3 Must-Read Books for a Successful HR Leader

By: | November 19, 2018 • 3 min read
HR Leadership columnist Eva Sage-Gavin is a distinguished HR thought leader and former CHRO with more than three 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 hreletters@lrp.com.

“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.


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.”