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39 surprising books on mastering People Skills!

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(Image-Source: Wikimedia)


When is the last time you wrote a book-list for your use! 
We eagerly wait for BillGates, BarackObama, or Shashi Tharoor book list. They are popular not only for celebrity nature but for the ideas they advocate. They guaranteed good reading! 
Many book-lists are just a clickbait. For instance, I was looking for a stress-related book.  A popular website had close to 100 books. Surprisingly the best seller and influential, “WhyZebra’s don’t get ulcers” was absent! 
 So, I am a bit skeptical of lists. It’s puzzling to find a trustworthy book-list. 
Hence, it makes sense to create your book-list period! 
I just wanted a good list of an HR and Organization behavior related book list.
So, I prepared one. 
I am blogging it, one for the benefit of all, two for further inputs. 
I looked at the best-seller “personal MBA” and the associated book list. I liked the idea and its execution. Thousands of hours of reading, research, discussion, and analysis have gone into book-list. 
One sentence sums up the essence. It says 

Each book in the list has been selected for a single purpose: to maximize your educational return on invested time.” 

Benficial claim, isn’t it? (For example, I read another 250-page book. Its author could have covered it in just 30 to 40 pages. The author has two blog posts covering it.). 
Hence the criterion of educational return on invested time is enticing. 
How have I prepared this list? 

The personal MBA book-list has 99 books. The table of content has 11 categories. Three of 11 categories, interest me as an HR and Organization behavior student, 
1. The Human mind [Chapter 6]

2. Working with Yourself [Chapter 7]

3. Working with Others [Chapter 8]
I looked at each topic in these chapters, wrote down the book covering the topic. More topics from the book soared its rank (for each occurrence, one point). Finally, I arrived at 39 titles. They are listed below. [Rough work scribbled here.] Higher rank indicates a more significant  number of topics from that book. (For instance – 1st book – Thinking Fast and slow –represents 17 topics). Goodreads rank is in the bracket.
I have read a few of them, and the rest are on my wish-list. I intend to work on this list. So, if the book deserves on this list, please comment –add the reason also. And don’t forget to apply the criteria ofreturn on invested time”.  

I will consider comments, views, etc. while revising the list. 
Book links pointed to the personal MBA website. The original author deserves credit. 
Here goes the list
1.       Thinking Fast and Slow[4.15]
This immensely popular book of a Nobel Laureate, found even on various scholars list, is his lifetime work. Its canvas is big. It has the highest number of topics discussed in the mentioned three categories. Indeed, a must-read! 
2.      Crucial Conversations [4.03]
Amazon’s  2000+ ratings, with 78% five stars, Business Insider’s one of the most popular business books, makes it a must-read.  One detailed review is available here.   

I had a grim view of self-help books, surprising me this entry on the list. My skepticism remains, but I am more accommodating of this title. It enjoys 16,000 plus ratings on Amazon with 81% five stars. It’s on Time’s top 100 most influential books of all time. Thirty Million copies of 1936 book are in circulation. Envy of any writer and publisher. It has set a different tone and genre among self-help books. See the Wikipedia page for detailed coverage

4.      A guide to the good life[4.22] 

Philosophy professor William Irvine’s website says,” Since its publication, the book has had a significant impact on many readers”. It claims to make you “thoughtful observer of your own life”.  


Author William Powers, a medical physicist had an interest in psychology. He developed a perceptual control theory. Pavlov’s dog and B.F. Skinner’s pigeon restrict humans to stimulus-response. However, William’s  central idea goes against the concept of human as stimulus-response machines. You can find one detailed review here.   

6.      Brain Rules [4.02] 

A molecular biologist  John Medina  teaches brain working and its complex structure. The book outlines action points to develop brainpower.  You can find all the brain rules on John’s website. For a visually appealing feast, presentation expert Garr Reynolds of Zen presentation has covered brain rule’s three chapters in the slide show here.   

7.  The 48 Laws of Power [4.18] 

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Robert Greene distilled power elite history of years, along with his experience of power elites, and brought out this 1998 best-seller. It’s called mega-cult classic and even psychopath’s bible. It is reported to be most widely read among prison inmates. Anybody interested in conflict, power, politics, and board-room games, this is a must-read.


“Keep your friends for friendship, but work with the skilled and

― Robert Greene, the 48 Laws of Power

8.      The Power of full engagement[4.04] 

Time management tops the soft-skills agenda. But time is a fixed entity; one can’t manage it. One’s energy needs to be managed and not the time.  The book is scientific and tested. It is the New York Times bestseller too. Reading original books is always a joy. But in case you want the condensed version, look at this Harvard business review article – Manage your energy, not your time. I have repeatedly used in executive sessions. -pretty useful stuff.   

9.   Myths of Innovation [3.85] 

Innovation is a buzz word in business circles. The whole TED ecosystem is spreading innovative ideas. This widely discussed book is a hilarious take on a history of ideas. It unfolds ten myths about innovation. 
               Josh Kauffman says, 

After reading Myths of Innovation, you’ll be prepared to capture and experiment with promising ideas whenever, wherever, and however they show up.  

10.   Accidental Genius [3.95] 

Harold Fernandes, a friend, and toastmaster conducted an online writing workshop. He proved the power of free writing. That was an enriching experience. This book is about free-writing, shutting up your internal critic, and bringing out one’s inner thinking. It is an indispensable guide for anyone dealing with ideas, content, and creativity.  

11.    The 80/20 Principle [4.02] 

Everyone wants to be efficient by investing less and more return. Pareto principle or 80/20 principle is an in-depth look at this. Sales, customer, or inventory analysis widely uses the rule, but the book applied it to even work-life balance. Thus, an indispensable guide for business and personal life.  

12.    Sources of Power [3.97] 

In a high performing situation like rescue operations, military operations – it’s challenging to apply models taught in business schools. Gary Klein studied these situations. He figured out quick and accurate decision making in these situations. “Sources of Power” is the outcome of this research.   

13.Smart Choices [4.02]
In routine business operations, you collect data and apply decision-making models. How do you make such decisions? For instance, where do I live? Is it the right time to hop? Or which financial planner to hire? Or maybe which is the right business model for this non-profit? This book shows such decision making. 
14. The Creative Habit [4.04] 
The way the book’s subtitle suggests, “Learn it and use it for life”. The author Twyla Tharp – a choreographer, shows how to use mundane routine rituals, structures, and doodling using 32 different exercises. A book is an excellent resource for tapping one’s creative side for business success.

“I read for growth, firmly believing that what you are today and what you will be in five years depends on two things: the people you meet and the books you read.”

― Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Choreographer wrote the previous title (The creative habit), and the music composer wrote this title. The list has many such surprising elements. Fritz, the authors claim process musicians used for the creative outcome are the same as the business people use. He mentions “Structural tensions” and minimizing them flows creativity flows. Here is one chapter-wise summary of the book. 

16.   The Power of Less [3.78]  

Every day 6 to 10 items end on my to-do list, though 6 is the upper limit. Still, I do. My bucket list is 112 items long. I need this book. Certainly, a first on my wish-list. Author Leo Babuta’s blog, his ideas on minimalism are influential. Sharon from Goodreads (rated book as five stars) is saying…    

Everyone should read this book — every person who isn’t already on Mr. Babauta’s plan or plans for making changes that will change lives. If you’re stressed, have too much on your plate, never have time to relax and do things you’re passionate about, read this. If you want to make changes in almost any area of your life, read this book. Everything about this book is doable and will work if you will just do it. If you give up easy, well there’s a chapter on that too.

 (Source: GoodRead review)  

17. Getting Things Done [3.99]  

This book enjoys immense popularity (with 3000+ Amazon ratings) and cult-like following, particularly among IT professionals. Popularly labeled as GTD, is a system that transforms ideas, random thoughts, and long to-do lists into a productive system. GTD has a dedicated website with a lot of resources and a questionnaire that can figure out your current system’s current level, a starting point for further progress.  

Peter Drucker, the most influential thinker on the Thinkers50 list, systematically explored innovation and entrepreneurship in this title. The book outlines the specific seven ways to identify the opportunity for business innovation. If you are an entrepreneur, innovator, or steering the firm, this is a must-read.   

19.  Strengths Finder 2.0 [3.94] 

Amazon’s 4600+ ratings, consistent on the bestseller list, this book promises to identify and build your strengths. I used it for job-crafting to leverage my strengths; you can see one interesting application here too. It’s a quick one-sitting read. Do not forget to buy a new hard-copy of the book. It comes with a code; you can redeem it on the strengths finder website to take the assessment. 

1 20. The Halo effect [3.94]   

Management gurus clarify success and failures in books, articles, and presentations peppered with data and analysis. But this is not what is acceptable as “evidence-based practice“. Author Phil Rosenzweig doesn’t mince his words and takes high profile names like in search of excellence, Good to great, & Built to last, etc. He blames them as “business bedtime stories”.   The book is sure to make one skeptic. Here is the author’s article at the Mckinsey portal.  

The  book’s motto is not only to “get things done” but also “get right things done at right time”. It outlines five important executive functions 1. Managing time, 2. What to contribute to organization 3. Where and how to mobilize strength 4. right priorities, 5. Getting it all together for effective decisions. Author, Peter Drucker’s Harvard business review article on the same topicWhat makes an effective executive”.  

.22.  Essential Drucker [4.12]  

Peter Drucker’s, only repeating author on the list, has a third book on this list. I feel odd that I haven’t read much of Drucker. I use Drucker’s popular article managing yourself in my classes. Here is one excellent summary of it. This is a collection of his 26 best articles, which may be a great start to read his work.   

This Gallup’s 2006 New York Times’s best-seller articulates about engaging employees, the greatest asset of any firm. It is backed by solid primary research, like their other books. It blends insights from psychology, sociology, neuroscience with cases on patient-care, call center, and hotel. Here one review of the book.  
24.   Total leadership [4.05] 

Stewart Friedman, Wharton professor, consulted a wide range of organizations. He argues good leadership is not about a business only but needs to be useful in all spheres of life. It’s a national bestseller. For those who wish to learn more, his course is also available on Coursera.   

It is the go-to book for anything related to influence or persuasion. I used it for my toastmaster project CC#9 – persuasive speech. I used it in teaching persuasion to the working professionals. It is so nicely written. Book talks about 6 different ways compliance professionals use to pursue others.  It is backed by solid research from the area of psychology, social psychology, anthropology, and economics. A must-read for every b-school student. 

     26.  Your money or your life [4.07] 

A surprise entry on this list. This book claims to change your relationship with money forever. It differentiates between making a living and making a life. Here is a detailed summary of the book.

This is also the New York Times bestseller. The 20+ research years show the real wealthy, neither act like wealthy nor clustered in the wealthy white-collar communities, which was a bit shock to authors. It uncovers the odd habits of wealthy people and seven common traits. The first chapter of the book is available here.  

The book subtitle says, “Turning ordinary people into extraordinary performers”. We talk strategy, a vision like tactical things, and undermine helping direct reports grow and develop. Something book claims and deliver. Here is a detailed review or summary. The book is full of workable tips, so a must-read on the manager’s wish-list.

Like an Olympic runner’s start, the first few days are critical for success in a leadership position. There is no “onboarding” methods. Leaders need to devise their process. This book provides a perfect road-map for the first 100 days in a leadership position. Book has downloadable forms and charts. Harvard business press also has a popular title labeled the first 90 days.  

In general, I don’t trust quick tips on “how to be rich”.  But personal MBA author Josh Kauffman is persuasive about this book. He cites two reasons – one – book is an excellent resource for online businesses blended with personal finance. And two – it has excellent tips on negotiation. Book is New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. So certainly not something one should shun immediately. Let’s take a closer look at this.

400 firms, 80,000 interviews, boiled to 12 rules, brings out New York Times bestseller, and Times one of the best 25 business books of all time. In plain language, it highlights exceptional managers. An indispensable guide for breaking managerial myths and rules. Like a strength’s finder, this trusts employees’ strengths and nurturing.
32.  Tribes [3.81]
Seth Godin’s blog is the epitome of distinct style, small and thoughtful posts, and persuasive argument. Evident in this book too. He argues for a tribe and leading it in an internet-connected world. The tribe is “…a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate”. A book must work for anyone with ideas and wishes to spread.  

33. Fail-Safe Investing [3.95] 

In my earlier avatar in IT services for investment banking, “Fail-Safe” used to be the buzz word. Fail-Safe systems will weather any storm. For instance, incidence like 9/11 or earthquakes happens; how do businesses ensure your credit card or customer transactions are not impacted at all. Key is “Fail-Safe”. This book gives the same strategy for investments. Must to know for today’s volatile world.

34. Hire with your head [3.99] 

Hiring is the most essential place where most HR professionals start their careers. Surprisingly very few good books are dedicated to this art and science. The author has come with five rule performance-based hiring acronym-ed as POWER- an excellent start for any HR aspirant. 

My intention is HR n Organization behavior book-list. I became a skeptic with sales/investment-related titles.  I examined them closely in reviews, in table-of-content, and summaries with squinted eyes. And included only when convinced, the book in the list is not an accident.  This is one such gem on the list. Just look at this one review on Goodreads, 

Re-read this book every 30 days for a year, maybe two years, and if you are not at the top of the game then it is time to find a new game”.

Such a strong recommendation.
3      36.  Psychology of Selling [4.19]
A sale is a tough job. No wonder, businesses chase competent sales professionals. Book is highly recommended for sales professionals. Books amazon page’s first line sums up it as, “Double and triple your sales in any market.” So, must on your wish-list.  

It is the Wharton negotiation lab director’s book. The negotiation skills in the face-to-face world are not sharp for email, message apps. This book addressed such issues for the online-world. This is considered a must for every negotiator.
        38.   What got you here, won’t get you there [3.98] 

Marshall Goldsmith, Thinkers50 member, top executive coach, & influencer penned this title. This book is about thriving managers but failed to reach c-suite glory. Your skills and education may get you in mid-management, but some small/minor behavioral flaws will stop you from moving into the C-suite role. Goldsmith has identified the top 20 bad habits ending people on the ladder. The book provides a workaround on them. Goldsmith is an advocate of giving back. He ran 100 coaches project, and there is a wealth of material available on his website.  

39.   Deep Survival [3.93]
This is not a typical business book. It uses story-telling and scientific knowledge for the human mind working threatened with survival. Businesses are becoming weird with layoffs, recessions, complete shutdown, and even overnight bankruptcy (like Lehman Brothers). So how does one survive such change? That’s what you will learn while reading this gem.  
Thus, my reading wish-list is ready. At the time of writing, of 39 items, I am aware of only 13 and have read just 5. I wish to continue adding the list.
My longest blog-post ever, and took a long time to note down. First, I reverse-engineered the personal MBA book-list, then assessed each title for its value addition.  I don’t claim this to be a perfect or ideal reading list. But a good start of purposeful reading. I will post reviews or/and my comments. Stay tuned. 

[After I prepared this list and blog-post, I came across Derek Sivers, this post. It confirmed to me that I am on the right path for this book-list!] 

Please do comment if you have any observations and suggestions/additions. I will revise the list for future use. Maybe together we can come up with 99 or 101 best books to read for people-skills soon. Stay tuned.   

In case you want to download/access the list of these 39 books, it is available on below link. [Thanks Umesh Patil for this suggestion ]

My goodreads

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