Six Books for Actuaries to Excel at Leadership, Strategy and Communication

These are six books that have helped me the most in my actuarial career. It’s not enough to just read these books; you need to practice the skills that they teach. Luckily, volunteering for the CAS gives you ample opportunity to practice these skills. So, I encourage you to go forth and read, practice and grow.

Start with Why Simon Sinek

A strong leader needs a point of view. Sinek says, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. Read this book (or watch the Ted Talk) and find your “why”.

Good Strategy, Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters Richard Rumelt

The title says it all. Rumelt gives examples of bad strategy like: “we want to grow profits by 20%”, followed by strategic retreats where everyone generalizes that they will become more awesome. If this sounds painfully familiar to you, and you instead want to know how to come up with a good strategy, read this book.

The Lean Startup Eric Ries

If you want to be innovative, then you can learn a lot from how startups approach innovation. This is one of the first books to talk about the concept of a minimum viable product – a great concept that I use to develop new tools at work.

The Art of Public Speaking Stephen Lucas

This is not your typical book on public speaking.  It taught me to focus on my content; especially how to organize content. Content organization is very different when you’re speaking to 200 people than when you’re speaking to 10 people.  Once you have mastered this, people are engaged and everything else (how you stand, etc.) comes naturally.

Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics Dona Wong

This is a very simple and practical guide to displaying data that makes it easy to understand, with takeaways that are immediately actionable.

Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content Ann Handley

I’ve read a few books on writing, and this one is my favorite because it’s so practical.  My favorite tip in the book? Put the most important thing in the start of your sentence. For example, instead of saying “According to Mrs. Jones, an authority on asbestos reserves at The Big Consulting Firm, the reserves at XYZ Insurance are deficient.”  You would say “The reserves at XYZ are deficient, according to Mrs. Jones, an authority on asbestos reserves at The Big Consulting Firm”.  It seems like an obvious tip, but it’s something I’ve never actively thought about until I read this book.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? What would you add to the list of books recommended for actuaries to improve our leadership skills?

Editorial Note: This blog post was originally published in the CAS Leadership Development Committee’s inaugural newsletter. You can find this column and others on the topic of leadership here.

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About Jessica Leong

Jessica Leong, FCAS, serves on the CAS Board of Directors. She is a predictive analytics execution lead at Zurich North America.

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