Max De Pree was the CEO of Hermann Miller the iconic furniture company founded by his father and and champion of designers such as Isamu Noguchi & Charles and Ray Eames. First published in 1987, Leadership is an Art has sold over 800,000 copies.
De Pre wrote that, ‘The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two the leader must become a servant and a debtor.’
At less than 150-pages this is one of the richest and most useful leadership books around.
Ed Smith is a former first class cricket player for Middlesex and England. He went on to head England’s selection process before the role was abolished.
The book covers his period as Chief selector and though of obvious interest to cricket fans the book is of wider interest to leaders and anyone interested in the business of selecting talent, building teams and making decision.
Nancy Koehn is a Historian at the Harvard Business School. This book is an account of 5 historical figures with a particular focus on their leadership and what lessons we might take from their example today.
It comprises mini leadership biographies of Ernst Shakleton, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Rachel Carson.
Eliot Cohen is a Professor of Strategic Studies and John Hopkins University. The book is an examination on civil military relations in war and their impact on grand strategy. A story told through the examples of Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben Gurion. Its lessons are at least as much about effective executive leadership as they are about military strategy.
John Wooden is more or less a household name in the US after a 40 year coaching career in basketball in which his success was astonishing. As coach of the University of California UCLA his teams won 10 National championships in twelve seasons, seven of them consecutively! His relentless focus on teaching good habits and on the process – leaving the score to take care of itself, have inspired generations of sports coaches since. This is a book not just for sports fans but for anyone interested interested in the cross-over lessons that apply to leadership, team and performance development that are to be gleaned here.
Benjamin Zander is the conductor for the Boston Philharmonic orchestra and his wife Rosamund is a family therapist. This is a fantastic book on leadership, richly illustrated with anecdote and examples from Zander’s extensive teaching and conducting career. For any leader interested in how to inspire and get the most out of people to connect with their potential and to help unleash that.
One of two books I would recommend or gift as an initial 101 primer for leadership in the 21st century to any leader regardless of seniority. David Marquet’s story is about his time in command of a US Navy nuclear submarine and how he and the crew turned around the worst boat in the fleet to become the best on every metric. His revelation was to switch his style from the autocratic top down command and control – the normal culture of the Navy to one that empowered and engaged the crew by developing them as leaders.
Biography of former England head coach Stuart Lancaster and his role in rebuilding and developing the England team after the 2011 World Cup. The book explores his philosophy and vision for the team. Heavily influenced by famous American sports coaches such as John Wooden (UCLA Basketball) and Bill Walsh (49’s Football) both of whom took weak teams and transformed them into consistent winning machines. Another story about being deliberate about a culture and setting out to build the right culture for long-term success. Lots of parallel lessons for business on performance & culture.
General McChrystal was the the US Joint Special Forces Commander with responsibility for all US Special Forces Missions. This book is in part based on his experiences of how US and Allied Special Operations Force units evolved to counter the asymmetrical networked threats of terrorist groups in Iraq. The teams of teams that resulted, fast flat and enabled by a twenty first century communications architecture and a culture of mission command were dramatically impactful against Al Qaeda. This same organizational design is how McChrystal and his co-authors argue business can best prepare and be successful in an ever more competitive, fast paced global environment.
Lee Ellis was a US Air Force fighter pilot. Shot down over Vietnam he was kept captive for five and half years. This is the story of how he and his fellow prisoners survived and the leadership lessons they applied to endure and cope as a coherent team. Forged under the most extreme pressures the book is about conquering the fear and helplessness of being a prisoner and goes on to distill this experience into a set of principles and a mindset that can be applied to business.
Jocko & Leif were US Navy Seal Officers leading a Seal Task Force in the battle of Ramadi in Iraq. A period of intense sustained combat in a built up area. The book is about the mindset and leadership lessons they learned in the Seals and perfected in combat. Their distillation is designed to be applied to any team or business context where performance matters. The title refers to the principle of individual accountability for every aspect of the team’s mission. Plenty of interest and value here for military and business leaders alike.
This is a book about leadership, what leaders do and organizational culture. Good leaders create a circle of physical & psychological safety within which every member of the team can flourish. Watching Officers eat last on a visit to a Marine Corp unit he reflects on how leaders who put their own needs last in order to protect and serve the group create flourishing teams and organizations. He goes on to connect this to the drivers of our behaviour and the neurotransmitters that have shaped our evolution. The second part of the book looks at a wide range of corporate cultures – good and bad before ending with a plea for more leaders who can build cultures that allow their staff to flourish whilst acting with integrity.
Eleanor Roosevelt revolutionised the role of First Lady during her tenure from 1933 to 1945. She became one of the most beloved figures of the twentieth century. At the age of seventy six she penned this simple guide for living a fuller life. It is based on responses that she sent to people who wrote to her for advice. You Learn by Living is a powerful volume of enduring common-sense ideas and heartfelt values. Informed by her personal experiences as a daughter, wife, parent, and diplomat. It is a trove of timeless wisdom that resonates in any era. Themes include: Fear, How to get the best out of people, facing responsibility, uses of time and the difficult art of maturity.
Colonel John Boyd was a brilliant maverick who is undoubtedly one of the most important strategic thinkers of the twentieth century. An exceptional fighter pilot he revolutionized how the Air Forces thought about air combat, when he wrote the ‘Aerial Attack Study’. He developed the Energy-Maneuverability Theory which revolutionized the design and build of fighter aircraft and finally produced a briefing entitled Patterns of Conflict which transformed the US approach to ground operations. Never an easy subordinate he made innumerable enemies as he challenged partisan service interests. Not just for those interested in military strategy this is a study in character, integrity and leadership and what can happen in large self-interested bureaucracies.
Sam Walker is a sports journalist who set out to research which were the greatest sports teams in history and what if anything defined their success. From a list of thousands he distills a list of just 16 teams representing the top .001% of sports teams in history. The factor that distinguished these teams – the leadership of the team Captain. Its not an obvious conclusion but the research is compelling as is the analysis of what made the leadership of these particular group of remarkable men and women so effective.
David Hackworth was described by many as the finest combat leader of his generation, battlefield commissioned in Korea he was an exceptional leader and later an outspoken critic of US policy in Vietnam and the leadership failings of the US military and the Pentagon. He was described by General Creighton Abrams, the overall commander in Vietnam, as ‘the best Battalion commander I ever saw’. This story narrates his experience as a Battalion Commander in Vietnam as he turns around a failing unit with terrible morale and makes it exceptional. This is an outstanding story of the power of leadership in action.
A remarkable inside view of the crisis management and leadership of President Kennedy and his most senior advisors during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Loads of lessons here about decision-making under pressure and how leaders exercised judgement under the most exceptional pressure when for thirteen days in 1962 the world stood on the precipice of a nuclear war.
Written in the form or a short novel this parable is the story of 2 rival consultancy firms and their CEOs very different approaches. This is a short easy read beguiling simple with a message and a recipe for organizational health and performance. Lencioni is a well known author of business books and is President of the Table Group a consultancy firm based in San Francisco.
A brilliantly written memoir of a Marine Corps Officer recounting his initial training and then the experience of going to war during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Its a great account of the experience of combat leadership and his reflections on leadership – the good and the bad – are instructive to any leader.
David Goggins inspirational and humbling story of overcoming the adversity of an abusive and traumatic childhood. Firstly to become a US Navy SEAL and then to continue his personal exploration of the limits of human performance and the ultimate power of the mind. He went on to become an exceptional ultra-marathoner after completing his first 100 mile event with no running training whatsoever.
Pete Blaber was a commander in the US Delta Force, The Army’s Tier 1 Special Forces Unit. This book is both a memoir of a dozen years of combat operations and a guide to leaders everywhere, with a wealth of leadership lessons that translate to almost any business or organization.
Story of the authors experience of leading the winning team on the Clipper Round the world yacht race and in particular what he learned about teams, the importance of leadership and making decisions under pressure. The Clipper is a unique 35,000 mile race and takes place between a fleet of matched yachts – crewed by amateur sailors with a professional skipper.
First published in 1936 this is still a masterpiece of applied common sense. The style may be a little folksy and the examples can seem dated but the essence of how to get the best out of others and yourself from communication is as relevant as ever. Wish I’d read it years ago!
General Mattis spent his career in the United States Marine Corps before retiring from the military & briefly serving as Secretary of State for Defense until the end of 2018 when differences with President Trump led him to resign. More famous as a reader than a writer this is Mattis reviewing his career in the military with a focus on his leadership journey through every level of command and three combat theaters.
Martin Dempsey is a former Chief of the Joint Staffs, making him the highest ranking military officer in the United States. He served in that office under President Obama from Oct 2011 to 2015. Loosely biographical of his service career the book is primarily about leadership and the lessons he learnt through over 40-years of service.
David Marquet was a former US Navy Submarine commander who documented the Damascene conversion of his approach to leadership and command in his best selling first book, ‘Turn The Ship Around’. In this book he examines how language and the words we choose fundamentally shape orgnisational and team behaviour. Every leader needs to understand this and would benefit from reading this book.
Frances Hesselbein rose up through the ranks of the American Girl Scouts, ultimately to lead the organization turning it around in the process from a seemingly inexorable decline to a membership of over 2 million. She went on to run the Peter Drucker foundation and sat on the executive boards of prominent companies, think tanks and Universities. This book is a collection of essays, distilling her thoughts on leadership.
Former Gurkha and SBS Special Forces Operator Nims sets out the extraordinary story of his quest to climb all fourteen of the worlds 8,000m peaks in a fraction over 6-months. Judged by the international mountaineering community as ‘impossible’, Nims and his team of elite sherpas set out to prove them wrong. Not only is this a tale of mountaineering in the death zone it is packed with lessons on leadership, performance psychology and team work.
Lou Rudd is a former Special Forces soldier, famous for his polar expeditions, which include his extraordinary solo crossing of Antarctica in 2018. The book details his adventurers and provides some great insights and lessons into leading small teams in extreme environments.