Lean into these books for lessons in life and business
We’ll admit, whether by habit or history, that we are book lovers. We read them, write them, and give them as gifts.
That may not come as a surprise because as university educators, books have always been a part of the picture. Even as sales of paper versions decline, the e-book has more than made up for decreasing hardcover/paperback sales while enhancing availability and access.
But which books are seminal? And how does reading a great book for the first time or going back and skimming through something you haven’t seen since college/grad school hold the potential to make you a better leader or a more promotable junior-double-secret-probation assistant manager?
For that matter, what is a great book? Is it an enjoyable read or something offering incredible content? Can it deliver both? What about a textbook that’s a real “slog,” but contains content you end up using dozens of times in your career?
Further, while all of us imagine we are “above average” (how else to explain getting hired to work in the sports industry), at least 50% of us are logically mistaken. That’s something we see when students return to us years after graduating and ask what new books they should consider reading (cue: standard lecture on that whole “lifelong learning” thing).
Feel free to agree, disagree or modify the list below but instead of asking what’s in your wallet, go check what’s on your bookshelf, your Kindle, or epub reader (Google Books vs. Apple Books?). Then, think about asking whether one of these “summer reads” might offer more than just a distraction.
Could a few hours of selected reading make you smarter for the seismic challenges your organization is facing or for the ambitious career move you are plotting? We think they could, so let us suggest a few that will help either way.
“The New One-Minute Manager” (HarperCollins, 2015) — Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. Revolutionary when it first came out in 1982, the new contemporary version holds just as much importance in helping build team cohesion.
“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change” (Fireside, 1989) — Stephen Covey. Has never gone out of print because the habits featured hold up. This book, in fact, has inspired two of our books.
“Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” (Scribner, 2016) — Angela Duckworth. Some make it, some don’t. Duckworth explains why. Grit remains a topic of high interest to business leaders in the post-COVID world.
“Outliers: The Story of Success” (Little, Brown and Co., 2008) — Malcolm Gladwell. Perhaps our favorite author — not because he uses a hockey example early in the book, but because his work is so approachable
“Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds” (Lioncrest Publishing, 2018) — David Goggins. Overcoming a horrible start to life, Goggins became a military leader, Ironman and more (including the only member of the U.S. armed forces ever to complete SEAL training, U.S. Army Ranger School, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller training). Truly inspiring.
“Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike” (Scribner, 2016) — Phil Knight. Many were surprised how easily this book read and how candid Knight was about his success. We like that he has an academic tone to the takeaways provided, which is not surprising given his links to Oregon and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.
“Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance” (The Free Press, 1985) — Michael Porter. Old school? Hell, yes. Seminal? For many it was legendary. If you can’t bring yourself to read a book from 1985, no problem, as Porter continues to write on the topic of today’s competitive landscape and has authored a virtual library of new editions and derivatives. One we really like, “The Competitive Advantage of Nations” (1998), brings a global lens to his work.
“The Elusive Fan: Reinventing Sports in a Crowded Marketplace” (McGraw-Hill, 2006) — Irving Rein, Philip Kotler and Ben Shields. Think this book is outdated? Think again. Even in 2006, the authors were predicting the rise of esports.
“Intangibles: Unlocking the Science and Soul of Team Chemistry” (Little, Brown and Co., 2020) — Joan Ryan. A wonderfully written examination of that intangible so many write off. The truth is this: Team chemistry is a real thing. Not to mention increasingly challenging in the post-COVID reality of hybrid work.
“Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham and the Science of Success” (Harper Perennial, 2010) — Matthew Syed. Any time you can have Beckham and Mozart in the same sentence, you know you’re onto something. We also appreciate works that include sport and other pursuits when considering the pathways to success
“The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams” (Random House, 2017) — Sam Walker. The former sports editor of The Wall Street Journal spent years researching every great dynasty. Now he works for the L.A. Rams. Did he find a secret sauce? And, if so, would this sauce still work in 2022, given the ever-changing state of things?
Will you read them all? That’s unlikely. But in a world of uncertainty and challenge, any one of these “champions” might help more than you imagine.
Rick Burton is the David B. Falk Professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University. Norm O’Reilly is the dean of the University of Maine’s Graduate School of Business. Their new book, “Business the NHL Way: Lessons from the Fastest Game on Ice,” will be published by the University of Toronto Press in October.