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10 Leadership & Self-Improvement Books for Finance Leaders (Part I)


In a previous post, we wrote about how changing technology and a shift towards customer-centricity has posed new challenges to the way finance leaders work in services.

How then, can busy finance leaders actively seek out ways of self-improvement in a changing global economy?

For a start, pick up books that broaden the mind and change the way you think — whether it's about yourself, the people around you, or even the way the world works.

As former U.S. President Harry S. Truman once remarked:

Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.

We've compiled 10 popular leadership and self-improvement books that will help finance leaders like yourself lead and/or think about things differently with greater confidence and skills.

To add these books to your to-do reading list, simply click on the link in each heading to learn more.

1. For Finance Leaders Who Are Introverted: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Quiet: The Power of IntrovertsImage Source: Amazon

There’s an unspoken expectation that successful leaders ought to act in a certain bold, sociable, and confident manner. But for most introverts, they'd rather do the opposite. They prefer:

  • listening to others, instead of speaking over them
  • promoting innovative ideas, over self-promotion
  • working in solitude instead of in teams

This mismatch between expectation and behaviour often leads to introverts being passed over from greater opportunities in the workplace, in favour of their more outspoken counterparts.

In her New York Times bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts, Susan Cain argues that introverts – contrary to common assumptions – are capable of making great contributions. Some of the most successful introverts in recent history include Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bill Gates etc.

Well researched and filled with compelling stories of real people, Quiet is a great read for introverts seeking to change the way they see themselves in a world that loves to chatter. Introverted leaders will appreciate its advice on how to influence people and manage relationships, as well as tips on handling moments where they need to be more extroverted, whether at work or in the home.


2. For Finance Leaders Who Want to Hone Their Detective Skills: Financial Shenanigans (4th Edn): How to Detect Accounting Gimmicks and Fraud in Financial Reports


Financial Shenanigans
Image source: Amazon

Ever told a new acquaintance you’re in finance or accounting? Chances are you’ve met at least one person who assumes you must be good at investing. He might even (shudders) ask for recommendations in the stock market.

This best-selling classic by the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Accounting’ will give you everything you need to level up your financial snooping skills, and impress that one person at your next get-together.

Written by Dr. Howard Schilit, founder of a global forensic accounting research organisation, the book covers some of the most shocking frauds and financial reporting offenses ever seen, through case studies and lessons on topics such as:

  • The latest tricks companies use to exaggerate revenue and earnings
  • The types of corporate cultures that tend to incentivise dishonest practices
  • Common techniques by management to manipulate their cash flow as easily as earnings
  • How companies use misleading metrics to fool investors about their financial performance
  • How companies use acquisitions to hide deterioration in their business

With over a quarter century’s worth of accounting chicanery and tales of financial miscreants packed in one book, you’ll pick up everything you need to know to uncover deceptive reporting from Financial Shenanigans.


3. For Finance Leaders Who Want to Improve Their Decision-Making Skills: Thinking, Fast and Slow

Thinking Fast and Slow
Image Source: Amazon

In this bestseller, Nobel Prize winner Professor Daniel Kahneman covers two systems that we use, which influence the way we think and make decisions.

The first is swift, intuitive, associative, and automatic. It’s what Kahneman calls the ‘secret author of many of the choices and judgments you make’. It loves to simplify situations, jump wildly conclusions, and is often subject to irrational biases.

The second is the exact opposite: slow, deliberate, and requires one’s full attention. It tires easily, is slothful, and only takes over (quite unwillingly) when things get difficult.

Finance leaders should consider this a must-read because they’re expected to be good thinkers at work: to accurately judge situations, make decisions and execute them, then follow up with evaluations and adjustments. With Thinking, Fast and Slow, you’ll gain insights on the types of biases that influence your thinking, appreciate the differences in thinking types and how to use them appropriately, understand how your mind processes risks and risk aversion, and how to negotiate better by knowing your opponent better than they know themselves.


4. For Finance Leaders Who Want to Reinvent Their Roles: Reinventing the CFO: How Finance Managers Can Transform Their Roles and Add Greater Value

Reinventing the CFO
Image Source: Amazon

These days, finance leaders are under great pressure from their organisations. Fellow directors and managers expect them to deliver far more than just numbers – from accurate information on performance insights, to risk factors and forecasts to support decision making.

At the same time, finance leaders 'remain prisoners of dysfunctional systems and mental models that were developed for a role that is fast becoming obsolete', leaving them little time to think about value-adding activities. 

In Reinventing the CFO, writer Jeremy Hope thoughtfully lays out seven critical roles modern finance leaders must take on to make smart, strategic decisions that add real value to the finance function and the organisation.

Published by Harvard Business School Press, and based on extensive research and interviews with CFOs in leading organisations, this book is a recommended shelf-keeper for any finance manager or CFO.


5. For Finance Leaders Who Want to Be More Courageous: Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.

Dare to Lead
Image Source: Amazon

Finance leaders struggling with people challenges in their workplace will find Brené Brown’s latest book a breath of fresh air.

Real leadership, according to Brown – a researcher and TED Talk star whose fans include Oprah Winfrey – isn’t just about maintaining status. It isn’t about pretending to have the right answers, or seeing power as something to be hoarded, or avoiding difficult conversations when they arise.

Instead, it’s about staying curious, asking the right questions, and leaning into vulnerability when necessary to accomplish good work.

Brown is a four-time New York Times best-selling author. In Dare to Lead, she covers research conducted with leaders, change makers, and culture shifters worldwide, and shows how to put those ideas into practice for anyone who wants to take their leadership skills up a notch.

6. For Finance Leaders Who Want Practical Ideas for Business Transformation: Fit for Growth: A Guide to Cost Cutting, Restructuring, and Renewal

Fit for Growth
Image Source: Amazon

If you’ve sleepless nights worrying about growth in today’s unpredictable economic climate, you’re not alone. According to Strategy&’s (PWC’s strategy consulting arm) research, less than 10 percent of companies are actually ready for growth, especially those in the retail, financial services and healthcare sectors.

Drawing on seven decades’ worth of strategy consulting research and experience, the experts at Strategy& have laid down a compelling framework for leaders to transform their businesses for sustainable long-term success.

Fit for Growth focuses on the core elements of the restructuring and renewal journey, while giving structure to strategy. More than just advice on how to effectively cut costs, the book provides research-backed guidance on areas such as:

  • Achieving growth while reducing costs
  • Managing transformation and how to transition productively
  • Creating last competitive advantage
  • Delivering reliable, yet high value performance

Busy leaders will find the real-life transformation examples from Strategy&’s hundreds of clients illuminating and inspiring for fresh ideas on how to thrive through tough times.


7. For Finance Leaders Who Want to Improve Their Leadership Skills: HBR's 10 Must Reads on Leadership

HBR 10 Must Reads on Leadership
Image Source: Amazon

Harvard Business Review (HBR) is an excellent go-to source for both new ideas and classic advice on strategy, innovation and leadership. Written for leaders by some of the world's best business experts, HBR covers a range of topics including leadership, organisational change, negotiation, marketing, strategy, operations, finance, and managing people.

To save busy leaders like yourself from trawling through hundreds of articles in HBR, this collection puts together 10 of HBR's most popular articles on leadership for your convenience.

HBR's 10 Must Reads on Leadership will inspire you to 

  • Motivate others to excel
  • Set direction
  • Encourage smart risk-taking
  • Manage with tough empathy
  • Draw strength from adversity, and more

The collection also includes the bestselling article 'What Makes an Effective Executive' by Peter F. Drucker, the renowned management consultant widely known as the father of modern management thinking.


8. For Finance Leaders New To Their Role: The 80/20 CFO: How to Make Strategic Transformations in Your Company

80/20 CFO
Image Source: Amazon

Five years after taking over the CEO mantle at Apple, Tim Cook candidly remarked in an interview that "it's sort of a lonely job."

As finance managers and controllers make their way to the top of their organisation's corporate ladder, many find themselves feeling increasingly isolated from their peers. Senior finance leadership roles like those of the CFO are, by design, acting as the 'counterbalance' to the rest of the organisation, often putting them at odds with others in the same hierarchy.

They're also not given a lot of time or support to make positive improvements in their functions, and are often stuck with vague directions like 'just support the CEO / senior management and help the company succeed'. 

In this book, new finance leaders will find actionable insights and shortcuts to quickly get alignment, build relationships with key stakeholders in the organisation, and establish the trust needed to be perceived as a real guiding force for strategic transformation.


9. For Finance Leaders Who Want to Be Better Speakers: Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds

Talk like TED
Image Source: Amazon

In today's innovation-driven world, coming up with great ideas is just one piece of the bigger puzzle of success. You also need to sell your ideas persuasively, and convince your listeners that there's merit in listening to you.

Yet many leaders have an unspoken fear of public speaking, or worry about their ability to give a successful presentation.

If this sounds familiar, then you'll appreciate public speaking coach Carmine Gallo's Top 10 Wall Street Journal bestseller Talk Like TED. In her book, Gallo reveals nine secrets of all successful TED presentations, which were gleaned from her examination of hundreds of widely acclaimed TED Talks, as well as interviews with popular TED presenters and researchers in psychology, communications, and neuroscience.

Her step-by-step method makes it possible for even the most numbers-driven finance leader to deliver a talk that's persuasive, memorable, and engaging.


10. For Finance Leaders Who Want to Know About the Future of Technology: The Inevitable : Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future

The Inevitable
Image Source: Amazon

Artificial intelligence. The internet of things. Blockchain. These are just a few of the many tech buzzwords that have been tossed about in the media and in the business world.

But what does it all mean for us, really?

In this provocative and fascinating book, author Kevin Kelly avoids harping on boring buzzwords, and instead outlines 12 technological trends that he believes will transform the way in which we communicate, interact, and work. These include:

  • The trend of Cognifying: Making everything intelligent, through increasingly cheap and powerful AI capabilities in the Cloud
  • The trend of Sharing: Mass-scale collaboration. Kelly believes we're only at a 2 out of 10, and have yet to hit maximum collaboration
  • The trend of Tracking: Using surveillance on citizens and consumers for their benefits.
  • The trend of Accessing: Where society shifts from a focus on owning assets, to one where the focus is on having access to services at all times

The Inevitable is a bright and optimistic read, and will be intriguing for any leader who wants a big picture perspective on where their life, their business, and their industry will be heading towards in an increasingly hyperconnected and digitalised future. 

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