I have assembled in this column some of my favorite books and training courses for general management. If you have other favorites, please share them with me, too!
I have discussed in a previous column the book called Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, which I have used over and over again both in my personal and professional lives. It is about recognizing our own immediate internal reaction to what others say, especially on a hot button topic, and how we can often overreact and misinterpret things. This book can help you reduce your own stress level when confronted with tough situations on the job, and it can also help you to devise strategies for communicating on difficult topics such as downsizing or dealing with performance issues.
Staying on the interpersonal front, I also recommend the Daniel Pink book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, which I have found tremendously useful on the topic of motivation. It discusses how the key driving forces for motivation are autonomy, mastery and purpose, and gives many good examples of these in action. As you rise up the leadership ranks, these concepts can help you think about your own motivations as well as those of your staff, and how you can work better to harness motivation in your organization.
Another invaluable leadership book is Its Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy by Michael Abrashoff, which is the true story of a Navy Captain who raised the performance of his ship from last to first over a period of two years. It shows you through a series of great stories how the captain instilled the concept of ownership into his team and how this ownership led to results. Constant communication and aggressive listening were also key ingredients of his success.
I once took a course taught by Larry Bossidy (a former CEO of Honeywell) that dealt with the importance of tying strategy to execution and people planning. The course also dealt with the topic of creating balanced scorecards to help track progress, and I have referred to the use of such scorecards many times in my columns over the last few years. I refer you to the book Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan and Charles Burck, which is quite readable and practical.
If you are in a leadership position, you may find yourself at some point communicating with the public in a crisis situation, such as one related to a plant safety problem or environmental release, or perhaps related to a product quality issue or recall. I suggest you do some preparation in advance on crisis communication with the public. A good resource on this is the book What Were They Thinking? Crisis Communication: The Good, The Bad and the Totally Clueless by Steve Adubato, a well-known broadcaster and columnist. The book gives many good examples of highly publicized crises and what we can learn from them. He also has a good book on communications called Speak from the Heart: Be Yourself and Get Results, which has useful tips on how to improve your speeches and meetings.
Negotiation is a key skill in any function, and I recommend the books and courses of Chester Karrass, such as Give and Take: The Complete Guide to Negotiating Strategies and Tactics. I took a Karrass course maybe 20 years ago and the experience at that course has stayed with me. It involved both training and practice at negotiation, and the key concept – that in a negotiation, you never know what the other side is really dealing with – was powerfully demonstrated. It also helps one to think about broadening out a negotiation when it seems to get stuck, which is highly useful regardless of whether you are in a function such as sales or procurement or not.
On the marketing side, you may find the book Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne interesting and thought-provoking. It makes the argument that, in order to win in the marketplace rather than competing head to head with your competitors, you should find some uncharted territory where better profitability can be had. In our competitive industries, this can be a useful thought process. For completeness, I also refer you to the book The Discipline of Market Leaders by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema. I have referred to this book in my Lubes’n’Greases article from July 2014 on value propositions and differentiation.
On the topic of quality and systems, I refer you to the work of W. Edwards Deming, who is famous for helping Japan achieve great economic success through quality in the postwar period. He has written many books, but you might want to go to the first one entitled Out of the Crisis. I was lucky to have attended a course given by him personally, and it was very memorable; he died in 1993, but his work is still considered ground-breaking and worth a read. He focuses on quality in the manufacturing arena, but I find his work just as applicable to any system. One of his key concepts is that usually when poor performance is experienced it is not the individuals who are performing the work that are responsible but rather the overall system (and the management thereof). I always found this a useful way to think about system performance.
This list is by no means a complete management training course, but I hope you will find it a useful resource. I also find that with business books you rarely have to read them cover to cover to gain the key insights; my strategy is to read the first few chapters and then skip around to the chapters or concepts that seem the most compelling. Happy reading!
Sara Lefcourt of Lefcourt Consulting LLC specializes in helping companies to improve profits, reduce risk and step up their operations. Her experience includes many years in marketing, sales and procurement, first for Exxon and then at Infineum, where she was vice president, supply. E-mail her at email@example.com or phone (908) 400-5210.