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Leadership Book Reading List



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First Things First
by Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill and Rebecca R. Merrill

The classic leadership author Stephen Covey, best known for writing The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, continues his dynamic personal leadership lessons through taking a look at the actions of our typical lives and showing us how, by making small changes, we can become more successful in our jobs and families.

The main tenet of the book is that there needs to be an increased focus on people and relationships, rather than on time management and materialistic “thing” acquisition. Covey, Merrill and Merrill get the reader to think about what the “main thing” in their life is. Readers are urged to reflect on their lives to discover those particular joys that go missing as responsibilities increase. The authors discuss passions and goals, and particularly the need to take a look at the balance of work, responsibilities and the main thing in our lives.

This book requires the reader to think about their own life and the way they are living. It makes one question their day-to-day values and actions. It makes us question whether our actions support what we say we value.

First Things First discusses principle-centered leadership that will benefit your work relationships and all the other relationships in your life.

Reviewed by Lauren Lessels

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The 8th Habit
by Stephen R. Covey

In The 8th Habit, Stephen Covey makes the argument that the 8th Habit, the finding of one’s voice and inspiring others to do the same, is crucial to success for an individual and ultimately those around them. Covey argues that the development of this 8th Habit is especially needed in today’s culture since we are moving out of the industrial age, which emphasized the importance of managing things and a carrot-and-stick style of management, into the new knowledge-worker age, which places value on the importance of the individual worker and treating them as a person, not a thing. This 8th Habit is not meant to replace the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The 8th Habit works in tandem with these principles to bring about fulfillment for the entire person’s being—their body, mind, soul and spirit—as well as their spheres of influence—their personal greatness, leadership greatness and organizational greatness. If individuals in the knowledge-worker age are unable to find their voice, to find that coherence of their body/mind/spirit/soul desires, they will not achieve fulfillment, satisfaction and greatness. The thesis of the book is very stirring, and Covey seeks to inspire readers through his examples and the companion DVD videos. The book is long and would have benefited from some additional refinement to keep the points more concise, but is worth the read. It will leave you asking if you are living a life of coherence, if you have truly found your voice..

Reviewed by Lauren Lessels

by Frank Luntz

The difference between the right word and almost the right word is like the difference between a lightning bolt and a lightning bug.
—Mark Twain

This quote did not appear in the book, but it does summarize the content of Win by Frank Luntz. To go further, Luntz’s book goes into using the right word and the right phrase to communicate a personal vision and purpose in such a way that others want to help you achieve it—not only for the visionary, but for themselves as well.

Leadership depends, first, upon communication. If a leader cannot share his/her vision, it will not be accomplished. To share a vision, a leader must use the raw material of language to paint a visual picture upon the mental pallet of listeners. Those images must be portrayed in a beautiful manner so that they are appealing. That is where using the right word or phrase is so important, and Luntz teaches that in this book.

Luntz describes Winners as “People Centered” and “Paradigm Breaking.” They paint such a pretty picture of how the world can be that others want to experience that world. They also paint the picture so that their constituents, peers, cohorts, teammates, subordinates, etc. see themselves in it experiencing the best of what the vision has to offer.

Furthermore, Luntz explains that a leader must not paint these portraits only, but they must make them come to life. It’s easy to talk about a good thing; it’s harder to make it come to fruition. In this book, he further explains the need for integrity and honesty to press along towards the goal, leading all the way. Establish priorities that fit with good morals and remain steadfast within them. This will help one maintain good rapport with cohorts and build capacity within your group because people believe that you can get them to were they want to go.

He calls his book Win because it lists what winners do. His anecdotes about successes and failures support what he is saying. Those who understood how to communicate with people and gain their trust, as long as they stayed true to the vision and those involved in achieving it, were successful at accomplishing big things.

Reviewed by Lee Smith, 2011 ACTE Fellow (Region IV)

A Leader’s Legacy
by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner

The leadership and leadership development have been studied and examined for years. There is no one set definition. In their book A Leader’s Legacy, Kouzes and Posner discuss what they believe to be the effective habits of developing and establishing a lasting leadership legacy.

In A Leader’s Legacy, Kouzes and Posner maintain that there are four substantial and significant contextual components to leaving a legacy of leadership. The four components include significance, relationships, aspirations and courage. Each one of these components is broken down into five or six examples of how one might aspire to lead by way of the fundamental component.

The book is full of essays and examples of how to go about leaving a lasting legacy. The book is divided into four sections, each section containing nuggets for the reader to review and reflect over.

  • Part One—Significance
    The leader is one that does not want to be forgotten. The leader wants to feel that what they have done or accomplished will live on past them. Everyone would like to be significant.
  • Part Two—Relationships
    Leaders are born through relationships, the relationship between the leader and the followers. Without this relationship, there is no such thing as a leader. In order to have a lasting relationship, there are certain aspects of building a meaningful, positive relationship that leaders should subscribe to.
  • Part Three—Aspirations
    One of the greatest joys a leader can experience is when the follower surpasses the leader. In order to make this happen, the leader must have enough self-confidence to allow themselves to be followers, being able to trust others who want to make a lasting difference. Great leaders look toward the future to see opportunities for tomorrow and beyond.
  • Part Four—Courage
    Leaders need must have the fortitude to persevere when it’s most needed. In order to leave a legacy, the leader needs to continue to work for what they believe to be good, just and true, realizing that there may be obstacles and issues that might prevent success. The leaders that show courage when others show fear will leave a legacy.

This was a wonderful, quick read that got me thinking about myself as a leader, what I’m trying to instill in my students as well as wonderful examples to remind me about what life is all about. I highly recommend it to everyone.

Reviewed by David W. Jones

Our Iceberg Is Melting
by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber

Has your association or school ever faced a seemingly insurmountable issue? Kotter and Rathgeber share The Eight-step Process of Successful Change through the fable of a colony of penguins living on a melting iceberg.

Several distinct personalities emerge as Fred, a curious, observant penguin, presents his data to the Leadership Council. Tough and practical Alice asks for more data, observes the potential danger by touring the iceberg with Fred, and then provides support and encouragement as Fred shares what he has learned. Patient, level-headed Louis, the head penguin, assembles a team to gather more information and then develop and carry out a plan of action. Friendly, affable Buddy proves to be a valuable ally as he is well-liked and trusted by the colony. The Professor, albeit a bit long-winded at times, is able to sort out emotions from logic by asking focused questions. Finally, there is No-No, who believes that he can convince others there is no problem if he speaks loudly enough. Can you identify people in your organization with personalities similar to Fred, Alice, Louis, Buddy, the Professor or No-No?

As the penguins work through the potentially devastating issue threatening their colony, the leadership team utilizes the eight-step process for successful change to ensure the safety of all. Through the Web site www.ouricebergismelting.com, the authors provide discussion questions and other useful tips and resources for utilizing the book as a discussion starter within your organization.

Reviewed by Coleen Keffeler

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras

The authors of Built to Last set out to discover the distinctive habits of visionary companies. Since the book was written, many of the visionary companies have experienced failure; however, the practices that defined their greatness during their long, successful periods are still helpful to those seeking to achieve and maintain success. The answer for long-term success is not necessarily found in a dynamic, charismatic leader or an amazing product. The authors demolish these and other common business myths that are pointed to as keys for success and offer counter proposals that are proven by their research to lead to lasting results. These visionary characteristics include such concepts as establishing BHAGs (big, hairy, audacious goals) to stimulate progress, becoming a clock builder and developing a core ideology for the company. Built to Last is full of research and complex charts, but convincingly makes the case for leaders to disregard the old formulas for success in exchange for proven methods gleaned from successful companies.

Reviewed by Lauren Lessels

Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done
by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan

Execution is the critical factor that distinguishes successful companies from struggling companies. Failing to accomplish a goal or produce results is not a problem that can simply be explained away by a bad economy, tough competition or other excuses; the only problem is a lack of execution. In this book, the authors describe their three core processes for execution (people, strategy and operations) and provide real-life examples from their experiences in business and consulting. The leader of an organization is ultimately responsible for the success of the organization and, as a result, must devote a significant amount of time to fostering execution in the company. Execution is fostered by investing in leadership. This investment provides realistic information to the lead executive team in order that effective strategies, which do not simply sit on a shelf but are regularly updated and amended as needed, can be developed. The devotion to people and effective strategy is used to craft an operating procedure that rewards and enables getting things done. Execution is detailed and not an easy read, but, like its namesake, Execution is well worth a leader’s time and effort to work through and apply.

Reviewed by Lauren Lessels  

Silos, Politics and Turf Wars
by Patrick Lencioni

Patrick Lencioni once again uses the fable motif to explain complex work dynamics in Silos, Politics and Turf Wars. Silos are barriers that separate team members and departments. When one department only sees the world through its own lens and refuses to acknowledge how it works with the rest of the organization (or how the rest of the organization works with it), silos develop. These silos isolate departments from one another, leaving a department with tunnel vision, a loss of focus. These departments seek gain not for the organization as a whole, but for itself and view other departments as opponents, not members of the same, larger organizational team. Team members stuck in silos spend more time protecting their own corner of the world than achieving the organization's actual purpose, which ultimately hurts the organization, as well as the department they are trying to protect and promote. The answer to resolving silo issues is to establish a thematic goal to unite the entire organization around a single purpose. This thematic goal should act as a “rallying cry” with a defined end (between 6-18 months implementation). The thematic goal is composed of defining objectives, which provide specific direction for the thematic goal, and standard operating objectives, which are ongoing activities and responsibilities that need to occur for the organization to exist. The key to all of these elements is for the organization as a whole to buy into the single, comprehensive goal to define their activities for a set time period. Thematic goals resolve silo issues by forcing departments to work with each other and acknowledging each department’s role in the organizations overall success.

Reviewed by Lauren Lessels

Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
by Patrick Lencioni

Have you ever worked with a Jeff or Nick? How about a Mikey, Martin or Carlos? Have you been lucky enough to know a Kathryn? These are the characters the author uses to weave a fictional world that accurately and poignantly portrays the grim reality of far too many office dynamics. Through their story, the author identifies the most common dysfunctions in team situations—absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results. Thankfully, the new CEO in the story, Kathryn, provides guidance for navigating and resolving these issues within the team environment. The fable style adeptly unpacks these important insights and through this format draws the reader into the situation in a way that a non-fiction book would not be able to achieve. This book is an easy read that readers will not want to put down, but will also offer profound insights into team dynamics.

Reviewed by Lauren Lessels

by Roger Nierenberg

Have you ever taken the time to think about the surprising power of listening? Roger Nierenberg’s story, Maestro, identifies the commonalities of business and music through the Music Paradigm. As the maestro steps up to the podium, he creates a powerful vision in which the common thread in both is the human capacity for communication, working together and self-actualization.

Although success comes from being demanding and not settling for anything less than high standards, this book illustrates leadership as a delicate process, especially when working with fine professionals who know their jobs. The power is in them, while the leader only directs that power. Ask yourself, "Am I really hearing what’s going on in this room? Am I being affected by what I’m hearing?" If you hesitate in answering these questions, seek out the real-life solutions as the maestro communicates how each individual player values the giving of him or herself over to the greater mission. There is no such thing as being right or wrong. Sounding in tune is about everyone valuing the collective sound as the highest priority.

This 120 page book is full of metaphors and analogies that will bring about proficiency in teamwork, communication and alignment to supply the skill set that gives a business the competitive edge. You will want to read this parable from cover to cover if you believe that leadership doesn’t make a small difference, but makes all the difference in the world!

Reviewed by Linda Moyer, ACTE Practitioner in Residence

Getting Things Done—The Art of Stress-free Productivity
by David Allen

Why is a time-management book on a leadership book list? I contend that, if a leader cannot effectively manage their own time and processes, they cannot effectively manage others or accomplish their aspirations—honing personal time-management skills is an ability that all leaders must develop. In this book, the author provides step-by-step workflow processing and organizing steps to effectively handle all the “stuff” that so easily clutters each person’s e-mail, inboxes and mind. Although the book is very detail-orientated and requires strict adherence to the principles to work perfectly, the basic tenets of the system can be easily integrated into existing habits to assist in better time-management practices. Getting Things Done will have you asking “What is the next action?” as you encounter different projects throughout the day. It will also assist you in breaking down those projects into doable action steps that you can then do, delegate or defer so you can actually accomplish your goals and progress.

Reviewed by Lauren Lessels  

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don't
by Jim Collins

True to its name, Good to Great is not content with “just good enough” and inspires readers to push on toward greatness. Collins and his team launched into yet another in-depth research project and discovered the key elements that distinguish good companies from great companies. Collins maps out several new concepts to produce a flywheel for keeping the inertia of greatness going. The flywheel is built on disciplined people (Level 5 leadership—first who, then what), disciplined thought (confront the brutal facts, “hedgehog” concept) and disciplined action (culture of discipline, technology accelerators). The book also incorporates items from Built to Last, such as BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goals), and asks readers to consider those goals through the lenses of their passion, what they can be the best at, and their economic engine. Good to Great is well worth the read, not only for leaders or executives, but any individual who would like to apply these concepts to their own personal or professional development.

Reviewed by Lauren Lessels

Who Moved My Cheese?
by Spencer Johnson, M.D.

This enjoyable little book is a great way to get people to realize how to deal with organizational change, and the penalties of ignoring it. The message is that change happens whether we want it to or not. We must first embrace change, then accept it for what it is.

Reviewed by Bob Putnam

Sun Tzu: The Art of War for Managers
by Gerald A. Michaelson

The book is broken down into two general sections. The first uses translations of 50 rules for leaders from Sun tzu’s ancient Chinese book the Art of War, long considered a masterful book of military strategy. After the translation, the authors explain how those passages apply to leaders in organizations. Section Two consists of case studies by successful senior managers about how the rules helped them to succeed, and how passages from the book still apply today.

Reviewed by Bob Putnam


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

The book focuses on how to “partner for performance” with those you lead. By partnering for performance, the author means how to provide the leadership style needed by the follower in order to succeed.

The book is divided into four easy-to-read parts. The first part explains the philosophy of partnering for performance and suggests a performance-review system for facilitation. Part Two describes the cultural changes that occur in the organization when it is understood that the leader’s style is always determined by the needs of the follower. Parts Three and Four are devoted to examples of application by the authors.

Reviewed by Bob Putnam

Leadership and the One Minute Manager: Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Leadership
by Kenneth Blanchard, Drea Zigarmi and Patricia Zigarmi

This is one of the original classics of leadership literature, and it is truly a must-read. It explains, in simple, personal and direct style, how to be an effective leader.

First, a good leader must have three skills—flexibility, diagnosis and contracting for leadership style. A good leader must be flexible and, depending on the situation, able to use four different leadership styles—directing, coaching, supporting and delegating.

A good leader uses the five steps of telling what to do, showing what to do, letting them try, observing performance and giving feedback to develop competence and commitment in her followers. Finally, a good leader contracts with her followers to provide the leadership they need. Good communication skills are stressed to make sure that everyone knows what is going on.

According to the authors, situational leadership is something you do with people, not to them.

Reviewed by Bob Putnam

The Power of Leadership
by John C. Maxwell

What is leadership? That is the question that people who want to be leaders always ask. According to author John Maxwell, “leadership is influence.” According to Maxwell, leadership isn’t about titles, positions or flowcharts, it’s about one life influencing others. The most important factor associated with leadership is character. The word comes from the ancient Greek verb meaning “to engrave,” and it’s related noun means “mark” or “distinctive quality.” In other words, according to Maxwell, character is essentially who we are. The trust and involvement of a leader’s followers will be parallel to the level of a leader’s character.

Other important points include the leader as learner. Once a leader feels that she has a firm grasp on the answers, she will cease to lead. Leaders must always be hungry for learning. The moment she stops learning, she stops leading.

Next, the leader is responsible for translating their vision into reality. Anyone can dream, but an effective leader knows how to organize the action steps to realize the vision. The leader must take the initiative to keep the ball rolling until her vision is realized.

Finally, the author understands that, sometimes, a leader will fail. The effective leader, however, will simply see this as a learning opportunity. She will make the necessary corrections and continue on down the road to success a smarter and wiser leader.

Reviewed by Bob Putnam

Leadership Jazz
by Max De Pree

This is a follow up to Leadership Is an Art, also by Max De Pree. It follows the format of his previous book, but, in this one, he offers short parables, each illustrating his principles of leadership. The title itself is an example of how Max defines a leader. The leader of a jazz band selects the music, calls the beat, assigns the parts, then steps back and allows the talents of his musicians to shine, thus making beautiful music.

Vital topics with which he deals in this short book include ethics and leadership, managing change, polishing follower’s gifts, the consequences of decisions, and how to delegate, to name just a few. A major principle to which he returns several times is the absolute necessity for a leader to match her voice and her touch. This is a must-read book for everyone who is a leader, or aspires to be. Read it, then share with your leader; she will probably thank you.

Reviewed by Bob Putnam

Leadership Is an Art
by Max De Pree

A colleague at the University Minnesota who had taught leadership in the Colleges of Business and Education for over 20 years once said of this book that if you could read only one book on leadership, Leadership Is an Art by Max De Pree should be that book. I agree. In this book, De Pree, CEO and chairman of the board, emeritus, at Herman Miller Inc., long known as a brilliant and resourceful manager, shares with us the secrets that have allowed him to lead a small family-owned and -run office furniture manufacturing business from small-town success to a publically traded, internationally renowned industry leader.

From the first chapter, which makes the point that all employees bring multiple talents to the organization, to the last, in which De Pree insists that an “elegant company frees its members to be their best, and elegant leaders free the people they lead to do the same,” expect him to simply and clearly inspire leaders to lead “elegantly, effectively, and with grace, style and civility.”

The book is a good companion for the busy educator, as it never wastes your time with trite, worn management homilies. It is brief and concise, having less than 150 pages. It is also double-spaced, so you can write in it—De Pree says that he wants you to own the book, and to own it you must write in it. Read this book, then share it with your manager.

Reviewed by Bob Putnam

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