My Top Five Books on Leadership and Management


I read a lot.  An embarrassing amount, actually - I average about a book a week according to my Amazon purchases (and I would like to thank the advent of the e-book for giving me an easy place to store all of this reading material - thank you cloud!)   When I started brainstorming blog post ideas, sharing a few of my favorite books was on the top of the list, and narrowing the list down of just a few of my favorites to just five has been challenging.  

When I picked these books, I tried to think of ones that have really stuck with me, and I've shared the thing I find myself going back to over and over again.  I read one of these originally 12 years ago, and I'm still talking about it today!  I've repeatedly loaned or referred others to these books because they were so meaningful to me, and I hope you enjoy them as well.  

1.  Good To Great 

A business school staple, this book reviews research into companies that are successful vs. those which are not.  Why do some companies succeed?  While if you summarize some of the books findings, it all sounds incredibly obvious (hire good people!), but chapters 2 and 3 on Level 5 leadership (aka servant leadership) and First Who . . . Then Why are great concise summaries of servant leadership and active team management.

what stuck with me

Chapter 3 has a lot of discussion about hiring the right people for your company, or your "bus" and getting the right people on the bus.  It encourages you to act quickly when the wrong people are on the bus, and notes that if you don't get the wrong people off of the bus quickly, the right people will voluntarily leave your bus.  Making the hard decisions about poor performers is . . . well, hard, and this bus concept is something I've mentally gone back to time and time again.  

Awesome quote

In a good-to-great transformation, people are not your most important asset.  The right people are.

2.  it's not about the coffee

Written by a former President of Starbucks, it's a small book on 10 leadership principles that apply well beyond Starbucks.  To quote the inside flap, "Behar starts with the idea that if you regard employees and customers as human beings everything else will take care of itself."  

What stuck with me

Principle 3:  Think Independently.  The person who sweeps the floor should choose the broom.  Delegating not just tasks to others, but how to do the task to others, is a difficult thing as a leader or a project manager.  I've seen project manager after project manager and leader after leader fail because they didn't trust the team around them and dictated every piece to the nth degree to the team - or didn't delegate at all and did it all themselves.  Put another way, be clear on the end result, but flexible on how one gets there.  

Awesome Quote

It's not only executives and managers who should feel empowered to make their own decisions, but all people throughout an organization.  After all, who is better equipped to choose the broom than the guy who sweeps the floor?

3.  How to say anything to anyone

I can't even begin to describe how practical and awesome this book is.  Developing a new relationship at work?  There's a plan.  Having reputation issues?  There's a plan.  Need to give difficult feedback?  A plan.  Shari Hartley's blog is amazing as well - subscribe for a weekly dose of practical communication advice.  

What stuck with me

If you can't give an example, you aren't ready to give feedback.  When you don't give an example, people get defensive and paranoid, and start looking to others to figure out what you meant.  I won't give feedback now without an example, and I always ask for an example when I'm given feedback without one.  

Awesome quote

Feedback is the data you need to direct your career and business results.  

4. Getting more

This is a book about negotiation, whose premise is that a good negotiation means everyone leaves with more, not less.  This concept blew my mind as I've always that about negotiation as a tension-filled, "winner takes all" deal.   There's so much practical advice here as well, though I feel compelled to note that my negotiations professor highly disagreed with the advice about emotion in the book.  

what stuck with me

Every company has standards and values - use them.  Ask a company that prides itself on good customer service if the treatment you are receiving is in line with their customer service values.  And, ask about exceptions when you are told no.  If someone tells you, "We don't do that", counter with, "Have you ever made an exception?" (probably, yes), "Would you be willing to do that here?"

Awesome quote

By not making yourself the issue, you can ask companies hard questions about their service standards.  But remember, ask:  questions are more powerful than statements.  

5.  Workarounds That Work

I originally bought this book to help better advise a team member whose every reaction to things was "we can't do this; that department is in my way" - and it's amazing.  It asks you to reframe obstacles from "that person/thing/department is in my way" to "what can I personally do to resolve this situation".  

what stuck with me

When there's a roadblock or process blocking you, try to see it from the other's perspective - why did this come into being?  I try to ask a lot of questions about why things are the way they are to see if there's a better way to resolve things.  For example, I once stopped a weekly report process that almost 100 people were spending 30 min on each week by asking why the report was created and who was reading it -- it turned out, the report was generated by a comment from a CFO about wanting to know more about something, but he had never read the report!

awesome quote

Very rarely does anyone sit around trying to come up with roadblocks - it just seems that way sometimes.