There are thousands of books on management and leadership. It's said that over 9,000 systems, languages, principles and paradigms have been published in the last 20 years alone.  Some are better than others, and what’s good for one person is of no interest to the next. Here’s a selection of books that were ground-breaking when they were published, or that have proved useful over time to a number of managers.

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Books that Made a Difference Books you can use

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Books that Made a Difference


Management Challenges for the 21st Century, by Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker has published some ground-breaking ideas for over 50 years, so not surprisingly his latest book sets out some important thinking for leaders in the new century.  There's liberal use of words like paradigm, challenge and opportunity, but Drucker is as sharp as ever in looking at what leaders should be thinking about for the future.  It's worth following his suggestion of reading each of the six chapters, and then reflecting on how you or your organisation are affected by what he says.  Although he's mainly questioning and suggesting, he also offers possible solutions to manage in the environment he describes.  Much less guru-like than some of his previous books, and well worth reading.

The Fifth Discipline, by Peter Senge

Senge's seminal work on Learning Organisations is nearly ten years old, and has since spawned a range of "how to" manuals. If you want to understand his thinking behind why organisations must learn how to adapt and change continuously - and learn how to learn - it's worth wading through what looks like a pretty daunting text.

Once you buy Senge's ideas on Learning Organisations, the next obvious question is "how do I make it happen?" The trouble with the learning organisations is that you can't apply a prescriptive model - you have to learn your own way for your organisation - but in his follow-up book "The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook", Senge and his colleagues offer some ideas to try.

The Dance of Change, by Peter Senge and others

Subtitled "the challenge of sustaining momentum in learning organisations", Senge's latest book goes further than before in recognising that we don't all live in the ideal world that many authors seem to inhabit. How do you make a big culture change when you're short of time, money and manpower? Or when all your efforts seem to be needed just to survive? Again there's no one answer, but the Dance of Change may give you some encouragement - and some more ideas.

The Living Company, by Arie de Geus

It's said that de Geus originated the concept of the learning organisation during his long career with Royal Dutch Shell. Here he looks at what makes for a long-lasting company, and differentiates between those that aim to propagate and develop themselves, and those that are in it solely for the profit. This is more of a thought-provoking guidebook than a how-to manual, but it's a good read, and his ideas on sustainability and taking the long view have started to set a trend in many companies.


Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman

For years it was said that Knowledge and Intelligence were what you needed to get ahead. Yet we all knew that some of the most successful leaders were neither very clever nor very intelligent. It wasn't until 1995 that Daniel Goleman described this missing element as Emotional Intelligence. EQ (Emotional Quotient, as in IQ) measures our self-motivation, self-control and self-regulation. The thing that makes many people successful, Goleman says, is their ability to tap into the emotions of others, whilst regulating their own emotions to suit the situation.

The good news is that unlike IQ, EQ can be improved, and in "Working with Emotional Intelligence", Goleman looks at how you can do this and create an organisation that capitalises on the power of EQ.

Leadership is an Art, by Max DePree

This is no management handbook, trying to offer neat solutions to today's business problems, but many have found it an inspiring approach to leadership.  DePree uses a concise, readable style to reflect on what leadership is and what leaders should and shouldn't do.  He offers a philosophical approach, ranging from how you should treat people who work with you or for you, to principles for environmentally-sustainable development.  There's a lot of evidence that the best leaders are known for their principles - see Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Successful People - and if you're looking for ideas to make your leadership more "principle-centred", this is a good place to look.

Thriving on Chaos, by Tom Peters

This is pretty old stuff now, but in his time Tom Peters was a pioneer, the first management writer with a populist image. His seminars became sell-out entertainment as he stalked his audiences of senior executives haranguing them for not seeing the blindingly obvious. His books became international bestsellers, although most of the pathfinder companies he praised in, say, "In Search of Excellence" have notoriously failed to live up to his expectations. Yet the 45 prescriptions he sets out in Thriving On Chaos (or shouts out if you buy the audio version) still make a lot of sense. Unfortunately, leadership isn't that formulaic, and the Peters prescriptions need to be taken with a good dose of Senge-like commonsense. Read the book because it's thought-provoking, but then do what makes sense.


Books you can use


What Color Is Your Parachute, by Richard Nelson Bolles

An odd title but an excellent book, described as "a practical manual for job-hunters and career-changers".  There's a wealth of ideas on how to find the right career, then apply successfully for jobs, albeit in the US job market.  But the real power of this book lies in its "Flower", a self-analysis tool that defines the anatomy of your ideal job.  Use it as a prompt to guide your thinking about what job you really want to do, or complete the exercise in full and have searing clarity about what you want and how to get it.  The book is revised annually, and a companion workbook is also available.

The Interactive Manager, by Sukhwant Bal

This is a very useful and useable self-assessment development tool.  The book comes with a set of personal questionnaires that you load onto your PC, and then work through at your own pace.  This gives you a profile of yourself, your current job and your future career, and points to potential areas that you need to develop.  The text of the book then offers ways to carry out that development.  There's better software around to track the personal plans and objectives that result, but as a personal diagnostic tool it's one of the best.  Buy your own copy, then run the profiles from time to time to see you're matching development actions to development direction.  

High Flyers, by Morgan McCall

Subtitled "Developing the Next Generation of Leaders", this book looks at what you need to do to develop tomorrows leaders (by not modelling them on today's leaders, for a start). McCall has a long background in this field, and he and his team have worked with a wide range of global companies to come up with some practical ideas for leadership development.

Leading Change, by James O'Toole

O'Toole and McCall are sometime colleagues at USC, but their written approaches to leadership development are very different. O'Toole looks at historical leaders and events to draw some lessons on leading people through change - not least that in the future, real leadership will not come from the top of an organisation, but somewhere in the middle. Feel empowered, very empowered!

Leading Change, by John P Kotter

John Kotter is one of the leading writers on the management of change, and his thinking is widely published.  He's worth reading because his ideas are based on reality, and because his approaches are easy to understand and make sense.  "Leading Change" draws together a number of articles and books he's published on how to lead and direct change, and provides a useful summary of current thinking on the subject.

Why Change Doesn't Work, by Harvey Robbins & Michael Finley

They say that we should always learn from our mistakes, so it's refreshing to find someone writing about why change doesn't work, rather than offering a rose-tinted formula that will work perfectly in all circumstances.  Robbins and Finley still offer models and solutions, but the probably go further than most in recognising the biggest difficulty of implementing change - people.  They explore why people resist change, and how you can be more effective if you bring them with you.



Chimaera Consulting Limited 1999.