FT Business Books: What to read this month

“Nick Saban’s Leadership Secrets: How Alabama’s Coach Became the Greatest Ever,” by John Talty

Whether you love American football or hate it, team management is a high-pressure leadership role, and business leaders can learn a lot from these coaches: adapting to change and lifelong learning are just some of the skills that transfer seamlessly from the field to work.

In his book, senior sports editor John Talty highlights Alabama coach Nick Saban’s winning strategy — he has won six of the last 12 national titles — and shows readers how Saban’s tactics can be adjusted.

The guide is not just a biography, but also a case study on motivational strategy, effective communication and creating meaningful culture change in an organization (often no easy task). Based on on-court interviews and leadership concepts, the author approaches a range of leadership topics, from ensuring that outside factors are not influencing your goals to how complacency negates future success. Each chapter ends with a summary of the lessons beyond football.

A chapter of particular interest examines “the process”—the engine that drives the organization in Alabama. It focuses on getting the task done right in front of you, not worrying about what happened before or what might be around the corner.

Talty concludes that “as a leader, you need to find what works best for you.” Take the things that suit you best and what you are trying to achieve.

‘The Upside of Uncertainty: A Guide to Finding Possibility in the Unknown’, by Nathan Furr and Susannah Harmon Furr

Ironically, uncertainty in life is certain. The past two years in the midst of a pandemic have been no exception. Whether you’re a CEO leading a company through the ill effects of lockdowns, an employee on furlough or, worse, someone faced with losing their job, at times the uncertainty has felt crippling for many.

However, Nathan Furr, strategy and innovation professor at Insead Business School in Paris, and Susannah Harmon Furr, an entrepreneur, believe that we can reframe uncertainty so that we can use it to our advantage.

According to the authors, our brains are programmed to fear the downside of uncertainty, but as it persists, “learning to face the unknown is critical to our ability to survive and thrive.” Based on research and interviews, the book provides a practical framework that can be applied to help us find and respond to the possibilities of uncertainty.

Divided into four parts – Reframe, Prime, Do, and Sustain – each provides tools to help the reader discover new possibilities and move on when things don’t go according to plan.

The book is less about resilience, which the authors emphasize as “being able to withstand and recover from shocks,” and more about dealing with such shocks differently, which they believe is related to transilience.

Uncertainty will arise even if we try to avoid it, so we might as well learn how to deal with it better.

“The Messenger: Moderna, the Vaccine and the Business Gamble That Changed the World” by Peter Loftus

Before the pandemic, Moderna’s share price was under $20, and CEO Stéphane Bancel was concerned that investor patience with the company was waning after 10 years.

However, in The messengerPeter Loftus documents how the coronavirus pandemic has changed the fate of Moderna. The messenger RNA technology that the biotech company had developed was about to take off.

Based on nearly 300 interviews with more than 150 people, including Moderna employees, co-founders, company board members, and past and current investors, the book tells the story of the bet Moderna made to develop a vaccine against Covid-19.

At the time of the decision, the virus was being closely monitored, but US President Donald Trump, Loftus writes, appeared unconcerned when the first Covid-19 case finally arrived in the US. “We have it under control. Everything will be fine,” Trump said.

Loftus highlights how Bancel and other experts were convinced the virus would spread widely, and how Bancel then convinced Moderna chairman Noubar Afeyan to commit resources to rolling out an mRNA vaccine for Covid — and fast .

The book ends when the Omicron variant was on the rise. Since then we’ve known there was a race to boost population immunity with more Covid shots – from Moderna and competitors like BioNTech/Pfizer. Despite the near-impossible challenge, Moderna’s gamble has paid off, both for the world’s population and for the group – it’s now worth about $70 billion.

“Build 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 the good people around them. That is the premise of this guide to governance and director appointments, which can embed good governance and accountability in an organization.

Seamus Gillen has experience in a career where he has served as both corporate secretary and director, as well as being the policy director of the Chartered Governance Institute and the founder of Value Alpha, where he provides resources to those working in the corporate governance arena.

This book provides a complete overview of its subject matter, beginning with the origins of governance practices at the signing of Magna Carta, then explaining the purpose of bodies, and finally providing examples of how to do it well.

Gillen would like to explain that good governance should not be seen as ticking boxes – as is so often the case – but as a way for organizations to function better to achieve their goals, be it profit maximization or social change.

The use of charts and bullet points gives this book the feel of a textbook for aspiring directors. If it achieves its goal of educating a generation of executives to be more accountable to their leaders, that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

“Building Better Organizations: How to Fuel Growth and Lead in a Digital Age,” by Claudy Jules

Continuing the leadership theme, McKinsey Partner Claudy Jules draws on his 20-year career as a consultant, consultant and researcher to present his three-part handbook on building better organizations. Drawing on research into organizational behavior and hundreds of interviews with executives and investors in business and technology – with a particular focus on private equity and venture capital firms – Jules’ philosophy is to tackle the “tech stuff” and the “organizational stuff” together.

While the book is quite jargon-heavy, the premise is worthy. The three building blocks of Jules’ approach are building a healthy foundation for your business, using artificial intelligence strategically, and collaborating with investors. Based on his research, Jules identifies seven key categories: strategic alignment; Culture; Guide; Talent; organizational design; diversity, equity and inclusion; and wellbeing. Success in each of these areas lays 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 looks at mindset, acceptance of change, and relationships with investors. This book is intended for any executive looking to scale their business toward profitable growth, as well as investors, board members, and anyone at any level of the organization seeking a holistic perspective on growth and performance.

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