3 Must-Read Books for a Successful HR Leader

By: | November 19, 2018 • 3 min read
Eva Sage-Gavin is a distinguished HR thought leader and former CHRO with more than 3 decades of broad experience in Fortune 500 global consumer, technology and retail corporations. She currently serves as the senior managing director for Accenture’s global talent & organization consulting practice and as a technology Board Director. She can be emailed at [email protected]

“The world was hers for the reading,” Betty Smith wrote in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a book that still stays with me years after reading it.

As our work and personal lives become increasingly demanding, it’s all too easy to let reading for pleasure fall by the wayside. As high achievers, I’m sure we all welcome the new ideas books bring but wish we could add more hours to our long days to consume them.

I’m happy to say that while traveling globally over the past several months I’ve made the time to jump into some good books, both digitally and in paper form. A few of them inspired me so much that I wanted to share why I think they’re worth a look.

A common thread runs through the books I’m highlighting. As a former CHRO and in my current role leading a talent- and transformation-consulting practice, I have the privilege of working with boards of directors, C-suite teams, businesses, educational institutions, the public sector and not-for-profit organizations. In my daily experience, I sense something occurring, regardless of industry sector or geography. Humans are being called upon to be more—well, human than ever.

Why? Because as technology changes the way we work—as humans and machines become not just coworkers but partners—our creativity, inspiration, empathy and inventiveness are increasingly important. Each of these books emphasizes our uniquely human potential and capabilities. And each reminds me what is most important to bring to our workplaces. As leaders of our teams and our organizations, this enlightened emphasis on the human side of who we are is a North Star for us.

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Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility

If you’re not familiar with author Patty McCord, she helped create the high-performing culture at Netflix (authoring the Netflix culture deck), where she was chief talent officer. I was drawn to her book, initially, because Patty is a fellow woman of Silicon Valley—a veteran, like me, who was in the mix as a female technology leader when there weren’t many of us. I love her take on fostering a balance of freedom and responsibility in workers. I also admire her concept of radical honesty—holding people in our organizations (and ourselves) to a standard of transparency that fosters success and is incredibly powerful when done with compassion.

In a couple of recent interactions with Patty, she elaborated on why radical honesty matters: “Being a better human means you’re a better team member. That involves all sorts of basics, like: Don’t say things about someone that you wouldn’t say to their face. We know these things in our personal lives, but we don’t always bring that wisdom to work. What better function to foster that environment than talent and HR? Creating that sense of trust has always been key, but even more so now.” As someone who strives to elevate teams, colleagues and mentees, I love this perspective. Patty’s book is full of straight talk that makes it worth skipping your email backlog to read.

Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book

I received Diane Muldrow’s book as a gift and am so thankful. I try to stay positive while keeping it real, so its opening line really resonated: “Is your life starting to feel like a circus? Don’t panic.” As the former editorial director at Golden Books/Random House, Diane put the folksy wisdom of the books many of us read as children (and read to our children) to good use. In an age of complexity, this book is a refreshing recipe for keeping it simple.

Diane’s book is a reminder of the basics, encouraging us to welcome fresh beginnings and practice reinvention. You can read it in mere minutes—an added plus. When we reached out to Diane to ask about her purpose in writing the book, her response was refreshing: “It was a joy to write and then I got to share that joy with other people. If we could all do that with our work, it might be world-changing.”

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Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI

I love a good book as much as a book that does good. Paul Daugherty, Accenture’s CTIO, and Jim Wilson, its managing director of IT and business research, have written a much-needed management playbook for success in the age of artificial intelligence.

It describes six new types of hybrid human and machine roles that will evolve as companies develop their workforce of the future. And it doesn’t skimp on how that impacts the human side of this new world—the workers you and I have top of mind every day in our roles. One of my favorite ideas from the book links to competitiveness: “Those companies that are using machines merely to replace humans will eventually stall, whereas those that think of innovative ways for machines to augment humans will become the leaders of their industries.” It makes me think of one of my past employers, the Walt Disney Co. Disney does not divorce technology from innately human elements like imagination and joy. Instead, it blends creativity with human and machine in constantly refreshed, delightful new ways.

In full disclosure, I’m a Paul Daugherty fan. We share a common mission-leveraging technology to elevate good. Paul is more than an author and a colleague—he’s a kindred spirit. So when he mentioned in a Wired UK interview earlier this year that the shift can’t happen in siloes—it needs to happen across an organization, I could not agree more. As HR executives, we can help push that shift successfully—breaking down limiting organizational silos. That’s exciting. We can be part of ushering the next era of business in successfully. And, you can feel good about purchasing this book because all royalties are put toward educating, training and supporting workers for the age of AI.

As we head into the holiday season, I hope you find some time to discover a good book. I certainly plan on it—along with vacation time to recharge and reflect. Please remember to let me know some of your favorite reads at [email protected] so I can add them to my list.

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