The 37 books we read for Charter book briefings in 2022 were filled with research, insights, and advice for managing yourself and your team. Here are some of the most interesting and important things we took away from them:

Make time to write ideas down. Take extensive notes of your ideas, quotes, stories, facts, and anything else that could prove useful for solving problems down the line. “Rather than zeroing in on The Answer, you’re trying to generate as many directions as possible,” Jeremy Utley and Perry Klebahn write. They advise reviewing your notes weekly and transferring anything interesting to another, permanent document. The premise is that when you’re faced with a problem, you can turn to this storehouse of ideas rather than feeling paralyzed that you have to come up with something brilliant on the spot. (Ideaflow by Jeremy Utley and Perry Klebahn, p. 40) For more on capturing ideas and information, see also Building a Second Brain by Tiago Forte.

Develop self-awareness. This, Bill George and Zach Clayton argue, is the biggest determinant of one’s success as a leader, allowing you to stay balanced and clear about your values. Honest feedback and mindfulness contribute to self-awareness. George himself meditates daily, and recommends taking at least 20 minutes each day “to pause and reflect on your day and your leadership.” They cite the daily journaling practice of Levi Strauss CEO Chip Bergh, who asks himself questions including “Did I make a difference in someone’s life today?” and “Am I thinking about where we’re going and looking around corners?” (True North – Emerging Leader Edition by Bill George and Zach Clayton, p. 266)

Stop and reflect on shortcomings, both organizational and personal. “We should honestly note that, for example, our employee referral system may be hindering our ability to diversify our talent pipeline; that the informal conversation on the golf course may be introducing inequity in our promotion process; that our personal discomfort with tough topics like race or privilege keeps us from engaging in necessary conversations,” writes Ella F. Washington. (The Necessary Journey by Ella F. Washington, p. 244)

Learn from your critics. Walmart CEO Lee Scott told the company’s general counsel to listen carefully during a meeting with a Walmart critic for “at least a nugget of feedback that she’s going to be absolutely right about.” “Most of the criticism you’re going to hear you’re going to know is unfounded either because she doesn’t know the facts or for some other reason,” Scott said. “And so, for most people it becomes easy to treat this as an exercise in futility and go in there and smile and tune her out. But there’s going to be something we can learn from this meeting. So that’s your job.” (Still Broke by Rick Wartzman, p. 50)

Don’t put off sharing feedback. Focusing on the one thing that the person should come away with makes it easier to share in the moment. And, where appropriate, being less formal—e.g. “I had some thoughts on the meeting we just had. Is it ok if I share?”—makes feedback more of a regular practice. (Compassionate Leadership by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter)

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Build trust and understanding with colleagues. Use your agreement with these statements as a checklist for whether you’re doing so:

  • “I understand my teammate’s career objectives and how their current role helps them develop.”
  • “I understand each person’s intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, as well as their challenges.”
  • “I have deep one-on-one meetings that go beyond superficial discussions.”
  • “We have natural and free-flowing interaction and are comfortable with each other, including moments of ‘common humanity.’”
  • “I know my colleagues’ family members and understand their lives outside work.” (True North – Emerging Leader Edition by Bill George and Zach Clayton, p. 205)

Make sure people feel progress in their work. Researchers found that “Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work,” write Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer. “And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.” (HBR at 100, p. 160)

Give workers greater autonomy. One simple tactic is to solicit ideas from employees on how to improve work conditions and pilot their ideas. When workers feel valued, respected, and engaged on the job, that positively spills over into how they show up in their families and communities. “Stressful, fast-paced work environments are not necessarily bad for working parents, so long as they are coupled with supportive supervisors and job satisfaction,” Maureen Perry-Jenkins concludes. (Work Matters by Maureen Perry-Jenkins, p. 128)

Give people control over their schedules. Flexibility is the number-one concern of working mothers, as it allows them to better navigate the rhythms of their professional and family lives. It’s important that all workers are encouraged to adopt flexible scheduling so that mothers aren’t penalized for taking advantage of it. (Pay Up by Reshma Saujani)

Audit how you spend your time. Among other things, this allows you to identify non-promotable tasks (NPTs) you should generally say no to. NPTs—like preparing a presentation deck or screening the summer interns—generally don’t serve an organization’s core mission or metrics, require specialized skills, or come with any visibility. They are things that “matter to your organization but will not help you advance your career….in terms of pay, performance evaluations, assignments, promotions, and status,” now or in the future. (The No Club by Linda Babcock, Brenda Peyser, Lise Vesterlund, and Laurie Weingart, p. 18)

Acknowledge the limitations of job candidate assessments to better pursue racial equity. “There may be absolutely no difference in quality between the candidate who scored first out of 50 people and the candidate who scored eighth,” writes Robert Livingston. “Managers should abandon the notion that a ‘best candidate’ must be found. That kind of search amounts to chasing unicorns. Instead, they should focus on hiring well-qualified people who show good promise, and then should invest time, effort, and resources into helping them reach their potential.” (HBR at 100, p. 225)

Ask more revealing questions in job interviews. Some examples: When have you experienced great regret in the workplace and why? How much were you at fault in that interaction? (Talent by Tyler Cowen and Daniel Gross)

Network relentlessly. Researchers found that networking was “the most robust predictor of career success,” according to Jeffrey Pfeffer. He recommends prioritizing people on the periphery of your social network—so-called “weak ties”—as they bring more new information and contacts compared to closer connections. (7 Rules of Power by Jeffrey Pfeffer, p. 114)

Recognize burnout as a characteristic of a work group rather than an individual syndrome. To remedy it, organizations should pursue:

  • Sustainable workloads
  • Ample choice and control
  • Gratifying recognition and rewards
  • Supportive work community
  • Norms of fairness, respect, and social justice
  • Well-aligned values and meaningful work

(The Burnout Challenge by Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter)

Spend quality time with other people. People report that their happiest times are when they’re with their loved ones (a category that includes close friends, family, and pets). But just being together isn’t sufficient: ”The key ingredient among these activities isn’t the mere presence of another,” Cassie Holmes writes. “It is that spending time with the other person is the primary focus.” Going on a walk or having a meal together fit this description. Having deeper conversations—e.g. by sharing answers to increasingly probing questions, such as “What is one of your biggest fears?”—also helps. (Happier Hour by Cassie Holmes)

Give yourself a bedtime. “If you would like to experience the additional energy and optimism that comes from being well rested, choose a time that you would like to go to sleep more nights than not,” Laura Vanderkam writes. She recommends aiming for about 7.5 hours of sleep per night, keeping a consistent bedtime that allows you to get that, and setting an alarm 15 to 30 minutes beforehand to start winding down. (Tranquility by Tuesday by Laura Vanderkam, p. 7)

Decide in advance the point when you should quit. Conduct a “pre-mortem” to come up with detailed criteria—sometimes known as “kill criteria”—for when you should stop an initiative. Try to project yourself into the future and imagine the project failed, and then think about the most likely reasons it might have failed. Look for criteria that you might otherwise overlook or rationalize, “the kinds of indicators of things not going well that intuitively we should pay attention to,” Annie Duke writes. (Quit by Annie Duke, p. 119)

Move beyond slogans to stories. A fundamental task of leadership is telling a “Big Story” or “master narrative” that critiques the status quo and issues a rallying cry toward a desired future. One narrative model is to interweave “self, us, and now.” That involves telling stories of defining moral decisions in your life, defining “choice points” for the organization, and highlighting a current challenge and a strategy for addressing it. (Deep Purpose by Ranjay Gulati)

Embrace the breakout room. Ask questions of a team and then break members into groups of two or three to discuss. “Our research shows that teams that operate in this way solve problems faster and get bolder contributions from many diverse voices,” write Keith Ferrazzi, Kian Gohar, and Noel Weyrich. “That’s because people who are conflict-averse are reluctant to share openly in a big room and feel more psychologically safe in breakout rooms of two or three people.” When the teams reconvene afterward, they’re more likely to remain candid even in a larger group. (Competing in the New World of Work by Keith Ferrazzi, Kian Gohar, and Noel Weyrich, p. 30)

Choice quotes from the year’s books:

  • “A large part of corporate performance is driven by luck.” (Why Managers Matter by Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, p. 161)
  • “Strategies, no matter how carefully designed, are roadmaps to destinations we have never visited, over territory that has not been carefully explored.” (Why Managers Matter by Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, p. 226)
  • “As leaders, we try to solve problems, and sometimes it’s not about solving problems. It’s just saying nothing and listening so that you really understand what the issues are.” —Chris Schmidt, retired CEO, Moss Adams (The Necessary Journey by Ella F. Washington, p. 132)
  • “Women need to be twice as good to get half the credit. Fortunately many women are four times as good.” —Alison Davis-Blake, former president of Bentley University (7 Rules of Power by Jeffrey Pfeffer, p. 17)
  • “The lesson is plain: Speak up. Ask him out. Take that trip. Start that business. Step off the train.” (The Power of Regret by Daniel H. Pink, p. 111)
  • “Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.” —Anne Herbert, an editor (Whole Earth by John Markoff)
  • “We don’t need to break more glass ceilings. We don’t need more mentorship. We don’t need more conferences about women’s empowerment in the workplace. We need a workplace that is not designed around men.” (Pay Up by Reshma Saujani, p. 41)
  • “Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive, is too small for you.” —poet David Whyte (Partnering by Jean Oelwang, p. 25)
  • “Go out and find a friend who unsettles you.” (Partnering by Jean Oelwang, p. 88)
  • “If we want more diverse leaders to aspire to corporate spaces, leadership must be redefined to include equality, empathy, fairness, openness, and heart. Power isn’t about becoming a CEO—it’s about being able to be true to who you are, what you believe, and what you stand for.” (The First, The Few, The Only by Deepa Purushothaman, p. 16)
  • “The basic challenge for any change effort…no matter how positive the goal, is that ‘things get worse before they get better.’ This is a universal truth that needs to be explicitly recognized and prepared for.” (The Burnout Challenge by Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter, p. 182)
  • “First, you fill your life with what matters to you. Then, you will naturally spend less time on shower cleaning or email or whatever else seems to fill the hours.” (Tranquility by Tuesday by Laura Vanderkam, p. 82)

Memorable facts and anecdotes:

  • Swedish scientists found that when people thought their managers were less competent, they had a greater risk of heart problems. (Getting Along by Amy Gallo)
  • As a long-term bet, Benjamin Franklin in 1790 invested £1,000 (about $135,000 in today’s money) each for the cities of Boston and Philadelphia, with the funds paid out fully after 200 years. By 1990, the donation was almost $5 million for Boston and $2.3 million for Philadelphia. (What We Owe the Future by Will MacAskill)
  • Researchers found that mothers who experienced criticism from their supervisors at work pulled back from parenting activities, while supervisor recognition was linked to warmer parenting behavior. (Work Matters by Maureen Perry-Jenkins)
  • Taylor Swift uses her phone to write down snippets of lyrics that come into her head at random moments. She often then reworks those into her final songs. “‘Blank Space’ was the culmination of all of my best ones one after the other,” she told an interviewer. (Building a Second Brain by Tiago Forte, p. 55)
  • Surveys indicated that female leaders engendered greater job satisfaction and loyalty than their male counterparts. “The best leader-follower relationship in terms of performance and satisfaction is when a female leads a female,” Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter write. “The second best is when a female leads a male. And the least productive, in decreasing order, are when a male leads a female and a male leads a male.” (Compassionate Leadership by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter, p. 48)

Thank you for reading Charter’s newsletters this year! We’ve read thousands of pages of books and research papers and conducted hundreds of interviews with practitioners, researchers, and other experts this year to bring you the most important insights to make your organization one where everyone thrives and does their best work. We’ve added several talented journalists and researchers to our team over the past few months and are confident that we’ll even better support you in making high-value decisions in the new year. We welcome your feedback, including by taking a quick survey about this newsletter and the topics you’d like to see us address. Thanks in advance, and best wishes for 2023!

You can read our book recommendations from 2022 and find all of our book briefings here.

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