Personal MBA - 25 book recommendations

What if you wanted to study more about leadership, marketing, sales and strategy? What if you wanted to do an MBA but didn't have the time, money or opportunity? Below are 25 handpicked books that I think are an excellent crash course in business. No, they don't cover every area, in particular finance has been omitted. But they do teach a lot of valuable lessons and have been of huge value to me personally.

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4 Transferable skills of top CEOs

If you get a chance, there's a top podcast by the Harvard Business Review on the 4 Behaviours of Top-Performing CEOs. You would be forgiven for thinking that CEOs are the most well educated, business-savvy, mistake-free people in the corporate world, but you'd be wrong.

[There's] almost an equal amount of CEOs who graduated from Ivy League school undergraduate (degrees) as there were who didn't actually graduate from college at all.

 - Elena Botelho, co-author of the article “What Sets Successful CEOs Apart”.

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Over-collaboration and 'The Meeting' as a last resort

Are you familiar with the daily bombardment of email, text, instant chat and social media while trying to get real work done? Don’t worry, Jason Fried, the CEO of base camp, has some tips for us all, especially those who work in small team environments and want to find better ways to concentrate. I picked up these lessons from the Harvard Business Review podcast, which I highly recommend for anyone interested in business or organisational psychology. 

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Why you need to know about Learned Helplessness

Hopefully, you don't struggle with this yourself, and you believe taking action towards your goals will yield good results. But not everyone feels like that. Recently, I met a young man (19) who was fully convinced that he would be poor, and a slave his whole life - that there was no alternative. This was a very sad thing to hear. Imagine if you thought that nothing you did would make any difference, that you would always be poor and that you'll always have to work 12 hour days for minimum wage. You might find it hard to keep hope.

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The motivation of kind words

'Motivation' is a tricky topic, mostly because we are all motivated differently. For example, we know that money isn't the only way to improve employee engagement and that giving people extra money can actually harm morale. The reason for this is that by giving someone money in direct response for work done suggests that there is a clear monetary value to be placed on their efforts and that you have rewarded them accurately. Obviously, this leaves more than a little room for disagreement. 

On top of that, the next time you aim to financially reimburse someone for their hard work, they will ask themselves, 'how much do I get this time'? Or maybe even worse 'is this extra work really worth the money?'. 

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On KPIs and giving actionable feedback

I was working with an intern recently and was struck by how much her work improved over a week. The reason: I gave her useful feedback that was clear and implementable. Her performance and commitment weren't issues - my poor feedback was the issue. Like everything else, it's simple when you know how!

We can't give employees results to aim for if they're not clear on how to actually achieve those results. Saying 'you need to improve' or 'get more sales' doesn't help anyone because it's not actionable.

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Execution trumps strategy

Strategic visions, strategic plans and strategic goals all look and sound great, but what actually comes of them? According to research carried out by the authors of the book '4 Disciplines of Execution' only 15% of employees actually understood the strategic goals of the company. In other words, only 15% of employees knew the meaning of their work. Naturally, this begs the question: 'how could they expect to achieve the goal or feel good about it if they don't know what it is?'.

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Am I being managed out?

'Managing out' refers to when management makes an employee's working life so unpleasant, the employee decides to hand in their notice. Some employees aren't aware that this is a management tactic, even though they may be the victim of it. 

It's quite difficult to legally sack a worker if the management of a company is unhappy with them; that's why they have to use covert strategies to make life unpleasant for the individual. This process could include: criticising an employee's work repeatedly and never giving them credit; not supporting them in learning or developing; keeping them out of communication loops; ignoring their requests or making their life at the company difficult in general. 

Now, let's think about what it's like for both parties involved.

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Avoiding Peter’s principle

In his book published in 1969, Laurence Peter proposes the Peter Principle: "In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”

Many promotion decisions are beyond logic, such as promoting an engineer to a manager because they are an excellent engineer. The decision is made based on the employee’s performance in an engineering role, but engineering and management are completely different sets of skills and should be treated as such.

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Failing continually is crucial

Firstly, let’s distinguish between failed and failure. If a project doesn’t achieve the desired result - we could say that it failed, whereas if we believe that it hasn’t gone well and nothing could be improved, then it’s a failure. ‘Failure’ doesn’t leave much room for hope; it sounds so terminal. So let’s consider the alternative - never failing. 

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To be brave, you have to show vulnerability; to be a leader, you have to go first

“Men don’t talk” - that’s what I’ve been told. The statement is not just harsh and unfair; it’s untrue. I’ve met lots of men who talk, about their feelings too. Many of them love it. I’ve also met female clients who would prefer not to talk about anything. Generalisations are always wrong and there’s always an exception to the rule...

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