Notable leadership and management books of 2015

A list of some of the most notable leadership and management books of 2015.

In a recent two-part article series, we took a look at some professional resolutions that could help corporate leaders kick off 2016 on the right foot. The motivation and sense of potential that a new year brings can prompt many people to seek out books related to their resolutions – guides to weight loss, collections of financial tips, pointers on becoming more organized, to name but a few – and those who aspire to bolster their leadership skills are no exception in this regard. Forbes and The Globe and Mail both recently published lists of notable business books that came out in 2015, many of which contain insights and advice that could prove useful to executives eager to better themselves from a professional standpoint in 2016.

Learn from the titans
Big-name companies often attract considerable attention from those interested in finding out the secrets to their success – a phenomenon that continues to turn behind-the-scenes books into perennial best-sellers.

Writing for The Globe and Mail, management columnist Harvey Schachter began his list by highlighting “Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead,” penned by Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president of people operations.

“[The book] starts with recruitment, where we often go wrong, and extends to many other aspects of HR and management more generally,” Schachter wrote.

He made particular note of the interest-piquing chapter titles, such “Pay unfairly” and “Let the lunatics run the asylum.”

Meanwhile, in a piece for Forbes, contributor David Burkus pointed to a May release that examines not only the success of one well-known corporation, but also its subsequent failure. “Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of Blackberry,” written by Wall Street Journal correspondent Jacquie McNish and Globe and Mail writer Sean Silcoff, was described by Burkus as “a riveting story of how BlackBerry conquered the world, and then fell just as quickly.”

“Being aware of the back story behind other companies’ achievements is an important leadership element.”

What’s the takeaway?
For executives putting together their strategies for 2016, being aware of the backstory behind other companies’ achievements is an important element. Of course, understanding what not to do can be just as powerful.

Tackle hot-button issues
Gender inequality in business continued to be a hot topic of conversation in 2015. In fact, we recently published an article that detailed four steps for rectifying the problem at the C-suite level. As we noted in the piece, companies with gender-diverse leadership tend to outperform their counterparts, according to a white paper released by the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. However, female CEOs occupied just five of the 50 spaces on the 2015 iteration of Fortune Magazine’s recently released Businessperson of the Year List.

The dearth of female executives means those who do make it to the top find themselves under considerable scrutiny, with many people asking, “How does she do it?” Philadelphia-based journalist Laura Vanderkam answers this question – literally – in “I Know How She Does It,” a June release that analyzes the time logs of female professionals and offers advice on how to maximize the hours in your day.

“The women weren’t working the long hours commonly thought, sleep reasonably well, and if their lives weren’t idyllic, they were bearable,” noted Schachter.

In short, the commonly cited myth that women can’t have it all may be just that.

Gender inequality was a subject of much discussion in 2015.
Gender inequality was a subject of much discussion in 2015.

Another much-discussed issue in 2015 involved the changing ways in which we as human beings communicate in an increasingly digital-focused era. As highlighted by Burkus, “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age” by Sherry Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauz Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in MIT’s Program in Science, Technology and Society, delves into the negative effects of foregoing face-to-face conversations in favor of their more high-tech equivalents.

What’s the takeaway?
If the business world is talking about something, leaders should be too. Those who read up on hot-button issues will have more to bring to the table.

Follow the examples set by others

“Every company is unique, but that doesn’t mean leaders can’t emulate each other’s tactics.”

Every company is unique, but that doesn’t mean leaders can’t emulate each other’s tactics. Burkus listed two books – one about Barry-Wehmiller’s focus on employee satisfaction and the other about Patagonia’s cultivation of customer loyalty – that detail how the aforementioned businesses put themselves on the map by zeroing in on one aspect of corporate operations.

First up, Barry-Wehmiller Chairman and CEO Bob Chapman partnered with Raj Sisodia, co-founder and co-chairman of Conscious Capitalism, to write “Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family.” The book offers an inside look at the elements that go into what Burkus described as the manufacturing services and technology supplier’s “outstanding people policies and … off-the-charts morale.”

Next, Craig Wilson, a former consumer marketing executive at Patagonia, delved into the outdoor clothing company’s approach to keeping its customers loyal in “The Compass and The Nail: How the Patagonia Model of Loyalty Can Save Your Business, and Might Just Save the Planet.”

Why should enterprises take a page out of Patagonia’s book? According to Burkus, it’s “the company with possibly the most rabid fans.”

What’s the takeaway?
Leaders shouldn’t make the mistake of passing on the opportunity to learn more about how other companies excelled in a particular area just because the enterprises operate in a different sector or space. Some lessons are universal.

Zoom out
Companies are made up of people, which means doing good business is about more than just business itself – it also involves psychology.

With this in mind, Schachter included “Triggers” by executive coach Marshall Goldsmith and author Mark Reiter on his list. He detailed how the two “explain how beliefs can get in the way of behavioral change and then show how to overcome that obstacle, using triggers – stimuli that reshape our thoughts and actions.”

Meanwhile, Burkus highlighted a book by Richard Thaler, the Ralph and Dorothy Keller Distinguished Service Professor of Behavioral Science and Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. According to Burkus, “Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics” takes a “look at what happened when economics met psychology and began to explain the seemingly inexplainable things we humans do.”

What’s the takeaway?
Rather than operating in a vacuum, leaders would be wise to incorporate an informed understanding of human nature into their plans for improvement in 2016.

The beginning of a new year is an opportunity for people to better their own lives and the lives of those around them in both personal and professional capacities. Executives eager to improve the way they lead in 2016 should begin with one resolution: Make time to read.

About Caldwell Partners
Caldwell Partners is a leading international provider of executive search and has been for more than 45 years. As one of the world’s most trusted advisors in executive search, the firm has a sterling reputation built on successful searches for boards, chief and senior executives, and selected functional experts. With offices and partners across North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia Pacific, the firm takes pride in delivering an unmatched level of service and expertise to its clients.