10 Books to Improve Your Competitive Edge

Over the next month, I will be attending a variety of banking, private-equity and technology investor conferences. Because I will be in contact with so many smart, well-educated and experienced people, I want to make sure that I am knowledgeable about the newest trends in sales, marketing, leadership and improving my relationship with my employees.

I have found that leaders and investors are readers. When they meet other leaders, the conversations will at some point turn toward what the other person has read and if they saw any value in the books. Over the past few months, I have read the following books, which have improved my knowledge in a variety of areas.

Competing in a Flat World, by Victor and William Fung and Jerry Wind . This book focuses on how Li & Fung, a garments manufacturing giant, developed a worldwide network of best-of-breed partners in each part of the supply chain to build a successful company. Along with examples of their own company, they provide examples such as Nike ( NKE) and Apple ( AAPL) working together to develop a running shoe that incorporates the iPod.

Strategic Risk Taking, by Aswath Damodoran . The best companies are smart risk-takers. They perform qualitative and quantitative analysis. This book provides business leaders with a process and methodology for evaluating risk and hedging against the failure of a venture that doesn't meet expectations. The only downside of this book is the lack of case studies usually found in books written by someone of Damodran's stature.

The Soul of the Corporation: How to Manage the Identity of Your Company, by Hamid Bouchikhi and John Kimberly . So many corporate leaders focus on building "the brand," but brands are built through being identified as a leader in a particular field. I like this book a lot because it focuses on how a variety of elements impact a company's long-term success and viability. The elements range from culture to brand-building to mergers to managing alliances. The book includes interesting case studies and interviews with well-respected corporate leaders. It's a quick, but substantive read.

Secrets of Special Ops Leadership, by General William Cohen . As soon as you hear or read the words "special ops," you think of men in dark clothing accomplishing amazing feats of bravery. The book walks the reader through how one of the most professional and well-run organizations prepares and execute its missions. The way these commandos train and how their leadership skills are developed is useful for any organization whose mission is to maximize its potential.

Spiral Up: And Other Management Secrets Behind Wildly Successful Initiatives, by Jane Linder . The author interviewed almost 150 managers and asked them how they successfully launched initiatives that had a positive impact on their companies. I like the examples given, but what I like the most is that the reader can take away useful proven concepts for improving a business' performance.

Selling with Emotional Intelligence, by Mitch Anthony . Emotional intelligence is using your intuition and experience to develop positive relationships with potential clients, employees and strategic partners. Anthony, a sales trainer, writes about being more aware of our own strengths and weaknesses and being a good observer of what others say, don't say and how they carry themselves physically.

The Leadership Advantage, by Robert Fulmer and Jared Bleak . One of the most important things a company can do is develop internal talent. Companies like General Electric ( GE), AT&T ( T), Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ), Citigroup ( C) and Pepsico ( PEP) are known worldwide for their superior training programs and continuous process for developing managers.

Black Belt Negotiating, by Michael Lee . The author is a martial artist and professional negotiator. He has taken the principles and language of karate to provide insights and advice on how to be a better negotiator.

The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson . This is a very interesting book for an aspiring product innovator and manufacturer. Prior to the Internet, innovators had to fight for limited shelf space in retail stores regionally, nationally and even internationally. The cost of procuring shelf space was a show stopper for the majority of new innovations. Today, the Internet has leveled the playing field by reducing the cost and increasing the reach.

Save Now or Die Trying, by Mark Bruno . Bruno is a veteran financial writer who writes about the need for young professionals under the age of 30 to begin thinking about financial planning. The reason I mention this book is because I hear young employees saying they don't need to begin saving until they are in their late 30s or early 40s when they are married with children. It is important for corporate leaders to educate their younger employees and encourage them to become savers, because we can't count on Social Security being available to everyone in the future.

Busy people are usually on trains and planes and have time between waiting and riding to read. Take the opportunity to sharpen your mind and improve your skill set.

Marc Kramer, a serial entrepreneur, is the author of five books and is an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton's Global Consulting Practicum, where he serves as Country Manager for Chile.

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