When I am not here, a person on the internet (TM) writing for CF, I earn my keep and contribute to society by working in learning and development, particularly in leadership training. That may seem fairly dry, compared to fashion writing, but a big part of my job is research, which means reading (lots of reading) which, as a former English major, is a huge perk.
Professional development and self-help books have a reputation for being a little cooky, cheesy, or woo-woo — and trust me, some of them are — but there are also a ton of well-researched, well-written, and truly helpful books out there that will change the way you look at your work — and how you navigate the workplace, and ultimately, your career.
Whether you’re just starting out in college, you’re about to enter the workforce, or you’re well on your way to forging your career path, I highly suggest you take some time to explore some of the literature out there on how to up your game at work. These five books on professional and personal development are a great place to start:
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
I couldn’t not include the now-classic Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg on this list, so if you haven’t read it by this point for some reason, here’s the deal: Sandberg believes that the best way to make work better for women is to have more women in leadership, and her book on the challenges women face as leaders and in the workforce is full of inspirational (and often funny) personal stories, sage advice, and can-do positivity.
Sandberg tackles basically every buzzword in regards to women at work in great detail, from “imposter syndrome” to “mommy tracking” to mentorship to “having it all,” backing up her stories and experiences with a ton of research. And trust me — you’ll feel way better about your own imposter syndrome knowing that a badass like Sheryl Sandberg has felt the same way, too.
Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett
If Lean In is your very cool and accomplished mentor, Feminist Fight Club is your hilarious work BFF — full of hysterical doodles, flow-charts, girl power, and a metric effton of practical tips and tricks to combat the kinds of casual sexism you are more than likely to face in the workforce, such as being interrupted or being asked to do administrative tasks or office housework — especially if you’re moving into traditionally male-dominated fields.
Feminist Fight Club is not only practical and funny, but it emphasizes the importance of forming a network of women who support and uplift each other and adapting a mindset of intersectional feminism, while addressing the ways that casual sexism also specifically affects WOC.
I read this book and I immediately wanted to share with all of my lady coworkers and form my own feminist fight club; I especially recommend it for women who are just entering the workforce.
Radical Candor by Kim Scott
Kim Scott, who lead teams at Google and Apple, presents a straightforward leadership theory in Radical Candor: in order to be a good boss, you have to both care for your team members and challenge them directly. While it seems simple, it’s tougher than it looks – but Scott provides tons of practical advice in digestible pieces on how to be a radically candid leader.
Of course, it’s not likely you’ll have direct reports or be a leader in the early stages of your career, but it’s never too early to develop key leadership skills like providing effective feedback, building trust with your team, and learning not to shy away from tough topics or conversations. And radical candor doesn’t stop in the workplace — it can also improve the quality of your interpersonal relationships outside of work.
Like Sheryl Sandberg (who actually makes an appearance or two in Radical Candor), Kim Scott peppers her writing with tons of personal anecdotes and examples from Silicon Valley giants, but she’s also pretty dang funny, making this book an enjoyable (and fairly quick) read.
To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink
Daniel Pink is something of an OG when it comes to professional development books (see also: Drive, When, A Whole New Mind), so you know that anything he puts out is the good stuff. To Sell Is Human is no exception, and is surprisingly applicable to almost everyone, whether you’re a nurse or an educator or a stay-at-home mom.
Pink believes that everyone is selling — whether that’s used cars or LuLaRoe leggings, or trying to convince your friends to try a new makeup product, or, y’know, trying to get folks on the internet to read the books you recommend — and that traditional sales skillsets won’t get you very far in today’s age of information. Rather, a new set of skills focused around things like resiliency, adaptability, and emotional intelligence, will make all the difference in the effectiveness in the work you do.
Pink is a great writer and thinker, and this book is divided into digestible sections that make the information (and there is a toooon of information) easy to absorb.
Creative Confidence by Tom Kelley and David Kelley
Creativity and innovation are critical skills in the business world that can really set you apart from your peers, but they can feel a bit intangible — making it easy to file creativity in among those “you’ve got it, or you don’t” qualities.
In Creative Confidence, David Kelly — IDEO founder and friend of Steve Jobs — and his brother Tom, an author, believe that everyone can be creative, and creativity is a skill you can cultivate through strategies, practices, and changes in mindset.
Full disclosure, I haven’t finished this book yet, but I’m currently reading it and loving it so far — as a person who considers themselves “creative”, but hasn’t been feeling all that creative lately, it’s been helpful in reminding me that creativity is not a thing that just happens but a thing that you actively do.
What do you think?
Have you read any of these books? What do you think of this list? What professional or personal development books do you swear by? Let me know in the comments below!