Most business leaders know that lifelong learning is an essential habit for personal development but in an industry where the majority of our learning will most likely come from online sources, I still believe there are some books that deliver incredible knowledge.
I’ve always been a voracious reader and in my previous role I commuted a lot, around 12 hours a week of travel time, so I also took to listening to more podcasts and audiobooks on top of the tomes I was reading in the evening or on the train.
Now that I advise a number of digital agencies, it struck me that there are a few essential reads that I continually recommend for the same reasons, so here they are.
Strategy – Good to Great is approaching its 15 year anniversary, and has suffered criticism since some of the businesses references in the research have now fallen from grace – a topic covered in a follow-up publication How the Mighty Fall. However, most of the core principles (“Get the right people on the bus” and “Confront the brutal facts”) provide great guidance for any growing organisation.
Delivery – Execution is a book that challenges the obsession with innovation and creativity in business, insisting that a lack of execution is to blame for most failed businesses. It’s a pretty hard read, and at times seems to be focussed on large enterprises (Larry Bossidy was Jack Welch’s right hand man at GM) but there are some solid take-aways even for the relatively simple act of running an effective meeting.
Customer Focus is essential for any digital agency and The Art of Client Service is the Account Managers Bible. Packed with 52 tips and an abundance of anecdotes, it’s an invaluable read for any member of the business, bit just the client service team. But if you want to take your client focus even further, I recommend….
… Uncommon service a book that explores a framework for you whole business to deliver great customer service. I particularly like the chapter on when and why you should deliver poor service, in the areas your customers care least about. While the book is focussed on the wider service industry (it includes case studies from Celebrity Cruises and Zipcar) the concepts are perfect for most agencies.
Moving onto sales, I’ve found agencies tend to chase after the majority of pitch opportunities (you never know when the opportunities might dry up, right?) but Let’s get real or let’s not play really focusses on how to say “No” more often, to pitch opportunities, and to focus even more effort on the ones you have a better chance of winning. The book really helps refine you bid/no bid decision-making process, and provides some great questioning techniques to help you deliver the best response to your prospect.
Obviously, a huge part of leading a business is people development and the The Tao of Coaching is a handy little read that follow the story of a fictional manager, Alex, as he embarks on his first experiences of managing a team and learns from an abundance of mistakes. Alright, some elements of the story can be pretty cringeworthy, but it does help you remember more of the lessons.
Finally, I’d recommend a book to help maintain personal motivation because, while leading a business can be incredibly rewarding, it can also be draining and lonely. The Happiness Advantage is not one of those annoying PMA books, but is based on the growing bank of research into the science of happiness, and how a positive outlook can improve your performance and motivation as well as your teams. I was cynical at first, but after trying the “Positive Tetris Effect” (you basically write three good things that happened during the day, every day for a week) I really noticed a difference. Give it a go?
Incidentally, if you’re looking for further inspiration, be sure to check out this great book club on Google Plus.