13 books every business leader should read in 2012
Thirteen is my lucky number. I’m dead serious. Aveus, a strategy and operational change firm that I own with two business partners, is 13 years old this year. So I’m thinking reflectively about our great, challenging, evolving, striving run to this magical 13 point. And I’m thinking forward to the next 13 years. What exciting twists and turns will they bring?
Early in my career, I never imagined owning my own business. I always saw myself as a corporate type, and actually in my corporate roles I had the good fortune to do a wide variety of things: lead major change initiatives, run large operations, learn and develop. Some of that experience translated well to Aveus. Some, not so much. Along the way I became an avid reader – yes, business books, but also fiction, non-fiction, memoir, biographies, plays, even a bit of poetry, you name it – looking for ideas to enhance my own experiences and broaden my thinking. Now 13 years have flown by!
Today is Friday the 13th. In honor of this great day, and all the lucky 13s ahead, here is a collection of 13 books that I believe every business leader would benefit from reading. Enjoy!
The Drucker Lectures: Essential Lessons on Management, Society and Economy (2010) By Peter Drucker and Rick Wartzman
I’ve read Drucker since I started my career. He’s a voice and mind I go back to often. Fortunately there are dozens of Drucker books to choose from. This, a collection of lectures compiled after his incredible long life, is a wonderful way to meet him for the first time, or remind yourself of his wit and brilliance and guidance for your business.
Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior (2009) By Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman
Sway is one of those books that returns to mind time and again. I recommend it to everyone whenever we are talking books. So often we see businesses, individuals, governments, non-profits doing things against their own interests. Why? Read Sway and understand.
Change Masters (1985) By Rosabeth Moss Kanter
I’m in the ‘change that pays’ business as we say it at Aveus because too often results fall far short of intentions. Change Masters appeared about the time I led my first large scale corporate initiative. Many change books have appeared since, several others by Kanter, but this still remains the starting place if you’re contemplating something big.
Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries (1991) By Peter Sims
I just found this book as I was doing some research for materials about innovation strategy. Innovation always has been central to business growth and success. And yet as companies get larger, most if not all, get worse at it. Even those that have quite storied innovation histories can use some good reminders. That’s what you’ll find here.
|5.||The Phantom Tollbooth - now in its 50thanniversary edition! (1961) By Norton Juster, Author and Jules Feiffer, Illustrator
And for something completely different – yes, a children’s book. Ah, but look more closely. At a simplistic level this is a book about the awakening of one bored kid, Milo. For the rest of us the lessons underpin long-term strategy and every day necessary decisions.
|6.||Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (2007) By Chip and Dan Heath
I found this book a couple years ago – and like the entire message of the book – it stuck! For any leader at any level that needs to communicate ideas to anyone else, this is the book for you.
|7.||Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way (2010) By Dan Buettner
Happiness is the new new topic. Zappos and others are driving awareness that you can work, succeed and build happiness in combination. In the US we can be fairly arrogant about our country, our business abilities and our place in the world. Thrive is both humbling and encouraging, bringing lessons to us from around the globe.
Five Frogs on a Log: A CEO's Field Guide to Accelerating the Transition in Mergers, Acquisitions And Gut Wrenching Change (1998) By Mark L. Feldman and Michael F. Spratt
For as many merger and acquisition deals that happen each year, why do so many end up underwhelming? We’re sitting at a point in time at the edge of economic recovery when M & A activity is predicted to heat up even more. Wouldn’t it be great if they actually added to shareholder value? If you see or are planning any M & A activity, read this book.
Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) By Daniel Kahneman
An Aveus board member recommended this book to me and boy am I glad he did. This Nobel Prize winner in Economic Sciences (don’t let that scare you away!) elegantly helps unravel the mysteries of judgment and decision making. There is good reason it made the Best Books of 2011 lists.
|10.||Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French (2003) By Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow
A Francophile friend asked me to read this book – and given my maiden name, how could I resist? Just in time for this list, too! This curious little book – while yes about France – is also a great study in not accepting obvious or assumption-based answers. Just because things (such as excessive bureaucracy and high productivity) seem at odds, doesn’t make them so. Vive la France!
If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit (2011) By Brenda Ueland (B. 1891, D. 1985 at the age of 93(
Who doesn’t have a book inside them? Brenda believed “everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.” Generations of readers have found valuable lessons far beyond the craft of writing in this book – reprinted time and time again. Brenda lived to 93 by observing two rules: to tell the truth and not to do anything she didn’t want to do. Aren’t those great rules for your business? Your life?
Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big (2007) By Bo Burlingham
This book caught my attention because ‘small giant’ is actually a phrase we use a lot in our business. By it we mean ‘small in scale, large in client impact.’ Burlingham brings ‘greatness’ into the discussion at a time when we’re still reeling from the economic hangover of ‘too big to fail.’ Now is the time to read this book—again, if you’ve read it before.
|13.||Ted Levitt on Marketing (2006) By Ted Levitt
Ending with a legend, just as I began. There are many great minds and thousands more books I could have chosen. Levitt, however, I’ve carried with me through every chapter in my career. This, his last book, brings decades of wisdom and insight together for us. Whether you are a marketer or not, if you’re a business person and you haven’t read any of his earlier work, start here and then work back. It will be worth your effort.
What about you? What books would you add to the list of “must reads” for today’s business leader?
Pragmatic optimist with over 20 years of leading meaningful change. Sees every performance chain through lenses of speed, predictability, flexibility and leverage. Gets excited when smart decisions align with what customers value and generate stronger business performance. More about Chris.
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