You've likely heard the phrase, "Good things come in small packages." You might also wonder "How does that apply to books?"
For the last 13 years, I've used my June e-newsletter to suggest several business–related books for your summer reading. Typically, the books all have something in common – generating ideas to make yourself indispensable, "seeing around corners" to anticipate change, or maybe attaching emotion to logic. The books in this year's June book reviews (number 14) all share some key traits.
As I was considering what books to suggest for the summer of 2018, I began to think about the qualities that are important to me in a business book:
- I like books. Check that – I LOVE books!!
- I PASS OVER long books that make it hard to find information. Warning signs include text that drones on and on, failing to use subsections to show a change in the idea, or an absent index.
- I APPRECIATE a long book written with people like me in mind – businesspeople who have overflowing "To Do" lists and thus lack time to read every page in a book. Books with a detailed table of contents, an index, and liberal use of subheadings and bullet points are my favorites. (Remember, my goal with a business book is NOT to read it – it's to FIND information I need. You can find tips on how I do this in How to "Read" a Business Book.)
- I ADMIRE the authors, editors, and designers who make a book easy to use!
The last bullet describes all the books in this year's book reviews – all are:
- Short (the longest is 236 pages).
- Small format (the biggest is 8.5 inches tall by 5.25 inches wide).
- Packed with good content.
- Easy to navigate.
Here's a quote you might have heard – "I apologize for such a long letter – I didn't have time to write a short one." Several famous figures – including Blaise Pascal, John Locke, Benjamin Franklin, Cicero, Martin Luther, Henry David Thoreau, Woodrow Wilson, and Mark Twain, according to Quote Investigator – have variations on it.
The point: It is EASY to be wordy, while it is VERY HARD to be concise. Thus, I particularly admire the hard work the following authors and their teams put into distilling their knowledge and wisdom down to the essence.
This is especially difficult for authors to do when they've found a formula that works, yet it is exactly what James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge, have done – they sharpened this outstanding book by cutting pages with each new edition. Of the ones in my library, 3e has 458 pages, 4e has 389 pages, and 6e has 378 pages!
Putting Your Employees First: The ABCs for Leaders of Generations X, Y, & Z
Michael Bergdahl / 2018 / 159 pages / 7.25" tall by 5.25" wide
This book checks almost all my boxes – a detailed table of contents, content organization and typography clearly reflecting the table of contents, chapters easily distinguished even by merely flipping the pages, and liberal use of tables, bullet points, and diagrams.
As examples, here are two diagrams creatively showing the difference between what employees SAY are important to them (on the left), and what managers THINK are important to employees:
The author distills the following topics down to their essence:
- Effective Leadership
- Diverse and Multigenerational Employees
- Employee Engagement and Commitment
- Employees First, Customers Second, and Profit Third
- Core Leadership Values
- Ten Key Leadership Competencies
- Employees First Action Plan
As a bonus, the very last page of the book (page 159) describes how to access a free self-assessment (the code required is in the book) on how well you put your employees first.
Bottom Line – This seasoned HR executive has produced an excellent executive summary (with endnotes and a bibliography, for those who want a deeper dive) on several critical topics, and packaged this in an easy-to-use and meant-to-be-applied format.
What Successful People Know About Leadership
John C. Maxwell / 2016 / 156 pages / 6.5" tall by 4.75" wide
I'm a big fan of John Maxwell. Searching my web site, I found I've quoted him or recommended his books 28 times across the years! (This recommendation now makes 29 mentions.) He's forgotten more about leadership than I'll ever know.
In this book, the author has basically outlined the key content of a number of long-form books, covering the following topics:
- How to Lead Yourself
- How Leadership Works
- How to Get Started in Leadership
- How to Resolve Conflicts and Lead Challenging People
- How to Succeed Working Under Poor Leadership
- How to Navigate Leadership Transitions
- How to Develop Leaders
Note how every chapter title begins "How to ..." – that's because this book is written in a "Question & Answer" format to address specific questions in these areas. For example, the very first question in the book is ...
Why Does Leading Myself Seem More Difficult Than Leading Others?
The answer is – " ... we have blind spots preventing us from seeing where we have problems and fall short." (page 2). Dr. Maxwell goes on to list four common blind spots – A Singular Perspective, Insecurity, An Out-of-Control Ego, and Weak Character – and their symptoms, then gives a five-step plan to deal with blind spots. All this in under seven small-format pages!
Bottom Line – John Maxwell and his talented team have done the hard work of distilling the best of multiple full-length books by him into a advice-packed dynamo of a book.
Fired UP! Selling: Great Quotes to Inspire, Engage, Succeed
Ray Bard / 2017 / 234 pages / 8.5" tall by 5.25" wide
Do NOT skip over this book just because the word "selling" is in title.
- First, EVERYONE sells something! A mother getting her kids to eat their vegetables, a pastor encouraging his flock to serve in the community, a coach motivating her team – these are all forms of selling.
- Second, selling is hard, and everyone who does it needs to be recharged regularly.
The contents of this book? The very first page of the book says it all:
The 324 quotes are organized into six chapters:
- Think BIG
- Get GOING
- Keep GOING
- Make the SALE
- A Stronger, Better You
Within each chapter, the quotes are organized alphabetically by topic. For example, the third chapter includes the following:
Photos are used throughout to complement a quote. To give you a flavor of the book's contents and format, here are two pages from the "Keep GOING" chapter:
This book has several interesting features:
- Each quote page has BOTH the chapter title AND the relevant topic designed into the page, as shown in the preceding examples.
- The usual "front matter" items – copyright and cataloging information, introduction, and credits – are at the END of the book rather than the end.
- The book's first seven pages are meant to immediately draw you into the book.
- The table of contents is found on pages 8 through 11.
- The book has TWO indexes – a subject index and an author index.
- The book contains THREE ribbon book markers – black, silver, and red, to echo the colors of the book's cover!
Bottom Line – A wonderful little book – perfect for yourself or to give to someone who needs a recharge!
Together is Better: A Little Book of Inspiration
Simon Sinek, author and Ethan M. Aldridge, illustrator / 2016 / 148 pages / 5.25" tall by 7.25" wide
Although this little book is shelved in the "Business" section, it LOOKS like something belonging in the "Children" section. I'm sure that's intentional.
Simon Sinek – yes, it is THAT "Simon Sinek" of the TED talk "How great leaders inspire action" with the "target" doodle having "Why" in its center – has taken an idea and turned it into a parable. The initial scene – children on a playground. The protagonists – three friends. The antagonist – the playground bully, who leads by fear and intimidation. The plot – the three friends set off to explore their surroundings and have several experiences, some lovely and some scary. The ending – you'll have to find that out for yourself!
The moral of this table? That's easy, it's the book's title.
The chapters of the book are:
- Start Here
- Go Alone or Go Together
- Find a Vision
- The Return
- Be the Leader You Wish You Had
- A Little More
The author introduces the book's premise in "Hello," tells the fable in following seven chapters, and uses "A Little More" to explain concepts referenced back to specific pages in the fable.
Here are two pages to give you a flavor of what's inside:
Special Book Features – This book has two things I've never seen before in an "Adult" book.
- First, a scratch and sniff page, immediately before "Start Here." The scent? Optimism – entirely appropriate, given the dust jacket's description of Simon Sinek as "an optimist who believes in a brighter future for humanity."
- Second, music and lyrics of a song, "Together is Better" (page 143).
Bottom Line – A charming little book that can be read on several levels, each telling a timeless tale – the benefits of a shared journey, the difference between a bully and a true leader, and the impact an idea can have if implemented!
The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking (Revised Edition)
Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschappeler / 2018 / 174 pages / 7.5" tall by 4.75" wide
- This book "had me" from the start.
- When I saw the title – "I love thinking models – especially those to help make better decisions!"
- When I saw the inside cover pages – "Neat! A visual table of contents!"
- Vertical axis – "Me / Others"
- Horizontal axis – "Doing / Thinking"
- When I saw the layout of each model – "Perfect! Short, concise, visual!"
Then, I delved further and found two surprising things.
- First, the authors (from Finland and Switzerland, respectively) are NOT heady academics who have written extensively about decision-making and thus are "experts" in the field. Rather, they are a magazine editor and documentary producer who became friends, realized they needed ways to make better decisions, learned from both research and trial-and-error, and distilled their experiences into this book.
- Second, they are NOT step-by-step instructions of how to MAKE a decision. Instead, they are visual methods to help simplify and sum up your detailed thinking so you can make a better decision (as explained further on page 6).
- For some examples of how I've summed up my thinking in a simple, visual format, please check out Making the Invisible Visible.
Why are those two things important? First, everyone has to make decisions (and not just decision-making experts), so it seems fitting two "everymen" documented their tools. Second, everyone is an expert in something! Don't believe it? Just switch jobs with someone for a day – you'll want your old job back ASAP.
The book is organized by the four sections of the 2x2 "visual index" (there's also a traditional table of contents in the front):
- How to Improve Yourself
- How to Understand Yourself Better
- How to Understand Others Better
- How to Improve Others
Some of these models are well-established – the Eisenhower Matrix, SWOT Analysis, and the Hersey-Blanchard "Situational Leadership" model. (The last one is discussed further in Free Range Staff, my 2015 Summer Book Reviews.) Others, like the Cognitive Bias model, are handy summations to help keep you from making unconsciously biased decisions:
Some were completely new to me, such as The Team Model:
Following the 50 models, the authors provide tips for "Drawing Lesson" and "Model Lesson," then encourages the reader to try his or her hand using the blank "My Models" pages.
As a prize for those who read the "Final Note" (page 173), there's a link to the authors' decision-making self-assessment – no code needed.
Bottom Line – Some of the models I found useful, some not so much. Still, everyone will find several techniques in here to focus thinking and improve decisions.
In Short ...
Please consider mixing in one or more of these little gems with your usual poolside books!
Todd L. Herman
PS – If you like crime thrillers, yet are looking for some different offerings in this genre, I can highly recommend:
- The Late Show, by Michael Connelly
- Artemis, by Andy Weir (the audiobook, featuring the amazing vocal talents of Rosario Dawson, is outstanding!)
- Any of the Agent Pendergast books, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (my favorite "go to" authors).
The first two have female protagonists, while Agent Pendergast is an FBI agent from a wealthy family who is brilliant, highly educated, and amazingly well-read, yet aloof and a bit of a mystery himself, since he picks only unsolved cases of interest to him.