I love using the down time over the summer break to catch up / get a head-start on my reading (and learning). I love mixing it up with some personal development along with my professional development.
Today I am sharing five books that primarily fall into the ‘professional development’ category; although a couple may also help you ‘personally’ (they certainly have for me!).
I have selected these books as they all have helped me develop the skills that I regularly use in the boardroom. I hope they do the same for you too.
How to Avoid a Fall from Grace by Sarah Bartholomeusz
This book is the perfect beginner’s guide to understanding your director’s duties. Sarah does a great job of making, what would be a rather dry subject, interesting.
Sarah shares stories of our board fore-bearers who weren’t quite adept enough to themselves avoid a fall from grace. Nonetheless, these make wonderful case studies for us to not model our behaviours on (often these teach us the best lessons).
It’s a quick read, something that you can get through in a lazy summer weekend, and highly recommended for you if you’re thinking about joining a board in the future, or if you’re new to being a company director and need to quickly come up to speed on your mandatory director’s duties under the Corporations Act 2001 (and reflected very similarly in legislation governing other organisations like incorporated associations and co-operatives).
Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan
Often we come to boards highly skilled in our particular areas of expertise. For example, we’re a superstar lawyer, accountant, marketer, recruiter, etc. However, what we tend to be missing is a broad understanding of the ‘business of running a business’.
In practical terms, this is an understanding of how to get things achieved across and through the organisation. It’s having an awareness of the various levers that need to be pulled in order to successfully execute on the strategy that the board has signed-off on.
I have found this book to be the most straight-forward and easy-to-understand book about strategy execution; an area of strategy that we rarely focus enough time on (but is actually the most critical!).
If you are looking for a resource to help you to understand an organisation’s landscape as it relates to achieving critical business goals (and building your ‘business nous’), this book is well worth the money and time. I also believe that it will help you in your professional career as well.
Directors at Work: A Practical Guide for Boards by Geoffrey Kiel, Gavin Nicholson, James Beck, and Jennifer Ann Tunny
Frequently referred to as ‘my board bible’, this guide is a must-have for all new board members and company directors. It’s an incredibly comprehensive resource covering everything from directors’ duties, to selecting a CEO, to board committees, and developing a board charter.
A decade into my board career and I still reach for this book for some guidance in certain governance circumstances, or if I’m looking for inspiration on certain board and committee documents (there are a ton of template documents included in this book).
Consider getting a copy for your board (if not for yourself) to utilise as a reference tool.
Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott
Although this is presented as a business book, the approach to initiating and having those uncomfortable conversations that need to be had will help you build stronger relationships beyond the boardroom.
Side note: When Susan talks about ‘fierce’ conversations don’t think of it as ‘aggressive’, rather “…when you think of a fierce conversation, think passion, integrity, authenticity, collaboration. Think cultural transformation. Think of leadership.” It’s an important distinction to make and keep in mind.
On a board [and in life] you need to be more persuasive in your communication and be able to bring the rest of the board with you on a journey. Having consistently effective conversations will ensure you are building and maintaining beneficial and meaningful relationships with your fellow board members. This will help when you need to get things done and garner support for your ideas and suggestions for the organisation.
When the members of a board get along and can appropriately challenge and stretch each other, it makes for a much more pleasant and fun environment and experience. So important particularly as a volunteer director.
Leading Change by John P. Kotter
This is more than a book about change management, or rather, change leadership (as it should really be called). To me, this is a book about leading people.
You could argue that we are in a constant state of change, or evolution. This constant change generally destabilises people, effecting how they work (quality and output), directly impacting the success (or not) of the organisation.
Adapting to change, and using it to your advantage, starts with the board. In fact, you will understand the requirement of needing to understand how to lead change just by being on a board – leading and influencing your fellow board members to do things differently (for whatever reason) can feel like turning an enormous ship. Imagine, then, trying to lead change through an entire organisation?!
Kotter frames change leadership through eight stages, giving you the confidence that a considered, pragmatic approach to change can – and will – lead to success. It’s not too overwhelming and it’s easy to digest and comprehend.
I read this book when I was on the board of an organisation that was initiating a significant change project, and it certainly enabled me to understand what was required for it to be successful: I knew the questions to ask and understood the significant investments required (in time, money, relationships, and more).
Now it’s time to kick back, grab a cool drink, and settle in for a good read.
What book(s) will you be reading this summer? Let me know in the comments below (I’m always looking for great recommendations).
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