5 Classic Business Books for Millennials

So you just landed a great job in Big Law. Or you finally found your dream job in fashion, or filmmaking, or software development. Maybe you became an accidental accountant, discovered you love retailing, or figured out a way to take that museum job and still pay your rent. Whatever your circumstances, if you work in an organization, there are five classic business books you must read.

Prior to anyone “leaning in” or “thinking like a freak,” these writers were sharing wisdom the old fashioned way. Each one of these business books for Millennials will help you better understand how organizations work and how you can be productive within them, whatever the trends and times.

Business Books for Millennials

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, 1936
Long before your parents were born (or even your grandparents!), Dale Carnegie was telling business people how to succeed. His number one “Big Secret“ — Make people feel important. Not only does Carnegie give readers a handful of straightforward tips for gaining influence, he even starts his book off with nine suggestions on how to get the most out of reading it. There is no better way to spend $14 than to pick up a copy.

The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker, 1966
Forgive the exclusive use of male pronouns and the underlying assumption that its readers are men. Drucker wrote this gem of a book back in 1966, before feminism’s second wave. It’s chock full of great tips and advice for ways you can be effective, even in a dysfunctional organizational environment. You do it by focusing on what you are able to affect and ignoring what’s beyond your sphere of influence. My favorite nugget: “Do first things first, and second things not at all.”

Gods of Management by Charles Handy, 1978
In this brilliant little book Handy, considered one of the world’s most influential living management thinkers, presents four models that describe basic organizational structures and cultures. Each model is named for a Greek god whose characteristics are associated with a particular type of organization. Once you understand the four types, you will have a very useful tool for quickly sizing up any organization you walk into. This is one of the best little tricks you will ever pull out of your tool kit.

On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis, 1989
If Drucker is the father of management (and he is), the late Warren Bennis is the father of leadership. This early book on the topic asserted a hopeful idea — leaders are made, not born. If you wanted to become a leader, Bennis showed you how. He bemoaned the short-term thinking of contemporary CEOs but in 2009 said he was optimistic about Millennials, calling you “the Crucible Generation” because of the global environmental challenges you face.

Comparing Millennials to his own “Greatest Generation,” Bennis wrote, “The truth may be that history, in its kindness, gave this new generation a grand crucible challenge, as it did my own. The young of today have been summoned to receive that same kindness through the collective failures of their elders.”

The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas Friedman, 1999
When I finished the last page of The Lexus and the Olive Tree I knew one thing for sure: I would never read a newspaper the same way again. I didn’t mean that I would be using e-readers or apps; I meant that Friedman’s book had utterly changed the way I understood the world. It explained so much. The lay-offs and low wages. Crummy service jobs and cheap tee shirts. Why nothing was made in America anymore and why some people in the Middle East resorted to terrorism. Friedman’s analysis of globalization is still relevant, although I suggest that you temper his enthusiasm by reading another excellent book (almost a classic), Globalization and Its Discontents by Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz (2003).

Bruce the Goose, or How I Came to Be Fair to a Fowl

Bruce. A domestic goose and farm animal.

Bruce, a domestic goose and king of the farmyard.


Bruce didn’t always have a name. In the beginning he was just The Goose. And he was nasty — ‘assertive’ if it’s my brother talking. As far as I’m concerned, he still is. Nasty, I mean. (The goose, not my brother.)  But ever since Bruce got a name, something’s changed in the way I feel about him. I like him now. This is how it happened:

My brother lives on a farm.  At least it used to be a farm. Now it’s a lot of uncultivated land with pretty views, a pond full of beavers, assorted outbuildings, some chickens, a bunch of farm cats, and Bruce.  Several years ago, someone gave my brother a pair of geese, possibly in trade for some service or a season’s worth of fresh vegetables, I can’t recall. But the point is that the two geese, one male and one female, came to live on the farm.

The pair had the run of the place, and run they did. In the fall they’d hang way out back at the pond, where the migrating wild geese stopped for a night or two on their way south. On sunny summer days you’d find them sitting in the shade near the driveway, ready to produce a cacophony of honks and squawks whenever someone came down the road. From inside the house it sounded like one of the dogs barking. Over time, in order to distinguish one from the other, we began calling the male Goosey and his mate, Mrs. Goose. Together, they patrolled the border, harassed the chickens, menaced the dogs and generally assumed ownership of the entire yard. On occasion, if a kid wasn’t quick, Goosey’s neck would shoot out like a whip to skin a bit of flesh off an arm or thigh. The kid would instantly acquire a huge black-and-blue mark and Goosey would saunter off, chest puffed out, secure in the knowledge that he retained control of the territory.

Then the unthinkable happened. One morning, when my brother went out to do morning chores, there was just Goosey, sitting in his usual place by the back door, and strangely silent. No Mrs. Goose. My brother quickly found her, or what was left of her, in a sad pile of feathers, skin and bone, apparently eaten by a coyote. We all felt bad but, “Hey,” we said to one another, “she’s just a farm animal. It’s the circle of life and all that.”

Goosey didn’t share our acceptance. He moped around. He picked at his food. We told ourselves we were anthropomorphizing his behaviors, yet it was clear that he just wasn’t his usual self. We figured he’d get over it in time. He didn’t. It turns out that geese, both wild and domestic, form enduring bonds, often for life, and they have excellent memories. They are intelligent, and also quite social, which means they sometimes bond with whoever’s around. In this case, Goosey chose my brother.

It happened gradually. One morning when my brother went out for his morning walk, Goosey came trotting along beside him. Then Goosey started hanging around the garden gate, ready to race over to greet my brother whenever he came out of the house. Pretty soon he was taking treats from my brother’s hand, nuzzling up to his legs in the manner of a cat, and even allowing himself to be stroked on the head and neck. But only by my brother.

For the rest of us, Goosey — who my brother had now christened Bruce — serves up only scorn. In the case of my sister-in-law, jealousy has prompted Bruce to jump on her back and beat her about the head with his wings. It sounds funny, and it is, unless you’re the one with a 20-pound goose biting your shoulder. As for myself, I sported two, painful, silver-dollar sized bruises on an inner thigh for over two weeks, acquired from Bruce as punishment for getting between him and his human. (The human in question had a good laugh over my indignity and even I had to chuckle.)

So why do I like Bruce? Because I now know him to be an individual — a unique creature who feels loss, pain, love and loyalty. He has his own personality and his own name. He has transcended the object “goose” to become the subject “Bruce.” And that, to mis-apply Robert Frost, has made all the difference.

What the Hobby Lobby Decision Means for Men

A Bible is not a health care plan

This is not a health care plan

Obviously, the Supreme Court’s decision to allow Hobby Lobby to deny female employees prescription drug coverage for birth control pills has a dramatic impact on women’s health. But it poses plenty of troubling issues for men too. That’s because the premise underlying the decision views the rights of a “closely held” corporation as superior to the rights of an individual. And not just any right — the right of an individual to control his/her physical person.

Had the “public option” not been dropped from healthcare reform, we might not have this problem. But as long as the US expects employers to shoulder the primary responsibility for providing health insurance, this conflict of values will be a source of contention. If the Hobby Lobby owners choose to ignore scientific fact, viewing some forms of contraception as abortifacients, that’s their prerogative. But that’s no reason they should block an employee’s access to a particular type of medication. Hobby Lobby is, after all, merely a middleman in the health insurance supply chain.

The Hobby Lobby decision raises several pertinent questions for all people. Can a “closely held” corporation…

  • Refuse to insure fertility treatments for men and women, since they interfere with divine will?
  • Refuse to insure Viagra and similar drugs that encourage male sexual activity beyond a seemly age?
  • Block procedures and medications to treat sexually transmitted diseases, clearly only contracted by the immoral and promiscuous?
  • Discriminate against gay men? Perhaps their flouting of Leviticus disqualifies them from receiving healthcare altogether.
  • Single out HIV and AIDS patients? (I wonder if one could get treatment on the condition that he or she proves the HIV was contracted via blood transfusion or another way that is acceptable to the employer.)
  • Take this idea beyond healthcare? For instance, do the Christian consciences of Hobby Lobby’s owners exempt them from public accommodation laws?

Bottom line: Do you control your body? Or does your employer? Or the state, in the guise of five old men clinging to inherited privilege?

It’s an easy out for some to say, “If you don’t like it, don’t work for Hobby Lobby,” but that’s not the point. We’re on a slippery slope and there are 48 similar cases working their way through lower courts right now. As Justice Ginsberg wrote in her dissent, “The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”