Best Business Books for Board Members
Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates reads about 50 books a year, most of them nonfiction books about history, cultural/societal trends, business, and topics that wrestle with the big questions of our time. “Reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding,” Gates told The New York Times recently. In fact, most leaders are avid readers. According to Inc. Magazine, the average CEO reads multiple books per month. With the year drawing to a close, it seemed like the appropriate time to take a look at some of the best business books of 2018 with a focus on those titles that might be of most interest to association board members. The books selected have appeared on various bestseller and “best-of” lists. But beyond their popularity, they all strike common themes that are important to association boards — working collaboratively, creating strong cultures, achieving results, and driving efficiency.

“Dream Teams: Working Together Without Falling Apart,” by Shane Snow

What does the Soviet national hockey team of the 1970s and the rap group Wu-Tang Clan have in common? They are examples of Dream Teams, groups that don’t simply get by together but get better together. Author Shane Snow examines several of these high-performing units and shows how science can help us work better together in any field.

A critical feature of successful teams is that they have people with different viewpoints, Snow concludes. When there are differences of opinion on a team, people prepare better, anticipate alternative viewpoints, and expect to work harder toward reaching consensus. It changes behaviors and leads people to think more critically. Snow also discusses how provocateurs can shake up groups and spur them to innovation and better decision-making. The key is to not let friction become destructive or, conversely, lead to “organizational silence” as voices shut down and group-think prevails.

Snow looks to neuroscience to explain how to harness diverse viewpoints. He also discusses why superordinate goals — an overarching goal or mission that supersedes all others — can unite even the most different of people. When a group shares values and goals, they develop trust. When people trust someone’s intentions, they accept their different beliefs, which leads to healthy, respectful debate.

Snow also concludes that a common trait among Dream Teams is an open mind and what psychologists call “intellectual humility.” When individuals on a team have intellectual humility, they are better equipped to harness — and respect — differences. And intellectual humility comes from, yes, being exposed to different viewpoints.

“The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups,” by Daniel Coyle

Author Daniel Coyle starts with a question: “Why do certain groups add up to be greater than the sum of their parts, while other groups add up to be less?” Typically, it comes down to having a strong culture. But that begs the question: What is a strong culture and how do you achieve it?

“We all want strong cultures in our organizations, communities, and families,” writes Coyle. “We all know that it works. We just don’t know quite how it works.” But in this book, the author seeks to find that out.

Coyle concludes through his research that successful groups share three messages that are common among organizations with strong cultures: You are Safe; We Share Risk; and We are Part of the Same Story. He explains each of these messages and how they can be employed to build a group’s culture. He also contends that being smart is overrated, vulnerability is crucial, and interactions matter more than skill sets. “It’s not as simple as carving a mission statement into granite,” Coyle writes. “High-purpose environments don’t descend on groups from on high; they are dug out of the ground, over and over, as a group navigates its problems together and evolves to meet the challenges of a fast-changing world.”

“Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs,” by John Doerr

John Doerr shows how the goal-setting system based on OKRs — objectives and key results — that was developed while he was at Intel can drive success and transform organizations. An objective is what is to be achieved, and the key results are specific, time-bound, and measurable steps to get you there, explains Doerr, who also used to work for Google. In other words, objectives are the “what,” while key results are the “how.”

Doerr cites the four “superpowers” of OKRs: Focus and Commit to Priorities; Align and Connect for Teamwork; Track for Accountability; and Stretch for Amazing. Through these superpowers, OKRs can help create alignment, promote engagement, build a strong culture, and foster continuous improvement. Doerr adds that the concept of OKRs are adaptable to any type of organization or team. He also points out that the OKRs should be informed by an organization’s mission and vision. Among the many case studies in this book, Doerr explains how the Gates Foundation, which has a mission of “vaccinating every child everywhere,” used the OKR process to support its mission. In short, it helped the Gates Foundation measure what matters. “Ideas are easy,” writes Doerr, but “execution is everything.”

“When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing,” by Daniel Pink

In his new book, former presidential speech writer Daniel Pink uses science to back his assertion that when we do things has a major impact on the outcome of that endeavor. “We focus very much in our lives … on what are we going to do, how are we going to do it, who are we going to do it with, and we give short shrift to the question of when,” Pink said recently on National Public Radio (NPR).

This is even true for day-to-day performance on the job. “Time of day explains about 20 percent of the performance variance on workplace tasks,” he told NPR. People move through the day in three different stages — a peak, when focus levels are higher; a trough, when mood and energy wanes; and a recovery period, when mood and creativity is elevated. Most people go through these stages in that order, but not all. The order depends on the person.

Pink calls people who peak in the morning “larks,” while “owls” peak at night and “third birds” peak in the afternoon. The working world is designed to benefit the 80 percent of people who are larks or third birds, while owls don’t work as well in the 9 to 5 world. By knowing which one they are, people can optimize their effectiveness by scheduling tasks or making decisions that are most in sync with these stages.

This when-to book outlines tools and tips that people can apply to their lives, including an exercise to determine if they are a lark, third bird, or owl. “I used to believe that timing was everything,” writes Pink. “Now I believe that everything is timing.”

Hopefully, these books contain nuggets that inspire new ideas or in some way enhance your role as an association leader. Happy reading!
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