Get Your Shelf in Order

Your background on those Zoom calls says something about you. So, put your best — and weightiest — books forward

Everyone knows about selfies. But do you know about shelfies? They can help you stay current in this increasingly digital world. Let me explain.

Just as selfies show you doing the cool things that make you who you are, shelfies also tell the world about you. Only the backgrounds are different.

Shelfies, as the name suggests, provide a look at the shelves in your life. In pre-Covid days, those shelves were largely private affairs, visible only to the good friends who visited your home. But now they are the very public face that you are displaying to the world as you participate in the Zoom and Microsoft Teams calls that have become a daily part of our business lives.

And, yes, people are noticing what is on your shelves. And, people being people, they are subtly grading you by what they see. So, you should give some thought to your shelf game to extend your shelf life in the industry.

One of the images you want to present is that you are a student of leadership. Notable books about notable leaders are advised. Heavyweight author Ron Chernow is particularly helpful here. His biographies of Alexander Hamilton and Ulysses Grant are heavy tomes that will burnish your executive credentials. Books on Winston Churchill also add gravitas to your shelf. 

And, not that you would, but don’t forget Honest Abe. Everyone loves Lincoln. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals” provides unrivaled insights into how Lincoln surrounded himself with his competitors and molded them into a strong team. Wouldn’t that be a good thing for you to do with your rivals?

You really can’t go wrong with books on any of our presidents, as they offer a wealth of leadership lessons, generally speaking. Well, maybe Millard Fillmore is worth skipping, and possibly one or two others, but you get my point.

It’s also important to know what not to show on your bookshelves. Take those trashy novels and tuck them away in a closet. You also will want to hide any books that have “Dummies” in the title. No sense giving your critics any ammunition.

In an attempt to be helpful here, I’m sharing some pictures of my bookshelves to give you some ideas. You will see that I’ve got the U.S. presidents’ box checked, and I’ve also got books on key world leaders. My classical credentials are covered with biographies of noble Romans — and the coins that they struck (a hobby of mine). I’m also a student of what some call the Greatest American Novel — “Moby-Dick.” The American whaling fleet was a highly sophisticated business enterprise that provided an early look at the power of global enterprises, in case you needed a quick refresher on that topic. 

Now that you know how to up your shelf game, you will soon be viewed as the Renaissance man or woman that you have always known yourself to be.

Showing off great books is certainly a great look for you to present to the world. But you will get bonus points for doing something even more important: Actually reading those books. •

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