduced decades ago by the U.S. Air Force, checklists have enabled pilots to fly sophisticated aircraft.

In riveting stories, Gawande takes us from Austria, where an emergency checklist saved a drowning victim who had spent half an hour underwater, to Michigan, where a cleanliness checklist in intensive care units almost eliminated a deadly hospital infection. He tells us how the checklist revolution has expanded into fields well beyond medicine, from homeland security to investment banking, skyscraper construction, and industries of all kinds.


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