My all-time favorite business book (besides How to Win Friends and Influence People)

For many years during the holiday season, I would always send out a copy of the most recent, best advice-giving business book to my clients. It was often a challenge to narrow the book decision down to “the best” because there were so many good ones out there. Early on it was Peter Drucker, followed by Tom Peters, Stephen Covey, Marshall Goldsmith, Jim Collins, and Patrick Lencioni. Of course, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie will always be at the top of the top of my list. For the last several years, Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath has managed to be at the top of the Wall Street Journal list.

However, the one book that I refer to frequently, and consistently reference in our leadership training, is Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, published in 2002, by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. Bossidy is a former chairman of Honeywell and Charan is an internationally acclaimed management consultant and advisor to CEOs. The principles of the book are timeless and as applicable today as ever.

One paragraph in their book encapsulates the essence of their message:

“Everybody talks about change. In recent years, a small industry of changemeisters has preached revolution, reinvention, quantum change, breakthrough thinking, audacious goals, learning organizations, and the like. We’re not necessarily debunking this stuff. But unless you translate big thoughts into concrete steps for action, they’re pointless. Without execution, the breakthrough thinking breaks down, learning adds no value, and revolution stops dead in its tracks. What you get is change for the worse, because failure drains the energy from your organization. Repeated failure destroys it.”

They the go on to discuss the “Seven Essential Behaviors of an Effective Leader”:

1. Know your people and your business

When connecting with people, the leader does not just bear good news and appreciation all the time. The leader asks tough questions and holds people accountable for results. Yes, good people want to be held accountable!

2. Insist on realism

Realism is the heart of execution. Unfortunately, many organizations have people who avoid it. Sometimes even the leader plays “let’s pretend” and is in denial. Crystal clear, honest communication of both good and bad news is essential.

3. Set clear goals and priorities

Rather than a Top 20 list, good leaders have a keen sense of the top four or five items on their agenda and they consistently communicate these to their people. Leaders who execute speak simply and directly. People are not scratching their heads about the message.

4. Follow through

Clear, simple goals are meaningless if nobody takes them seriously. The effective leader not only articulates the plan, but always, always follows up in holding people accountable. Remember, accountability done right is a people and business builder.



5. Reward the doers

The leader establishes clear linkages between rewards and performance. It amazes me that there are still organizations out there that don’t distinguish between those who achieve results and those who don’t. Achievers earn their recognition and those who do not meet performance standards clearly understand why.

6. Expand people’s capabilities through coaching

According to the authors, the heart of coaching is the “art of questioning.” Good questions force people to think and get at the truth, whether the truth is good or bad. If it’s bad, therein lies the coaching opportunity. Effective leaders always address issues when they arise.

7. Know yourself

A solid sense of self-direction and true north is in the DNA of any effective leader. Whether the leader is a behind-the-scenes, let-my-people-be-front-and-center kind of person, or a dynamic spokesperson, the leader is authentic, self-aware, secure, and humble.

The list above is just the jump start to this book. My recommendation is to read it and see for yourself the direct applicability it has to be an effective leader and run a successful business.

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.