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The hits just keep on rolling

A handful of timeless business how-tos and must-reads


My sous chef Alexa and I were cooking dinner the other night, and I asked her, “Alexa, play top songs from 1981.” (I didn’t say please. I know she’s artificial intelligence, but I still feel guilty.) This was the year our first child was born. After listening to about 10 of those songs, I moved on to the subsequent birth years of our other children. Quite a hoot! On the plus side, Kool & the Gang, Bill Withers, Hall & Oates, Marvin Gaye and Prince – need I say more? But I also had to suffer through some big-hair bands and sappy stuff.

Luckily I could instruct Alexa to “skip this song.”

After dinner, I went to my home office. As I passed my bookshelf, it occurred to me that my book collection had the equivalent of Prince, but also some Wham! (“Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”). (You should be suspicious of a band that has to add an exclamation point to its name.)

I have a habit of throwing away books that fail the wackadoodle standard, so have more Prince than Wham!, but I was reflecting on what has changed in the leadership world in my soon-to-be 40 years in business.

I wish I had a dollar for every book that was just rehashed Peter Drucker. He’s the Prince of my business bookshelf. I have a copy of his book “Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices” from 1973 that’s just about as wonderful today as it was back then.

Warning! It’s more than 800 pages long because it was written in the days before Twitter, when detailed thought and analysis were appreciated.

Want something even more timeless? Drucker’s book “Concept of the Corporation,” originally published in 1946, and the updated version ought to be taught in all business schools.

In no particular order, here are a few other favorites that’ve held up well:

  • “Learned Optimism,” by Martin Seligman. If you believe you can change the hand you’re dealt, this one’s for you.
  • Anything by Warren Bennis on leadership. If you want a short version, look on the web for “The Four Competencies of Leadership,” an article from 1987 that provides a model of who you need to be as a leader.
  • “The Rational Manager,” by Charles Kepner and Benjamin Tregoe. Want to know how to solve problems and make decisions?
  • Patrick Lencioni wrote “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” as a parable. You can get through it in about two glasses of wine, but the model for successful teams is simple yet brilliant. I’ve used it numerous times – and with success, no less – to help clients get all eight cylinders firing.
  • John Love’s “McDonald’s: Behind the Arches” from 1986 was one of the first “success story” books that got me all fired up about how exciting it is to run a great business.
  • “The Discipline of Market Leaders,” by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema is a good read if you want a simple but effective model to http://www.cobizmag.com/Business-Insights/Think-differently-about-your-work-and-see-what-happens. And if you’re a CEO and you don’t, you’re in the wrong job!
  • In 1992, Jack Stack wrote a book called “The Great Game of Business” that changed the way I was running the business I was involved in at the time. If you want to understand how to make best use of the minds and hands of your people (and you have the capacity to share success), buy this book.

I have more, but these are the ones that called out to me from my bookshelf, like Bill Withers’ “Just the Two of Us,” did from my radio in 1981.

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is president of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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