HBR’s 10 Must Reads for Executive Teams: A Book Review by Bob Morris

HBR’s 10 Must Reads for Executive Teams
Various Contributors
Harvard Business Review Press (June 2023)

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” African Proverb

This volume is among the best sources for timeless wisdom and cutting-edge thinking on how almost any organization can strengthen its executive teams. Here in a single volume are the information, insights, and counsel  is what you and your colleagues need to accelerate both personal growth and professional development as well as high-impact organizational performance.

If you were to purchase the 11 articles in this volume as separate reprints, the total cost would be about $130. Amazon now sells a paperbound edition for only $14. That’s not a bargain; that’s a steal.

Experts on these subjects explain HOW TO

o Reinvent leadership teams (Paul Leinwand, Mahadeva Matt Mani, and Blair Sheppard)
o Execute a smarter way to network (Rob Cross ands Robert Thomas)
o Develop leadership that produces high-impact results (Daniel Goleman)
o Avoid the hidden traps in the decision-making process (John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney, and Howard Raiffa)
o Stop wasting valuable time (Michael C. Mankins)
o Achieve “transient advantages” in operations (Rita Gunther McGrath)

o Avoid or eliminate barriers to innovation (Scott D.Anthony, Paul Cobban, Rahul Nair, and Natalie Painchaud)
o Avoid transformation failure (John P. Kottter)
o Enrich workplace culture (Boris Groysberg, Jeremiah Lee, Jesse Price, and J. Yo-Jud Cheng)
o Get serious about diversity (Robin J. Ely and David A. Thomas)
o Design work that people love to complete (Marcus Buckingham)

In or near the central business district in most major cities, there is a farmer’s market at which some of the merchants offer — at least until COVID — slices of fresh fruit as samples of their wares. In that same spirit I now provide brief excerpts from four articles:

Daniel Goleman discusses six leadership styles and their modus operandi:

Coercive leaders demand compliance as they drive to achieve and initiative with self-control
Authoritative leaders mobilize people toward a vision with self-confidence and empathy as a change catalyst
Affiliative leaders create harmony and build emotional bonds with empathy by building relationships
Democratic leaders forge consensus through participation with focus on collaboration and team leadership
Pacesetting leaders set high standards and ambitious goals for performance with conscientious drive for success
Coaching leaders develop people for the future with emphasis on guidance, explanation, and encouragement

(Pages 38-39)

* * *

Rita Gunther McGrath offers a “new playbook” for achieving transient advantage:

1. Think about arenas, not industries
2. Set broad themes, and let people experiment
3. Adopt metrics that support entrepreneurial growth
4. Focus on experiences and solutions to problems
5. Build striong relationships and networks
6. Avoid brutal restructuring: learn healthy disengagement
7. Get systematic about early-stage innovation
8. Experiment, iterate, learn

(Pages 97-103)

* * *

On Pages 126-127, John Kotter recommends eight specific steps that organizations should take when attempting a transformation. He then examines eight “big errors,” one or more of which can preclude success.

Each is preceded by NOT:

1. Creating a great enough sense of urgency
2. Forming a sufficiently powerful coalition
3. Creating a compelling vision
4. Effectively communicating/promoting the vision throughout the given enterprise
5. Removing obstacles, barriers, resistance, etc.
6. Systematically planning for, and creating, short-term wins
7. Waiting to declare success until it is most appropriate to do so
8. Anchoring changes in the corporate culture

(Pages 125-139)

* * *

Groysberg, Lee, Price, and Cheng share results from a study of the link between organizationAl c ultgure and outcomes:

“We found that employee engagement is most strongly related to greater flexibility, in the form of [begin italics] enjoyment, learning, purpose and caring [end italics]. Similarly, we observed a positive relationship between customer orientation and those four styles plus [begin italics] results [end italics]. These relationships, too, are surprisingly consistent across companies. We also found that engagement and customer orientation are stronger when employees are in close agreement about the culture’s characteristics.”

(Page 172)

* * *

If your organization needs to strengthen its leadership teams, this book is a must-read.

Here are two suggestions while reading HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Executive Teams: First, highlight key passages. Also, perhaps in a lined notebook kept near-at- hand, record your comments, questions, action steps (preferably with deadlines), page references, and lessons you have learned as well as your responses to key points posed within the narrative. Also record your responses to specific or major issues or questions addressed, especially at the conclusion of chapters.

These two simple tactics — highlighting and documenting — will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent reviews of key material later.

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