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The most agile leaders never want to stop learning. They’re always facing new challenges, developing new skills and making fresh connections. It’s a mentality that lets them develop great strategies and motivate people.
Fortunately, summer provides even the hyper-busy with rare beach breaks to do some quick reading of business books that can offer some key insights. Nearly everyone knows about “The Effective Executive” (first published 50 years ago) and “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” (25 million copies sold and counting), so we asked several executives for their recommendations on books—some new, some not—that made them more agile.
Own It: The Power of Women at Work
Crown Business, 2017
The usual CEO stereotype is very Type A—someone hard-nosed who takes no prisoners. For a woman to succeed in that environment, the conventional wisdom went, they had to be just as hardcore.
To which Sallie Krawcheck says: no, no, no. The former CEO of Smith Barney, head of Merrill Lynch, and chief financial officer for Citigroup says that women are actually perfectly suited to a changing business world. Women tend to be more long-term-oriented and risk-aware, and they value collaboration and communication over the command-and-control leadership styles of yore.
One of the book’s fans: Alexandra Lebenthal, Wall Street bond queen and head of Lebenthal & Co. “It’s great advice not just for young women starting out, but for experienced businesswomen like myself,” she says. “[Krawcheck] isn’t afraid to take failure and make it part of her brand in a positive way.”
Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
“The 4-Hour Workweek” may sound like a manual for laziness, but Tim Ferriss’ best-selling smash was actually a guide for supercharging productivity. By multiplying output during work hours, you enable a richer and more rewarding life.
“Tools for Titans” could be considered the next phase of that movement, talking to the rich and famous about specific steps to enable extreme achievement. Behind every successful individual, there are mundane matters like how they organize the workday, how they maximize energy, what books they read for inspiration—and Ferriss has made it his mission to unearth all these microsolutions.
One loyal reader: Kevin Gibbon, CEO of shipping start-up Shyp. The tome is “filled with the best advice on how to reach peak performance—it covers everything from how to deal with haters to making the most of your morning routines,” he says. “As CEO of a fast-growing start-up, I find the gems on finding and cultivating top talent incredibly valuable.”
Micro-Resilience: Minor Shifts for Major Boosts in Focus, Drive, and Energy
Bonnie St. John and Allen P. Haines
Center Street, 2017
When we seek to improve our lives and careers, we tend to look for huge, dramatic solutions. But what if the real answer were obtained by looking small?
That’s the conclusion of former Paralympian (and Rhodes Scholar) Bonnie St. John and co-author Allen Haines. By digging into the latest neurological and physiological research, they found that making seemingly minor tweaks in our daily routines—what we are focusing on, what we are eating and drinking, how much we work or how much we rest—can actually lead to gigantic results.
St. John’s science-based, hour-by-hour tips can cumulatively lead to impressive performance boosts, says Bernard Tyson, chair and CEO of Kaiser Permanente—especially in milieus like Tyson’s, healthcare, where workforces can use all the resilience they can muster.
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
Almost everyone knows the name of the iconic founder of Nike, but not many know the specifics of how Phil Knight created the athletics giant. The whole $30 billion operation started with 50 bucks borrowed from his dad to sell shoes out of the trunk of his old Plymouth Valiant.
As a result, Knight faced all the typical start-up problems—from scarce funding to the opposition of powerful, established players in the field—before hooking up with famed track coach Bill Bowerman and creating the success story we know today.
Someone who couldn’t stop turning the pages: Charlotte Jones Anderson, the executive VP of the Dallas Cowboys and daughter of famed owner Jerry Jones. “Many of the words of wisdom that Phil Knight gained inspiration from, and motivated others with, are very similar to those my father has preached to me my entire career,” she says.
Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Avoid the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company
Andrew S. Grove
Crown Business, 1999 edition
A book doesn’t have to be new to deserve a place in your summer beach bag. So consider this classic by the late Andy Grove, former chief of Intel, the world’s largest chipmaker. In it, the author shares his obsession with rapid change—and the proper response to it—a highly useful skill for our tumultuous times.
The book’s original iteration may have come out in 1996, but Grove’s book couldn’t be timelier. He writes about the critical nature of “strategic inflection points”—those moments of massive change that can either kill a company or spur it to greater heights.
Lynx Equity president Brad Nathan loves Grove’s “paranoid” take on modern business. “I worry all the time,” he admits. “In order to fix problems, you need to be worried.”