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Book by Book: My Year of Evolution

As I approach my fourth year consulting and advising emerging to mid-market companies, I’m pleasantly surprised by the evolution of my skills and services.

Books have long been a guiding source for me to learn, improve, and broaden my perspective. This year, in particular, there are several books (five to be exact) that I attribute to my development.

A little background on the changes that have transpired for me and my work… As an independent owner of a brand and marketing consulting company, I’m primarily engaged in projects or assignments that draw upon my 20+ years of B2B and B2C experience.

This year was different. I was presented with a number of opportunities where I could step back and work on my business, as much as, if not more than working in it. For those of you who own a business where you are a sole proprietor, you can relate to how challenging that can be.

Over the past few years, I’ve mentored and coached a growing number of aspiring and key managers – the majority of them operating outside of marketing roles. This foundation has evolved into providing workshops for teams of people inside companies, each one customized to the needs and demands of the department or group. The number of topics covered in the workshops is as wide and varied as those who are in it – from emotional intelligence to strengths finders to presentation skills to time-management to team-building to committee formation and performance to positive inception to culture revolutions and so forth.

Each area and discipline required me to become a subject matter expert in order to effectively develop and deliver the content that would ultimately manifest into inspired results. I’ve learned as much (if not more) about myself as I have others in the process. Amidst this significant body of work, I aimed to continue writing my blog as that provides a tremendous outlet for creativity, knowledge-sharing, and self-expression.

This brings me to how the books I’ve read helped shape and influence my expanded skills. Last year, I wrote a blog post on books that ignited my [marketing] career. But this post highlights the books that helped me to cultivate and curate the work I’m doing now in developing and guiding people and cultures.

Here are the top 5 books I have found inspirational:

At the top of my list is Before Happiness. I was first introduced to this book by a client who asked if I could turn this into a workshop to get an executive team and senior managers aligned in their goals, management styles, and culture. The book provides 5 keys (skills) to achieve success, happiness, and sustain positive change. The premise is that before you can (truly) experience happiness you must first see that a positive reality is possible. Once you can achieve that, then you can understand in what ways can you transfer (not spread or share) a high-value reality to others.

As a Harvard trained researcher on positive psychology, Achor’s book is grounded in insightful examples. Through his five skills, each containing three strategies, I constructed and delivered five workshops where we discussed, modeled, and applied these techniques.

This book was foundational in supporting the positive culture shift the client was undergoing and allowed for lots of radical candor to get real with where the work most needed to be done.

Last year I wrote a blog post on the legendary South Beach icon, Robert Kraft, who goes by the name “Raven.” This 42-year streak runner represented to me an enduring personal brand.

His story is real, unabridged as he pursues redemption through running 8-miles a day, every day on the sands of South Beach.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and running with Raven several times which sparked my interest in writing about him and the indelible impression he made on me.

I am not the only person who has written, photographed, or filmed Raven. In fact, over the course of several years, two of his loyal runners crowdfunded a campaign to write and photograph his story and the countless other stories he has witnessed or experienced over his 67 years of life.

In 2017, the long-awaited, labor of love Raven bio was released. The author, Laura Lee Huttenbach, affectionately nicknamed “White Lightning” by Raven, contacted me because of the blog I’d written about Raven the year prior. She offered to send me a copy of the book if, in return, I would write about it in my blog.

As well-written books do, I was transported into the life of Raven at a very personal level. Laura Lee captured the essence of who he is by relaying stories from his childhood to current times. The book was captivating look into his struggles with OCD, abandonment, loss, and disappoints that ultimately led him to redemption in 1975. That one single resolution he made to himself 42 years ago would change not only the course of his life but thousands of others.

In fact, I included Raven in one of the Before Happiness workshops as a stellar example of a positive genius.

Simon Sinek is a highly acclaimed optimist, teacher and writer on positive psychology whom I admire and religiously follow. It was natural for me to seek his knowledge and wisdom when it comes to culture. A great deal of the work I’ve done this year has been rooted in helping shift (not change) a performance-focused culture to an intentional one that is grounded in purpose.

Sinek’s New York Times bestseller, Start With Why, was revolutionary and provided an optimal starting position by asking and answering why the culture needed to shift before determining the how or what.

In Leaders Eat Last, the profound display of servant leadership was explored and detailed through relevant, practical, true stories. The depth and breadth of insight in this book provided a clear roadmap to help guide others to look within and build an environment that was safe, free of criticism and deeply rooted in trust.

Reading Laszlo’s groundbreaking book was timely with him stepping down as Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google. And who better to learn from than someone who year after year was the recipient of best places to work and highly regarded for the unconventional culture he inspired at Google?

In his book, he touches on two significant things: work and life outside of work. He is masterful at striking an enviable balance between creativity and structure that ultimately leads to success.

Through his principles, it was easy to put into action a culture where people thrive and companies prosper.
I’ve earmarked so many pages in the book and refer to it often as I work inside companies to help them re-invent approaches to talent, culture, and leadership.

As a common practice, I often administer an Emotional Intelligence (EQ) test to individuals or teams as a means to gauge their current EQ and identify areas that they may need to focus on in order to improve.

As described in Before Happiness, Achor illustrates a pyramid that he calls the “triangle of success.” He emphasizes that we all have three intelligences: social, IO, and EQ. It’s the combination of all three that allows us to achieve success and when we use all three there’s an intersection in the middle deemed as the area of success.

While this book was not a new read for me this year, I often refer to it as means to gain a deeper understanding of what motivates people and the reasons they behave the way they do.

In summary, the books that have inspired my evolution are not singular in nature but a collection of insights, wisdom, tools, and techniques that have and will continue to help propel me and my clients forward.

I am looking forward to what next year holds and some of the likely and unlikely ways I will be challenged and inspired. My guess is I will start with working through this list and this list of books.

What’s on your bookshelf? Do you have any recommended reads for 2018? Share in the comments below!


Michelle Mariola is co-founder of Mariola Unlimited, a Chicago-based branding and marketing company whose mission is to help emerging to mid-market companies develop their marketing strategies and brand identities as well as advancement through culture coaching, leadership development, workshopping, and team engagement exercised.

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