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Published: November 15, 2010

 
 

Highlights from 15 Years of s+b Book Reviews

The core of the book is devoted to Ghemawat’s CAGE framework, a means of understanding the cultural, administrative, geographic, and economic dimensions of nations and making sure they are reflected in companies’ business strategies. “With its combination of solid data, illuminating case studies, and helpful concepts, this book is an effective antidote to both millennial and apocalyptic visions of globalization,” wrote s+b’s longtime Books in Brief reviewer David Hurst in the Spring 2008 issue.

Managerial Art and Craft

Although many management books might benefit from a shorter format, we wouldn’t want to lose a word of the best of them. The books of Henry Mintzberg, McGill University’s iconoclastic professor of management studies, are terrific examples of the latter category and the career-expanding insights such works can stimulate, especially the concisely titled Managing (Berrett-Koehler, 2009).

Mintzberg has always been more interested in the realities of managing than its theories. In his first book, The Nature of Managerial Work (Harper and Row, 1973), he shadowed five CEOs to see how their daily work jibed with the various theories of management in vogue at the time. In writing Managing some 30 years later, he bookended his body of work with a similar project — this time following 29 managers. This exercise confirmed Mintzberg’s conviction that managers are facilitators, who leverage “the natural propensity of people to cooperate in communities.”

“Management books often make me feel like I should head back to boot camp. But reading Managing, ...I found my own managerial insecurities melting away,” wrote Judith Samuelson, the executive director of the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program, who featured the book in her best business books essay in Winter 2009. “Mintzberg reminds us that most managers are prey to events and demands they do not control, and that a wide range of styles can work well for a boss. Balance is the key: keeping up with the hectic pace of business yet making time for reflection; driving change yet maintaining stability; leading and collaborating; leavening analysis with judgment.”

Larry Bossidy, former chairman of Honeywell International, and Ram Charan, a prolific consultant, are also great proponents of the realist school. In their book Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done (Crown Business, 2002), they assert that CEOs have three primary responsibilities: analyzing the business environment and their companies, closing the gap between desired outcomes and actual performance, and, especially, ensuring execution.

In choosing Execution as a 2002 best business book of the year in the leadership category, Bruce A. Pasternack, then a senior partner at Booz & Company, and James O’Toole, a professor at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business, noted the book’s emphasis on practical advice on everything from strategy making to plant inspections. “We ended up making pages of useful notes,” they wrote, “and in discussions about the book with clients and colleagues, we noted they are doing the same.”

MIT management professor emeritus Edgar Schein has written a perfect companion volume to the two previous books. In Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help (Berrett-Koehler, 2009), Schein deconstructed the act of helping, and in doing so created a valuable guide to a task that many managers face, but few truly understand and effectively execute.

“We often ignore [Schein’s] principles amid the daily course of life, taking for granted relationships and exchanges that may not be what they seem. We get lazy,” wrote Charles Handy, a noted management observer, in his review of the best business books on leadership in the Winter 2009 issue. “I found this little book a salutary reminder of too many lapses on my part, while it also explained why some of my well-intentioned attempts to help only led to worsening relationships. Any aspiring leader would do well to review his or her own behavior in the light of this very useful guide.”

 
 
 
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