Books for Leaders

Clients often ask me for book recommendations that will help them better understand leadership, planning, teamwork, and people’s behavior in organizations. Here are the books that have influenced my thinking in a significant way. Some I read recently, some I read many years ago and I still remember the influence they had on me. Feel free to email me with the books that have influenced your own thinking.

Beyond the Wall of Resistance

by Rick Mauer

I love this book. It gives a great description of how to work with resistance to change and turn it into support for change. For those who are interested in the Gestalt principles I use in my work, Rick’s book describes those principles in everyday language (which is not an easy task).

Built To Last

by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras

This insightful book, based on a six-year research project studying long-lasting companies, describes how to build an effectively run company. I loved the book the first time I read it, and I immediately began to use many of its concepts in my strategic planning work with clients. Over time, I’ve come to learn that some of them work in mid-size companies (which are my primary clients), and some of them don’t work quite as well. OK, so the book isn’t perfect. But the examples in the book make the theory you’ve heard about for visions, values, and core purpose come alive and be more user-friendly.


by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan

After years of focusing on the planning process, I was enthralled by this book on how to execute plans. After all, what good is a plan if it doesn’t get executed? While the examples come from the world of big business, the concepts are just as valuable for smaller companies. This book includes a chapter on The Leader’s Seven Essential Behaviors and also shows the relationships between strategy, operations, and people. If nothing else, it is worth the price for its description of robust dialogue which is a necessary competency for companies of all sizes.

The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook

by Peter Senge, Richard Ross, Bryan Smith, Charlotte Roberts, and Art Kleiner

For those of you who enjoyed the modern classic The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge, this book gives great examples and models for how to put its ideas into practice. I use it to find applicable models for working with clients. Some of my favorites (which may sound familiar to my clients): Building a Shared Vision (aka Telling, Selling, Testing, etc.), Balancing Inquiry and Advocacy, and The Ladder of Inference. The descriptions of these models and how to use them are rich, clear, and easy to understand.

Good To Great

by Jim Collins

Having loved Jim Collins’ first book (Built To Last), I eagerly looked forward to this follow-on book. It did not disappoint. This is a handbook, based on 15,000 hours of research into real companies, on how to move from being a good company to being a really great company. Its ideas are easy to understand and relate to (though not so simple to implement). In particular, the Hedgehog Concept (Chapter 5) is a useful model for those leaders who struggle to define a vision for their company. I find myself referring to this book again and again as I help my clients wrestle with the issues they face.

My American Journey

by Colin Powell

I read a lot of books about leadership written by people who have studied it. This is a book about leadership by someone who has lived it. As far as I can tell, Powell does not whitewash or puff up his experience – he just tells it like the human being he is. I found humanity and integrity and many important leadership lessons in this book. I’ve even dog-eared the pages that I want to be able to find again. (If you want to know what they are, let me know and I’ll be glad to tell you.)

The Power of Full Engagement

by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

Sometimes a book comes along right when you need it. That’s how this book was for me. Its premise - “Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance” – spoke to me. Its span of focus – physical energy, emotional energy, mental energy, and spiritual energy – matched my own span of focus. After reading this book, I stopped pushing myself to put in more time at work, and began making different choices about how to support and manage my energy. The result so far is that I have less stress and more energy for what is really important. (Let’s hope this lasts!) I’ve probably recommended this book to more leaders than any other book I own.

Productive Workplaces

by Marv Weisbord

I read this book many years ago, and it turned upside down my ideas about how people in organizations work. It is now considered a classic text in the evolution of organizational development. As a business leader, it can help you understand how to deal with people issues in a more expansive and useful way.

Sacred Hoops

by Phil Jackson

This book startled me. I expected it to be a straightforward and conventional explanation of how Phil Jackson was so successful in coaching the Bulls. Instead, it is a surprising and vivid description of the value of paying attention, being in the moment, and opening your heart. Jackson introduces the book with these words: “When I was named head coach of the Chicago Bulls in 1989, my dream was not just to win championships, but to do it in a way that wove together my two greatest passions: basketball and spiritual exploration.” Then he goes on to say how he used Zen practices to win championships. Need I say more?