Servant Leadership: 12 Recommended Books for Aspiring Servant Leaders

A servant leader is someone who recognizes that people lead best when they serve first.  It is a concept that is innovative but also well-traveled.  It has always existed as an alternative leadership path for managers who recognize that they don’t have to choose between people and results—they can focus on both.

David Marshall at Berrett-Koehler Publishers recently posted a Reading List for Servant Leaders. It’s a great mix of titles beginning with Robert Greenleaf’s The Servant as Leader (the book that started the modern servant leadership movement) and then continues with books by authors, CEOs, and thought leaders from all walks of life explaining how to use servant leadership concepts in today’s work environment.

Here’s the complete list:

  1. The Servant as Leader by Robert K. Greenleaf
  2. Servant Leadership by Robert K. Greenleaf
  3. The Journey to the East by Hermann Hesse
  4. The Secret by Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller
  5. Dare to Serve by Cheryl Bachelder
  6. The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner
  7. The Serving Leader by Kenneth R. Jennings and John Stahl-Wert
  8. Multipliers by Liz Wiseman
  9. The Servant Leader by James A. Autry
  10. Give and Take by Adam Grant

I’d like to add two more books to this list that I’ve found to be helpful.  Number 11 will help aspiring leaders get it right on the inside by examining beliefs and behaviors that might be getting in their way.  Number 12 will help people get it right on the outside by sharing practical strategies leaders can use in their day-to-day management practices.

  1. Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be by Marshall Goldsmith

Marshall Goldsmith is the #1 executive coach in the world and his client list reads like a Who’s Who of the Fortune 500.  In this book, Goldsmith shares six engaging questions he uses with his clients. The questions provide a daily touchpoint to keep leaders on track with their intentions.

  1. Helping People Win at Work: A Business Philosophy Called “Don’t Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A” by Ken Blanchard and Garry Ridge

Ken Blanchard is the best-selling business author of 21 million books and Garry Ridge is the CEO of WD-40 Company.  In this book, Blanchard and Ridge teach leaders how to focus less on performance review (akin to grading people’s papers) and spend more time on providing the direction and support they need to succeed (helping people get an “A”.)

Those are my suggestions. How about yours?  What books would you add to a recommended reading list for aspiring servant leaders?  Use the comments section to add your recommendations.


PS: Interested in learning more about servant leadership and how an others-focused approach could work in your organization?  Join Ken Blanchard and 20 other authors, CEOs, and thought leaders for a complimentary online conference February 28. The Servant Leadership in Action Livecast is free and open to leadership, learning, and talent development professionals wanting to explore servant leadership and how it is used in today’s organizations. The event is free courtesy of Berrett-Koehler Publishers and The Ken Blanchard Companies.  Learn more here!

5 thoughts on “Servant Leadership: 12 Recommended Books for Aspiring Servant Leaders

  1. Great servant leadership books indeed!

    For people who like to read and watch,
    please consider an addition to your
    “Management at the Movies” collection,
    Servant Leadership edition.

    The movie is My Man Godfrey from 1936,
    remastered in 2002,
    starring William Powell and Carole Lombard.

    Ranked in the top 100 best comedies ever,
    the story is about how a wealthy man who
    loses his self-respect, and as a servant,
    leads a dysfunctional family to become
    as Greenleaf says, “healthier, wiser, freer,
    more autonomous, and more likely
    themselves to become servants.”

    Along with Leo, you will want to add Godfrey
    on your servant leadership journey.

  2. Thank you David for this list. Twenty-five years ago, I had the privilege of being introduced to Robert Greenleaf’s servant leadership philosophy at a seminar led by Dr Joseph DiStephano at IMD in Lausanne Switzerland. Joe was personally familiar with Mr Greenleaf and a 1986 conversation between the two of them was published in 1996 in the book “On Becoming a Servant Leader.” My conversations at that time with Joe inspired me eventually to write my own work on servant leadership “Thy Will Be Done: Strategic Leadership, Planning, and Management for Christians.” It is wonderful that a new generation is being alerted to this critical aspect of leadership.
    Thanks, Peter M Danilchick
    http://www.christianleadership.co/

  3. Excellent steer received from @prismbrainmap via Twitter and thanks to Alan W Boal for the recommendation to view My Man Godfrey. Another film, perhaps “Being there” 1979. Peter Sellers last and possibly best performance, perhap offers another aspect on Service and the Servant Leader?

    • James, thanks for including “Being There” as a Servant Leadership – Management at the Movies title. “I like to listen,” is one of the most important takeaways that Sellers says often. His calm presence, honesty and integrity invite what others are thinking and feeling to be revealed. The movie shows the power of the right metaphor to communicate complex ideas simply. “Chance, the Gardner” is his name and vocation. He shows us the value of nurturing people first – so that they can grow and blossom where they are planted.

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