As senior business leaders get ready to break out the sun tan lotion for their summer holidays, we take a look at the books that have influenced their leadership styles and careers. From fact to fiction, we’ve asked what they recommend and why.
I’ve been inspired by… Not Much of an Engineer by Sir Stanley Hooker
Hooker was an outstanding Chief Engineer and leader who helped Rolls-Royce rebuild after the 1971 bankruptcy. When Rolls-Royce made a big bet and failed, Hooker said: ‘We’ve got no choice but to succeed, let’s get on with it.’
It was clear he picked his fights. He didn’t win them all – he had setbacks – and his career was not a linear path to greatness, but he wrote about how to pick yourself up and try again.
The book shows that great teams can dig themselves out of huge holes and recover. It’s about individuals forging their way through big international bureaucracies. Rolls-Royce is not a flexible organisation – I’ve worked there and loved it, but it’s not.
I read this for the first time while at university. Then, and now looking back, it made me realise most leaders will have a series of near misses punctuated by successes along the way. You will face near on impossible business challenges and you have to be resilient.
Right now I’m reading… The Churchills by Mary S. Lovell
Managing Director, Customer & Marketing
I’ve been inspired by… Second Curve by Charles Handy
The thought-provoking author, Charles Handy, has influenced my career continuously over the last twenty years or more.
His most recent book, Second Curve, summarises his terrific insights over the last two decades and how they have come true. It also offers insights and vision for the next twenty years that are set to shape the economy, society and business.
I'd recommend this book as it makes you think very hard about how to be a great leader in this transformational era. The book challenges traditional conventions about leadership and is inspirational. It gives a glimpse of our future that very few authors can do in a concise and compelling way.
Right now I’m reading… Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)
I’ve been inspired by… The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
I read this at the start of my career and what I liked is that it gives you a blueprint of how to enact personal change in a very simple way. It encourages a shift in perception and behaviour related to issues like time management and positive thinking.
I have seen lots of big training programmes that were inspired by this book. Many companies introduced the seven habits into ways of working, so that its people could be more effective.
Later came Covey’s follow-up book, The 8th Habit – From Effectiveness to Greatness. Both books have helped me focus on the effectiveness of myself and others.
I’d recommend both to anybody, at any stage of their career.
At the moment I’m reading… It’s Not About Us - It’s all About Them by Martin Butler and Emotional Agility by Susan David
I’ve been inspired by… Good to Great by Jim Collins
It reflects how a number of companies, which Collins and his investigators researched, have taken the step from being simply good businesses to being great ones. He identifies a number of principles to move the company on, such as creating followership.
He says good leaders consistently deflect praise away from themselves and towards their team, having surrounded themselves with great people to whom they give credit. Problems will always arise in business and it may, or may not, be anyone’s fault – but he says leaders should take the blame and protect their people.
He talks about Level 5 leaders, a concept that anyone who has read his book will understand. The level 5 executive will look out of the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well, perhaps a specific person or event. They look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck or others when things go poorly.
The book also talks about realising that not everybody thinks the same way as you. I’m a logical thinker and, as a result, I found it tricky to manage those on the creative spectrum. However, when I had a difficult problem to solve I asked a creative to help and a fantastic lesson was learned – the employee was thrilled I approached him for help, while his colleagues saw me in a different light.
Right now I’m reading… Fire in Babylon by Simon Lister
Criticaleye Board Mentor
Deputy Chair, Crisis
I’ve been inspired by… To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I read this in 1965 and directly as a result of it and the issues of racism and justice that it explored, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer.
While at university in the early 70s those ambitions developed into a plan to become a probation officer, which is what I did from 1975-1995.
That job – as well as the 1966 BBC television play, Cathy Come Home, which had a lasting impression on me – fuelled the desire to do something about homelessness and later led me to set up a hostel for homeless women in the 1980s. In recent years, I became a trustee at the homelessness charity. Crisis.
The issues raised in To Kill a Mockingbird are still relevant today. If anyone has reached adulthood without reading it, I recommend they do. It influenced my passion for justice and my belief that everyone deserves a fair hearing, regardless of what they are accused.
Right now I’m reading… I Find that Offensive by Claire Fox and Five Ideas to Fight For by Anthony Lester QC
I’ve been inspired by… The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard
This is an account of the British Antarctic expedition from 1910 to 1913 led by Robert Falcon Scott, in which a team set off to collect the eggs of emperor penguins.
Cherry reflects on the expedition with Scott and the other two men, where they hiked 70 miles from Scott's camp on Ross Island to the penguin breeding colony on Cape Crozier, braving temperatures of -60°C.
Despite preparation, such as the detailed calculations on required food supplies, the men encountered situations beyond their control, including a severe blizzard, which turned the adventure into a dire and life-threatening journey.
Against the odds, with the three penguin eggs packed in their sleds, they returned. The eggs were displayed in London’s Natural History Museum on the 100th anniversary in 2012.
It’s a story of courage, misery, friendship and endurance. It highlights why leaders should bring people with them; they must also always have the readiness to respond, as circumstances are bound to change.
I must admit the ending is laced with sadness as Cherry later formed a support group that found the frozen bodies of Scott and the three men who accompanied him on his last trip to the pole.
Right now I’m reading… Catastrophe by Max Hastings
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