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HARDWICK: My most useful and favorite business and management books

As the end of the semester approaches I recall two questions that one of the smartest students I have ever had in my management class asked. I had just given my thoughts on what it takes to succeed in life. I opened the floor for questions or comments. The student asked these two questions:

“How do you define success?” and “What business or management books do you have on your shelf that you would not throw away?”

The answer to the first question was easy for me because I use it often in seminars and retreats. It is a quote from Earl Nightingale. “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal,” he said. I amend the statement slightly to say that success is the progressive achievement of a series of worthy goals. Without goals or purpose there is no hope. Once a person gives up hope there is no longer any reason to live.

Now for my list of books. Note that the question is predicated on the books that I have on my shelf, not what I would list as the best business or management books of all time. That would be another list altogether. The question also contains a qualifier, i.e. which books I would not throw away. Below are the first seven books that come to mind.

» The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Free Press) by Stephen Covey — This is the classic business and self-help book. It has sold over 25 million copies. It is on my desk most of the time because I refer to it often for reinforcement of its concepts. Of the seven habits, the one that I use most often is, “Begin with the end in mind.”

» Good to Great (HarperBusiness) by Jim Collins — This book changed my perspective about strategic planning. I facilitate a lot of strategic planning retreats and I believe strongly that successful people plan, execute and continually evaluate the plan. Nevertheless, this book and my own business and management experience made me realize that getting the right people on the bus is even more important than strategic planning. In other words, putting together the team is more important than coming up with the plan.

» Influencer: The Power to Change Anything (McGraw-Hill) by Kerry Patterson, et al. — One thing I like about this book is its examples of change, especially social change. Among the examples used are a drug rehab center in California that has a 90 percent success rate and a method that curbed the spread of AIDS in Thailand. As a Mississippian, it makes me ponder some of my state’s dismal statistics that are related to behavior, and how changing those behaviors could change the statistics.

» The Essential Peter Drucker (HarperBusiness) by Peter F. Drucker — This is a collection of 26 writings by Drucker, a management guru if there ever was one. He is even described as having invented to discipline of management. Taking a cue from the title, it is the essential management book. I like this book because it is a good summary of Drucker’s ideas and research in a relatively small package.

» Roads to Success (DK) by Robert Heller — This book is a collection of “ideas and innovations of eight of the world’s most successful business leaders.” Those eight leaders are Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Peter Drucker, Tom Peters, Stephen Covey, Jack Welch, Charles Handy and Andrew Grove. It’s part of the publisher’s “Business Masterminds” series. What I like about this book is that I can open it to any page and begin reading.

» Man’s Search for Meaning (Beacon Press) by Victor Frankl — This book, which was first published in 1959, opens with Dr. Frankl’s experience as a prisoner in a concentration camp (Aushwitz) during the Holocaust. A psychiatrist, he discusses what happened to prisoners who gave up and what happened to prisoners who did not. Those who saw a future and a meaning or purpose in life were better able to survive. When The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren came out I immediately thought about Frankl’s book. Frankl’s book is also interesting for his discussion of the abuse of power, not by the guards in the prison camp, but by those prisoners who were put in charge of fellow prisoners. I highly recommend this book.

» The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Modern Library) by Jane Jacobs — I refer to this book quite often because of my interest in neighborhoods and cities, and how they change and evolve. I admire Jane Jacobs because she was interested in a subject and researched it. She was not an architect, a city planner or an expert in the field. At least, not in the beginning. Her story tells me that anyone with an interest in anything can do original research and come to their own conclusions without simply reciting the so-called experts’ opinions. She epitomizes my belief that one should “think for yourself.”

The reason that these six books came to mind is because I find that I refer to them often. They have influenced my thinking.

The above are by no means the only books on my shelf. Some other books on my shelf that I refer to, but not quite as often are as follows:

» The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less (Harper Perennial) by Barry Schwartz

» Leadership is an Art (Crown Business) by Max Dupree

» Primal Leadership (Harvard Business Review Press) – Daniel Goleman

» The Big Sort (Mariner Books) by Bill Bishop

» Wooden on Leadership (McGraw-Hill) by John Wooden

» How To Win Friends and Influence People (Simon & Schuster) by Dale Carnegie

» Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Jossey Bass) by Patrick M. Lencion

So which books are on your shelf that you would not throw away?

Phil Hardwick is coordinator of capacity development at the John C. Stennis Institute of Government. Pease contact Hardwick at phil@philhardwick.com.


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