‘The Leadership Secrets of Nick Saban: How Alabama’s Coach Became the Greatest Ever’, by John Talty
Whether you love or hate American football, team management is a pressurised leadership role, and business leaders can learn many lessons from these coaches: adapting to change and life-long learning are just some of the skills that seamlessly transfer from the pitch to work life.
In his book, senior sports editor John Talty highlights the winning strategy of Alabama’s coach Nick Saban — he has won six of the last 12 national titles — and shows readers how to adapt Saban’s tactics.
On top of being a biography, the guide is also a case study in motivation strategy, effective communication and how to create meaningful culture change in an organisation (often no easy task). Based on interviews and leadership concepts on the pitch, the author approaches a number of executive topics, from making sure outside factors don’t affect your goals to how complacency kills future success. Each chapter ends with a summary of the lessons beyond football.
A chapter of particular interest explores “the process” — the engine that powers the Alabama organisation. It focuses on completing the task immediately ahead of you, and not worrying about what happened before or what might be around the corner.
Talty concludes that “as a leader, you must find what works best for you”. Take the things that best apply to who you are and what you are trying to accomplish.
‘The Upside of Uncertainty: A Guide to Finding Possibility in the Unknown’, by Nathan Furr and Susannah Harmon Furr
Uncertainty in life is, ironically, certain. The past two years amid a pandemic have been no exception. Whether you’re a chief executive steering a business through the negative effects of lockdowns, a furloughed employee or, worse, someone who has faced job loss, at times the uncertainty for many has felt crippling.
However, Nathan Furr, a strategy and innovation professor at Insead business school in Paris, and Susannah Harmon Furr, an entrepreneur, believe we can reframe uncertainty in a way that helps us use it to our advantage.
According to the authors, our brains are wired to fear uncertainty’s downsides, but since it is not going away “learning to face the unknown well is critical to our ability to survive and thrive”. Based on both research and interviews, the book provides a practical framework that can be applied to help us find the possibilities from uncertainty and act on them.
Split into four parts — “Reframe”, “Prime”, “Do” and “Sustain” — each provides tools to help the reader discover new possibilities and how to keep going when things don’t go to plan.
The book is less about resilience, which the authors point out is “being able to withstand shocks and recover”, and more about approaching such shocks in a different way, what they believe is akin to transilience.
Uncertainty will happen even if we try to avoid it, so we might as well learn how better to cope with it.
‘The Messenger: Moderna, the Vaccine and the Business Gamble That Changed the World’, by Peter Loftus
Before the pandemic, Moderna’s stock price was below $20 and its chief executive, Stéphane Bancel, was wary that after 10 years, investors’ patience with the company was wearing thin.
However, in the The Messenger, Peter Loftus documents how the coronavirus pandemic changed Moderna’s fortunes. The messenger RNA technology that the biotech group had been developing was about to have its moment.
Based on nearly 300 interviews with more than 150 people, including Moderna employees, co-founders, members of the company’s board and investors past and present, the book tells the story of the bet Moderna made on developing a vaccine for Covid-19.
At the time it made the decision, the virus was being closely watched but then American president Donald Trump, writes Loftus, did not seem concerned when the first Covid-19 case finally arrived in the US. “We have it totally under control. It’s going to be just fine,” Trump said.
Loftus sheds light on how Bancel and other experts were convinced the virus would spread widely and how Bancel then persuaded Moderna’s chair, Noubar Afeyan, to pivot resources towards bringing on an mRNA vaccine for Covid — and fast.
The book ends just as the Omicron variant was on the rise. Since then we know there was a race to have populations’ immunity boosted with further Covid shots — from Moderna and competitors such as BioNTech/Pfizer. Despite the almost impossible challenge, Moderna’s gamble paid off, both for the world’s population and for the group — it is now worth about $70bn.
‘Building Better Boards; How to Lead and Succeed in a Changing World’, by Seamus Gillen
Leaders may be born, not made, but they are certainly made better by good people around them. That is the premise of this guide to the topic of governance and how to appoint directors that can embed good leadership and accountability in an organisation.
Seamus Gillen has experience in a career spent working as both a company secretary and a director, as well as studying the subject as policy director of the Chartered Governance Institute and as founder of Value Alpha, providing resources to people working in the area of corporate governance.
This book offers a complete overview of its subject, beginning with the origins of governance practices in the signing of Magna Carta, then explaining the purpose of boards and finally giving examples of how to do it well.
Gillen’s intention is to explain that good governance should not be seen as a box-ticking exercise — as it so often is — but a way for organisations to function better in order to achieve their aims, whether that is maximising profits or social change.
The use of charts and bullet points gives this book the air of a textbook for aspirational directors. If it achieves its aim of educating a generation of boards to be better at holding their executives to account, this would be no bad thing.
‘Building Better Organizations: How to Fuel Growth and Lead in a Digital Era’, by Claudy Jules
Continuing the theme of organisational leadership, McKinsey partner Claudy Jules draws on his 20-year career as a consultant, adviser and researcher to present his three-part playbook on how to build better organisations. Based on organisational behaviour research, and hundreds of interviews with leaders and investors in business and technology — with a particular focus on private equity and venture capital companies — Jules’ philosophy is to address the “tech stuff” and the “org stuff” in tandem.
While the book is rather jargon heavy, the premise is worthy. The three building blocks of Jules’ approach are to build a healthy foundation for your business, to use artificial intelligence strategically, and to work with investors. Based on his research, Jules identifies seven essential categories: strategic direction; culture; leadership; talent; organisational design; diversity, equity and inclusion; and wellbeing. Succeeding in each of these areas will build a solid foundation that helps teams perform better.
From there, Jules outlines how to integrate artificial intelligence such as machine learning into your operating model, and addresses mindset, embracing change, and investor relationships. This book is for every leader who wants their business to scale towards profitable growth, and for investors, board members and anyone at any organisational level looking for a holistic perspective on growth and performance.
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