2016 Spotlight on the Year’s Top Books for Directors



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My night table is stacked high with books I’m keen to read. I may practice “Inbox Zero” with my e-mail, but I always have a toppling “To Be Read” pile.

Looking ahead to 2016, my reading ambitions are bigger than ever. Here is a glimpse of a dozen new books I plan to tackle whenever I can indulge my audiobook addiction.

On innovation and technology

515ctUF2MwL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant (February 2)

I’m treasuring my advance copy of this book, hanging on Wharton professor Adam Grant’s every word. Aspiring directors will enjoy what JJ Abrams describes as the “debunking myths of success stories, challenging long-held beliefs of process, and finding commonality among those who are agents of profound change.” If you enjoyed Grant’s Give and Take, you’ll love Originals.

51af-jZHB1L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly (June 7)

My ideal Sunday afternoon involves a long-form analysis by Kevin Kelly and a pool-side glass of something with a frosted rim. As co-founder of Wired magazine, Kelly knows how to simmer down the noise around us into a crisp synthesis of what matters. Every board director should have a working knowledge of the 12 tech forces that Kelly believes are poised to shape our future.

51vQ8c9+VfL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_The Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner (January 5)

Acclaimed travel writer Weiner sets out to examine the connection between our surroundings and our most innovative ideas. He explores Renaissance Florence, ancient Athens, Song Dynasty Hangzhou, and modern day Silicon Valley to show how certain settings encourage ingenuity. If Weiner’s previous The Geography of Bliss is any indication, Genius will be a light, entertaining read that supports lively board dinner conversations.

515E+oOkg3L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Innovation the Cleveland Clinic Way: Powering Transformation by Putting Ideas to Work by Thomas Graham (January 5)

With all the attention paid to Silicon Valley, it’s tempting to assume that semiconductors have the market cornered on innovation. Looking east, we find the Cleveland Clinic, what President Obama calls “one of the best healthcare systems in the world.” Physician Thomas Graham reveals what makes the Clinic excel and argues persuasively for why it should be the model for the US in healthcare and beyond.

For corporate governance wonks

51J9jEvbI3L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Directors Manual: A Framework for Board Governance by Peter C Browning and William L Sparks (February 1)

Browning, an experienced CEO and board member, and Sparks, a respected organizational researcher, combine their perspectives to encourage good governance in any industry sector. Specific best practice guidance is designed to help directors understand the unique strengths and challenges of their own board, and opportunities for improved board performance.

51q2I0ZIi5L._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Dear Chairman: Boardroom Battles and the Rise of Shareholder Activism by Jeff Gramm (February 23)

Never-before-published letters from Warren Buffett, Ross Perot, Carl Icahn, and others combine with robust research to trace the rise in shareholder activism from the 1920s to today. A must-read for anyone interested in governance of public companies, including how their boards operate and who is really in control.

For trend watchers

41YZzlowy0L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends by Martin Lindstrom (February 23)

Hired by the world’s leading brands to find out what makes their customers tick, Martin Lindstrom spends 300 nights a year in strangers’ homes. He carefully observes every detail to uncover their hidden desires, and, ultimately, the clues to a multi-million dollar product. A refreshing alternative to the big data hype, Lindstrom connects dots for anyone curious about human behavior, customer loyalty, and what goes viral.

51sekhi2PTL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_What Millennials Want from Work: How to Maximize Engagement in Today’s Workforce by Jennifer J. Deal and Alec Levenson (January 1)
The authors share their research into who Millennials really are, and offer practical advice for those who manage, lead, and work with Millennials. Board directors will benefit from the ideas related to strengthening organizational culture and building a robust talent pipeline.

41uraIPjHCL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross (February 2)

When Alec Ross was working as Senior Advisor for Innovation to the US Secretary of State, he traveled to forty-one countries, exploring the latest advances coming out of every continent. Based on his visits to startup hubs in Kenya and R&D labs in South Korea, Ross shares his take on what the future holds.

For board chairs and HR committees

51q5s+X3RcL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent by Sydney Finkelstein (February 9)

When it comes to CEO succession, I struggle with a board’s ability to gauge a leader’s relationship with people and talent. I’ll be looking for insights in Sydney Finkelstein’s summary of what football coach Bill Walsh, restauranteur Alice Waters, television executive Lorne Michaels, technol­ogy CEO Larry Ellison, and fashion pioneer Ralph Lauren have in common. Based on 200 interviews over 10 years, the net result promises to illustrate how great CEOs find, nurture, lead and part ways with great talent.

5162-nc-sCL._SX295_BO1,204,203,200_Change Your Questions, Change Your Life by Marilee Adams (January 11)

In this expanded version of a classic, Adams shows how the kinds of questions we ask shape our thinking and can be the root cause of many personal and organizational problems. I’m already enjoying the new section that highlights how “Question Thinking” can dramatically improve coaching and leadership. If my post on boardroom questions resonated with you, you’ll love this book.

51Ehsb1TuLL._SY498_BO1,204,203,200_Illuminate: Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies, and Symbols by Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez (February 16)

Duarte and Sanchez are arguably the visual communications gurus of the 21st century. Their latest work focuses on the narrative tools that inspire organizations to long for a brighter future and take action. Illuminate lays out a plan for leading people through the five stages of transformation using the persuasive power of speeches, stories, ceremonies, and symbols.


If you are wondering when you’ll find the time to read, I hear you. I’ve been an Audible subscriber for more than a decade. When running, driving, and doing chores around the house, I’m always listening to a book. (And if you are curious about audiobooks, Audible offers a free two-book trial here.)

Whatever your time management strategy, I hope you enjoy the titles listed above. Given that leaders are readers, we will surely make an inspiring and insightful contribution to our boards this year.

Question: What have you read lately that resonated? Did your holidays include any must-read titles that others should pick up?




2016 Spotlight on the Year’s Top Books for Directors

by Tamara time to read: 4 min