My favorite networking question in any situation is, “What are you reading?” Studies show the average American reads only 1-2 books per year, but Fortune 500 CEOs read 4-5 books each month. If you want to be successful, open a book! I keep a “books to read” list in my phone, and my “buy with 1 click” habit on Amazon has gotten, let’s just say, problematic. So I always want to know what others are reading.
In corporate responsibility and sustainability, I’m also often asked what I’m reading often. For those interested in getting into CSR, there are must read texts. And for leaders in the field, there is always an opportunity to learn more. As we move into February, I’m putting together a combination of those “must reads” and my personal favorites. Next time we see each other, let’s talk about one of these incredible books in four key categories: must reads, climate change, business and leadership. Read on…
Required Reading for CSR/Sustainability Professionals
- 21st Century Corporate Citizenship: A Practical Guide to Delivering Value to Society and Your Business by Katherine Valvoda Smith and Dave Stangis. Katherine and Dave are head of Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship and Chief Sustainability Officer for Campbell’s, respectively. Their book is a practical guide to CSR every good professional or interested party should read. They’ve even published a companion executive’s guide to share with your leadership teams.
- Christine Bader has been a thought leader in our field for many years. Her two books on the subject are must-reads. First, The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil details Christine’s career at BP and her feelings about the company following the largest industrial accident in history. She easily reminds us all why we do what we do, and how to keep going when the going gets tough. Christine’s second book, Who’s Responsible for Corporate Responsibility addresses key positions/departments in a company and their role in the CR process. Covertly, I like to think it’s a “guide for interviewing in the CR field” because it specifically addresses why CR matters to a general counsel or a finance leader, etc.
- Firms of Endearment is one of those books that weaves in and out of the conversation in CSR and sustainability but is never truly off the radar. The authors examine today’s best companies. How do they create value financially and through environmental, social and governance practices? The best firms understand these things contribute as much, if not more, to their long-term value.
- My copy of The Solution Revolution has been tattered and well-loved by the ArcelorMittal corporate responsibility team, as it focuses one major tactic we use frequently – public private partnerships. The success of our work at ArcelorMittal rests heavily in our ability to work effectively with governments and the social sector. The authors here outline clearly both the why and how of these incredibly effective partnerships.
The Big Topic – Climate Change
- Tim Flannery’s Atmosphere of Hope is, for my money, the text to read on climate change that is solution focused. This is key. Tim addresses where we are and how we got there, but he’s more focused on how we solve the problem through innovation and technology.
- Billionaire Michael Bloomberg and former CEO of the Sierra Club, Carl Pope, came together to write Climate of Hope. I won’t lie to you, it’s a little dry (sorry, guys) but it’s an important read, as it blends together the business-savvy of Bloomberg with the hard-science drive of Pope. The chapters are well-labeled and I’ve referenced it more times than I can count.
- Andrew Winston’s The Big Pivot takes the topic of climate change and weaves it into the future of corporations and the best practices to steer our corporate ships in the right direction. How do you move forward in today’s new reality? This book practically addresses that question.
Business Books That Will Make You Think Differently About CSR
- Chip and Dan Heath’s books are all thought provoking and well written. Their newest, though, is especially applicable to the work we do in CSR and sustainability. The Power of Moments: Why Experiences Have Extraordinary Impacts urges us to influence through experience and not through facts and figures. How can we gain ambassadors for the work we do through boring meetings? We can’t. We have to create “moments.”
- Thomas Friedman’s Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations is pivotal for those in our industry. New thinking related to CSR and sustainability is being developed every single day. Our industry is moving faster than ever before, and growing at an incredible pace. It’s easy to become frustrated and give up. Friedman talks about the world’s acceleration today and how we find ways to fit in and keep up.
- Jim Collins is one of those business book writers whose entire tome should be required reading for anyone in corporate. His book Good to Great is heralded regularly as one of the greatest business books of all time. I implore CSR leaders to read its small but mighty companion piece Good to Great and the Social Sectors. All of us work in the social sector in some way, whether through grant making, volunteerism, or just good stakeholder engagement. Understanding what makes this sector great and the best practices for interacting with it is one of the most important skills we must all develop to be great at our jobs.
- Mark Mason’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck might sound like the last book a passionate CSR professional should read. On the contrary, Mason’s book doesn’t tell us to “stop caring,” instead it provides an outline for determining the right things to care the most about. Where should you give your more f*cks? For me, it helped to stop the “save the world” mentality and focus on what can and needs to get done today.
Leadership and Influence – The Most Powerful Skills for Success in CSR
- Trust is key in every CSR role. We work on small teams that must influence teams and individuals inside and outside our businesses. Influence cannot happen without trust. David Maister’s The Trusted Advisor tackles just this topic. How can we inspire trust in our teams, our leaders, and those we advise without expressed authority or accountability for those individuals and their work? The “trust equation” Maister reviews in this book will change the way you lead, I promise.
- In The Right – and Wrong – Stuff: How Brilliant Careers are Made and Unmade, Carter Cast takes you on a leadership journey that begins and ends with self-awareness. Do you know what kind of leader you are? Do you know your strengths? Alright, good enough. But do you know your biggest pitfalls? Can you manage around them? Cast will help you identify the traits you have that could derail your career and apply clear steps to manage those “derailers.”