Sharpen your management skills with these must-read books

Increase your managing know-how and boost your leadership skills with a little power reading. These five books, all recommended by TechRepublic members, will help to jump-start your managing efforts, and help make you the leader you are driven to be.

To find new inspiration to whip your team into battle-ready shape, direct your company to success by breaking every rule, and find success and satisfaction in your IT career, you won’t want to miss these top-rate management and leadership books.

Each of these books will help you in your drive to become a better manager and leader in the field of IT, although none are strictly IT-focused. These top five management books all came highly recommended by our members. Read on to see a book description or review for each title from the site, along with, in most cases, a TechRepublic member recommendation. Here are the top must-read titles:
  1. The Leadership Lessons of the Navy SEALs: Battle-tested Strategies for Creating Successful Organizations and Inspiring Extraordinary Results
  2. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't
  3. First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently
  4. Execution: The Discipline Of Getting Things Done
  5. The Five Patterns of Extraordinary Careers: The Guide for Achieving Success and Satisfaction

Amazon book description:
Built around inspiring real-life stories from both the military and business worlds, this no-nonsense book outlines a step-by-step approach for boosting morale and increasing productivity. Leaders from every business environment will discover techniques to:
  • Communicate objectives simply and forcefully
  • Build flexible, dynamic organizational structures
  • Acquire and keep important team members
  • Gain the trust and loyalty of team members
  • Prevent bureaucracy within chains of command
  • Effectively train their eventual replacements
  • Plan and prepare for crises
  • Make training relevant

TechRepublic member recommendation:
This was the most fun and thought provoking leadership book I read this year! This book asks the question, “How can a seven-man Seal team accomplish a mission affecting national policy while your 17-person sales team can't produce a workable quarterly sales plan?”

Then the book goes on to answer the question, explaining how leadership, training, and skills development with team members—who agree to common goals—can make all the difference. It is definitely creative and gets one's management juices flowing to make the business version of a Seal team a little more feasible.

Steve Lucas
CIO, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Amazon editorial review:
Five years ago, Jim Collins asked the question, "Can a good company become a great company and if so, how?" In Good to Great Collins, the author of Built to Last, concludes that it is possible, but finds there are no silver bullets.

Collins and his team of researchers began their quest by sorting through a list of 1,435 companies, looking for those that made substantial improvements in their performance over time. They finally settled on 11—including Fannie Mae, Gillette, Walgreens, and Wells Fargo—and discovered common traits that challenged many of the conventional notions of corporate success.

Making the transition from good to great doesn't require a high-profile CEO, the latest technology, innovative change management, or even a fine-tuned business strategy. At the heart of those rare and truly great companies was a corporate culture that rigorously found and promoted disciplined people to think and act in a disciplined manner.

Peppered with dozens of stories and examples from the great and not so great, the book offers a well-reasoned road map to excellence that any organization would do well to consider. Like Built to Last, Good to Great is one of those books that managers and CEOs will be reading and rereading for years to come. —Harry C. Edwards

Recommended by TechRepublic member:
David S. Glaser, CPA, MBA, RSBA
Chief Financial Officer, Rockwood School District

Amazon editorial review:
Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman expose the fallacies of standard management thinking in First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently.

In seven chapters, the two consultants for the Gallup Organization debunk some dearly held notions about management, such as "treat people as you like to be treated," "people are capable of almost anything," and "a manager's role is diminishing in today's economy." "Great managers are revolutionaries," the authors write. "This book will take you inside the minds of these managers to explain why they have toppled conventional wisdom and reveal the new truths they have forged in its place."

The authors have culled their observations from more than 80,000 interviews conducted by Gallup during the past 25 years. Quoting leaders such as basketball coach Phil Jackson, Buckingham and Coffman outline "four keys" to becoming an excellent manager: Finding the right fit for employees, focusing on strengths of employees, defining the right results, and selecting staff for talent—not just knowledge and skills. First, Break All the Rules offers specific techniques for helping people perform better on the job. For instance, the authors show ways to structure a trial period for a new worker and how to create a pay plan that rewards people for their expertise instead of how fast they climb the company ladder. "The point is to focus people toward performance," they write. "The manager is, and should be, totally responsible for this." Written in plain English and well organized, this book tells you exactly how to improve as a supervisor.—Dan Ring

TechRepublic member recommendation:
Although not all that new, this is a great read. I've included "breaking all the rules" as one of my job objectives.

Peter Grant
Manager, Information Systems, British Columbia Securities Commission

Amazon editorial review:
Disciplines like strategy, leadership development, and innovation are the sexier aspects of being at the helm of a successful business; actually getting things done never seems quite as glamorous. But as Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan demonstrate in Execution, the ultimate difference between a company and its competitor is, in fact, the ability to execute.

Execution is "the missing link between aspirations and results," and as such, making it happen is the business leader's most important job. While failure in today's business environment is often attributed to other causes, Bossidy and Charan argue that the biggest obstacle to success is the absence of execution. They point out that without execution, breakthrough thinking on managing change breaks down, and they emphasize the fact that execution is a discipline to learn, not merely the tactical side of business.

Supporting this with stories of the "execution difference" being won (EDS) and lost (Xerox and Lucent), the authors describe the building blocks—leaders with the right behaviors, a culture that rewards execution, and a reliable system for having the right people in the right jobs—that need to be in place to manage the three core business processes of people, strategy, and operations. Bossidy is CEO of Honeywell International, Inc., and Charan advises corporate executives and is the author of such books as What the CEO Wants You to Know and Boards That Work. They present experience-tested insight into how the smooth linking of these three processes can differentiate one company from the rest.

Developing the discipline of execution isn't made out to be simple, nor is this book a quick, easy read. Bossidy and Charan do, however, offer good advice on a neglected topic, making Execution a smart business leader's guide to enacting success rather than permitting demise.—S. Ketchum

TechRepublic member recommendation:
This book is a worthwhile read as either an introduction to or a reminder of the requisites "for getting the job done.” Consequently, it should prove useful to both the new, as well as the more experienced managers.

The authors note that, "Execution is a systematic process of rigorously discussing hows and whats, questioning, tenaciously following through, and ensuring accountability."

This seems like a simplistic statement of the obvious, except that the book leads with a number of examples of CEOs—and their well known companies—who failed to execute: Eckhard Pfeiffer/Compaq, Richard McGinn/Lucent Technologies, and G. Richard Thoman/Xerox. In contrast, the authors provide examples of other CEOs who have succeeded, such as: Michael Dell/Dell Computer, Richard Brown/EDS, and the legendary Jack Welch/GE. The authors assert that execution is the successful integration of three core processes: people, strategy, and operations.

However, as opposed to too many popular business management titles, the book doesn’t deal exclusively with theory and concept. Rather, the authors expound on their introductory real-world examples to make their case that the ability to execute is the primary difference between success and failure. Interspersed throughout the book are interview-style comments from each author, beginning with either "Ram" or "Larry” that address different topics. These personal insights help keep the book light and very readable.

Some of the book’s more interesting passages deal with the authors’ perspectives on leadership. Rather than simply a role of "big picture" thinking, strategy formulation, and delegating the details, the authors hold that the more effective leader is one who remains close enough to the details to ensure successful execution.

One example of the book's "how to" approach is that the authors identify seven essential leadership behaviors, and then expand with illustrative detail:
  • Know your people and your business.
  • Insist on realism.
  • Set clear goals and priorities.
  • Follow through.
  • Reward the doers.
  • Expand people's capabilities.
  • Know yourself.

The authors treat their other execution building blocks in a similar manner. Consequently, upon completion, the reader should come away from this book with a working framework for improving his or her own ability to successfully execute.

However, I think that some supplementary reading is still necessary to fully leverage the book’s advice. For example, the book isn't going to provide the reader with insights into how to decide what the right things are to do, as much as how to ensure that things are done right. This isn't so much a criticism of the book as it is recognition of the breadth of the subject matter the authors address.

Clearly, some trade-offs were necessary to avoid confusing the book's key message: execution is key to transforming winning strategies into tangible results.

Greg DiGiovanni
Senior Manager, Enterprise Architecture & Portfolio Management

Amazon book description:
What is different about the careers of people like Lou Gerstner, the acclaimed, recently retired chairman and CEO of IBM; Senator Elizabeth Dole; Yahoo! COO Dan Rosensweig; and Tom Freston, chairman and CEO of MTV Networks? Why did they ascend to the top and prosper—why did they have extraordinary careers—while others, equally talented, never reach their potential or aspirations?

Jim Citrin and Rick Smith of Spencer Stuart, the world’s most influential executive search firm, set out to explore this question. The result—based on in-depth, original research—is sure to be the most important and useful book for anyone seeking to crack the code of how to build a rewarding, personally satisfying career.

Like weather systems and financial markets, careers contain patterns. What Citrin and Smith found from their research and extensive experience is that people with extraordinary careers are guided by five straightforward patterns that can be harnessed and used by everyone. These individuals:
  • Translate their knowledge and experience into action, building their personal value over each phase of their career.
  • Practice benevolent leadership by not clawing their way to the top but by being carried there.
  • Solve the permission paradox—the dilemma of not being able to get a job without experience and not getting the experience without the job.
  • Differentiate themselves by using the 20/80 principle of performance by storming past their defined jobs to create breakthrough ideas and deliver unexpected impact.
  • Do not micromanage their careers, but macromanage them by gravitating toward the things they are best at and have a passion for, and working with people they like and respect.

No one manages your career for you. But with Citrin and Smith as your guide, you’ll be able to understand—and act on—the root causes of success. And what better source for strategic career advice than Spencer Stuart, the firm that over the past ten years has conducted more than 60 percent of the searches for Fortune 1000 CEOs?

TechRepublic member recommendation:
Just released for sale, this book is a very good read on the subject of career building and professional development.

Citrin and Smith reached their conclusions by distilling research from thousands of surveys, hundreds of interviews, and lots of case studies. Jim Citrin was a contributor to the Barely Managing / Talent Monger column for Business 2.0. It was through the e-zine for that column that I learned about his study, participated in the survey, and then got the book hot off the presses.

I'm glad I did, and think you will enjoy the book too.

TechRepublic members can learn more about the book, and take an online profile survey, at the (free) Web site. You can also access the Spencer Stuart Job Survival Guide.

TechRepublic member M.L. Wright

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