My son was an intern at The Ken Blanchard Companies last summer when he asked me “What do you think is the best book on leadership?” I was stumped, because there are so many wonderful books on leadership—by not only business leaders but also many other types of leaders, past and present.
Let’s give a nod to the great political leaders whose journeys of provoking and leading change on a massive scale provide worthwhile leadership lessons: King Solomon, Cleopatra, Queen Elizabeth, Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Gandhi, Winston Churchill, and Martin Luther King, Jr., to name a mere handful.
Then we have to acknowledge the modern writers on leadership specifically: Drucker, Bennis, Maxwell, Blanchard.
But this is about the leadership books that have made the biggest difference for coaches. I have asked several of our Blanchard coaches and many of my peers, and here are the results:
Tony Klingmeyer, one of our Blanchard Master coaches, chose Management of the Absurd by Richard Farson. Tony says “It is wonderfully written, about many of the dilemmas and paradoxes our clients face when leading in organizations.” In this short and sweet book, Farson details the complexities of navigating human beings and debunks some well meaning management advice.
Renee Freedman, MCC, former director of The SupporTED Coaching Program, says her favorite book is The Leadership Dojo by Richard Heckler Strozzi. Renee says “Although there is much great guidance here, two primary things about this book sucked me in and made me fall in love with it: 1) it treats leadership as a somatic experience and that’s how I experience it; and 2) it has a 5-step leadership process of entering, centering, facing, extending, and blending—which I find extremely simple, effective, and trainable. It changed leadership for me from believing that only 1% of people can lead to understanding that anyone can lead, including me!”
Many coaches on a recent webinar chose Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee. It is essentially the application of the concepts of emotional intelligence to leadership. How many clients really need to understand the fundamentals of self awareness, self regulation, awareness of others, and modifying self to be more effective with others? All of them.
Then there’s Leadership BS by Jeffrey Pfeffer. A recent addition to the canon, I personally love the devil’s advocate position the author takes against some of the baloney being peddled by leadership companies out there. No nonsense, brass tacks, and really useful for coaches helping clients navigate the insanity of the global business world. My particular favorite moment is when the author debunks the notion that leaders need to be “authentic.” This book is validating for natural subversives and required reading for idealists.
Why Smart Executives Fail by Sydney Finkelstein is one of my all time favorites and should be required reading for anyone aspiring to senior leadership—and those who coach them. You might think because it came out in 2003 that it is obsolete, but you would be wrong. Finkelstein examines some of the whopping business failures and teases out the mistakes that were made. These lessons are timeless. But my favorite chapter is “The Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful People.” Just the title makes me laugh out loud.
Another great book is Coaching for Leadership by Goldsmith, Lyons, and McArthur. This one is kind of a no-brainer, because it is an anthology with writings from leadership and coaching experts with extremely targeted practical advice for all kinds of situations (understanding purpose, gender differences, working cross generationally and culturally, etc.). Of course, Goldsmith’s entire body of work is must-know—particularly What Got You Here Won’t Get You There—but this is a different resource altogether.
Finally, a crowd favorite: Leadership and Self-Deception from The Arbinger Institute. A fairly fast and easy read that outlines the effects of self-deception and how to fix it. The fundamental premise is that when we behave in ways that do not match our values, we betray ourselves.
How does that match up with your list? Any books you’d add? Just include them in the comments section!