Over the past few months, I’ve been reading the longlist for the CMI Management Book of the Year. These seriously smart books cover everything from management in a post-AI world to what it means to ditch the corporate hierarchy in favour of self-managing teams.
What struck me most was the optimistic outlook (despite the prolific use of aircraft disasters as case studies). If you believe what these top brains have to say, then the future will not only be more human – creative, collaborative, responsible and free – but also, maybe, happier.
Read on, digest these ideas, then impress your boss by dropping them casually into conversation.
- Psychological safety is a key buzzword for the new decade. Psychological safety means allowing your people to speak honestly without fear of retribution, especially if the truth is uncomfortable. At an individual level, it means giving colleagues permission to call out bad behaviour, admit to mistakes or challenge the boss’s opinion. As Megan Reitz and John Higgins put it in their excellent new book, it’s about allowing people to “speak up”. At an organisational level, teams need to be given the space to try out new ways of working without fearing failure.
- ake yourself indistractable. You won’t get far without learning how to prioritise your work with focus and clarity. In daily life, this means making yourself “indistractable”, as author Nir Eyal puts it. It’s a theme that Georgetown University’s Cal Newport has been flagging for a few years with his writing around “deep work” and “digital minimalism”. The big idea here is that our inboxes, schedules and social media feeds are only going to get more cluttered, providing an easy way out of getting on with work you hate doing or coping with a toxic work culture. Don’t blame the technology; the best fix is to find work you want to do, and a company you want to work for. Watch as the distractions melt away.
- he current obsession with artificial intelligence (AI) is throwing into sharp relief what gives us humans an advantage. Yes, you’ve guessed it – it’s our own humanity. The best workplaces will be the ones where emotional intelligence is rated highly, where people are treated as the individuals they are, and where the qualities that cannot be replicated by AI, such as creativity and curiosity, are celebrated.
- Letting go of control. It’s completely unrealistic for a manager to have complete oversight of every colleague or piece of work. In flattened and global organisations, we do not have a hope in hell of performing well by being an ‘always on’ manager. Instead, a growing number of management thinkers are talking about the importance of ceding control so that individuals can feel empowered to own their own work and career path. Your role as a manager is then to help them make the right connections both within your organisation and beyond.
- Rip up the rulebook. It’s time, according to plenty of management thinkers, to ditch hierarchies and try out self-managing, networked teams of people. Organisational experiments such as holacracy should no longer be dismissed as wacky alternatives for maverick entrepreneurs. Brave New Work author Aaron Dignan and others are now exploring and explaining how these radical models have proved themselves and are being applied to more mainstream businesses.
- Smart organisations will focus on developing the collective intelligence of their teams. For complex problem-solving amid an uncertain future and fast-paced change, the way forward is learning how the smartest minds can work together. The days of the lone high-flyer/innovator/celebrity CEO should be over, according to many at the cutting edge of leadership thinking.
- usinesses need to undergo a fundamental shift in their thinking, moving away from a focus on short-term profits in order to concentrate on long-term sustainability instead. This is a growing issue in public debate and is reflected in this year’s longlisted books. Firms are competing in an “infinite game”, and CEOs need an “infinite mindset”, argues Simon Sinek. The emphasis should not be on winning a short-term battle, but on creating a business that is strong enough to last for generations to come.
- time to put diversity at the heart of the organisation. Paying it lip-service or tinkering around the edges to meet arbitrary targets just won’t cut it anymore. As the issue matures, it has become apparent that the firms that will fly in the future will be the ones that have truly inclusive cultures. As Matthew Syed writes in Rebel Ideas, it’s time to go beyond facile definitions of diversity to embrace cognitive diversity – of thought, opinion and outlook. Everyone must be welcome.
- Businesses should be part of a positive solution to the massive environmental and social challenges we face. The long-term success of a business must not only mean financial success but also the benefits it brings for all the stakeholders it affects, from employees to local communities. Having a clear sense of purpose guided by strong values is the way to do it, according to Mark Goyder and Ong Boon Hwee in Entrusted.
- Finally, mindset is an important word for the 2020s. And yours needs to be open, courageous and flexible. In Everyday Chaos, David Weinberger argues that AI and big data are revealing the world to be vastly more complex and unpredictable than we’ve allowed ourselves to see. This new reality means that we all need to adopt a different mindset for business – one that’s about agility, disruption and responsiveness.
To see the 20 books that our judges rated the highest and even buy a copy or two for yourself, see the full longlist here.
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