November 2, 2016
News & Opinion: Inside the Longlist: Leadership & Strategy
Last year, one of our eight awards categories combined both Leadership and Management, which made for a challenging selection process. The sheer number of books was daunting to review, but also, the breadth of subject matter made it difficult to cull down the top books to only five. Was leadership too soft a topic, and management more applicable for readers? Are management books too prescriptive, while leadership books more uplifting?
Reflecting on those difficulties, we decided to separate the two categories. After all, it seems quite obvious to us that the two concentrations play very different roles in the running of a business. Leadership and Strategy are usually about who is driving the bus and where it's going; while books that focus on Management and Work Culture are more about who you take on the trip and how pleasurable and productive the journey is. Some people may argue that this kind of division is reductive—and certainly leaders and managers do some of each— but both categories were still well-stocked in both visionary and practical books.
The following five Leadership & Strategy books will help guide you, your company, and your people through growth, through evolution, through reinvention. Each of these books will act as a lantern to make the forest a little less dark, and the way forward a little more clear.
LEADERSHIP & STRATEGY
The Founder’s Mentality: How to Overcome the Predictable Crises of Growth by Chris Zook & James Allen, Harvard Business Review Press
Chris Zook is a bit of a folk hero around here (We named Beyond the Core one of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time back in 2009.) There hasn't been a book written by Zook that didn't have direct applicability to our business, and we heartily recommend his work to every other leader in every kind of organization. The Founder’s Mentality is no different. In any small business or start-up, the founder is the first source of the passion and the direction of the company. As the business scales, and outside market forces put unique demands on the company, it becomes exponentially more difficult to stay true to that vision and not lose track of it beneath layers of complexity and growth—especially if the founder steps aside, which they will inevitably do at some point in their tenure. By presenting three main traits that keep your organization's internal strategy simplified, Chris Zook and James Allen remind us that there is value in hewing close to the guiding principles that made the company a success in the first place.
Off-Centered Leadership: The Dogfish Head Guide to Motivation, Collaboration and Smart Growth by Sam Calagione, Wiley
I'll admit that the efficacy and charm of Sam Calagione's personal narrative, Off-Centered Leadership: The Dogfish Head Guide to Motivation, Collaboration and Smart Growth, took me by surprise as I'm neither a beer connoisseur, nor am I a dude who always dreamed of driving a muscle car. I am, however, the manager of a business similar to Dogfish Head in that we offer our employees a unique work experience, we focus our efforts on developing great relationships with our customers and partners, and we do both of those things with heart. Calagione took his passion for beer and made Dogfish Head into a hugely successful brand now 20 years old and running. What makes this book fresh isn't just the nuts and bolts—he does lay out, for example, how collaboration expands growth possibilities—, but it is also Calagione's meditation on the future, and why, as a leader, he has made the conscious decision to modify his tendency toward risk and instead accept that a maturing business and a maturing leader have different responsibilities to the people who work for them. This book will resonate with any business owner who has found herself at a decision-making crossroads—in her own life and her company's.
Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets by Al Ramadan, Dave Peterson, Christopher Lochhead, Kevin Maney, Harper Business
If the general trend in Leadership books this year was on placing little bets, Play Bigger refuses to stay in line. Instead of incremental change, the authors are explicit in telling leaders that if you want to win a category, then you need to create that category. You must take steps to become the dominant player in the game by writing your own rules and doubling-down on broadcasting your position through deliberate marketing and constant improvements over time. Numerous companies have developed original products or pushed innovation forward, only to find themselves overtaken by competition or, maybe even worse, limply surviving but not thriving. Play Bigger explains how risk takers like Uber or FitBit changed the way we solve everyday problems and then made sure their solutions became indispensable to consumers. The authors are big talkers and big thinkers, and convey a sense of bravado you can't help but get energized by. Yes, you'll find yourself agreeing, if we're going to play the game, it's time to go all in.
Scaling Lean: Mastering the Key Metrics for Startup Growth by Ash Maurya, Portfolio
Many leadership books go big. They take us to the edge of what's possible. And it's true we want our leaders to be inspiring, visionary, game-changers. But maybe we also want our leaders to be smart. Grandiose visions inspire, but solid planning gets things done. And that's where Scaling Lean: Mastering the Key Metrics for Startup Growth by Ash Maurya comes in, by helping entrepreneurs and business owners be good at doing business. That's it! Seems simple, but the basics are sometimes the easiest to overlook. For example, when you have a good idea and when you want to bring that idea to market, do you just… throw it against the wall and see if it sticks? Or, do you want to make a reasonable estimate on the success of that idea? Do you want to keep cost and effort down while still insuring it's a success? Maurya will help you do the math whether you've got an MBA or a MFA. How many customers will you need? How much should you charge? Be a smart leader and read Scaling Lean.
Simply Brilliant: How Great Organizations Do Ordinary Things in Extraordinary Ways by William C. Taylor, Portfolio
“Standard operating procedure” used to be a valued organization-wide strategy for setting routine and insuring results, but times have changed, and Bill Taylor is our tour guide to companies around the globe that are doing business differently—and, yes, brilliantly. This is not a book about sweeping disruption. Instead, Taylor shines a light on the simple steps companies across many industries are taking to put their values to work and enrich the employee and/or customer experience. All it takes for you to do the same, Taylor asserts, is some imagination, some conviction, and a desire to subvert the status quo. Taylor is a natural storyteller comfortable with letting his protagonists—leaders who refuse to accept ‘business-as-usual’—drive his overall thesis that business brilliance is available to every organization and industry, and not the sole property of Silicon Valley startups.
*We announced our shortlist on December 6th. To see which of these books will be in the running to be named our book of the year, you can find the 2016 800-CEO-READ Business Book Awards Shortlist in this channel.
About Sally Haldorson
Sally Haldorson's job as 800-CEO-READ’s General Manager is to make 800-CEO-READ a great place to work for our employees, and a consistently high-performing customer service organization for our clients, authors, and our partners in the publishing industry. In addition to her General Manager duties ensuring collaboration, integration, and quality, she reads, writes, reviews, curates, and edits for the company. Helping craft The 100 Best Business Books of All Time used parts of both skill sets. Outside of work, she is most likely to be found hitting a tennis ball around or hanging out with her boys (husband, child, dog) at home.