WITH THE HOLIDAY CRAZINESS OVER, there's finally free time in the schedule to read again. But with a crowded shelf of warmed-over management advice and self-help guides, it's hard to know what's actually worth the time. Here, we scanned publishers' lists for the books coming out in early 2014 that are worth checking out.
Quick and Nimble, by Adam Bryant (Jan. 7)
Bryant writes the Corner Office column for the New York Times, where he interviews CEOs every week for their insights about managing people and leading companies. Their wisdom on building innovative cultures is collected here. Far too many leadership books rely on the knowledge of consultants or on years-old stories to build their case; this book gets its ideas from the people actually running companies today.
Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, by Robert Gates (Jan. 14)
Politico's Mike Allen has written that former Defense Secretary Bob Gates long deflected questions about how he thinks George W. Bush and Obama compare by saying, "wait for the book." Well, it's almost here, and it promises to be a good read. Gates, the only secretary of defense to serve under both a Republican and Democratic president, is expected to deliver a blunt critique of his time leading the Pentagon. In an excerpt from the introduction, released by the publisher in September, Gates wrote that the book would be about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, "but this book is also about my political war with Congress each day I was in office," he wrote, “and the dramatic contrast between my public respect, bipartisanship, and calm, and my private frustration, disgust, and anger."
Scaling up Excellence, by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao (Feb. 4)
Stanford professors Sutton and Rao are out with a book about tackling growth that took the duo seven years to write. From their work at Stanford, the two have a front-row seat to companies trying to scale, and combine that first-hand knowledge with behavioral science research to devise seven scaling "mantras" to help leaders avoid what they call the "problem of more." In characteristically accessible language (Sutton is the author of "The No A**hole Rule" and "Good Boss, Bad Boss"), the authors introduce phrases like "fear the clusterfug" and the "Buddhism-Catholicism continuum" that could very well become part of the corporate lexicon.
What Works for Women at Work, by Joan C. Williams and Rachel Dempsey (Feb. 4)
Called a "guide for mastering office politics as a woman," Williams' and Dempsey's book combines years of research with interviews with 127 successful women about the specific challenges women face in the workplace and how to combat them. Williams, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law, is one of the foremost researchers dealing with issues of gender discrimination at work. Yet by the looks of it, this book isn't merely an analysis of the unfairness women face, but of strategies to help them succeed in spite of it.
Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte (March 11)
In "Overwhelmed", Schulte, a Washington Post reporter, teases out what's making us feel so busy all the time—drawing on science, examples of forward-thinking companies, European policy and anecdotes from working parents who've got it figured out. Schulte's reporting for the Post is always a good read. And, hopefully, the answers and insights in this book about our lack of leisure time will help us find more of it.
Innovative animator Pixar serves as inspiration in both of these books—the first is written by the studio's co-founder and president, the second is co-written the movie house's former SVP of technology, Greg Brandeau. Catmull's book, which Stanford's Bob Sutton recently called "one of the best business books of all time," teaches readers how to lead innovation through the personal story of both his life and Pixar's history. The latter book, co-written by Harvard Business School professor Linda Hill, MIT researcher Truelove and former executive Lineback, combines academic research with real-life examples from Pixar, as well as other companies.
Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success by Sylvia Ann Hewlett (June 3)
Hewlett, an economist, is one of the preeminent voices on women, leadership and careers. In her latest book (her eleventh), she examines the critical mix of appearance, communication and gravitas that sets apart leaders who succeed. If it's anything like her recent books, this one should be a smart how-to guide based on research, insightful anecdotes and practical advice.
Upcoming books from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton and Sen. Rand Paul, (April, June and September)
It's hard to know what kind of reads they'll be, or what exactly they'll tell us about leadership. But in 2014—decision time for many 2016 contenders—at least three Washington leaders who have gotten presidential buzz (which Warren has denied) have books on the way. Warren's untitled autobiography is projected for April 22; Clinton's memoir of her time leading the state department ("as well as her thoughts about how to navigate the challenges of the 21st century," a summary reads) is expected in June; and Paul has a book, "Taking a Stand", due out later in the year.
Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.