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Required Reading

post # 339 — March 27, 2007 — a Careers post

If you do a business degree, they will often assign you books on marketing, managing, organizational behavior and strategy. But many “classics” never get assigned because the topics they cover are seen as too “basic.”

For example, there are lots of people (like me) who took many courses on “Management” but never really had to think about supervising another human being.

This is not just about younger people getting their first education: it’s also relevant when large professional firms first start offering management training to senior officers appointed to managing positions for the first time.

Such organizations often arrange special executive education courses at elite universities, when what their new managers really need is to read The One-Minute Manager.

Rather than learning advanced topics such as market positioning, segmentation, etc., surely we should start by helping people understand what it feels like to sit across the table from someone who you are trying to get to hire you? Something like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends And Influence People.

Yet the One-Minute Manager and Dale Carnegie are rarely assigned texts (unless I’m out of date with what’s happening.)

Here’s my question for all of you: what are the essential but neglected (basic) business books that YOU think people should read that tend not to get assigned in formal courses? Where wouldyou recommend that people read to START to understand management, marketing, and other business essentials?


Lance Dunkin said:

The Will to Manage by Marvin Bower

Good luck finding a copy—try a library.

Great post idea!

posted on March 27, 2007

Bryan I. Schwartz said:

Before you manage anyone else you must learn to manage yourself. The hardest thing about managing others is your own personal growth. Once you are an adult, you a leading by example, which is the best management of all. Here goes:

  • Leading Change, John Kotter, Harvard Business Press
  • The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge
  • Good to Great, Jim Collins
  • The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker
  • The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, Robin Sharma
  • Organizing Genius, Warren Bennis
  • Topgrading, Brad Smart
  • Growing Pains, Flamholtz
  • First, Break All the Rules, Buckingham
  • The Discipline of Market Leaders
  • Bringing Out the Best in People
  • Maister - any of his books
  • Patrick Lecioni – any of his books on teams/CEOs

posted on March 27, 2007

Susie Wee said:

Now, Discover Your Strengthsby Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton.

This book helps you understand yourself, but it also helps you understand and manage others. It has a long list of “strengths” and a detailed description of each strength. More importantly, the book tells you how to manage a person with each strength! I find this to be very important, because while it is easy to figure out how to motivate and manage someone who is similar to you, it is difficult to understand what motivates someone who is different from you. This book really helped me understand different types of people- a critical skill for management!

posted on March 27, 2007

Wally Bock said:

You’re right that the general run of “management” books and courses do not address “how to supervise another human being.” That’s why I wrote Performance Talk: The One-on-One Part of Leadership.

But it’s not just that much of the “stuff” is too theoretical and not practical. It’s also that corporations spend training budgets in the wrong places. It’s not uncommon for a corporation to send a VP off to a three day program in leadership that costs the company $10K or so, but not provide any training for new managers or new first line supervisors in how to do their job.

posted on March 27, 2007

peter vajda said:

I believe the underlying principle underneath effective management is “know thyself.” Management starts with “me” and then moves into relationships. So, for starters

– Leadership and Self-Deception”(The Arbinger Institute)

– Decent People, Decent Company (Robert & Carolyn Turknett)

– Nonviolent Communication (Marshall Rosenberg)

– The Four Agreements (Don Miguel Ruiz)

– The Diamond Cutter (Geshe Michael Roach)

– Crucial Conversations/Confrontations

– Patrick Lencioni’s work on teams

– The Trusted Leader (Robert Galford/Anne Seibold Drapeau)

– The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (John Gottman)-some very effective principles for building open, honest and effective relationships that can be implemented at work.

posted on March 27, 2007

Stuart Cross said:

As I look at my bookshelf, the books I currently keep turning back to (in addition to yours, of course, David!) are

  • Influence – Robert Cialdini
  • Ogilvy on Advertising – David Ogilvy
  • Jump Start Your Business Brain – Doug Hall
  • Leading Change – John Kotter
  • Re-imagine – Tom Peters
  • Value-Based Marketing – Peter Doyle (a proper text book!)
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey
  • Million Dollar Consulting – Alan Weiss

I think your post is spot-on. Although I did an MBA and have kept the text books, I hardly ever go back to those sources.

posted on March 27, 2007

Joe Knape said:

I’ve found the list of books, and associated community, over at The Personal MBA http://personalmba.com/manifesto/ to be very informative and helpful.

posted on March 27, 2007

Curt Wehrley said:

Like Stuart before me, I’m scanning my own bookshelf for those which get, in basketball terms, “lots of touches.” Here they are (in no particular order):

  • Maister’s Managing the PSF, True Professionalism, and Trusted Advisor — of course :)
  • The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman
  • The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge
  • Love is the Killer App by Tim Sanders
  • Getting Things Done by David Allen
  • A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink
  • The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  • Never Be Boring Again by Doug Stevenson
  • The Inner Game of Work by W. Timothy Gallwey
  • The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt

posted on March 27, 2007

Pawel Brodzinski said:

Although it doesn’t exactly answer your question I ask: “Why books?” I would definitely advice some training/coaching from managers with some experience, some kind of mentor who can show the basics very quick, instead of cutting through any (even very good) book.

If you happen to have a very good manager in the company I’d treat her as a mentor for newbie managers. I was fortunate to have someone like that when I became a manager for the first time and believe me – I wouldn’t exchange it for a ton of books.

The book doesn’t “live”. The book doesn’t react for whatever is actually happening. The book doesn’t have your experience. On the other hand fellow experienced manager often brings a knowledge that can’t be learned from any single book. And when we talk about basics I think finding a mentor won’t be a mission impossible.

posted on March 27, 2007

Meg G. said:

Thanks, David, for this wonderful post! I’ve been reading your blog since January of this year and have been on the hunt for some additional reading material along your veign of thought — so this post is exactly what I’ve been looking for.

While it’s not a managerial book per se, anyone can benefit from Keith Ferrazzi’s book Never Eat Alone.



posted on March 27, 2007

Mark Graban said:

“The Goal”, Goldratt

“Lean Thinking”, Womack and Jones

“Out of the Crisis,” Deming

“Understanding Variation”, Wheeler

posted on March 28, 2007

atta-ur rehman said:

Effective Executive by Drucker

World is Flat by Friedman

Who Moved my Cheese by ?

Lateral Thinking by De Bono

Peopleware by TM and TD

posted on March 28, 2007

Duncan Bucknell said:

Great post, David

Try reading people for a while, as well as books. I’m serious, go and sit and watch people and try and understand what they’re thinking and doing. Then make yourself switch on the ‘people awareness’ mechanism in your everyday life. (This is hard, not only because people get busy, stressed, etc, but because our brains like to pattern-match and so will get us making assumptions and switching off to the signals coming from another person.)

Man’s search for meaning – Viktor Frankl – you really really should read this very short book.

De Bono – most of his books.

7 Habits – Covey

The 8th Habit – Covey

Body Language – Alan Peace

How to win friends – Dale Carnegie

Emotional Intelligence – Daniel Goleman

posted on March 28, 2007

Brian Cassell said:

The out-of-print No-Nonsense Management by Richard Sloma. Old school but good.

posted on March 28, 2007

Leo Bottary said:

Some great suggestions in the comments. I’ve read many of the books, but not all of them. Good inspiration!

I would add The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes & Posner (in which you are quoted as you know). I might also suggest Lincoln On Leadership by D.T. Phillips. It’s a simple book with extraordinary leadership lessons.

posted on March 28, 2007

Jef said:

A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink

Who moved my cheese? by Spencer Johnson

posted on March 28, 2007

Susie Wee said:

The Leadership Pipeline by Charan, Drotter, and Noel.

I wrote a post on something I think about when coaching/mentoring/teaching and learning: Learning is personal, so some tips may be meaningful to you now while others may become meaningful to you later. For example, The Leadership Pipeline became meaningful to me one chapter at a time as I progressed through different levels of management. I usually find the chapters surrounding my current position to be of particular interest! As we’re putting this book list together, since learning is personal it might be interesting to also put down what experience will make the book interesting to a reader.

  • The Leadership Pipeline by Charan, Drotter, and Noel: Useful to people who are progressing through higher levels of management and want to understand the value shifts that are needed to make each progression successful.
  • Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton: Useful to people who are trying to make others work effectively by understanding people’s “strengths”, understanding what makes them tick, and giving tips on how to manage and motivate them.

posted on March 28, 2007

David (Maister) said:

Susie, I like your point about indicating WHY and WHEN we recommend a particular book. If others will agree, i think it’s a useful approach.

Do other people want to make suggestions for where one shoul START to read about business?

For example, If you had to recommend one basic book on sales, what would you recommend? Few of the books listed so far tackle that subject directly, do they?

posted on March 28, 2007

Joe Knape said:

Along the lines of selling I recommend:

The Little Red Book of Selling by Jeffrey Gitomer.

It’s around 200 pages but written in a very quick, very fun style. The principles are nicely “chunked” and easy to start implementing quickly.

posted on March 28, 2007

Bryan I. Schwartz said:

We already mentioned this one but this is no better sales book than How to Win Friends and Influence People. After that I would go with Harvey Mackay, Dig Your Well Before You Are Thirsty.

posted on March 28, 2007

Wally Bock said:

Great business books less than 250 pages. The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker My nomination for the best single business book ever. Even after re-reading it since the sixties I always find something to take away.

The Art of Problem Solving: Accompanied by Ackoff’s Fables by Russell L. Ackoff A short, easy-to-read book on problem solving methods by one of the best business writers ever. Powerful, usable techniques in understandable language.

Geeks and Geezers by Warren G. Bennis Don’t let the title put you off. This book is an excellent look about how leaders grow and make use of crises to shape their character and leadership style.

Leading Change by John P. Kotter This is the book where John Kotter first laid out his Eight Step Process for Achieving Change. It’s a great guide for what to do and how to think about change initiatives.

Moments of Truth by Jan Carlzon A “moment of truth” is the encounter between one of your people and your customer. Moments of truth are was customer service and satisfaction are all about.

The One Minute Manager by Kenneth H. Blanchard The first of the “fable” books, but also the first easy-to-understand, book that made behavioral science usable by working managers.

Warfighting by U. S. Marine Corps Staff For my money, the best book on strategy that there is. It’s better than The Art of War for Western managers because it’s written in a straightforward, Western style.

posted on March 28, 2007

John Jensen said:

David, I think the books you described along with an educational environment would do wonders for manager’s abilities. Often the materials in educational institutions are not as applicable as those works of Carnegie, Drucker, and Blanchard/Spencer. I also believe that the workplace does not provide the environment to get the best results from reading those authors when we read them on our own. I would love to see professional study groups that took on reading and applying the knowledge from the books you mentioned.

posted on March 29, 2007

Wally Bock said:

Peer groups can be very powerful as tools to help supervisors and managers develop “leadership” skills. The best involve peers, often from different organizations, who meet regularly in a neutral location and whose meetings include an educational component and a discussion/problem solving component. I’ve developed free guidelines on how to put together these groups.

posted on March 29, 2007

Eric Noack said:

Managing for Results by Peter Drucker (although this is a little advanced)

posted on March 30, 2007

Skip Reardon said:

Many small and mid-sized business leaders have read the “classics” from Covey, Collins, Gerber, Drucker, etc.

One newer one on the scene that has gotten consierable attention is “Six Disciplines for Excellence,” by Gary Harpst.

The book is different in that it doesn’t focus on why or what, as much as it does HOW. Many consider it to be more of a handbook than just a business improvement book.

posted on March 30, 2007

David Ewing said:

The best book on leadership & management I ever read was Small Unit Leadership: A Commonsense Approach written by Danridge M. Malone. It is written for platoon leaders, but the lessons and principles map over to business.

As for sales, the greatest classic from which all other works follow is How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling by Frank Bettger. It is very old school, but anyone who has read any recent sales guru will see that this is the foundation of their work.

posted on April 1, 2007

MHG said:

Here are a couple on marketing and sales for consideration:

1) Philip Kotler: Marketing Management — a good primer that, to my mind, does an especially fine job of reminding us to focus on the needs of the customer and the market before getting lost in desperately flogging ill-considered products or services.

2) Miller, Heiman et al: New Strategic Selling New Conceptual Selling — having just finished reading this (unnecessarily long) pair of books, I recently sat through a complex sales presentation and got to share a lot of the salesman’s pain as I mentally ticked off all the steps that he should have been taking . . . wasn’t. Again: know your customer.

3) Seth Godin: take your pick — Purple Cow is a fine place to start although they’re all a delight to read — anyway, I think most of Seth’s work comes back eventually to the concept that, in an increasingly competitive and globalised marketplace, there will be no substitute for knowing your customers and meeting their needs in a way that’s dramatically superior to the alternatives.

posted on April 2, 2007

Gabriella ORourke said:

Despite there being more excellent online content to search, for me nothing beats the ability to earmark, annotate and return to a particular passage in a well thumbed volume. I regularly find myself inhaling the business shelves at the local Chapter’s store.

In addition to the tomes mentioned, I would add:

For leadership:

  • Competing for the Future – Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad (excellent for thoughts on innovation and delivering value)
  • The Leadership Mystique – Manfred Kets de Vries (great for self diagnosis and awareness)
  • Monday Morning Mentoring – David Cottrell (just excellent all round pointers on how to actively manage team engagement

For Sales:

  • Relationship Marketing – Peck, Payne, Christopher and Clark (The importance of managing relationships across ALL markets, including internal and supplier)
  • The Loyalty Effect – Frederick Reichheld (economics of customer and employee loyalty)

I dont believe there is one ideal time to read a particular book. Some books provide me with new ideas each time I read them depending on my need at the time. As the saying goes, when the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear…. The key to effective engagement with your reading is to not only let the words sink in, but to commit to doing something active with your new found knowledge. Don’t just read the books but try to ensure that doing so has made a positive difference to the way you operate in your professional or personal life.

posted on April 2, 2007

Kathleen OBrien Thompson said:

Growing Your Business! by Marc LeBlanc. One small, yet powerful book that is quick to read and very useful in some of the basic how to’s. This book is for business owners, and professionals who want to grow and sell more products and services. Anyone who has worked for a corporation and then goes out on their own (consultants in particular) will find this a great first-step read.

posted on April 10, 2007

Scott McArthur said:

“Why Business People Speak Like Idiots: A Bullfighter’s Guide”

by Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway and Jon Warshawsky

I was given this book by a friend of mine for Christmas a few years ago and without a doubt it has had a profound effect on me as an HR professional and Management Consultant. Once you have experienced “The Guide” it is almost impossible to read a management report, book or article without having a little snigger about the use (or is that abuse?) of the English language.

“The Guide” considers the four traps that stop our messages from being effective:

The Obscurity Trap – The use of meaningless statements in communications;

The Anonymity Trap — People free corporate communications, where messages are sterile and templates replace any need for people to think about what they are saying;

The Hard-Sell Trap – This is where most of the BS can be found. The focus is often on trying to sell what people want rather than what they need. I now call this the White Van v Porsche syndrome;

The Tedium Trap – Corporate reports and presentations full of meaningless numbers, jargon and the ultimate sin — pointless clip art!

This book is easy to read and its insights ultimately lead me to being a strong advocate of the use of metaphor, storytelling, conversations, simulation and “stickiness” in corporate communications and personal development.

Academic and business writing has become obsessed with structure so perhaps it is little wonder that we struggle with creativity. Ultimately, I wonder what the impact of this book might be if it were part of the school or ever the CIPD (UK HR professional body) curriculum?

posted on April 24, 2007

Robert said:

No surprise that so many people who are competent at the technical aspects of their professions are so bad at managing others, and maybe even themselves.

It will be no surprise that so many of those technically-competent professionals will be bad at managing for a while longer if they read books like “The One-Minute Manager” or “Who Moved My Cheese.” The books are not favored in the better business schools, and it’s not because people in better schools don’t know about them or are too stupid to see their merits. It’s because they are so trivial, and often so wrong, that nobody who has had enough success in business or life to be in a position to be admitted to a good business school would tolerate paying to be fed such drivel.

posted on June 13, 2007