Leadership books in a nutshell: 4 ideal reads for HR and People leaders

Charlotte Nicol
Last updated on 15th August 2019
3 min read

Do you spend what feels like hours staring at books in the shop, reading the blurb, only to find when you get it home and start reading, it wasn’t quite what you were after?

Or, do you know you need to get up to speed on thought leadership but you don’t have the time to read a book in full?

Whichever boat you’re in, we’ve rounded up the best books for HR leaders so you can glean the knowledge with or without turning the pages.

1. Act like a leader, think like a leader, by Herminia Ibarra

In a nutshell…

It’s about the old adage: fake it until you make it.

Ibarra says people become leaders by doing leadership work: “The only way to think like a leader is to first act: to plunge yourself into new projects and activities, interact with very different kinds of people, and experiment with unfamiliar ways of getting things done. New experiences not only change how you think—your perspective on what is important and worth doing—but also change who you become.”

Become a leader from ‘the outside in’
She describes this as the outsight principle: become a leader, from the outside-in. And she says outsight can only be gained from action.

To be really successful, we must also be self-aware. She points out that only 2% of one million people surveyed viewed themselves as below average. That’s why it’s crucial to maintain a network that can give us honest feedback.

Imposter syndrome

This is a great book if you’re new to a leadership role and still bedding in. It’s packed full of practical advice on how to transition successfully.

 2. Originals, by Adam Grant

In a nutshell…

Who are the ‘Originals’? The ones who drive creativity and change the world.

So, how can you become one? Absolutely anyone can come up with a great idea and develop it to a point where the world will embrace it, according to Grant.

It explores how creative people come up with great ideas, how they were cultivated and what we might learn as an outcome.

‘Argue like you’re right and listen like you’re wrong’

Grant argues that too much experience in one area means our ideas about solutions tend to be fixed, which doesn’t allow for creativity. He says that the key to coming up with a great idea is to come up with an abundance of ideas. Once you have them, gather feedback, put ideas out there and see which are praised and adopted by your target audience.

How do you recognize an original? Watch Grant’s fascinating TED Talk to find out.

3. Why employees don’t do what they’re supposed to do, by Ferdinand F Fournies

In a nutshell…

It’s based on actual experience of 25,000 managers. It offers simple, proven straightforward methods with practical solutions to the problems of employee performance.

According to Fournies, these are the top 10 reasons employees don’t do what they’re supposed to:

  • They don’t know why they should do it
  • They don’t know how to do it
  • They don’t know what they’re supposed to do
  • They think your way won’t work
  • They think their way is better
  • They think something else is more important
  • They think they are doing it
  • They are punished for doing it or rewarded for not doing it
  • It’s beyond their personal limits
  • No one could do it

People want to do a good job
Fournies believes that, ultimately, most employees do want to do their job well and be rewarded for doing so, but that clear and consistent communication is often what’s missing in the relationship.

4. Start with why, by Simon Sinek

In a nutshell…

Everyone knows what they do. They also know how they do it. But very few people know why they—or their company—does something. And it’s not about profits—Sinek says that’s a result, not a reason. The why is your purpose—what drives you, what drives your company.

The what before the why

He says that most companies start with what they create, then how they do it, then finally why. Sinek says to inspire others we need to always start with the why because that’s what engages our emotions, while what engages our logical brain.

Apple, Southwest Airlines, Walmart, Harley Davidson and Microsoft, all feature as examples, as well as the Wright brothers and Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. They succeeded because they were crystal clear in why they do things and people who know how had then followed them.

The Golden Circle

The most interesting nugget of the book is Sinek’s The Golden Circle—which delves into his ‘why, how, what’ theory.

The Golden Circle has three layers: with why at the core, followed by how as the next layer, then what on the outside. If we have the clarity of why we do, know the how we can do and maintain consistency of that what we do, it’s enough to be successful in any work we do. His advice is that before you start doing anything, think why, then how, then what.

This is a great book for leaders who are struggling to get people to buy into their vision, or finding it difficult to determine the direction of their business. Or simply for people who don’t know why they do what they do.

Not quite ready to commit to the book? Watch the TED Talk first.

If you think you’ve found your next read, we’d love to hear from you. Let us know by tweeting us @SagePeople

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