Top 10 leadership books

The books presented here, many are research based, others tell detailed stories, and only two are quick reads (Orbiting the Giant Hairball and Parkinson’s Law). These are books that teach you about people, teams, and organizations — while at the same time — provide useful guidance (if sometimes indirectly) about what it takes to lead well versus badly.

1. The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer. A masterpiece of evidence-based management — the strongest argument I know that “the big things are the little things.

2. Influence by Robert Cialdini. The classic book about how to persuade people to do things, how to defend against persuasion attempts, and the underlying evidence.

3. Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. A modern masterpiece, already a classic after just a few years. How to design ideas that people will remember and act on.

4. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Even though the guy won the Nobel Prize, this book is surprisingly readable. A book about how we humans really think, and although it isn’t designed to do this, Kahneman also shows how and why so much of the stuff you read in the business press is crap.

5. Collaboration by Morten Hansen. He wrote a hot bestseller with Jim Collins, Great By Choice, which is OK, but this is a better and more important book.

6. Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie. It is hard to explain, sort of like trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll, as the old song goes. But it is one of the two best creativity books ever written, and one of the best business books of any kind – even though it is nearly an anti-business book. Gordon’s voice and love creativity and self-expression — and how to make it happen despite the obstacles that unwittingly heartless organizations put in the way — make this book a joy.

7. Creativity,Inc. by Ed Catmull. One of the best business/leadership/organization design books ever written – this and Hairball are a great pair. This is the best book ever written on what it takes to build a creative organization. It is the best because Catmull’s wisdom, modesty, and self-awareness fill every page. He shows how Pixar’s greatness results from connecting the specific little things they do (mostly things that anyone can do in any organization) to the big goal that drives everyone in the company: making films that make them feel proud of one another.

8. Leading Teams by the late J. Richard Hackman. When it comes to the topic of groups or teams, there is Hackman and there is everyone else. If you want a light feel good romp that isn’t very evidence-based, read The Wisdom of Teams. If want to know how teams really work and what it really takes to build, sustain, and lead them from a man who was immersed in the problem as a researcher, coach, consultant, and designer for over 40 years, this is the book for you. Oh, and if you want the cheat sheet – although you are missing enough that you are mostly cheating yourself — check out Hackman’s HBR piece, the very definition of profound simplicity, a lifetime of wisdom and the results of 1000 studies summarized in six concise points.

9. Give and Take by Adam Grant. Adam is the hottest organizational researcher of his generation. As insightful and entertaining as Malcolm Gladwell at his best, this book has profound implications for how we manage our careers, deal with our friends and relatives, raise our children, and design our institutions. This gem is a joy to read, and it shatters the myth that greed is the path to success.” In other words, Adam shows how and why you don’t need to be a selfish asshole to succeed in this life. America — and the world — would be a better place if all of us memorized and applied Adam’s worldview.

10. Parkinson’s Law by the late C. Northcote Parkinson. You’ve probably heard of Parkinson’s Law, which he first proposed in The Economist in 1955: “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Parkinson was quite a guy — a scholar of public administration, naval historian, and author of over 60 books. His arguments, evidence, and delightfully polite English sarcasm about the negative and predictable effects of group size and administrative bloat are impressive.


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