An old adage says that culture comes from the top down. This may seem obvious as a concept, but in practice, leaders often forget the amount of power they hold as those who set culture. Your words, actions, and even your own personal working style all influence how those under you think, feel, and behave.
As the Business Technology (BT) field grows, BT team leaders have an opportunity to set the standard for culture and process in this nascent industry.
This is a good thing.
To lend some guidance to all the emerging BT leaders out there, we set out to find the must-read books for BT leaders in a post-2020 world, addressing the most pressing and relevant needs of BT teams now and into the foreseeable future.
The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership by Martha Heller
Martha Heller’s long career in IT recruiting has given her a unique perspective on the challenges CIOs have faced for decades.
In The CIO Paradox, Heller identifies the double binds CIOs have faced for decades in all aspects of the job: the role, the stakeholders, the organization, and the industry itself. Her approach is validating for any leader in IT and BT, and it speaks to long-standing perceptions of those who lead the teams handling Business Technology: You’re hired to be strategic but spend your time deep in the weeds of operations, you must innovate while keeping costs down, you think long-term when the company thinks in quarters, you’re involved in every aspect of the business while being considered separate from it (just to name a few).
In this exploration of paradoxes, she asks CIOs to both reflect on their own journeys and look toward the future. Her work is ultimately about learning lessons—including some painful ones—and moving forward using your newfound wisdom.
Diversity Beyond Lip Service: A Coaching Guide for Challenging Bias by La’Wana Harris
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work is crucial for all people to do, especially leaders. It doesn’t matter your industry, your geographic location, or your own background—there’s always progress to make here.
Sadly, the work we do see companies doing is often superficial. You know how the saying goes: Actions speak louder than words. Which is why it’s not surprising that, while companies may talk about commitments to diversity, it doesn’t always mean they’re doing anything meaningful about it.
As a Certified Diversity Executive and an ICF Credentialed Coach, La’Wana Harris has spent her career coaching leaders on how to make meaningful change to their DEI initiatives—and how to make it stick, too.
Diversity Beyond Lip Service is Harris’s primer on how to unpack your biases and fulfill your commitments to DEI, and it’s an essential read for anyone in a leadership position. Her approach calls on leaders to work from the inside out—to do the difficult work of unpacking your own deeply held biases and using that as your starting point for your DEI journey—rather than the outside in, where leaders are told what to think and never asked to confront their own biases.
In this way, Harris’s inside-out method is an active engagement with DEI that builds change starting at an individual level, while outside-in is passive, giving leaders permission to disengage with DEI because they don’t see or recognize any problems that may exist.
Harris’s model of active engagement with bias is actionable and effective, making this book an essential read for leaders (and also pretty much everyone else).
The Making of a Manager: What to do When Everyone Looks to You by Julie Zhuo
Julie Zhuo, one of Silicon Valley’s top design executives, first became a manager in the early days of Facebook. She was hired as a recent grad and promoted to management two years later, so she had to learn how to manage fast.
The Making of a Manager offers a clear, concise, and insightful look into the lessons she learned in over a decade of managing people, informed by her perspective as an expert designer, a first-generation American, a young mother, and a woman in tech.
Zhuo speaks from a personal place, telling stories about the lessons she learned both when she succeeded and stumbled on her journey. She describes her career in management as “a toddler’s attempt at drawing a straight line––full of squiggles, swerves, and mistaken meanderings.” This perspective creates an empathetic tone to her work, understanding exactly how, no matter how cool and collected a new manager may seem, that there’s often a sense of uncertainty and anxiety when you’ve been tasked with managing people for the first time.
The book also includes a lovely collection of illustrations by Pablo Stanley, offering a level of visual storytelling that results in a relatable (and very cute) distillation of Zhuo’s management advice.
While this book was written with new managers in mind, Zhuo’s advice can help anyone become a great manager. After all, not everyone has had the same path or experience as her—and her perspective is one worth listening to.
Mindset by Carol Dweck
Renowned psychologist Carol Dweck’s groundbreaking book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, is an enduring work because of how applicable it is to just about every aspect of life, from the personal to the professional to the academic and everything in-between.
Originally embraced by educators, this seminal work has gained a lot of traction in the business world. It identifies a spectrum of mindsets that can help or hinder us, and where we fall on the spectrum informs how we respond to failure.
On one end of the spectrum is growth mindset, and on the other end is fixed mindset. A growth mindset is open to adaptability and learning, and believes that intelligence can be developed and that failure is a learning experience. A fixed mindset, on the other hand, views intelligence as something you either have or you don’t, and responds to failure with anxiety, stress, and feelings of futility.
This book isn’t just useful for our own development, but it also can help leaders develop and mentor their teams to be more resilient and grow in their own roles and careers. There’s an entire section of the book dedicated to mindset and leadership in business that’s an essential read for every business leader, but there are important lessons to be gleaned from all sections that can help anyone become a more optimistic, compassionate, and constructive leader.
The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford
A Systematic community favorite, The Phoenix Project is an essential read that’s unlike other business development books: It’s a novel!
For those who need a break from nonfiction but are still looking for more BT leadership material, The Phoenix Project is a great way to get some narrative with your professional development. It’s a guide for building a DevOps strategy that illustrates why it’s crucial to tear down silos within your organization and ensure your security and governance is airtight.
The story follows Bill Palmer, the Director of IT Operations at a large-scale auto parts company. When the company’s stock plummets, Bill gets promoted to VP of Operations and is handed the task of rolling out a massive business initiative called The Phoenix Project. The stakes are high for Bill and his team: If the project isn’t successful, the company will likely be split up and IT will get outsourced.
In a way, The Phoenix Project is a modern-day fable for the IT world, illustrating the challenges of working in IT, and offering the reader plenty of lessons along the way, especially about how change and collaboration are necessary when you’re thrown into a do-or-die situation.
Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant
It was hard to pick just one book by Adam Grant (honorable mention to Think Again), but Give and Take is our pick for BT leaders, especially considering how well it complements other books on this list.
In this New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller, Grant challenges the status quo of how we measure success: the individualistic drivers of passion, hard work, talent, and luck. Instead, he explores how success is becoming increasingly dependent on how we interact with others. After all, look at how often we see the word “collaboration” in job postings, annual reviews, and all other aspects of business.
Grant asserts that, in a professional setting, there are three types of people: takers, matchers, and givers. Takers tend to get as much as they can from others, matchers tend to thrive in equal exchange, and givers are the rare people who expect nothing in return for their contributions.
What’s interesting is how these working styles impact success. Grant illustrates the data through the stories of fascinating people and how their ways of interacting with others affected their ability to achieve their goals.
You’d think givers tend to get exploited, but Grant proves through data and real stories that this isn’t always the case. He offers examples from a wide variety of worlds––business, politics, medicine, and others––to write a compelling case for the giver. He argues that generosity is a common trait among the most successful people, and offers guidance for nurturing your own giving traits. This includes the dynamics of giving and taking credit, how not to burn out, how not to become a doormat, and how to influence others while staying modest.
And if you need any other convincing, John Legend was pretty blown away by what he learned: “Look at the work of Adam Grant…he has the data to show that giving works.”
Becoming a great leader
There are lots of opportunities to build yourself as a leader in the burgeoning BT industry right now, but to be a great leader is something you develop over time. It’s important to always be open to learning from diverse voices and a wide variety of perspectives. Whether you’re new to leadership or have been at it for years, there are always lessons to learn and ways to grow. After all, leadership is a journey, not an endpoint.
With great leaders at the helm, the future of BT is sure to look bright.