With the new year comes a host of new resolutions. To work smarter. Lead better. Get organized. Read more. Yet among business and leadership books — an overcrowded, underwhelming genre if there ever was one — what's worth picking up?
We scanned publishers' lists, looked for compelling titles in the news, and picked the brains of top leadership authors about the most compelling ones scheduled to come out in the year ahead. Here are 12 books we think will be worth reading as we turn the page to 2015.
(1) Yes, And
By Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton
HarperBusiness, Feb. 3
Who better to offer negotiation or decision-making advice than experts at improv comedy? The authors of Yes, And are executives at The Second City, the improv group and empire where comedians like Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert got their start. The institution has long brought its techniques for clever on-the-spot acting to corporate clients as well, helping them improve creativity and navigate sticky situations. Now Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton are sharing those ideas in this book. Since leaders today increasingly have to stay nimble, make fast decisions and respond in real time, the skills to improvise may be just as critical as the ability to plan ahead.
(2) Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader
By Herminia Ibarra
Harvard Business Review Press, Feb. 10
At all too many companies, leadership development is either an afterthought, a casualty of budget cuts or a reward for the elite few. So in this book, Herminia Ibarra offers a self-guided approach to developing your leadership skills. A professor at INSEAD known for counterintuitive thinking and frequently named among the world’s top leadership thinkers, Ibarra is also an outspoken voice on women's careers and the issues faced by working mothers. Her new book focuses on finding ways to build your own leadership tool kit, deciding how to best invest your time and valuing what she calls “outsight” — the critical perspective we earn from external experiences.
(3) Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead
By Laszlo Bock
Twelve (Hachette), March 26
Heads of human resources typically aren't known outside the companies where they work. Enter Laszlo Bock. The head of Google’s “People Operations,” Bock runs a department that’s been described as “more like a rigorous science lab than the pesky hall monitor most of us picture when we think of H.R.” Bock’s new book examines what he has learned managing H.R. at one of the most generous — and also most data-driven — companies for workers, as well as what is and isn't successful at other places.
(4) A Curious Mind
By Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman
Simon & Schuster, April 14
Brian Grazer, the producer behind "Apollo 13," "Arrested Development" and "A Beautiful Mind," has scheduled weekly "curiosity conversations" with big achievers he doesn't know: scientists, spies, CEOs and anyone else who sparks his interest and is willing to spend a few hours with him. In this book, Grazer and Charles Fishman (a business journalist who has written about Wal-Mart and the world's water) explore the power of curiosity and its ability to inspire us.
(5) Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out
John Calipari, Michael Sokolove
Penguin Press, April 15
John Calipari may be a controversial figure in college basketball, but it’s hard to debate his success. The University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach since 2009 has led his team to three Final Four appearances and won the NCAA championship in 2012. While he’s drawn fire for recruiting one-and-done players, for whom Kentucky may just be a way station before the NBA, that approach to coaching has also forced him to learn how to shape raw talent and constantly reinvent his team. These are key lessons for any leader, and should make for a book worth reading.
(6) Simple Rules: How to Survive in a Complex World
Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 21
Donald Sull, a lecturer at MIT's Sloan School of Management who has been called an up-and-coming guru by Fortune magazine, has always been a thoughtful, intelligent voice on leadership topics. In this book, he and Kathleen Eisenhardt, an expert at Stanford on strategy, say they'll offer a simple approach to decision-making, based on research and experience with executives, in a world of overwhelming complexity and ever-increasing information overload.
(7) Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Chris Fussell, Tantum Collins, David Silverman
Portfolio, May 12
Before Gen. McChrystal was relieved of his duties in Afghanistan by President Obama following an infamous Rolling Stone article, “corporate consultant” probably wasn’t a job most people would have imagined for the hard-charging former special operations commander. Yet that’s exactly what McChrystal has gone on to do as part of his post-military career, teaching business leaders how to adapt to unpredictable opponents. In Team of Teams, he details the military’s adaptation to fighting Al Qaeda, a decentralized terrorist network that has parallels to today’s fast-changing competitive threats in the business world and beyond.
(8) Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
By Ashlee Vance
Ecco/HarperCollins, May 19
The entrepreneur behind PayPal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX, Elon Musk was described as “Steve Jobs, John D. Rockefeller, and Howard Hughes rolled into one,” by Bloomberg BusinessWeek journalist Ashlee Vance in his 2012 profile of Musk — a profile that laid the foundation for this book. (Musk was also the inspiration for comic book hero Tony Stark, Musk's friend and "Iron Man" director Jon Favreau has said.) While the book may not be brimming with practical advice or bullet-point management ideas, it will likely give readers new ideas about innovation, managing people and taking risks from one of the most compelling figures in business today.
(9) Their Own Sweet Time: How Successful Women Build Lives That Work
By Laura Vanderkam
Portfolio, June 9
How does she do it all? This book attempts to answer that perennial question, examining how highly paid professional women use the hours they don’t spend sleeping or working. Laura Vanderkam explores the “time-logs” from 1001 days by these women, looking for patterns amid the hours they set aside for their families, friends, sleep, exercise and hobbies. Then, she provides a framework for time management based on the results. Even if the answer won’t work for everyone, the persistent juggle is so difficult that it seems worth taking a look.
Note: Since this post was first published, the upcoming book's title has changed to I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time.
(10) Leadership: Essential Writings by Our Greatest Thinkers
By Elizabeth D. Samet (editor)
W. W. Norton & Co., Aug. 10
Ask many prominent figures what their favorite book about leadership is, and the answer often doesn't come from the business shelf. Whether in the form of a biography, a work of nonfiction or a novel, many inspiring ideas for leading are found far from the management genre. This Norton Anthology does something similar, turning to more than a 100 works of literature to help readers think about ethical leadership in a different and powerful way. A civilian professor of English at West Point, Elizabeth Samet introduces each featured work of literature, by writers as disparate as Niccolo Machiavelli and Joan Didion.
(11) Leadership B.S.: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time
By Jeff Pfeffer
HarperCollins, Sept. 2015
Always blunt and never afraid to voice his opinion on everything from CEO pay to management fads, Stanford professor Jeff Pfeffer uses his new book to look at what’s wrong with the leadership-guru industrial complex. Despite all the consultants, workshops and books about leadership we have today, most workplaces are still pretty dismal, Pfeffer argues. As he recently said in an interview, “the evidence certainly suggests that the leadership industry has completely failed to improve.” This examination of a field that both fascinates and unsettles us will definitely be one to read.
By Amy Cuddy
Little, Brown, Fall 2015
Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on “power posing,” the idea that striking a confident pose can translate into actual self-assurance, is among the most viewed TED talks of all time. She has worked with Sheryl Sandberg, the Harvard Kennedy School Center for Public Leadership and companies such as Zappos to help people connect their posture with their self-esteem. Cuddy’s upcoming book will expand on this idea, exploring the connection between changing our bodies and change our minds — or the minds of others.