Bookshelf | November / December 2017

A collection of reviewed books from the November / December 2017 print issue.


Mentoring Diverse Leaders

How does mentoring work for people who aren’t white males seeking more money and status at work? Women and people of color strive to answer that question through this collection of essays edited by Audrey Murrell of the University of Pittsburgh and Stacy Blake-Beard of the Simmons School. For instance, Donna Maria Blancero and Natalie Cotton-Nessler suggest that mentorship programs for Latinos should take into account the collective—not individual— orientation of the Latino culture and the high priority given to family relationships. Ella Edmondson Bell-Smith and Stella Nkomo predict that 21st-century mentoring could be used more often outside of work, perhaps to treat chronically ill patients or retain students in school. Blake-Beard, Murrell, and contributor Kathy Kram make one point abundantly clear: In nontraditional mentoring situations, “the relationship may evolve differently, may affect outcomes differently, and may be held differently in diverse contexts.” A thoughtful, eye-opening, and useful collection. (Routledge, US$39)


The Diversity BonusThe University of Michigan’s Scott E. Page is blunt: “Not all diversity will be beneficial. … Most diverse groups will not perform well.” That’s because companies can’t just assemble a random collection of people and hope for the best. An organization must determine what task needs to be done and what team will achieve the optimal results. For instance, diverse teams greatly outperform homogenous ones when carrying out nonroutine cognitive tasks—such as conducting medical research or developing new technology—because each member brings to the task different experience and skill sets that others cannot provide. That’s a strong argument against any company hiring only the top candidates from the most elite schools, Page points out, because those candidates will be more alike than different. As he notes, “The cohort of the best individuals will not be the best cohort.” He considers his pragmatic, mathematical approach to diversity a complement to the social justice arguments for promoting diversity, and he makes a compelling case. (Princeton University Press, US$27.95)


The Power of MomentsWe all remember peak moments in our personal lives—weddings, bar mitzvahs, milestone birthday celebrations—but similar moments are often missing from our work and educational experiences. What if a corporation planned a daylong welcome-to-the-company ritual for new hires, as some John Deere offices in Asia do? Would that create peak moments that connect employees more tightly to the organization? What if a high school for first-gen students held a Senior Signing Day ceremony, where graduating students stood up in front of friends and families to reveal where they’d decided to go to college? The charter school YES Prep holds just such a day, and it inspires both seniors and underclassmen to pursue academic success. Chip Heath of Stanford and Dan Heath of Duke argue persuasively that any organization that creates peak moments—for its customers, its employees, or its students—will enjoy benefits that range from fanatical loyalty to revenue growth. In this entertaining and informative read, they explain just how to create those moments and how to turn them into a competitive advantage. (Simon & Schuster, US$29)


Engine of ImpactThe nonprofit sector of the United States generates more than US$1.7 trillion in total revenue—about 10 percent of the country’s GDP—and serves as “a major instrument of government for the delivery of social and other services,” write William F. Meehan III of Stanford and Kim Starkey Jonker of King Philanthropies. Yet most nonprofits are perpetually starved for cash; they have not benefited much from the “information age” technologies that have transformed for-profit business; and they aren’t very good at evaluating what’s working and what isn’t. Meehan and Jonker call for nonprofits to turn themselves into “engines of impact” by embracing the essential components of strategic leadership: a clear mission, a careful strategy, impact evaluation protocols, sufficient funding, well-managed talent, effective board governance, insight, and courage. While they see challenges ahead for today’s nonprofits, they remain hopeful, too. They write, “Never before has the potential of civil society organizations to create impact been greater.” (Stanford Business Books, US$29.95)


Creating Great ChoicesMany major business decisions appear to be imperfect either-or choices. “Often, there is no obvious right answer and no single solution that will thrill everyone,” write Jennifer Riel and Roger Martin of the University of Toronto. Martin has previously written about how leaders can reframe and synthesize their choices to come up with completely new options, an approach he calls integrative thinking. Here, he and Riel offer a practical methodology for applying integrative thinking techniques to thorny problems. First, the authors explain that people often make decisions by following mental models that are simplistic and flawed, but that these decision-making processes can be improved through metacognition, empathy, and creativity. Then, they explore how design thinking can help people modify and improve their decisions as they “create, prototype, and test multiple possibilities on the path to a creative resolution.” They write, “Knowing that we tend to fall prey to bad decision making isn’t enough to keep us from making the same bad decisions again.” But creating a new way of thinking can certainly help. (Harvard Business Review Press, US$32)


Handbook of SustainabilitySixty international scholars contributed to this massive volume of essays about the state of sustainability in management education (SiME). Edited by Jorge Arevalo of William Paterson University and Shelley Mitchell of Hult International Business School, the handbook is the outgrowth of a Professional Development Workshop series conducted at the Academy of Management Conference. The 25 chapters explore the ways that academics theorize the field of sustainability, the transformational interventions that inspire faculty and students, the effects of institutional reforms, and the mechanics needed to sustain long-term programs. Together, the collected essays consider two overarching themes: whether sustainability education has progressed in graduate and undergraduate programs and whether sustainability programs are possible only at certain business schools. The answer to the first question is a resounding yes, say the editors; the answer to the second one is a hopeful no, as they find SiME at a diverse collection of schools. Dense, detailed, and full of examples, the book is a great resource for any SiME academic. (Edward Elgar, US$350)


Higher CallingWhy have America’s liberal arts colleges and other academic institutions seen a precipitous rise in nontraditional leaders—that is, leaders who did not ascend through the ranks of full-time tenure-track faculty? According to Scott Beardsley of the University of Virginia, one-third of the presidents of standalone liberal arts colleges could be called nontraditional in 2014, compared to almost zero in the 1980s. He points to a variety of factors, including a rise in competition, more stakeholder demand to show outcomes, and pressure to advance in the rankings. At the same time, decreasing state support and changing economic models are making it more essential that school leaders understand fundraising and business management. Even so, some stakeholders are suspicious of nontraditional candidates, and Beardsley—who worked at McKinsey for 26 years before becoming dean of UVA’s Darden School of Business—is quick to point out that they are not always the right choice. To select their next leaders, he believes, institutions must answer one question: “What set of strengths do we need … given who we are and what we need to accomplish now?” (University of Virginia Press, US$29.95)


How to be Happy at Work“Happiness matters at work as much as it does in our personal lives,” writes Annie McKee of the University of Pennsylvania. “When we are positive, we are 31 percent more productive and 40 percent more likely to receive a promotion, we have 23 percent fewer health-related effects from stress, and our creativity rates triple.” But too many of us fall into “happiness traps”—we allow ourselves to be overworked, we chase after more money, we think we should appreciate our current situations, even when we don’t. As a result, we lose joy in our jobs, we disengage at work, and we stop learning. To be happy, McKee tells readers they must break out of those traps by running toward something: “meaningful work; a hopeful, inspiring vision of your future; and good relationships with the people you work with every day.” (Harvard Business Review Press, US$27)