August is upon us and senior leaders are setting off with family and friends to unwind for a week or two. So, we asked our Members what books have made a difference to them in terms of how they think about leadership.
Coherence – The Secret Science of Brilliant Leadership by Dr Alan Watkins
In this book, Alan Watkins uncovers the fundamental issues that can limit a leader’s effectiveness. He does this not only by drawing on his rich background in studying leadership and performance, but on neuroscience, psychology and physiology too.
I like the assertion that management is about doing, whereas leadership is about being. I also enjoyed the invitation to live in a state of renewal to heighten your consciousness, leading to better decisions, health, relationships and a better life.
The book gives lots of practical guidance on how to be a coherent leader, but also backs this up with scientific underpinnings. I would recommend it to any leader who wants to be calmly effective, present and consistently achieve optimal performance for themselves and their team.
Currently reading: The Achievement Habit by Bernard Roth
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
In a little over 400 pages, Yuval Harari tracks the timeline of history from 13 billion years ago to the present day. One theme that jumped out of this for me is the importance of storytelling as our species morphed from living in intimate bands of hunter-gatherers to larger, more organised social groups.
Yuval Harari argues that any large-scale human co-operation is underpinned by the myths – or stories – that exist in people's collective imagination. That’s because it is these stories that help to create meaning.
Extrapolating this to a modern organisational context, we can see why it isn’t enough that boards and senior leadership teams have a vision of the future: they have to communicate it and create a compelling narrative in order to bring it to life. Without a compelling story, the message will have no meaning.
I’d take this one step further: good corporate governance encompasses ‘culture’ and relationships with stakeholders. And what is culture if not the story of what it feels like to be part of an organisation or providing services to it? To ignore that simple truth – as this book so eloquently explains – is to ignore the very essence of what makes us human.
Currently reading: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Human + Machine – Reimagining Work in the Age of AI by Paul R Daugherty and H James Wilson
The core question at the centre of this book is: how do we help our workforce transition into the age of AI?
There are four elements that I like about this book: a new frame for thinking about how humans and machines can interact for more efficient outcomes; management principles for an AI world; many real-life examples of AI working across the whole value chain; and guidance on how business creates a roadmap for the future. Daugherty and Wilson have blended strategic insights with practical operational examples to appeal to a wide range of business executives.
At the heart of this book is what the authors describe as "the missing middle”. This is to go beyond human or machine only activity to a world of human and machine hybrid activities, where humans and machines augment human skills, rather than replace them. The rebalancing of augmentation over automation is a refreshing dimension to this book; it moves the debate beyond a man versus machine view and focuses on how machines can amplify our skills and collaborate with us.
If you are someone who prefers practical explanations, grounded in the real world, then this book is worth reading for the examples alone. It draws on examples from across the value chain – from the self-aware factory floor, to warehousing / logistics, R&D, business innovation, product / service design, customer service and marketing and sales. Each example points to the realities of what already exists today; it challenges us to consider where we are in relation to best practice and it brings to life the speed of technology change.
This book is not about the past but how do we transition to the future. Why is it worth reading? If you are concerned about winners and losers, the book suggests the difference will not be determined by whether an organisation has implemented AI, but by how it is done. Human + Machines is an investment in that roadmap for the future.
Currently reading: The Intrapreneur – Confessions of a Corporate Insurgent by Gib Bulloch
Principles by Ray Dalio
In Principles, the author outlines what he understands to be his key principles for life and work. Having grown a business from zero to nearly $20 billion, Ray Dalio is forthright, perceptive and honest about what it takes to be a great leader and what it means to have a successful organisation.
Dalio explores how leaders must hold themselves and their people accountable, but also appreciate their people for holding them to account. This notion is built around his cornerstones of radical truth and transparency as this creates a culture where people are specific in identifying their problems and “disagreeing must be done efficiently”.
Having achieved this utopia in his own organisation, this book is a great tool for anyone aspiring to be a radically different and progressive leader.
Currently reading: Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss
What You’re Really Meant to Do by Robert Steven Kaplan
I spent some time at Harvard a while back and among all the great members of the faculty, I found one particularly inspirational.
Robert Kaplan based most of his session around the roadmap set out in his book, “What You’re Really Meant To Do”. It is extremely thought provoking. For many people, the stereotypical view of success is salary, job title or the next promotion. Robert taught me that understanding what success looks like requires a different standpoint, one which enables you to understand yourself better and create your own definition of success.
Having read the book from cover to cover three times since, Robert’s advice has fundamentally underpinned my self-confidence and brought clarity to what success looks and feels like for me.
Currently reading: The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen
The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier
Coaching has proven to be one of the most effective leadership techniques. Many managers are trained in it and yet so few of us use it.
As leaders and managers, we are conditioned 'to add value', 'to contribute', 'to find solutions'. As a result, we rush to give advice instead of coaching the individual to come up with their own answers. Arguably, we are tempted to be 'helpful managers' rather than 'inspiring and empowering leaders'.
Part of the problem is that at times we are not sure how to start a meaningful coaching conversation. In his light-hearted yet insightful and factual book, Michael Bangay Stanier points out that one needs just seven good questions to have a meaningful coaching conversation. The first is to ask: 'What's on your mind?' The second – spoiler alert! – is: 'And What Else?'
Hopefully, the audience will enjoy reading about the rest in this hugely useful book.
Currently reading: The Negotiation Book: Practical Steps to Becoming a Master Negotiator by Nicole Soames
By Robert Leeming, Editor, Criticaleye
Next week, we will be looking at how best to inspire and motivate employees