Courage. It was the theme of this year's remarkable Tragically Hip tour, Gord Downie mesmerizing audiences with his brave, bravura performances after a brain cancer diagnosis. And it's also an underlying theme of the sleeper book that I am choosing as the best management and business book of the year. Courage is a vital theme to be reminded about as we think of our role in workplaces.
I was surprised by Heretics to Heroes, not expecting much when it arrived. And I'm also surprised that it tops my list this year. I had never heard of Cort Dial before a publicist sent the book. It's independently published, not a big publisher imprint. You can't even get a hard copy version in Canada, having to settle for a Kindle (although it's a heavy book, so maybe that's a blessing). And it's not jammed with the kind of specific management advice I favour.
But it touched me. It has some lovely storytelling, guiding you leisurely through many of his experiences in the business world, notably coaching execs in the oil and gas industry in recent years. He is unwavering in his devotion to people and safety in the workplace, and brings that passion to those he works with – or walks away from the assignment if it fails his values test.
The book is a quest and so is the path to being what he calls an "all-in leader," someone who is fully committed to his or her people and their greater good.
All-in leaders must, in his words, "be up to the big adventure, the one lesser leaders shy away from."
It's a highly inspirational book. Let's celebrate courage for 2016, reminding ourselves how hard and important it is.
This year's list
1. Heretics to Heroes by Cort Dial: A memoir on leadership that starts with lessons learned as a youngster but moves into full gear the pivotal day when a worker died on a site where Mr. Dial was a supervisor and the boss insisted on finding an answer to the question, "How did we kill this man?" With that, a life's quest began.
2. Under New Management by David Burkus: A management professor's contrarian look at leadership, urging us among other things to outlaw e-mail, put customers second, lose the standard vacation policy, pay people to quit, make salaries transparent and celebrate departures, policies that initially seem, well, heretical, but which you may decide are highly sensible.
3. ReOrg by Stephen Heidari-Robinson and Suzanne Heywood: Two consultants provide an incisive look at what goes wrong in reorganizations and how to get it right the next time you are faced with this all-too common organizational impulse. Even if you're well-versed in the literature of change management, you'll find this perspective different and helpful.
4. The Productivity Project: Chris Bailey spurned two job offers after graduating from the University of Ottawa a few years ago and spent a year trying many of the productivity solutions we have been offered by the gurus, explaining which ones worked best for him.
5. Superbosses by Sydney Finkelstein: The Dartmouth College management professor looks at leaders who are talent magnets, drawing people to work at their side, teaching them and then helping them to make their mark elsewhere in their industry. A surprising number of top performers worked for these folks and the book explains why and what you can draw from them.
6. Deep Work by Cal Newport: The Georgetown University professor looks at how to find the opportunities to tackle your professional activities in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capacity to its limit. We live in a world of shallow work. This thoughtful, well-researched book shows how to find significant moments for deep work.
7. Negotiating the Impossible by Deepak Malhotra: The Harvard professor mixes wide-ranging negotiating examples with analysis as he offers three levers to improve your results: Reframing, process and empathy. If that sounds vague, the book isn't, with short chapters each revolving around a key point.
8. Leading Great Meetings by Richard Lent: The Boston consultant argues that to improve your meetings, you need to draw from the techniques used in facilitating large group sessions – no doubt some of which could help you in the weeks to come.
9. Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool: Florida State University Professor Anders Ericsson is an unknown famous person – few recognize his name, but his research results, the basis for journalist Malcolm Gladwell's formula of 10,000 hours practice to achieve excellence, are widely known. With journalist Robert Pool, he clarifies the research and offers a thorough look at how to improve performance through practice.
10. The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni: The master fable writer and consultant argues you want to seek out people who are humble, hungry and smart as colleagues. His fictional story exposes the idea in dramatic, emotional fashion but it's followed by 60 pages of solid, non-fiction explanation, the latter something many fable readers fail to provide.
Small Data by Martin Lindstrom chronicles his archeological-like studies of marketing for his consulting corporate clients around the world, looking for small clues to reveal big insights on customers.
Winning the Brain Game by Matthew May, a business coach, shows how to fix the seven fatal flaws of thinking.
Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg is smoothly written, looking at the science of productivity, inspired by the frustration he faced trying to organize his life as he was finishing his previous best seller The Power of Habit.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points.