Books as Self-Care: Using This Moment To Become a Better Leader

Mariah R. Harris 21MBA/MPH

Mariah R. Harris 21MBA/MPH

When was the last time you read a good book? I’m not talking about textbook excerpts or required readings from a syllabus. Really think. How long has it been since you read a good book? I love to read, but if I’m being honest, most of the reading I’ve done in the last year and a half has not been of my own volition. So, when a box arrived for me in the mail on Monday, I could hardly wait to open it. Inside, was a collection of 19 books that I had ordered using my Social Enterprise Fellowship stipend from The Roberto C. Goizueta Business & Society Institute.

The Social Enterprise Fellows Program recognizes students who have a deep interest in social enterprise, and provides them access to education, exposure, and experiences to aid in students’ development into leaders. Social Enterprise Fellowship benefits include career coaching and mentorship, Atlanta’s Center for Civic Innovation membership, and a $500 annual professional development stipend, among other things. Last year, I had planned to use my stipend to attend a social enterprise-related conference, but I tore three ligaments in my knee in November, and by the time I had fully recovered from surgery, the pandemic had put the world on pause. At the end of the year, I donated half of my stipend (the maximum amount allowed) to the Start:ME Accelerator Program to support entrepreneurs whose businesses were struggling as a result of the pandemic. Unfortunately, the remaining $250 went unused.

So, when this school year began, I was determined not to let my stipend go to waste again. During one of our Fellows meetings, Brian Goebel, managing director of the Institute, briefly mentioned that one of the fellows, Shirley Gao 20MBA/MPH, had used her stipend to purchase a set of books. As an avid reader who hadn’t added a new book to her library in over a year, I was immediately intrigued and messaged her separately to find out more information. Once she sent me the list of titles she’d ordered, I knew how I wanted to use my stipend. Over the next few months, I compiled a list of nearly 40 books that I wanted to read, spanning a number of genres. Ultimately, I narrowed the list down to 20 books, a list of which can be found at the end of this post (Side note: when did books get so expensive?!). The books were ordered from Brave and Kind Bookshop, the first Black-owned bookstore in the Oakhurst neighborhood of Decatur, through their online partnership with bookshop.org, an online bookstore whose mission is to financially support local, independent bookstores.

After a year filled with grief, both due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the loss of icons like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Kobe Bryant, I felt compelled to choose stories about pushing past adversity to apply to my life as a future leader.

In whittling down the list to 20 books, I realized three key themes throughout the collection: (1) business leadership, (2) lessons from the past, and (3) building connections. Business leadership books like Start With Why by Simon Sinek and Believe in People by Charles Koch will help me ideate bold solutions to address the complex business and public health problems of today. The section on lessons from the past is primarily comprised of memoirs from influential leaders in different fields, like Barack Obama and Cicely Tyson. I believe that there is so much to be learned from the lived experiences of these key figures, and autobiographies offer a unique, first-person perspective of their journey. This is especially important for stories from those who are no longer here to tell them. The last theme is arguably the most important as we settle into our “new normal.” After social distancing for so long, I am excited to take advantage of connecting with people in person again. I hope this section of books will allow me to do so more intentionally.

March is National Reading Month, and as it comes to an end, I challenge you to come up with your own reading list. Ask yourself what topics do you want to learn more about? Who inspires you as a leader? What characteristics do you want to embody in your own leadership style? I kept a running list of books in the Notes section of my phone, but feel free to do whatever works best for you! And don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and pick books about people and topics you wouldn’t have ordinarily selected for yourself. Lastly, be sure to support an independent business by shopping locally or at bookshop.org. First up on my list – Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant. Happy reading!

Mariah’s Booklist

  1. The Purpose of Power by Alicia Garza
  2. A Promised Land by Barack Obama
  3. My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  4. The Mamba Mentality by Kobe Bryant
  5. Just as I Am by Cicely Tyson
  6. State of Emergency by Tamika Mallory (preorder)
  7. Sula by Toni Morrison
  8. Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
  9. The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
  10. Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
  11. How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
  12. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
  13. Believe in People: Bottom-Up Solutions for a Top-Down World by Charles Koch
  14. The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman & Rod Beckstorm
  15. Run to Win: Lessons in Leadership for Women Changing the World by Stephanie Schriock
  16. Atomic Habits by James Clear
  17. Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez
  18. Educated by Tara Westover
  19. Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant
  20. The Fix by Michelle P. King
Mariah Harris

Mariah Harris

Mariah R. Harris is a second year dual-degree MBA/MPH student interested in the intersection of business strategy and public health. She has a background in food justice and healthcare consulting, working with The Campaign Against Hunger and ClearView Healthcare Partners prior to graduate school. She holds a BS in Biomedical Engineering from Yale University.