Maybe it's the season. Or maybe it's a kinder, gentler Wall Street. But as the calamity of the credit crisis slowly slips lower on the horizon, publishers are hawking a spate of business books better suited for the beach than the boardroom.
Gone are the Ludlum-esque accounts of backroom deals at the Fed and the manipulation of arcane financial products. This summer's crop of hardcovers is all about happiness, being a nice manager and cultivating creative, contrarian thinking.
Here's our career-minded picks from the recent roster of new releases. Even if you don't read them, you should consider buying them for your boss.
-- Related: Six Business Books to Read for Your Career in 2010 --
1. "Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose," by Tony Hsieh ($23.99) -- If you've ever ordered a pair of shoes from Zappos and returned them without hassles or shipping fees, you likely have a good idea what will be found in this book. It's the first from Hsieh, the vanguard firm's CEO.
In short, Hsieh explains that making people happy -- customers, investors and employees -- is a good business plan. In recounting his own career, Hsieh writes about encouraging entreprenuerism in his employees and cultivating work/life "integration" rather than "balance." Little known fact: Zappos' shuttle drivers are part of their interview team.
2. "Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best... and Learn from the Worst," by Robert I. Sutton ($23.99) -- Sutton, a Stanford professor, has built a nice little fiefdom by urging managers to relax and be nice. His last book was titled: "The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't." And the top entry on his list of "beliefs" is: "Sometimes the best management is no management at all -- first do no harm."
In "Good Boss, Bad Boss," Sutton takes his mantras a step farther. Effective managers are not just nice or pushovers, he contends, but rather, they are acutely aware of how they are perceived by subordinate employees.
3. "Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter," by Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown ($25.99) -- For Wiseman, a Silicon Valley executive coach and former Oracle executive, and McKeown, a partner at Wiseman's company, managing is binary. You are either a good boss, a "multiplier," or a bad one, a "diminisher." In short, being the smartest guy in the room can put a damper on the creative spark in others, they argue.
Wiseman and McKeown name names, too, analyzing data and case studies on 150 well-known leaders. Spoiler alert: "multipliers" include Mitt Romney and Steven Spielberg.
4. "Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down," by Vineet Nayar ($24.95) -- Speaking of bosses, Nayar would undoubtedly fall in the "good" category. As CEO of HCL Technologies, an IT services giant, Nayar preaches empowerment, transparency and having management answer to the lower ranks.
Buzz phrases like "decentralized decision making" and "the ownership of change" apparently are big drivers of HCL's surging growth. Business schools have been raving about Nayar's approach for years. Consider this his playbook.
5. "The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work," by Shawn Achor ($25.00) -- Happiness fuels success, not the other way around, according to Achor. Don't shout that in the Benz dealer come bonus season, but Achor, who helped design a famed "happiness" course at Harvard, makes his case by drawing on research from the Ivy League and giant companies like UBS and KPMG.
Achor takes it a step forward, presenting seven "practical, actionable principles" to become happier at work and leverage that mirth into career progress. The book is full of corny phrases like "The Tetris Effect" and "The Zorro Circle," but if it works, who cares?
6. "The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home," by Dan Ariely ($27.99) -- Yet another tome that advises to swim against the stream. Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University, has given us the follow-up to his hugely successful "Predictably Irrational."
He casts his net much wider than just the workplace, but much of the book can be applied to the incentives that drive bad decisions, in the office and elsewhere. For one, Ariely argues that large bonuses can make CEOs less productive. Go figure.
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