From books to boardroom
Q: We all need advice as we seek success in our careers and lives. What are your five favorite business books, and why? What advice wasn't so helpful?
I believe there are three "must reads" for business.
The first is "Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High"  (Patterson et al, 2002). Based on the psychology of dialogue, this book provides concrete tools and examples for handling difficult conversations in business.
Most business books provide, at best, a cursory coverage of effective business conversations. In fact, the business world assumes that interpersonal skills and dialogue techniques are not important enough to teach in an MBA program. And yet, when asked to share their most difficult business situations, my advanced business majors offer issues around conflict, negotiation, and verbal problem solving -- not finance, economics, or marketing. Patterson's book outlines a model that is invaluable to anyone that wants to go beyond the director level.
The second required book is "Primal Leadership" (Goleman, 2002). This book builds off of Goleman's initial two texts, Emotional Intelligence (1997) and Working with Emotional
Intelligence (1998). Based on extensive research over ten years (tracking hundreds of leaders), Goleman proves that a distinctive set of core "soft skills" actually leads to bottom-line success.
Goleman's early work caused excitement in the world of organizational psychology. Yet, his latest work -- demonstrating a significant statistical difference in financial success --rocked the business world. For some executives, it was the first time they seriously began to consider that there might be something to this "soft stuff" such as empathy, emotional self-awareness, reality testing, and adaptability.
Last is a quasi-business book entitled "This Will Change Everything"  (Brockman, 2010). This book compiles the thoughts of great thinkers of our time from every walk of life, including business, art, neuroscience, physics, chemistry, education, computers, etc. Every business person should read this book in order to maintain the big perspective and to hone one's thinking in strategic and synergistic ways. The best business people are those who can balance several yet seemingly contrasting concepts at once and, like a silver bullet, make the best decisions for overall effectiveness.
Stay away from quick-fix books. They are fun to read on airplanes or when you need to fall asleep. Yet in the complex business world, it takes energy and thought to continually develop and perfect the art of leadership and business success. Read books that challenge and force you to think beyond your daily grind. Or pick up the paper and read Dilbert. Laughing is always good.