The Fall Reading List: 5 Guides for Your Path to Personal & Professional Happiness

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Fall is here, the kids are out of the house, so it’s a good time to refocus your energy and engage in a little back-to-school reading of your own. Achieving any goal requires hard work, determination and maybe just a little bit of advice. Here are five books — from the latest titles generating buzz on Fast Company to classic guideposts that have served successful managers well — that will help you on your path toward a rewarding professional and personal life.

Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast-Track Your Career
Sylvia Ann Hewlett

In this practical book, the economist and founder of the Center for Talent Innovation explains why you should seek out a sponsor over a mentor. Sponsors, who take a vested interest in seeing you succeed, are a proven link to success, explains Hewlett. Mentors, whom you can turn to for advice and support, may be good at building up self-esteem. But a sponsor, especially a senior executive, will help you get noticed for the right reasons, she says.

Memorable advice: “You’ll get back what you put in. If you’re a high-potential or strong performer, you’ll attract the interest of your superiors, but whether that interest translates into mentorship or sponsorship is a function of your investment…. Mentors may pick you, but you pick your sponsors by committing yourself to their best interests.

Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success
G. Richard Shell

Richard Shell’s “Springboard” is a guide to a more fruitful personal and professional life. Shell, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, compiles a series of personal anecdotes meant to foster deep introspection about your own past, as well as your aspirations for the future.

Rather than dictating what you should do, the book seeks to help you discover what gives your life true meaning and excitement. What helps anchor the book in reality is a series of inspirational stories of people who have successfully embraced what their true calling — people such as Kurt Timken, a Harvard-educated heir, who left his job at the Fortune 500 Timken Corp. to pursue a career in law enforcement.

Memorable advice: “I want to help you start where you are today, regardless of your current advantages or disadvantages. Then you can use this book as a springboard for launching your search to find a truly personal vision of success.”

Becoming a Better Boss: Why Good Management is So Difficult
Julian Birkinshaw

In today’s stretched business world, the fundamentals of effective management are often ignored. In his new book, London Business School professor Julian Birkinshaw argues that managers who are willing to take risks and experiment can overcome the limitations and idiosyncrasies holding back many organizations. His book takes an employee’s point of view by exploring their hopes, needs and fears. He also sets out to explain why some managers are ineffective and provides solutions they can use to overcome their weaknesses and improve their management skills.

Memorable advice: “The book is all about things you can do differently — to give you a new outlook on your work, to help you reflect on your own biases, and to force yourself out of your comfort zone.”

Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable
Seth Godin 

When it comes to crafting fresh, impactful marketing strategies, Seth Godin is an unquestionable authority. His classic, “Purple Cow,” is a testament to the outside-the-box thinking that has made him one of today’s more widely respected authors and strategists. The book, first released in 2003 and recently updated, is an unabashed manifesto urging managers to transform their businesses by creating truly remarkable products people will not just buy, but actually remember.

Memorable advice: “Remarkable marketing is the art of building things worth noticing right into your product or service. Not just slapping on the marketing function as a last-minute add-on, but also understanding from the outset that if you’re offering itself isn’t remarkable, then it’s invisible — no matter how much you spend on well-crafted advertising.”

Off Balance: Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance
Matthew Kelly 

In this book, noted business consultant Matthew Kelly argues that society’s quest for a healthy work/life balance is a modern version of the age-old question thinkers such as Plato or Aristotle wrestled with as they thought about the principles of what defines a “good life.” Yet while contemporary society talks about the need for balance, the reality is that no one really achieves this, according to Kelly. People inherently don’t want balance, what they want is satisfaction. “Off Balance” provides pointed strategies to live a satisfied life, both in and outside the office.

Memorable advice: “Having examined the issue extensively, I have come to the conclusion we don’t really need or want balance…. So, what is it that people need and want? People need and want a satisfying experience of life.”

Tell us about your own favorite guide to a successful life and career.

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