Take Me To:
The Age of Paradox
One of the great management thinkers of the 20th century, Charles Handy offers a tour guide through the complexities of paradox. I took delight in the entire book, but I have especially used the inside-out doughnut (explained in Chapter 4) to think through and collaborate on some fundamental paradoxes in leadership and management.
The Art of Asking: Ask Better Questions, Get Better Answers
Terry J. Fadem
Fadem offers dozens of insights and stratagems for asking more penetrating questions. I have long believed that leaders can lead more effectively through good questions, and Fadem provides the technical ballast to do just that.
The Art of Followership: How Great Followers Create Great Leaders and Organizations
Robert E. Riggio and Jean Lippmann-Blumen, editors
Followership is an underappreciated and understudied counterpoint to leadership. It needs more attention, and it gets it here. This volume consists of 23 carefully selected essays on followers and followership.
The Argument Culture: Moving From Debate to Dialogue
This is a terrific start. Deborah Tannen, a psycholinguist at Georgetown, believes that contemporary Americans too easily fall into a rut of arguing. She has a terrific point and she makes it well. I would take it a step further, to urge people to move from dialogue to collaboration.
The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy Into Action
Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton
With this book Robert Kaplan and David Norton introduced the twin arguments that profitability is scarcely the only financial metric of importance, and that financial metrics are scarcely the only metrics of importance, for business. They open the book with a compelling metaphor you cannot forget: An airplane pilot flying with only a single instrument gauge—a compass, perhaps—without instruments for altitude or speed or barometric pressure. No one would want to be a passenger on that airplane. Similarly, by focusing only on profit or shareholder value, companies undervalue the importance of other financial metrics such as inventory and aging receivables; and by focusing only on financial metrics, companies undervalue product quality, customer loyalty, employee engagement, external reputation, and so much more.
The Black Swan
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The black swan is emblematic of unlikely events, which Nassim Taleb argues happen far more often than most people assume. That fact requires adaptive thinking and skepticism toward our own day-to-day expectations, which in turn requires decentralized leadership and broad people engagement in any large, complex organization.
Communicating for Change
This little volume by the redoubtable Roger D’Aprix laid the foundation for approaching organizational communication as a process. It is mandatory reading for anyone in an advisory capacity on communication to senior executives.
Corporate Culture and Performance
John P. Kotter
It wasn’t all that long ago that corporate culture was pooh-poohed as academic and irrelevant to a company’s real work. We now know just how important it is and, thanks to this book, just how difficult it is to manage.
Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
Though somewhat dated by now, my original copy of this book is heavily underscored and still instructive. It emphasizes the importance of a leader’s credibility as perceived and judged by potential followers.
The Credible Company: Communicating With a Skeptical Workforce
The author is perhaps the best friend business leaders don’t realize they have. In this slim volume, he explains why and how companies need to talk straight with employees.
The Daily Drucker: 366 Days of Insight and Motivation for Getting the Right Things Done
Peter F. Drucker
I keep this book on my nightstand. (No cracks about my personal life, please.) Drucker was perhaps the most incisive thinker in the history of the modern corporation. This book is a compilation of a year’s worth of sublime insights. For each day’s brief entry, you will spend multiple days in reflection.
Dialogue: Rediscover the Transforming Power of Conversation
Linda Ellinor and Glenna Gerard
This provocative volume features a deep dialogue with the likes of Peter Senge and Meg Wheatley. The thesis distinguishes between rich dialogue and chaotic discussion, and it calls for more humanity, creativity, and collaboration in the workplace.
Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate: The Essential Guide for Progressives
Set aside the partisan politics of this little book. Read it for the insights it offers on framing, a powerful forensic device for recasting discussions, dialogues, and debates.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Daniel Pink writes with the grace of Malcolm Gladwell, and he is consistently interesting and provocative in big ways. Here he turns his attention to solid research on human motivation, and along the way he tells more than a few fascinating anecdotes about what motivates chimpanzees and rats, too. The book includes a lengthy, practical toolkit to guide the application of its principles.
Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ
This book is a classic in its own time. Absolutely must reading for every leader and aspiring leader. Emotions are far more important than reasoning as a driver of human choice, and organizations that rely for motivation on objective facts and cold logic will invariably miss their full potential. Contrary to widespread belief, emotions are not inherently good or bad; they include enthusiasm and affection as well as fear and worry, and they are singularly important. Getting in touch with our emotions is perhaps the only sure way to find and affirm our authentic personhood, and recognizing common strains of emotion offers a path to powerful, transformational leadership.
The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be
This is a fascinating examination of the erosion of centralized authority in a variety of fields: government, the military, business, religion, philanthropy, even chess. Moisés Naím draws intriguing examples from the Gates Foundation, al Qaeda, hedge funds, the rise of charismatic and Pentecostal religions, Silicon Valley startups, and even the recent explosion of teenage grandmasters in chess to document his subtitle. I do have some qualms that Naím’s thesis doesn’t fit certain industries (such as banking or energy, both of which are more concentrated than ever), and I am not quite satisfied with Naím’s limited policy prescriptions. Still, I found this to be a worthwhile and very eye-opening book.
Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success
Published in 2013, Give and Take is my favorite new book, and Grant is my favorite new author. Nor am I alone; he is the youngest tenured professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and he is the highest rated member of the faculty by students. In his first book, Grant delights in demolishing conventional notions of motivation, and he has the data to back up his counter-intuitive arguments. Highly recommended.
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t
Some books are iconic in their genre, and this is one of them. I have always had some reservations as to the research framework behind this book, but its lessons make so much common sense, I set aside any doubts I may have.
Great Communication Secrets of Great Leaders
John Baldoni has few peers as an authority on how highly visible leaders convey their vision of the future. I have issues with his narrow construction of communication; he thinks primarily in terms of words and only secondarily in terms of the behaviors that confirm or undermine the words. Moreover, he seems to regard as leaders only those individuals at the very summit of an organization. I recommend this book in spite of these reservations, for it has many insights that warrant your attention.
How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation
Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey
I really like the architecture of this book. It sets forth seven fundamental shifts in perspective and language, which the authors believe will make our companies better places to work and all of us better colleagues to work alongside.
How to Win Friends and Influence People
If you read only book on professional development, make it this one. I find it worthwhile to reread this book every five years or so. Almost 85 years old, How to Win Friends is the epitome of a modern classic. Everyone should read it and re-read it. Its advice is timeless.
This compact book features myth-busting essays on twelve U.S. presidents—including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. All twelve, we come to appreciate, were fallible human beings who nevertheless achieved greatness. None was the figure of heroic perfection that myth so often perpetuates. This is very good news for the rest of us.
Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge
Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus
I have some qualms with the facile notion that managers do things right while leaders do the right thing. Nevertheless, Bennis and Nanus offer up a feast of provocative thinking. The structure they offer for leadership is partly responsible for our own at Arceil Leadership.
James MacGregor Burns
This is a classic of the genre. To understand leadership, you simply must read this book, which introduced the twin pillars of transactional and transformational leadership. The author won both a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
The Leadership Challenge: How to Keep Getting Extraordinary Things Done in Organizations
James M. Kouzes and Barry Posner
This is a well-structured book that lays out a multi-stage process for leadership that millions of readers have found useful. Moreover, it emphasizes the emotional component of leadership. I heartily recommend it.
Leadership Is an Art and Leadership Jazz
Both these books are splendid little reads. The author, chairman emeritus of Herman Miller and the son of its founder, was a deep thinker and eloquent writer. He died at advanced age in 2017. It’s hard to go wrong with anything that DePree wrote. My well-worn copy of Leadership Jazz had type you could read from six feet, which made it easy reading even on a bumpy airplane flight. Peter Drucker's endorsement on the cover—"Read this slowly. It is wisdom in action."—couldn't speak more to the value of Jazz, but Art is also very worthwhile. I heartily recommend both.
John P. Kotter
Harvard professor John Kotter is that rare academic who understands how communication works—and how it so often fails to work—in the real world of business. This is an important read.
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
Every woman in business should just read this book. Every man who knows or loves a woman in business should read this book. Every boss should read this book. Every young woman (and every young man) should read this book. It fully deserves all the accolades it is getting. Part of it is a Bill Cosby call to women themselves to be more assertive and take more responsibility for their careers, but part of it is a lambasting of the insensitive clods who run so many businesses, such as the Wall Street investment banker who had never attended a presentation by a woman, or the consulting client who wanted to set up the author with his son. Altogether, Lean In is a very impressive book.
Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times
Donald T. Phillips
This is a marvelous little book. You may have to look pretty hard for it as it may be out of print, but your search will be well-rewarded. I believe it is available as a downloadable e-book.
Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection
In the mid-20th century a cold and aloof scientist at the University of Wisconsin by the name of Harry Harlow brought the rigor of objective study to the unlikeliest of subjects: human affection. Until his trailblazing work, parents had been discouraged from showing affection to their children, and husbands had been deemed weak if they were too demonstrative toward their wives. Deborah Blum, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for science writing, brings her prodigious talent to bear on a phenomenal study of Harlow and the popularization of his work. Her book is a triumph that every leader should read.
Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends
Tim Sanders, a former Yahoo executive, offers a lively and compelling antidote to business as cutthroat, take-no-prisoners competition. He calls for more compassion, more cooperation, and more collaboration in the workplace, and he presents a compelling business and moral case for it. We use his work in our teaching of servant leadership.
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
Chip Heath and Dan Heath
A sticky idea is an idea that people easily remember. This breezy read is jam-packed with astute observations and clever suggestions for better communication.
Man’s Search for Meaning
Viktor E. Frankl
What can you say about a book that has sold 12 million copies? Any leader who is serious about living a life of soulful meaning, and about nurturing a soulful culture, must read this book. The author, a Holocaust survivor, developed the third wave of psychotherapy based on Søren Kierkegaard’s emphasis on the importance of finding the meaning for one’s life. In this slim volume Frankl argues that each of us is responsible for identifying the authentic meaning of our life.
Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter
Liz Wiseman with Greg McKeon
This book has an outstanding thesis—as its title states, the primary task of a leader is to advance the intellectual capacity of people—and is packed with practical advice. I especially resonated to its emphasis on asking questions. You can communicate more insight, and communicate it more effectively, through good questions asked well than you can through declarative statements. A cautionary note: Questions with poor phrasing or a harsh tone can easily backfire. Assume the perspective of a teacher, not a prosecutor.
No-Nonsense Management: A General Manager’s Primer
Richard S. Sloma
Though somewhat dated by now, this compact 1977 book is organized around ninety simple, straightforward principles for success in business. The principles are practical and immediately applicable. Some examples that resonated with me: Master the previous before leaping to the subsequent. It never pays to delay personnel decisions. Get time on your side. Management is always a contest of wills; that’s why persistence always wins. This is a fine little book that belongs on every manager’s bookshelf.
Before you reach for the counterfeit currency that 55 percent of all interpersonal communication is a function of body language and facial expression, another 38 percent a function of tone of voice, and only 7 percent from words, read this book. Both the nature and the impact of nonverbal communication are frequently misunderstood. This book had the original science, but bring a skeptical mind. If only 7 percent of meaning were truly derived from words, you would never sign a contract, an American could easily order lunch at a Thai café in Paris, every game of charades would quickly end—and executives would have no need for words to explain their business case to investors or their strategy to employees.
John W. Gardner
I first read this book in graduate school more than 25 years ago, and I continue returning to it for timeless wisdom on leadership. The pages are tattered now, but scarcely a single page lacks underscoring and marginalia.
Organizational Culture and Leadership
Edgar H. Schein
Edgar Schein’s name is synonymous with the work he explores in this seminal book. This book is mandatory reading. Schein’s definition of corporate culture is noteworthy for its specificity. In addition to looking at norms, values, rituals, and so forth, he adds structural stability and the integration of all common behaviors into a gestalt that singularly characterizes an organization.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
Susan Cain’s exploration of introverts and introversion is particularly relevant to leaders of large, complex organizations, for many if not most of them are introverts themselves in a culture that places outsize value on extroversion, and all leaders are seeking to lead large numbers of introverts toward a common destination. The book is marvelous, and its appendices of lists and suggestions are especially valuable. Incidentally, the author has a marvelous TED talk you can find by searching YouTube.
More than two millennia ago Aristotle articulated the three basic modes of rhetoric: logos, or logic and reason; pathos, or emotion and feeling; and ethos, or character and deed. You see the power of this trinity in books, television advertising, and leadership by example. Pathos trumps logos, and ethos trumps them both.
The Secret Language of Leadership: How Leaders Inspire Action Through Narrative
I found this book compulsively readable and very enlightening. For any senior manager who doubts the importance of clear, compelling, credible communication, begin here. A minor fault: Denning reads too much into the results of the U.S. presidential election of 2000; it was the election’s loser, Al Gore, not the winner, George W. Bush, who garnered the most votes and therefore connected the most with the public.
The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us
James W. Pennebaker
This is a fascinating book about a little-understood aspect of language. We use pronouns more than any other part of speech—indeed the word I is the most-used word in English—and we convey a great deal of meaning in the subtle choice of pronouns. Pennebaker argues that pronouns in the first-person singular (I, my, mine, me) convey a sense of ownership and control, while pronouns in the first-person plural (we, our, ours, us) convey a sense of mutuality, collaboration, and bond.
The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership
James C. Hunter
I usually shy away from business tomes in the form of fables. In my experience, they are just too schmaltzy. This book is better than most of its genre. It is an easy, quick read, but its impact will stick with you a long time. I particularly like the emphasis on agape—all the more for the wonderful quotation from legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi—and the exploration of the emotional drivers of leadership.
The Servant Leader: How to Build a Creative Team, Develop Great Morale, and Improve Bottom-Line Performance
James A. Autry
If you have ever been curious about servant leadership and the impact it can make on your organization—whether in business, government, or non-profit—you can do no better than read James Autry's marvelous little book, The Servant Leader. Now in his mid-80s, Autry is a master of simple, memorable illustrations and practical explanations. I just finished re-reading it, as I wanted to refresh my memory prior to leading a classroom discussion tomorrow. It's a gem, a little masterpiece. Anyone in management or leadership should make a high priority of reading (and, yes, eventually re-reading) this splendid little book.
Servant Leadership: A Journey Into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness
Robert K. Greenleaf
This is a marvelous, even historic breakthrough in thinking on leadership. Drawing from literature, history, and religion, Greenleaf marshals a powerful argument for leaders to regard themselves as servants of the people they would lead. Published in 1977 and somewhat dated by now, Servant Leadership is nevertheless as vital in the 21st Century (arguably even more so) as it was a generation ago. Our Master Class workshops lean heavily on Greenleaf’s work.
Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic
Stephen R. Covey
One of the all-time best-selling books, Seven Habits is a breezy, inspiring, and instructive read. If you have never read it, you should read it now. If you read it years ago, you should read it again. And if you’re a frustrated wanna-be author, you should take note that more than 50 publishers rejected Covey’s book proposal.
The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron
Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind
The authors are the Fortune journalists who first alerted the public to suspicions about the Houston-based energy trading company. They tell the whole story here of distant or absent oversight coupled with malicious manipulation in the C-suite.
Talking From 9 to 5: How Women’s and Men’s Conversational Styles Affect Who Gets Heard, Who Gets Credit, and What Gets Done at Work
Chapter 3, on indirect communication, is especially helpful for the clarity it brings to a common workplace dynamic.
Thank You for Arguing: What Aristiotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion
This wonderful, erudite book should be required reading in every business school. It teaches you how to win arguments with civility and respect, and without making your opponent feel stupid or deficient. Heinrichs draws on all manner of experts, both historical and contemporary, to teach us everything we need to know.
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
Anything with Malcolm Gladwell’s byline has a Midas touch. This, his first book, is the apotheosis of nonfiction writing, and it is important to anyone in business.
Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now
This little book is jam-packed with wisdom. Every chief executive—indeed, every manager—should read it and then reread it once a year.
James MacGregor Burns
This volume is a marvelous, breezy exploration of leadership as a transformative art. Reading it is like chatting late into the night with your favorite professor, who tells story after story.
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us
Seth Godin demolishes the myth that leadership is only for the C-suite. It’s for anyone who is tired of being a drone and who has a compelling idea for the future. This little book reads like a blog, probably because Godin is one of the most successful bloggers out there. Besides, he has a great haircut.
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership
John C. Maxwell
The author is an articulate advocate of servant leadership, the doctrine that leaders lead best by serving their followers, not vice versa. More business leaders should embrace this core concept.
Winning With the P&G 99: Principles and Practices of Procter & Gamble’s Success
Charles L. Decker
Procter & Gamble—the maker and marketer of such globally iconic brands as Tide detergent and Crest toothpaste—has long had a culture that other companies can only envy. Charles L. Decker was a brand manager at P&G for many years, and he shares his inside knowledge of the company and its culture in this marvelous little book. I wish I had read it decades ago. Organized in ninety-nine little sections, each of which begins with a pithy statement of wise principle, Winning With the P&G 99 offers some old chestnuts like trusting the customer and honoring your people, but it also serves up counterintuitive ideas like being your best enemy, listening after every sale, and managing each brand as a business of its own. You may have to settle for a used copy of this 1998 book, but if you’re smart you will find it, read it, and keep it.
Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear
A well-regarded Republican political consultant, Luntz focuses on rhetoric in American political debate, but many of his principles and even some of his examples are applicable to business here and abroad. He is an engaging writer, too.
Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive
Noah J. Goldstein
This book is exactly as its title promises. Moreover, it is as readable as one of Malcolm Gladwell’s hotcakes, and I wish it had sold even half as fast. You can read it in a couple of nights, it is so well-written, and yet it is a summary of academic research. A real gem.