Below are books that I’ve read in the last 20+ years that have been seminal in my thinking about leadership. As you will see, my interests have jumped around over the last two plus decades!
Let me start here, with THE MOST IMPORTANT BOOK YOU CAN READ AS A LEADER!
The Promise of Sleep
You probably don’t need to read all 480 pages, but I did in August of 2008 and it has made me unquestionably a better leader, teacher, lecturer, human being. Before this book, like everyone I knew, I slept for 6 hours a night (at best) and often with less. This book, however, motivated me to ‘test the hypothesis’ that more sleep would result in more … well, more everything: productivity, memory, mood and emotion management, better communication, happiness, satisfaction with life in general. I needed this book, and the mountain of evidence it brings to the subject, to be convinced to get more sleep. It is not too much of an exaggeration to say this book changed my life for the better!
These books also changed my life, just not as dramatically as Dement’s The Promise of Sleep did:
Management of the Absurd
This is the book that introduced me to the idea of paradox in management and leadership. It is not too strong a statement to say it completely changed the way I viewed being both a manager and a leader. The book is small and broken up into little chapters … almost like reading Zen koans … and it was for me, to say the least, enlightening!
This book provides an elegant way of thinking about organizations, without being a ‘business’ book about ‘organizations’. I still teach the book’s main concept that all organizations are composed of three elements: agents, strategies, and measures of success. This book also launched a year-long reading project on the topic of ‘complexity science’, which interestingly ended up with another year-long reading project on books about Charles Darwin. To this day I can’t pass up a new biography about Darwin!
Organizational Culture and Leadership
This book opened my eyes to an entire universe of new ways to think about organizations and leadership. Schein is the great thinker in this area, that’s why his book is now in its 5th edition! I cannot recommend this book too highly.
Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ
This is the book that moved me away from the ‘Business & Management’ section of the bookstore to the ‘Science’ section. First published in 1995, it is still a good read. The original research was not conducted by Goleman but by Peter Salovey (Yale) and John Mayer (U. New Hampshire). Goleman turned their research into a cottage industry but Salovey & Mayer did the hard work. Their original article can be found here … http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.2190/DUGG-P24E-52WK-6CDG
This book was an epiphany for me … it totally changed my mind about how I thought about the human brain and, therefore, leadership. As a result, once I started reading Damasio, I didn’t stop until I had read everything he wrote!
The Hostage Brain
McEwen’s title says it all … understanding how our brains are taken hostage is critical to good management, as well as good leadership.
The Emotional Brain
LeDoux is the premier researcher in one of the brain’s most important and primitive functions: detecting fear. Once I read this book, I then proceeded to read everything LeDoux had written.
Anything written by Chet Raymo!
Chet Raymo taught Physics at Stonehill College, in Easton, MA, and wrote weekly musing for the Boston Globe, as well as a number of books for the lay reading public on a wide-range of scientific topics. Chet Raymo was also the writer who introduced me to the poetry of Mary Oliver. Oliver’s poems are about the natural world … a world that used to fascinate scientists back when they were known as naturalists.
Anything written by Deborah Tannen!
Tannen teaches Linguistics at Georgetown University. Nobody writes better or more eloquently about communication that Tannen. Everyone who wants to be a better leader needs to become a better communicator … period! And no one teaches communication better than Tannen!
What I refer to as the ‘trilogy’ …
Getting to Yes
Fisher & Urey
Bill Fisher and Bill Urey were both professors at Harvard Law School when they wrote this incredibly important book. They both were informal advisors to President Jimmy Carter when he (Carter) negotiated the ‘Camp David Accords’ with Menachem Begin (Israel’s prime minister) and Anwar Sadat (Egypt’s president). Getting to Yes is what Fisher & Urey taught Carter as a methodology to get to a lasting peace treaty in the Middle East, something that had never been accomplished previously, and still not equaled more than 40 years later!
Stone, Patten, Heen
Fisher & Urey mentored some very bright young Harvard Law faculty, who then went on to write Difficult Conversations, as a coda to Getting to Yes.
Thanks for the Feedback
Stone & Heen
The third book in the trilogy, which addresses why getting/receiving feedback is so critically important in life, as well as how to get better at getting/receiving feedback.