Kelsey Gripenstraw shares highlights from a century of management insights in HBR articles. Her article is part of The Big Idea Series / 100 Years of Harvard Business Review.
Credit: Israel G. Vargas
HBR’s 100th anniversary marks a century of publishing ideas that improve the practice of management. In that time, what have our readers found most impactful? What have they shared with their networks? And what have they read the most?
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Your time is valuable, and at HBR we know that you’ll give it only to articles that are truly useful. They have to present solutions to problems you’ve been grappling with, pique your curiosity, tap into your emotions, and show you, your team, or your organization the right way forward.
In celebration of HBR’s 100th anniversary, we rounded up our readers’ favorites through the years: the articles they read, purchased, and shared the most, plus the ones they identified as having the biggest impact on their lives or careers.
Some articles appeared in multiple categories, showing how widely their authors’ ideas resonate (looking at you, Michael Porter). But for the sake of this roundup, each piece appears just once. The list offers a peek back into a few different eras — and reminds us that many of today’s toughest business questions are the same as those from decades ago.
Thank you for a century of readership.
Here’s what you’ve clicked on the most, from the practical to the philosophical.
That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief
In March 2020, as Covid-19 raged around the world, many of us realized that we’d have to hunker down for the sake of our and others’ health. Schools, offices, and shops closed; sports seasons and concerts were called off; trips, weddings, and reunions were canceled. It hurt to lose all of this. That feeling we all shared was grief, and HBR spoke to the world’s foremost expert on the topic to learn how to manage it. The article has been read nearly 9 million times, making it our most popular ever.
What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class
Published immediately after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, this article analyzed how Donald Trump was able to win over Republican voters — and why it was shocking to so many Democrats. “What’s driving it is the class culture gap,” writes author Joan C. Williams, a law professor. “One little-known element of that gap is that the white working class resents professionals but admires the rich.”
15 Rules for Negotiating a Job Offer
Job-offer negotiations can get complex, but you can improve your odds considerably by mastering a handful of tactics. This 2014 magazine article from Harvard Business School professor Deepak Malhotra provides a bookmarkable guide to the process.
The cover letter is not yet dead — as evidenced by the fact that this piece continues to attract so many new readers. HBR editor Amy Gallo pulled together advice from several experts to create this comprehensive guide. The highlights? Grab attention with your opening line, tailor your pitch to the job, and show how you can help the company solve problems.
Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?
We have fewer female leaders than male ones, but that’s not because women are less qualified, explains organizational psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. It has to do with our biased view of what leadership looks like. Men tend to project confidence, leading people to judge them as competent — even when they’re not. This 2013 article, which has been read millions of times, discusses why that dynamic not only is bad for gender equity but also actively damages companies.
In April, we asked you on Instagram: What’s an HBR article that changed the way you live or work? Here’s what you said.
In this 1996 magazine article, HBS professor Michael Porter outlines the difference between operational effectiveness and strategy — two essential but very different drivers of performance. While operational effectiveness is necessary for companies to achieve superior profitability, it’s not sufficient for ensuring their long-term success. So what is strategy, anyway? Porter says it’s about choosing a unique, valuable position that’s rooted in systems of activities that are hard for other companies to match, providing competitive advantage.
How Will You Measure Your Life?
The late HBS professor Clayton M. Christensen believed that we should think about our personal lives just as rigorously as we do our professional ones. In his 2010 article, he suggests asking three questions to help: How will you find happiness in your career? How will you find happiness in your personal relationships? How will you live your life with integrity? In this article, Christensen shares his own lessons learned from the process; notably, he says that building up others offers unmatched rewards.
Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time
We talk a lot about managing our time, but many of us could produce better (and more) work if we optimized our energy instead. “The core problem with working longer hours is that time is a finite resource,” write authors Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy in their 2007 article. “Energy is a different story,” since it can be systematically expanded and rewarded with a few simple interventions.
Before you can manage a team or a company, you need to learn to manage yourself. In this classic article from 1999, the late Peter Drucker explains how to assess your strengths and values — and build up the skills you have — to transform yourself from an ordinary worker into an outstanding performer.
Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?
“Why is it that managers are typically running out of time while their subordinates are typically running out of work?” ask executives William Oncken Jr. and Donald L. Wass in the opening line of their 1974 piece about delegation. As a manager, are you taking on too many of your employees’ burdens? And, in a way, does that mean you’re working for them? The authors break down why managers end up with too many “monkeys” on their backs — and how to get rid of them.
When you share an article with your friends or colleagues, we pay attention. Here are the top articles you’ve shared on LinkedIn.
Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome
There’s a wealth of advice about how to manage the feeling that you’re not worthy of your job — what’s called imposter syndrome. But in this article, authors Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey argue that merely managing the feeling fails to address the real problems: systemic bias and exclusion. They say it’s on leaders, not individuals, to address these issues in organizations.
5 Things High-Performing Teams Do Differently
The secret to standout performance today? According to psychologist Ron Friedman, it’s strong relationships. High-performing teams pick up the phone, talk about subjects unrelated to work, give and receive appreciation frequently, and are authentic at work. He identified these points through surveys of more than 1,000 office workers.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of a Walk
Taking a walk is one of the best ways to boost your energy and clear your mind. In this article, coach and leadership lecturer Deborah Grayson Riegel spells out the many benefits of a simple stroll and five ways to make the most of it. One piece of advice? Pair up with a friend to squeeze in bonding time. For those who can’t take a walk, she suggests finding another way to keep the brain sharp and maintain physical well-being.
How to Lead When Your Team Is Exhausted — and You Are, Too
At the end of 2020, people worldwide were dealing with increasing fatigue from the pandemic, political strife, and social unrest. Psychologist Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg shares three ways managers can help their teams press on when doing so is especially hard: Understand the difference between urgency and importance, and focus on the latter; be compassionate while also channeling employees’ feelings of defiance, anger, and frustration toward action; and change things up every single day.
Good Leadership Is About Asking Good Questions
Leaders don’t have all the answers. But they can ask powerful, inspiring questions to guide their teams. In this article, author John Hagel III shows managers how to use questions — such as “What is a game-changing opportunity that could create much more value than we have delivered in the past?” — to help people think beyond their day-to-day.
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