November 10, 2017

The Top Five Books for Managers #2: The Elements of Style

Book cover art the elements of style one of the top five books for managers
The Top Five Books For Managers #2: The Elements of Style

This is the second in a series of five posts on tips and books for managers, and Cydcor Chief People Officer, Jeannie Finkel. In this series, Jeannie recommends the Top Five Books she believes can help you transform your management style and become a better, more effective leader.


Writing well isn’t just a nice talent you can use to impress friends and colleagues. Sure, it can do that as well, but effective writing is much more important than that. Clear, concise writing is essential to be an effective communicator, a skill you must have if you ever hope to succeed in a leadership or management role. The way you write and communicate can mean the difference between getting the job or not, gaining approval for a critical project, earning the confidence of your team or organization, and the ability to explain yourself in cases when your actions are not as well received or understood. Effective writing ability is not just nice, it’s critical. It can directly impact your ability to survive and thrive in the workplace and your future growth potential.

Clear, concise writing is an essential skill you must have to succeed in a leadership or management role. Share on X

Below, Jeannie Finkel recommends a book she believes any manager must have to help improve writing ability and communication:


Book #2: The Elements of Style


Author: William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White


Short summary: If any aspect of your work involves written communication – beyond texting – and you want the quality of your writing to stand out, this little book will teach you what you need to know to master the core principles of writing clearly. It focuses on the fundamentals, clearly explaining proper usage and composition, and helping explain and address the rules of good writing that are most frequently violated.


This really isn’t a book you “read” per se. Rather, it’s a great reference tool that everyone who aspires to write well, or needs to influence, explain, or inspire would do well to study. It’s less than 100 pages, divided into three segments. The first segment is two chapters which give a set of “rules” for English usage and composition (you’ll remember grammar class in grade school!). Then there’s a terrific section about words and expressions that are most often misused – EVERYONE should review this part. The book ends with a set of 21 tips to keep in mind as you create your own writing style.


What you’ll learn: What you learn from this book really depends on what you need. If you’re newer to business and fresh from writing college papers, you might have to change your style to adapt to the brevity required for business writing, such as reports, PowerPoints, and emails. Find excellent advice to guide you through this transition under the sections entitled “Use definite, specific, concrete language” and “Omit needless words”.


Or, if you’ve been in the business world for some time and now need to or communications for publication, you’ll benefit from reviewing the chapter entitled, “Misused Words and Expressions”. We don’t notice many of these in our everyday conversations with friends, but they really stick out in a written piece!


Dip into the book enough and you’ll experience a true appreciation of the beauty and richness of our language, and realize the professor who wrote the original book truly loved his subject and hoped to pass on the art of communication to future generations.


Why it’s a must read: This is a desk reference I’ve kept with me ever since a rather embarrassing experience with a boss many years ago.  I had just been promoted to my first Vice President level assignment, working for someone who had a reputation for being extremely tough. I was a literature major in college, and I thought I wrote pretty well. I wanted to impress him and show I was worthy of the big new job and title, so I wrote a lengthy memo about something I thought he should consider changing. But, I was afraid to be too direct in case he thought I was overstepping. Instead, I made it so indirect and wishy washy that (as I realized later) it was impossible to figure out what I was trying to say.


Thankfully, rather than ripping up what I’d written and leaving it in shreds on my desk, he said nothing. Instead, after lunch, I came back to a little brown paper bag from the bookstore down the street with this book in it, sitting on top of a copy of my memo. I opened it up and looked at the content. My boss had gone so far as to check off the sections he thought I should read, and underline several key sentences in red ink. This was the President of a key business unit who’d taken the time to go out and get this book for me and do this!! After I got over feeling mortified, I rewrote the memo (it was probably two pages shorter) and went in to thank him and make my case, this time much more directly, confidently, and clearly. We went on to be a great team and work together for many years, and we are still good friends today. I credit him, and this book, with setting me on a path to becoming an effective business writer! Maybe it will do the same for you.

I credit this book with helping me become an effective business writer! Maybe it will do the same for you. Share on X

Look out for upcoming posts in this series to learn about three more books every manager must have on his or her bookshelf to bolster professional growth and personal development. In case you missed it, don’t forget to read last week’s post about the book 13 Fatal Errors Managers Make and How you can Avoid Them.


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portrait of Jeanie Finkel, Chief People Officer at Cydcor.
Jeannie Finkel, Chief People Officer at Cydcor.

Jeannie Finkel, Chief People Officer at Cydcor, the recognized leader in outsourced sales, has more than twenty-five years of business experience, managing human resources and administration at top firms. Jeannie served for nearly twelve years as a Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Charles Schwab & Co. Jeannie was also Head of Human Resources and Administration for a leading asset management firm, and served as Managing Director, Talent Management Systems and Strategies for a Fortune 100 organization. Jeannie later became a Partner with leading global retained search firm, Heidrick & Struggles. With years of experience managing teams and overseeing organizations, Jeannie is a seasoned expert in management, administration, and leadership.