Thursday, 17 April 2014

Your Leadership Bookshelf

image borrowed from
Today I read an HBR blog article detailing a 'must read' list of leadership books, entitled "If You Want to Lead, Read These 10 Books" by Whitney Johnson.

It was an interesting list. Now, the post was a couple of years old, so there weren't the great new books, like Adam Grant's book, Give and Take (which I would definitely have on my bookshelf). But I was really surprised that there were no theory books listed.

You see, I find that the theory is the first place I turn when I come across something new. First I want to see how it goes together, then I want to see what it does. Then I want to see if I can take it apart and put it back together again. Then I want to test it.

Tinker, tinker, tinker.

So my personal list of leadership books would start with a primer. I would have either Richard L Daft's "The Leadership Experience" or Gary Yukl's "Leadership in Organizations" for a good dollop of underpinning leadership theory. I strongly believe that without a sound understanding of models, styles, rationale and principles, we are destined to recreate the mistakes of the past. I would also want a book to guide my leadership study. I would take Brad Jackson & Ken Parry's "A Very Short Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book About Studying Leadership".

From there, I would be adding - as the article's author did - Carol Dweck's book on "Mindset", Brené Brown's "Daring Greatly" and Clayton Christensen's "The Innovator's Dilemma". They are all awesome pieces of work.

I would also have "Leadership can be Taught" by Sharon Daloz Parks, based on Heifetz's work, Adam Grant's book "Give and Take", and Daniel Goleman's book on "Emotional Intelligence". All great, and all well underpinned by theory, careful thought, and research.

Surprisingly, Jim Collins' books didn't make it onto Whitney's list. I would definitely be including "How the Mighty Fall" or "Good to Great". I would think about including something by Seth Godin and something by Malcolm Gladwell... and probably Dan Ariely's "Predictably Irrational". However, all three of those might not make the cut, because they are more about social science in general than about leadership in particular.

Whitney's article also made me laugh. She enjoyed Les Mis, and thought that it was a great tale of leadership. However, it left me totally cold; I felt little connection with the protagonists. And when it comes to leadership, in general I want reality. So I would swap that out for a 'real' (in my humble opinion) leadership book. I would choose Amanda Sinclair's "Leadership for the Disillusioned". It asks lots of very uncomfortable questions, which I find insightful.

I was also dubious about some inclusions; two I felt were just plain silly as leadership books. One was "We" by Robert A Johnson, the other was "Warren Buffett Invests Like a Girl" by LouAnn Lofton. I felt that these were both pop-psych books in their time, now consigned to my remainder bin.

There are also some other books which I feel help guide me when I lead (no, I can't stop at ten books!!). They are Robert Greenleaf's "The Power of Servant Leadership", Geert Hofstede's "Culture and Organizations" and Bill George's "Authentic Leadership". Lastly, I would have to include Donald Schön's "The Reflective Practitioner". Without thoughtful reflection in our practice, we have no perspective for our actions, and little chance to improve.

Some of the books that Whitney suggested I hadn't heard of, so they have gone onto my reading list. This includes Jane McGonigal's "Reality is Broken", Marcus Buckingham’s "Standout" and Eric Ries's "The Lean Start-Up". Once I have read these, I will write up what I got from them :-D 
  • Reference: Johnson, Whitney (17 October 2012). If You Want to Lead, Read These 10 Books. USA: HBR Blog. Retrieved 17 April 2014 from


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