10 books every manager should read

10 books every manager should read

For a leader, the benefits of reading are wide ranging.

Research has shown that regular reading can improve intelligence and lead to innovation and insight. Deep reading cultivates knowledge, habits and talents that can help managers improve their leadership skills and their organizations.

In an article in Harvard Business Review, John Coleman, co-author of the book Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders, wrote: “According to The New York Times, Steve Jobs had an ‘inexhaustible interest’ in William Blake; Nike founder Phil Knight so reveres his library that in it you have to take off your shoes and bow; and Harman Industries founder Sidney Harman called poets ‘the original systems thinkers’, quoting freely from Shakespeare and Tennyson… Carlyle Group founder David Rubenstein reads dozens of books each week.”

The art of management has been discussed in more than a million books but only a few of them qualify as must-read for managers.

We list 10 books that every manager should read:

1. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carngie
Published in 1936, this book is still relevant after several decades. So seminal is the book that much of the advice it proffers, like the importance of a smile and the need to avoid criticizing and complaining, is now taken for granted. But it was novel and revolutionary for its time! Carnegie’s book had a profound impact on Warren Buffet. Buffet read the book when he was 15 years old and having trouble fitting into school. He found that many of the tips helped him greatly.

Quotable quote: “Don’t be afraid of enemies who attack you. Be afraid of the friends who flatter you.”

2. The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Sun Tzu was a military general who lived in the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history (770–476 BC), an era marked by vassal states competing against each other for supremacy. His book, but obviously, is a guide to winning at all costs. Sales of the book shot up after it found a mention in the movie Wall Street (1987) where ruthless investor Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) quotes memorably from the book. Generations of managers have read the book and internalised its lessons, its brazen emphasis on realpolitik notwithstanding.

Quotable quote: “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”

3. Bhagavad Gita
The business environment in the post-2008 depression era necessitated a shift towards a more principled approach towards business. As a result, many managers are now looking to the Bhagavad Gita for direction. The Gita’s growing popularity indicates that many ideas central to Indian philosophy — like the importance of putting purpose before self — are gradually gaining currency in management circles in the West.

Quotable quote: “Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward.”

4. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey
This book focuses on the self rather than the organization. It contains chapters on the seven habits that include ‘Be proactive’, ‘Begin with the end in mind’, ‘Put first things first’ etc. Inculcating these habits will lead to positive change and improvement in your own self. The book begins with a quotation by scientist and educationist David Starr Jordan: “There is no real excellence in all this world which can be separated from right living.” That pretty much sets the tone for the rest of book.

Quotable quote: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

5. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… And Others Don’t by Jim Collins
In this book, leadership guru Jim Collins analyzes through a series of case studies why some companies are merely good, and what they must do to make the transition to great. Celebrity CEOs don’t necessarily make companies great, he concludes. Discipline, simplicity, humility and great people take an organization from good to great.

Quotable quote: “Good is the enemy of great. We don’t have great schools, great government or great companies because they are generally good—and that is their main problem.”

6. Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? by Lou Gerstner
Gerstner took over the top job at IBM in 1993 when the company was on the verge of collapse and was charged with its transformation. The book is a fast-paced narrative of how he achieved IBM’s turnaround. It underscores the importance of speed and clear principles, and offers a remarkable example of a thorough overhaul of corporate culture.

Quotable quote: “I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game.”

7. Leaders Make the Future by Bob Johansen
Business environments are changing rapidly in the 21st century, and this book will allow managers to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of that change. Johansen notes that the coming years will be defined by “volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity” and proposes that managers equip themselves with 10 new skills. For example, ‘Provide clarity by cutting through conflicting facts and opinions to establish viable paths to future successes’; ‘Develop bio-empathy—an appreciation of nature’s cycles of change and the role that humans play in it’, etc. This, he writes, will allow them to deal with disruptive change.

Quotable quote: “Leaders can make a better future. We need not and should not passively accept any future as a given. Disciplined use of foresight can help leaders make better decisions today. There is short-term value in long-term thinking.”

8. From Values to Action by Harry M. Kraemer
Businesses have been facing a massive test of credibility in the past few years. The situation is especially grave in India where several corporations stand accused of corruption and crony capitalism, and have come under the courts’ scanner. Kraemer reiterates the importance of ethics and values in an organization. He also lays down a three-step process to create a company founded on worthy and noble principles; the objective should not only be profit but making a positive change in the world.

Quotable quote: “Self-reflection is the key to identifying what you stand for, what your values are, and what matters most.”

9. Beyond the Obvious by Phil Mckinney
McKinney lays down his theory about how to innovate effectively.

The author, president and CEO of CableLabs, a research and development consortium, is an acknowledged expert on innovation. His podcast, Killer Innovations, has received great acclaim. In his book, he argues that the trick to making game-changing innovations is to ask the right penetrating questions that force people to rethink and reorient their perspectives.

Quotable quote: “I believe that a good question is one that causes people to really think before they answer it, and one that reveals answers that had previously eluded them.”

10. Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

This book begins with the premise that ultimate organizational responsibility lies with the leader and proceeds to list the benefits of good old-fashioned values like empathy and esprit de corps. Sinek argues about the merits of a humane and compassionate leadership that operates with a view to long-term happiness and prosperity rather than selfish and potentially harmful short-term goals. The book does not contain many ground-breaking insights but is important because it is a timely reminder of a set of universal principles we are in danger of forgetting.

Quotable quote: “Returning from work feeling inspired, safe, fulfilled and grateful is a natural human right to which we are all entitled and not a modern luxury that only a few lucky ones are able to find.”

It’s clear that every leader and every manager-in-the-making must read to broaden their horizons, gain perspective and – ultimately – take bold, imaginative and enlightened decisions. Making time to read every single day and choosing the right books can help you become a better leader.


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