5 Books For Aspiring CIOs

Engineer-turned-recruiter Steven Levy shares his reading list for IT pros who want to learn better business and communication skills -- and boost their careers in the process.

Kevin Casey, Contributor

August 9, 2013

5 Min Read

Want to become a well-rounded IT star? Here's a novel idea: Try reading a book.

You don't necessarily need to plow through Moby Dick, War and Peace or other literary heavyweights to reach the executive ranks. (Though, hey, it can't hurt. Log off for a couple of hours, would ya?)

Whether you're a reluctant reader or a voracious one, a digital native or a hardcover-and-paperback devotee, choosing the right reading list can give your IT career a beneficial boost, especially if you've got ambitions. Even if you don't have "CIO" or a comparable title in your sights, IT pros are increasingly called upon to add business chops to their technical skill sets -- or get left behind.

So how do you know if you're reading the right books? Good question, particularly when considering the all-but-infinite library of business and self-help books. We've got you covered. More specifically, Steve Levy does. Spend some time talking shop with the engineer-turned-HR recruiter and he'll rattle off his list of most meaningful books for IT pros looking to broaden their business acumen and leadership skills.

"Being an effective leader is more than just bits and bytes," Levy said in an interview. "It's substantially more than [that] as you move up [the ranks]. What are your plans, then, for learning those other realms and integrating them altogether?"

[ It's important for IT leaders to be involved in -- but not to dictate -- the enterprise's social business strategy. Read 5 Ways CIOs Can Show Social Business Mettle. ]

Levy has lots of ideas on the subject. (Stay tuned for more of his IT career advice in an upcoming story.) Here's a starting point: These five books are on his must-read list for IT pros who want to become better leaders, communicators, and negotiators -- and ultimately more sought-after and successful in their careers.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni (Jossey-Bass, 2002)

Lencioni's tome, which bears the subtitle "A Leadership Fable," deals with the inherent challenges of any team of people, businesses included. Among the reasons Levy's a fan: Too many would-be managers and executives forget that their ambitions necessitate managing increasing numbers of people and everything that comes with that responsibility. Lencioni's book examines the causal reasons behind a fictional dysfunctional team. "An organization is like a family," Levy said. "It may be a dysfunctional family."

The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt (North River Press, 2004)

Goldratt's novel is actually a work of fiction in which the lead character, Alex Rogo, is tasked with running a failing production plant. Yet the story's "theory of constraints" has become a regular on syllabi for business and management classes and helped turn Goldratt, a physicist by trade, into a management authority, especially in the manufacturing industry.

Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton (Penguin Books, 2011)

"[This book] is really how to communicate and speak to people," Levy said. Without that ability, IT pros will find tougher sledding when working with marketing, finance and other business units. "If you can't communicate, you can't negotiate, you can't convince, you can't create cohesiveness and consensus. You can't move."

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The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack with Bo Burlingham (Crown Business, 2013)

Stack's opus recaps his experience turning around a failing firm, Springfield Remanufacturing Company, when he had almost no management experience. Among Stack's favorite sayings: "As they say in Missouri: [Stuff] rolls downhill. By which we mean change begins at the top." (The actual saying uses a less family-friendly term.) Levy adds his own take for IT pros on the middle and lower rungs of the corporate ladder: "Therein lies the problem of middle management: You're right in [stuff's] way. You can't get out [it]."

Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix (Henry Holt & Co., 200)

Here's one you probably won't see on many business reading lists. (This slot is usually reserved for the likes of Sun Tzu's The Art Of War.) Hendrix's book is aimed at couples and commonly used in marriage counseling and similar venues. Levy called it his "secret one about business and understanding people and communicating." You won't necessarily find explicit instructions on negotiating multi-million-dollar contracts here. Levy notes that the business world too often forgets that people are people -- and you've got to be able to talk to them.

"Human beings don't check their humanity and foibles at the door when they go to work," Levy said. "If they can't communicate with their [spouse] or they grunt at their kids at home, they're not going to be any different with their coworkers or peers. It doesn't work like that."

What's on your bookshelf? Share your reading recommendations in the comments below.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Casey


Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses.

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