Most executives will say you are what you read, and that’s no different for Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst.
The former chief operating officer of Delta and the author of “The Open Organisation“.
oversees more than 8,000 employees in 80 countries at the open-source software company. His unique views on corporate culture — including the importance of killing terminally nice cultures and his belief that employees who cry are good hires — have been shaped by several thought leaders along the way.
To find out what most influenced his career and leadership style, we asked him to share the business books that have been his biggest sources of inspiration. Read on to see his top recommendations.
'The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail' by Clayton M. Christensen
This classic business book is close to Whitehurst's heart. 'Clay was a professor of mine at Harvard Business School, and his first book was an eye-opening read for lots of us,' he says.
'In it, he explained that an established company can miss an opportunity to bring innovative technology to market because there isn't a recognisable market for it among the company's current customers,' Whitehurst explains. 'Other companies, often startups, step into the breach and develop the new technology. By the time the established company realises that the new technology is eating into its business, the company can't catch up without a huge effort.'
'This is a must-read book for anyone competing in today's disruptive business world.'
'Sinek's articulation of the power of purpose really brought the point home for me,' Whitehurst says. 'I felt that power when I interviewed at Red Hat. I didn't know the nitty-gritty details of the technology yet, but I was excited by the chance to work for a disruptive company that was creating a positive change in the world.'
'That's when I began realising the motivational force of purpose,' he continues. 'There has to be a reason for people to commit and give their best efforts to an organisation, and Sinek's book explains what that reason is.'
As Steve Jobs famously said, great ideas are worth nothing without great execution.
'This is the book to read on the role of a leader in driving execution,' says Whitehurst. 'Bossidy and Charan reminded us that making decisions is easy compared to actually putting the ideas behind the decision into action. They explained how to get people, strategy, and operations working together. And they emphasised the importance of intellectual honesty and accountability and merit -- values that I've found instrumental to success.'
'Looking back now, I would augment the authors' argument with a newer perspective on the need for leadership transparency and openness,' he says, 'but 'Execution' is still a great book for aspiring leaders.'
Whitehurst says 'The Goal' is his 'favourite business book ever.'
It's a 'business novel that introduced Goldratt's Theory of Constraints, which described how to make more money by increasing throughput, and reducing inventory and operating expenses in a systemic way,' he says.
'The book is really about lean manufacturing, but Goldratt's concepts are being applied in today's tech sectors, too. You can see them in DevOps and its holistic approach to accelerating the development of software
products and services.'
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