A regular reading and learning habit is a key attribute among senior leaders. Fortune 500 CEOs read an average of four to five books a month compared to the average American who often doesn’t finish one full book per year. Studies also show that active readers have higher incomes and that many execs who feel they have plateaued also report being too busy to read. Find out what some of the most influential women leading the Food Industry dig into to feed their minds, find inspiration and generate new ideas to fuel both professional and personal growth.
After a full day of Zoom meetings, Land O’ Lakes Vice President of Brand and Product Marketing and WFF Board member, Catherine Fox, finds one of the best ways to refresh and reset is with a powerful book that can deliver a bit of a “knock upside the head,” she says. “I always have two books going; something for fun, like a murder mystery, and then something for inspiration and learning.”
As she thought about the titles she gravitates to most, she realized they say a lot about her need for challenging content that pushes her out of her comfort zone. In fact, many of those titles make her laugh. One of her favorites, Bad Feminist, is a collection of essays about politics, feminism and criticism from contributing opinion writer at The New York Times, Roxane Gay. Another favorite is You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by success coach Jen Sincero. And, she loves Untamed by Glennon Doyle.
“I’m drawn to books about getting out there and being more direct and more demonstrative and feeling your power,” Fox says. She often references a favorite Doyle quote when giving advice to her own daughters and emerging female leaders. That is, “When a woman finally learns that pleasing the world is impossible, she becomes free to please herself.”
Those book titles are very different from what Fox was reading at the start of her career when book recommendations came primarily from male mentors, like the late eighties’ tome, Swim with the Sharks. “Those books had some good information but, over time, I realized they weren’t tailored to my needs as a female leader. I didn’t need more from the male perspective; I needed to know more about asserting myself in the room and bringing my own perspective to the table, and that looks different coming from other women.”
Also high on her list — especially after seeing her speak at the 2019 WFF Leadership Conference — is author, scholar and researcher Brené Brown, Ph.D. who also hosts the podcasts Unlocking Us and Dare to Lead. “I come from the Show-Me state of Missouri and I appreciate how Brown backs up her ideas with hard data,” Fox says. “That enables me to confidently share her message with other women.”
Even in her downtime, Fox still likes to exercise her analytical and problem-solving brain with mystery podcasts from Harlan Coben and her old Pimsleur CDs for learning Spanish. Until she laces up her running shoes. Then, she tunes in to the Ali on the Run podcast and geeks out on all things running, letting the rest of the world slip away.
As a single mom with a very busy job as Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer and Secretary with Bloomin' Brands, Kelly Lefferts (also a WFF Board member) listens to audiobooks in her car to squeeze in reading time. Most recently, those have focused on diversity, equity and inclusion as she helps her company work to advance significant DEI initiatives.
Some that have particularly resonated include Belonging: The Key to Transforming and Maintaining Diversity, Inclusion and Equality at Work by Kathryn Jacob, Mark Edwards and Sue Unerman. “It emphasizes making everyone part of the solution, putting yourself in other people’s shoes and enabling everyone to benefit from the effort to really drive positive outcomes,” Lefferts says.
Another that tops her list is The Person You Mean to Be by Dolly Chugh that demonstrates the importance of a growth mindset in combatting bias. The book also helps readers identify their own privilege to unearth blind spots and open the door to change.
Lefferts also adds several favorite podcasts to her list including Racism Has a Cost for Everyone by a public policy expert and How to Deconstruct Racism One Headline at a Time that explores racism through calls to police to report Black people doing everyday things.
She rounds out her listening with lots of TED talks including Amy Cuddy’s popular presentation on body language. “I continue to gravitate toward professional and personal development topics,” Lefferts says, “but the topics change based on what’s going on in the world and in my world. Earlier in my career, I sought out more general leadership and even task-specific information. Now, I look to expand outward more and into how I can help others and bring others along.”
A business book read years ago continues to influence the leadership of WFF Board member and Principal with Deloitte LLC, Jean Chick, well into her third decade with the company. “I continue to find The Situational Leader by Dr. Paul Hersey relevant today because it emphasizes that leading and developing people is critical to the success of every organization, but that different situations call for different leadership styles,” Chick says.
She points specifically to how an emerging leader might need a supervisor to provide more specific direction and follow up whereas a more senior team member will need a more hands-off manager who can facilitate opportunities for the individual to experience her own leadership.
Chick places a premium on staying current with business and industry periodicals that help her keep her finger on the pulse of the restaurant industry and finance as a regular reader of The Wall Street Journal and CFO Magazine. She also consults The New York Times daily briefing to track critical news stories and to read recommendations on what to watch and read.
When she’s ready to take a break from business, Chick is a die-hard Orange Theory fitness devotee who enjoys tapping into the worldwide community of fellow exercise enthusiasts posting on social media about that day’s workout.
Finally, she looks to Daily Meditations by Franciscan priest, author and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC), Richard Rohr, for unique insights, inspiration and a sense of calm in the middle of her very busy life.
WFF Change Maker and Process Development Engineer for Rich’s, Chanel David, has been particularly moved by author Luvvie Ajayi’s TED talk based on her book Professional Trouble Maker: The Fear Fighter Manual. “It resonates with me because she talks about being brave and bold and willing to speak up,” David said.
She has leaned into that concept by forming an employee resource group at Rich’s to support and empower fellow associates of color. “I want to help us have these important, sometimes uncomfortable, conversations around often taboo and sensitive topics around race,” she added. “I think in that way I can help drive positive change.”
A favorite book David also recommends is Strengths Finder by Tom Rath and Gallup that focuses on building on natural strengths to excel. She also loves the related podcasts Gallup Talent Mindfulness and Gallup Theme Thursday that enable David to better understand her own strengths and those of people she works with.
When it comes to downtime, David loves to explore travel, food, culture and the African American diaspora. She is passionate about the podcast In Class with Dr. Greg Carr; the PBS show Finding Your Roots with Dr. Henry Louis Gates and a book club that revolves around the work of chef Marcus Samuelsson who wrote The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food. “I’ve bookmarked so many recipes in that book – like the Lago Plantains – but also just love hearing the personal stories and historical significance of the dishes.”
Fellow WFF Change Maker and Director, Brand Marketing & Advertising with Wendy’s, Melissa Cash, loves to explore new ideas through a variety of programs from National Public Radio (NPR). “I’m fascinated by stories from Planet Money and The Indicator that cover all sorts of topics I wouldn’t even know about otherwise,” she says. “That can be everything from Bitcoin to NFT to a new shape of pasta.”
To get inspired, Cash turns to the podcast Without Fail by Gimlet Media. “It’s all about people who have taken a big bet or made a dramatic change in their life and risked everything and either achieved something extraordinary or failed spectacularly,” she explains. “It helps me be more courageous and gain perspective on my own leadership journey and to see failure as how you learn and become stronger and better.”
For fun life hacks, she turns to the book and blog, The Lazy Genius. “They have so many great ideas about being more productive by investing your time and energy in what really matters and then being lowkey about things that aren’t as important.” As a busy working mom of a five-year-old and ten-month-old, Cash applies that logic to cooking and relies on Home Chef meals that let her spend more time with her kids.
Whether it’s a literal book, industry publications, TED talks or a quality podcast, leaders are voracious learners. When you make time to keep learning, you make time to keep growing.