Reading Room: Strategic Leadership

Ron Piccolo, Cornell professor of management and academic director for the Center for Leadership Development, discusses five books every strategic leader should read.

Grow by Focusing on What Matters: Competitive Strategy in 3 Circles

Joel E. Urbany and James h. Davis

Synthesizing decades of study on competitive strategy, Urbany and Davis note that all models and theories of strategy center on one fundamental concept: customer choice. Why do customers choose to use your product or service rather than your competitors’? Drawing on a three-circle model that can be easily applied to any business or industry, the authors encourage businesses
to develop growth strategy by identifying unique value for their customers. The authors also
note that strategists often make three mistakes when estimating competitive position: 1) They think their services are differentiated from the competition, but the customer doesn’t see it that way; 2) services are differentiated, but not in ways that customers are willing to pay for; and 3) services are differentiated in valuable ways, but the competition can easily imitate or replicate them— thus rendering the advantage short-lived.

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Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant

W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne

In years past, firms have operated within the boundaries of a single industry against a known set of competing firms. During those relatively simple times, publishing companies, for example, competed against other publishers that operated in the publishing industry. But today’s business environment is much more dynamic and fluid. Publishers now compete with computer companies (Apple), Internet distribution giants (Amazon), and their very own customers, who can develop, promote, and distribute content at a low cost. Thus, as competition arises from many different, nontraditional places, successful strategies often require moves that take a firm beyond its existing landscape. In this modern classic, Kim and Mauborgne study 150 strategic moves spanning more than 100 years and 30 industries, ultimately suggesting that lasting success comes from creating “blue oceans”—untapped market spaces ripe for growth and free from existing competition.

Check It Out At Olin

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The End of Competitive Advantage: How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast as Your Business


Rita Gunther McGrath

The long-assumed purpose of strategy is to create and sustain a meaningful competitive advantage. Given this advice, organizations of all types have attempted for years
to develop advantages by exploiting economies of scale, carving out a viable niche, or leveraging existing capabilities and resources. However, globalization, new technologies, evolving consumer demands, and political and economic uncertainties around the world have compromised traditional sources of sustainable competitive advantage. Advantages associated with resources are often short-lived, best practices are
easily copied by competitors, and a strong brand does not consistently translate into manageable costs
or higher profits. In other words, dramatic changes in business have revealed a gap between traditional strategy and the way the real world works now. McGrath argues that
it’s time to go beyond the very concept of sustainable competitive advantage by suggesting a new set of practices based on the notion of transient competitive advantage. The best modern companies
capture opportunities quickly, exploit them decisively, and move on even before they are exhausted.

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First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently


Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

This is deservingly one of the most influential business books in the
last two decades. Buckingham and Coffman of Gallup present findings of their comprehensive study of great managers across a wide variety of locations, companies, industries, and situations. Whatever their circumstance, the most successful managers—irrespective of age, gender, leadership style, or personal preferences—are invariably those
who excel at turning employee
talent into performance. These managers do not hesitate to break virtually every rule held sacred by conventional wisdom. In general, these managers do not believe that, with enough training, people can achieve anything they set their mind to. Nor do they try to help people overcome their weaknesses. These managers consistently disregard the Golden Rule. And, yes, they even play favorites. This amazing book explains why.

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Becoming the Evidence-Based Manager: Making the Science of Management Work for You

Gary P. Latham

Suppose you learned that while diagnosing your health and suggesting remedies, your doctor ignored the vast scientific research that’s been conducted on the human body, bacteria, disease, and interactions among medicines? Rather than scientific evidence, you learn that your doctor instead draws on intuition, miracle cures, personal experience, untested potions, or the latest remedy featured in an airport magazine. My guess is you’d quickly look for another doctor! Unfortunately, it seems that many, if not most, of today’s business managers do just that, ignoring the robust evidence supporting specific interventions that enhance employee motivation, satisfaction, engagement, cooperation, and performance. In this readable and pragmatic summary of the scientific literature, Latham offers a step-by-step playbook for becoming the kind of manager who relies on evidence, rather than snake oil.