Skip to main content

Early this year, while reading University of California professor Gloria Mark’s book Attention Span, I realized I should re-configure my days to better match my cognitive resources. Over the years, the pattern of work had changed but I had clung to old routines and the cognitive depletion involved. I tweaked, felt better and more effective immediately, and forgot about the impact until I started preparing to write about the best books of the year and was reminded of her work.

There have been many top-flight management and business books this year – more than usual – but Attention Span was the best, not because of its impact on me but because of its depth, breadth and reach into all our lives. Ms. Mark was early to the field of studying the phenomenon of dynamically switching our attention between different apps, screens and devices and has a unique relationship as a visiting senior researcher at Microsoft where she has conducted many studies.

As another leading light in the field, Deep Work author Cal Newport, puts it: “Gloria Mark is the definitive expert on distraction and multitasking in our increasingly digital world.” And in the book she shares insights, from tips for email and social media to illuminating the impact on us of video “shots” – the shortest unbroken unit of film that we perceive – being shortened and infused with even more action in television and movies to dipping into the philosophical notion of free will.

Here are the remaining selections on my top 10 list of business and management books for 2023:

2. The Manager’s Handbook by serial entrepreneur David Dodson, a member of the faculty at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, lays out five must-have skills leaders need and clearly presents ways to improve: Commitment to building a team, fanatical custodian of time, willingness to seek and take advice, setting and delivering priorities and an obsession with quality.

3. Right Kind of Wrong by Amy Edmondson takes us through the three types of failure – basic, complex and intelligent – and how to benefit where it’s possible but also strategies to avoid situations that can be harmful. She blends in many engaging stories as she shares what she calls the science of failing well.

4. Know What Matters by Panera Bread founder Ron Shaich is jam-packed with useful advice from his years at the helm. I hadn’t heard of him before reading and was therefore skeptical of what he might offer, but was absorbed throughout the book.

5. Real-Time Leadership by executive coaches David Noble and Carol Kauffman helps you to create space for thinking and reacting optimally in that split-second when challenges are thrown at you, a major issue if you wish to be more effective. They have several frameworks to apply – including five guiding “Cs” for such situations, calm, clear, curious, compassionate and courageous – as well as many examples from the people they have helped.

6. Understanding Organizations … Finally by McGill University professor Henry Mintzberg brings together his thinking over the years on organizations – hence the word, finally – and explains the four basic types: Autocracy, bureaucracy, meritocracy and adhocracy. That might seem dry and academic but as always Mr. Mintzberg writes with humour and a practical bent, including a memorable sports analogy for each organizational type.

7. Elon Musk by noted biographer Walter Isaacson is an engrossing, entertaining and even-handed look at a brilliant man-child, who at times demonstrates the best in determined visionary leadership but also the worst in people management. At an average reading speed of 30 pages an hour, it will gobble up 20 hours of your life. Is Elon Musk worth it? Probably not, but I did enjoy the book and it’s an exceptional work.

8. Suits and Skirts by Teresa Freeborn, who started her career in the rank and file at B.C.’s Delta Credit Union and retired in 2021 as president of California-based Kinecta Credit Union, argues women are not the problem at work but guys are – or as she even more colourfully puts it, “Dude, you are stepping on my skirt.” She doesn’t mince words, as you can tell, arguing that equity for women at work will require men to change in the workplace and also on the home front.

9. Clear Thinking by Ottawa thought leader Shane Parrish is a well-constructed look at cognitive barriers that get in the way of good decisions and actions – on the routine stuff and the big stuff – starting with four behavioural defaults we succumb to. Stories from some of the clients he has advised and people who have mentored him help the ideas to hit home.

10. Magic Words by Wharton School marketing professor Jonah Berger shows from research how certain words have more impact than others and when you can benefit. It’s fun, at times quite surprising, and you don’t have to be fascinated with words to read or benefit.


  • Runners up: Glass Walls by consultant Amy Diehl and Biola University professor Leanne Dzubinski details the six gender barriers women face in the workplace and how to overcome them; Tomorrowmind by consultant Gabriella Kellerman and Martin Seligman, founder of the positive psychology movement, looks at five psychological powers we will need as the world keeps changing around us.
  • A second book on Elon Musk, Breaking Twitter, by Ben Mezerich, is built around scenes, like a movie. But the best scene in a business book this year was Michael Lewis, as a fly-in-the wall allowed access to crypto CEO Sam Bankman-Fried, describing in Going Infinite the young tycoon (and now convicted fraudster) playing a video game while in a Zoom meeting with Vogue editor Anna Wintour, saying “yup” repeatedly as she tries to gain his support for the Met Gala, while not caring at all. Best quote of the year might also be Mr. Bankman-Fried telling Mr. Lewis, “In a lot of ways I don’t really have a soul.” Not far behind was Mr. Bankman-Fried saying of Elon Musk, “he’s a weird dude.”
  • The two widely heralded biographies of male dudes were dispiriting so here are two alternative, inspirational biographies if that is your bent for holiday reading. The Confidante by historian Christopher Gorham is about little-known Anna Rosenberg, the Hungarian Jewish immigrant to the United States who became prized for her mediation skills by the Rockefeller family and labour leaders; handled delicate tasks for Franklin Delano Roosevelt as his Mrs. Fixit; and was brought as a civilian female outsider into the male-dominated Pentagon by Secretary of Defense George Marshall to clean up the bureaucratic mess he inherited. The Six, by Bloomberg News reporter Loren Grush, a lovely storyteller, looks at the accomplished women, professors and medical doctors, who jettisoned their initial careers to break gender barriers and take on a new adventure, sexism, uncomfortable acclaim, and, in one case, tragic public death, as America’s first female astronauts.
  • Another view: The Financial Times and Schroders best business book for the year is Amy Edmondson’s Right Kind of Wrong.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe