If you love to read, and you frequently pick books off the “business bestseller” list, this post is for you. If you don’t read often, but want to make efficient use of your limited time by reading something that will help you get a promotion and get ahead in your career, this post is for you too.
After reading even a few dozen business bestsellers, the advice starts to sound the same. There always seems to be another author encouraging you to follow a blue ocean strategy and engage in lean thinking, while reminding you never to forget the importance of execution. Networking is really important to your business success, and you should never eat alone if you want to win friends and influence people. These are great pieces of advice, of course, even though they don’t apply in every situation, and sometimes are just a bit too vague to provide you with ideas for taking practical action in your career. But which books truly have the ability to influence day-to-day action, and provide a framework for getting the right things done, in the right way, at the right time? Here are five that I’ve applied, memorized, and quoted. I credit them for helping me get a promotion (or three), improve the quality of my work, and impress the boss.
Getting Things Done by David Allen. At a crucial time in my life, when I was first trying to get a promotion into the ranks of management, this book helped me get my sh*t together. It provided a complete system for managing my email inbox, the paperwork coming across my desk, and all pretty much everything else. I moved from a “piling” system to a filing system, and I knew exactly what to put where. Not only do I credit it for helping me land the big promotion, but I’ve talked about it in job interviews and had the interviewer take notes about it! I’ve taught the principles to my staff, and use it every single day in my business and personal life.
Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson and coauthors. This book provided me with a powerful reminder about the importance of having tough conversations when needed, rather than avoiding them, and provided me with a framework for handling those conversations well. The book is filled with quotable ideas, like “filling the pool of shared meaning” and using “CPR” to pinpoint what type of conversation to have. I’ve hired and fired using these principles, and had plenty of tough conversations in between. In too many of them to count, I relied on the wisdom of Kerry Patterson and friends to carry me through. Heaven forbid you get a promotion and try to handle sensitive human resources issues without these tools.
Work The System by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches bread-and-butter management skills, and tells a great story about a guy who succeeded in business after he just about died trying. I’ve found his idea about taking an “outside and slightly elevated” view of the business to be really helpful, and I’ve given this book as a gift to key people on my staff in order to help them develop their leadership skills and get a promotion. Beyond the basic philosophy of the book, I’ve actually implemented Sam’s recommendation to write out “strategic operating principles” and I’ve shared these with two or three different teams I’ve managed in recent years. His stuff is practical and relevant, and I highly recommend it.
The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann. Some might not find this book to be hard-hitting in terms of core business skills, but it absolutely hit me hard when I read it. I don’t consider myself to be particularly selfish, but reading this book helped me realized how easy it is to focus on being a “go-getter” rather than a “go-giver.” I made significant changes in my work after reading this book, and saw almost immediate results. I had been struggling with a job search, and just didn’t know what to say that would convince a hiring manager to give me a shot. How quickly did I get a promotion after shifting my focus to emphasize how much I could give to my new employer? Seven weeks.
The Next Level by Scott Eblin. I have the privilege of knowing a high-powered executive at a Los Angeles marketing firm (just one … I’m not trying to brag), and she gave this book to me as a gift. It enlightened me to the fact that I would need to unlearn some skills that served me as a young manager, and implement new skills if I wanted to get a promotion into senior management. I took Scott’s wisdom to heart, and implemented some lessons that I’ve used as a senior manager, and taught others to use as well. From my perspective, this book should be required reading in every MBA program in the nation. It isn’t a book for everyone, but those who reach a certain point in their management careers will find it contains invaluable lessons.
I feel the need to point out that these books didn’t magically create results for me. It took careful reading and thoughtful implementation of the ideas in these books. You’ll get results when you do what needs to be done; it isn’t enough to know and understand a few smart concepts about business. There are plenty of other books that have great content to help you succeed in your career, including my own. If you want to turbocharge your career though, and move up the ladder, these five are great places to start.