Properly useful, brilliantly insightful books for leaders

Already read Lean In? Over #Girlboss? Viv Groskop rounds up the books every manager should read 

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By Viv Groskop on

Leading and managing people are things, in my view, that no one would choose to do all that willingly. Being in charge and making things happen? Taking the blame when things go wrong? Deciding, er, what everyone is supposed to do? Whose idea was that? More to the point, how on earth do you do it? Help is at hand for the reluctant, accidental and/or jaded leader in the forms of these books which have given me my sanity back at times when I was required to find a solution and make it look as if I knew what I was doing. (Disclaimer: these are all useful reads whether you need to manage other people, yourself or both.)

Playing Big by Tara Mohr 
Touchy-feely business coach Mohr is a powerhouse of inspiration with her what-are-you-waiting-for nudges. This is a guide to stepping up and, yes, showing off. Stop playing small, she says. Identify your “big leaps” (crazy but controlled career-changing moves). Get to know your inner mentor. Work usefully with your inner critic. I have bought dozens of copies of this. Every woman over the age of eleven should read it.

Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious by Margaret Heffernan 
A former BBC exec with a long list of software start-ups on her CV, when it comes to professional straight talk Heffernan is The Godmother (and a brilliant public speaker). Taking the collapse of Enron as a starting point, this is a fantastic read about how easy it is to fall into the trap of not being able to see the wood for the trees. Heffernan once told me the best thing about having a five-year (or 10-year) plan too: “No one even knows what’s going to happen in two years’ time. So worry more about what you’re going to do right now.” Also, rules for work (and life): “Is it fun? Do you care about it? If not, don’t do it.”

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The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin 
Frankly, any book by Seth Godin will improve your attitude to life and work. But this is a favourite, busting the myth that if you fly too close to the sun, you’ll get burnt. No, he argues: risks are more likely to pay off than caution. Subscribe to his daily email: completely addictive.

Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen 
Subtitle: “The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well Even When It Is Off-Base, Unfair, Poorly Delivered and, Frankly, You’re Not in the Mood.” This is great for people like me who want to go and firebomb someone’s building upon receiving a minor criticism.

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How To Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World by Gary Vaynerchuk 
The most useful read ever about how to manage social media at work and for work. Useful for everyone but especially for anyone you work with who still doesn’t get the difference between Twitter and Facebook. 

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin 
This takes on every unhelpful habit you’ve ever had at home or at work and shows you how you can fix it. A life-changer. I more or less lost three stone as a result of reading this book. And it changed completely how I process email which has saved me thousands of hours. A revelation.

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown 
A blisteringly original take on why we need to talk less bullshit at work, be more open about our emotions and not afraid to show our vulnerability. That’s how I read it anyway. Warning: it will make you less tolerant in meetings (but maybe that’s a good thing).


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