The best reading in business books this year is Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. If I had to name a book most people would enjoy delving into over the holiday season, it would be this biography. It’s a hefty read, at 571 pages, but I never tired of it, always anticipating the next page. It also offers many useful lessons about how to lead and how not to lead, and about the pursuit of perfection.
But in singling out one book that offers the most important message for managers this year, I recommend The Progress Principle. The breakthrough in knowledge it provides makes it my choice as best business book of the year.
I also rate a few other books above the marvellous Jobs biography on the strength of the useful messages they carry.
Here are the top 10 business reads for 2011:
1. The Progress Principle
By Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer (Harvard Business Review Press)
The husband-and-wife research team had access to diaries of people’s daily lives at work, and discovered that the key to engagement is feeling that you are making progress. So if you want your staff to feel positive and engaged in their work, help them to make progress – and to recognize the progress they are making. This a pioneering work on employee engagement, with lots of memorable examples culled from those in-the-trenches diary entries.
2. Good Strategy, Bad Strategy
By Richard Rumelt (Crown Business)
I had been intrigued when this book came in but after a time put it aside as expendable until, in an interview, McGill University management professor Henry Mintzberg mentioned Prof. Rumelt, a professor of business and society at UCLA, as the only business writer he reads. Thank you, Henry. This was an eye-opener on strategy, showing, as the title indicates, how strategy goes wrong and how to get it right. The book was also surprisingly accessible, given that it was written by an academic on a topic that can be abstruse.
3. Great by Choice
By Jim Collins and Morten Hansen (HarperBusiness)
After his towering bestseller Good To Great, a number of critics seemed to be waiting in ambush for Mr. Collins when this book came out, looking for faults to pick. Ignore them. This is another lively, clearly written book, with his partner this time, University of California’s Prof. Hansen. It has a solid research base that adds some more clues on how to manage for success.
4. Steve Jobs
By Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster)
The former managing editor of Time magazine and noted biographer does a masterful job of fairly and honestly telling the story of the late co-founder of Apple Inc., warts and all. The vision and drive and insular arrogance sticks with the reader, as do the many lovely anecdotes. (My favourites: an impatient Mr. Jobs honking his horn as a police officer writes out a speeding ticket, to indicate he’s in a hurry; a post-liver transplant Mr. Jobs pulling off his oxygen mask because he didn’t like its design.)
5. Why Are We Bad at Picking Good Leaders?
By Jeffrey Cohn and Jay Moran (Jossey-Bass)
Two experts in succession planning set out seven criteria that they argue correlate with leadership success. Then the authors show you how, when screening candidates, to discern whether they have qualities such as integrity, empathy, vision and judgment. Not the easiest of reads, but a helpful book.
By Kevin Coyne and Shawn Coyne (HarperBusiness)
Two brothers – Kevin is a business professor, Shawn a management consultant – offer some improvements to brainstorming efforts. They stress the importance of asking the right questions to get the right answers to the challenge facing you, and present a process for considering the most appealing notions unearthed by that questioning.
7. Necessary Endings
By Henry Cloud (HarperBusiness)
To everything there is a season, but often we are oblivious, continuing with initiatives and people that are no longer (if they ever were) successful. Dr. Cloud, an executive coach and clinical psychologist, studies the psychological reasons we cling to, rather than face up to, necessary endings; offers a comforting metaphor of pruning to help us understand the importance of such endings; and shares tips to help us get better at this organizational imperative.
8. Change Anything
By Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler (Business Plus)
There have been a lot of good organizational change books in recent years, and this one is also excellent. It focuses on how to influence personal behaviour, be it your own or those of your colleagues. It sets out six factors that must be manipulated for change to occur, and offers compelling stories to help understand cause and effect.
By Howard Schultz (Rodale)
The Starbucks CEO tells about his return to the helm at the iconic company, and how he led a dramatic turnaround. You can never tell how for sure how much truth there is behind such first-person accounts, but this one seems reasonably honest and surprisingly humane, leaving the reader with a better sense of turnarounds and Mr. Schultz’s motivations and actions.
10. Fixing the Game
By Roger Martin (Harvard Business Review Press)
The dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management uses the National Football League as an analogy to offer a passionate, timely, and incisive look at how today’s capitalist system, with its commitment to shareholder value, is leading to bubbles and crashes. He presents some tough-minded solutions.
Here are the runners-up:
A First-Rate Madness (Penguin Press) by professor of psychiatry Nassir Ghaemi, on how, in times of crisis, we need leaders who are mentally ill.
Designing for Growth (Columbia Business School Publishing), by business professor Jeanne Liedtka and consultant Tim Ogilvie, on how to adopt the ideas of designers to your business challenges.
One Piece of Paper (Jossey-Bass) by consultant Mike Figliuolo, on figuring out what makes you tick as a leader.
Drowning in Oil (McGraw-Hill) by journalist Loren Steffy, on the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Obliquity (Penguin Press) by British economist and professor John Kay, on why our goals are best achieved indirectly.
From Bud to Boss (Jossey-Bass) by Kevin Eikenberry and Guy Harris, a guide to taking your first job as a manager.
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