1) True North, by Bill George with Peter Sims
Bill George opens True North with the premise that we all have an inner compass that can guide us in every decision we make. But the trick is to learn to use it. If we remain faithful, our innate purpose in life, work and the universe will emerge. A new perspective on 'trust your gut', you might say.
As the book unfolds with examples of great world and business leaders, I found myself intrigued by the argument. For example, Howard Schultz of Starbucks drew on the destitution faced by his father, who was injured at work in a company without health benefits. This forged Schultz's principles about rights, share ownership and healthcare in the workplace. After a series of similarly engaging vignettes, we get to the meat of the book: a framework you can apply to judge your own style of authentic leadership, helping you to understand your own principles and motivations.
For me, the real value of True North is in working out what kind of leader you are, or can be, and understanding that the stereotypical 'directive leader' isn't necessarily the best model.
2) The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, by Hanna Rosin
Having seen me avidly reading Hanna Rosin's The End of Men on a flight, the shocked man next to me leant over and asked if it was some kind of horror story. In many ways it is. Rosin's book is chock-full of facts and contemplative thinking that give the lie to the provocative title.
Her theme is that while open communication, social intelligence, teamwork and a more genuine leadership style give opportunities for the rise of women, the decline in traditional, macho jobs in manufacturing, coal, oil and indeed investment banking at the top end is causing men to lose aspects of their self-definition.
Society is bifurcating - at the bottom, women have turned to retraining in any work available and see an out-of-work husband as simply another mouth to feed. But in two-income, college-educated families, the breadwinner role is interchangeable and men are undergoing an identity crisis. Scary reading indeed, with interesting questions about whether either sex can have it all.
3) Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting, by Noel Janis-Norton
Management and self-improvement in the home is the topic in Noel Janis-Norton's Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting. As the mother of four children under five, I wasn't sure if I had time to read even the dust jacket but gave it a go. The intro itself was commonsense and rhetorical: 'Would you go into a marathon without some prep and training? If not, then why on earth are you suffering under the misapprehension that you will just casually pick up parenting?'
The six practical techniques presented here - descriptive praise, preparing for success, reflective listening, never ask twice, rewards and consequences - can be applied directly as you read through them in chapter order and, when I remembered them, they actually worked on my own children.
They are remarkably similar, of course, to how we run offices and businesses ... yet they seem too often to disappear out of the window and you find yourself relying on ridiculous phrases like: 'If you don't stop that right now I'm going to bang your heads together!'
4) The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson (translated by Rod Bradbury)
Over breakfast in Stockholm a friend told me about The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window And Disappeared by Swedish author Jonas Jonasson. The one-line pitch from me would be 'Forrest Gump on acid' - and it is just as much of a delight as you might imagine that to be.
It starts on the 100th birthday of Allan Karlsson, who climbs out of the window of his room in a dull old people's home in a small town, makes a getaway in his slippers and then romps through a most unlikely journey with assorted criminals, a hot-dog-stand owner and an escaped elephant.
Alternate chapters take us through the history of Allan's last 100 years, from helping Oppenheimer develop the theory of the atom bomb to brokering between a random combination of Truman, Kim Jong Il and Mao Tse Tung. A hilarious, cleverly constructed romp and well worth your time - easy-going, intelligent fun and a joy to read.
Alex Mahon is the chief executive of Shine Group
MAHON'S TOP FOUR TITLES IN FULL
Bill George, with Peter Sims
The End of Men: And the Rise of Women
Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting
Hodder & Stoughton
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared
Jonas Jonasson (translated by Rod Bradbury)