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Inertia is often assumed to be a crippler of careers and organizations. But after reading The Four Disciplines of Execution this year, I've been pondering another, deeper danger, which can contribute to inertia: Too much activity.

"The real enemy of execution is your day job!" consultants Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling write. "It's the massive amount of energy that's necessary just to keep your operation going on a day-to-day basis; and … it's also the thing that makes it so hard to execute anything new. The whirlwind robs from you the focus required to move your team forward."

There were many good business books this year, with lots of lessons you can put to use to improve your organization or further your career. But as I contemplate those books, and consider which was the most useful, the top two books on my top 10 list acknowledge the whirlwind and offer ways to make progress against it:

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1. Nine Minutes on Monday

By James Robbins


Mr. Robbins outlines nine core needs people hold, and then sets out nine questions to ask yourself every Monday morning that will reveal ways you can help your staff meet those needs in the coming week. The questions include: Whom will I give feedback to this week; whom will I reward or recognize this week; how can I promote a feeling of autonomy in one employee this week; and how can I help someone grow this week?

2. The Four Disciplines of Execution

By Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling

(Free Press)

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Three FranklinCovey consultants report on the success they had with their four-step process for managing the behavioural changes in staff that allows change to occur. Focusing on the most vital aspect of the change is crucial, along with creating a cadence of accountability so that the change effort doesn't get sidetracked by the whirlwind. That's highlighted by holding a single, un-cancellable weekly meeting, in which everyone reports on how they fared in the past week on commitments they made toward the change effort and what they will do next week.

3. Understanding Michael Porter

By Joan Magretta

(Harvard Business School Press)

Harvard Professor Michael Porter is the most widely cited strategy guru, but his ideas are often misunderstood or only partially comprehended because of their complexity. In this book, Ms. Magretta, who worked with him, presents a surprisingly clear summary of his work, making matters such as competitive advantage and "five forces" theory easier to understand and apply properly.

4. How to be Exceptional

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By John Zenger, Joseph Folkman, Robert Sherwin Jr. and Barbara Steel


Four consultants offer compelling evidence for focusing on your strengths rather than weaknesses (except when the weakness can prove to be a fatal flaw) and then explain how to work effectively on your strengths, a course of action which is not necessarily obvious.

5. So Good They Can't Ignore You

By Cal Newport

(Business Plus)

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The blogger and assistant professor of computing science at Georgetown University, writing in the research-and-anecdote style of popular writer Malcolm Gladwell, successfully challenges the myth that the key to success is to follow your passion. Instead he offers four linked, alternative rules, including becoming a craftsman so adept at what you do that people can't ignore you.

6. Talk, Inc.

By Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind

(Harvard Business Review Press)

The authors, a Harvard professor and communications professional, studied communications in modern organizations and found the top-down style has been replaced by two-way conversations between leaders and the troops. Even written communications, such as a CEO's blog, can no longer be impersonal and directive but instead must be personal and more conversational. They also explain four elements that can help you be effective with this new approach.

7. The Advantage

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By Patrick Lencioni


The masterful writer of business fables switches to a straight ahead, non-fiction approach, bringing together his many practical ideas under the rubric of making your organization smart and healthy. You probably have heard some of his ideas before, but it's refreshing to see them stitched together in one intelligent leadership manual. I have read all his books and found this a helpful summary, with additional ideas to ponder.

8. Who's in the Room?

By Bob Frisch


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The Massachusetts-based consultant debunks the notion that top corporate decisions are made by the senior executive team, and shows how it's usually a small "kitchen cabinet" team of advisers with the CEO who thrash through the possibilities and come to key conclusions. He argues that this is an effective system, and sets out some ideas for CEOs to more profitably utilize their senior teams and other decision-making teams.

9. The Primes

By Chris McGoff

(John Wiley)

This quirky offering by a Washington, D.C., consultant sets out 46 practical and provocative rules for effective management that don't add up to a leadership system but certainly get you thinking. It's sweet reading, with short chapters and powerful graphics making the ideas clear.

10. Hannibal and Me

By Andreas Kluth


This extended essay by an Economist writer uses the story of Hannibal as a leaping off point to explore the trajectory of our careers and life. It's an absorbing, well-written, insightful journey into the past that makes today clearer.

Note: If you click on each book title it will take you to Harvey Schachter's review of that particular book. 

Special to The Globe and Mail

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, 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 work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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