The last thing many executives want to pack as they head for the beach or resorts this summer are hefty business books that keep them tied to work. Yet, the only time they may have to read anything other than office reports is while on vacation.
Here are some books to consider taking along that address pressing challenges yet are quick reads.
A critical task for managers these days is convincing their employees that they must be prepared to change—again and again—or be left behind, which is what makes Our Iceberg Is Melting by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber worthwhile.
The book offers a fable in which the main character, an Emperor Penguin named Fred, struggles to persuade his fellow penguins that in order to survive, they must pull up roots and relocate. There’s deep resistance at first, even after Fred shares data indicating that their homes are melting.
Illustration by: Jayachandran / Mint
The authors stress that the biggest hurdle when trying to propel change isn’t uncovering the right strategy but finding a way to gain peoples’ trust, which is always a prerequisite to altering behaviour.
In the book, Fred persists, using eight principles of problem solving, such as creating a sense of urgency and thinking out of the box for solutions. They are steps that Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor, has lectured about for years. But here they’re woven into an entertaining fable that can be read in a few hours.
In The Game-Changer: How You Can Drive Revenue and Profit Growth with Innovation, authors A.G. Lafley, CEO of Procter and Gamble Co., and consultant Ram Charan emphasize that leaders who want to keep reinventing their businesses and beating rivals must understand that the customer—not the CEO—is the boss.
The authors use a tag-team approach, with Lafley taking readers inside P&G and Charan offering examples from his work with DuPont, Nokia and other companies. What’s most interesting is Lafley’s account of how he changed P&G from an inward-focused company to one where employees glean new ideas from suppliers and even rivals, and spend time living with customers in order to understand their desires.
Since Lafley took charge at P&G in 2000, profits have more than tripled, in large part because of new product launches.
Executives who want to make sure that growth and ethics go hand in hand should consider High Performance with High Integrity, by Ben Heineman Jr.
Heineman, former general counsel for General Electric, urges companies to routinely evaluate managers’ integrity and to adapt global ethical standards for everything from sourcing to hiring practices.
At a time when most governance experts focus on the corporate board’s responsibility for setting and keeping standards, Heineman says it is up to CEOs to ensure honest practices. Leaders must be diligent if they want to avoid criminal probes like the one launched recently against two former Bear Stearns hedge-fund managers, who were indicted for allegedly misleading investors when their fund was in peril.
Executives who want to understand economics from the perspective of their employees, or to get some straightforward deciphering of economic jargon, might consider Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed? by Jared Bernstein.
The author, an economist who believes his discipline can, and should, be understood by everyone, poses questions such as: “If I hire an immigrant, am I hurting a native-born worker?” “How much can presidents really affect economic outcomes?” “Why is productivity growth such a big deal?”
Executives who want to get away from business books might consider works on history, biography and fiction. Ahead of this year’s political conventions, The Making of the President 1960, by Theodore H. White, offers a riveting narrative history of the presidential race between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon. Like this year’s race, it was a cliffhanger. Another pick for history buffs is Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings by Roy Basler, Carl Sandburg and Roy P. Basler, which brings together the speeches of one of the greatest writers ever to occupy the White House.
Anyone who wants to better understand the global markets should consider works of fiction written by authors of different cultures. Say You’re One of Them, a short-story collection by Uwem Akpan, a Nigeria-born Jesuit priest, features children as the main characters and brings readers face to face with the poverty and violent conflicts of five African countries.
In Unaccustomed Earth, author Jhumpa Lahiri explores the gulf separating Bengali expatriate parents from their US-raised children. Both Akpan and Lahiri reveal what is distinct about places far from our homes while reminding us of how much we share the same human needs.
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