I draw on many different leadership models and strategic frameworks that I have applied during my career as a CEO, coach and facilitator. I have also been exposed to a wide variety of ideas and approaches during my training in engineering, business, organizational psychology and coaching. As a result I have built a fabulous library, which I am pleased to share with you!
I will continue to update my online Library with books and articles that I often recommend to clients and that have inspired my own work.
Good to Great by Jim Collins
This book is an enduring classic because it continues to be so widely applicable to businesses everywhere. Jim Collins and his colleagues set out to understand why some businesses outperformed their peers over a significant period. He explicitly tried to not study leaders, as he felt that saying that the differentiator in these outstanding companies was “leadership” sounded like an indefinable cop-out.
However, once the analysis was in, the team observed that the CEOs had similar characteristics and were not at all like the larger than life narcissists who graced the cover of Fortune magazine. They were seemingly humble but intense individuals who channeled their ambition through their organizations. He called this idea “Level 5 Leadership” and it has endured as one of the most important concepts for our generation leaders.
The other gem in this book (which I often reference in my strategy work) is the idea of a business focusing on doing one thing better than any other organization – this is the concept that the team named “The Hedgehog.” If you’ve never read Good to Great – read it. And if you read it years ago, read it again!
The Neurotic Organization by Manfred Kets de Vries and Danny Miller
OK, the title is a little heavy and the book does feel a little clinical; however, this book is interesting and important as it represents the first real attempt to look at organizational dysfunction through the lens of psychodynamic psychology – meaning that we need to take into account what individuals are unconsciously thinking and feeling in order to understand why organizations behave the way that they do.
I would recommend this book primarily to clients who have a natural interest in getting into the real roots of their, and their team’s, behavior – just be ready to wade through definitions of team dysfunctions including Paranoid, Compulsive, Depressive, Dramatic and Schizoid!
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
This is by far Lencioni’s most important book. His narrative style is captivating as he tells the story of a dysfunctional ELT at a tech company and their journey to understand why they are underperforming.
The 5 Dysfunctions pyramid is very accessible and I have seen this book used effectively to galvanize an ELT around what they need to address in order to improve their performance.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl
Resilience is perhaps the most important trait in a leader. We can be the brightest and most charismatic, but if we can’t get back up, brush ourselves off and keep going when the inevitable obstacles knock us down, we’re not going to be very effective.
Victor Fankl writes about his experience as a practicing psychiatrist who became an Auschwitz prisoner. Rather than giving in to what was an unbelievably horrific and hopeless situation, Frankl insisted on finding meaning in the suffering that he saw around him, and he left the camp a stronger person. Frankl is a 20th century icon, and many people, including myself, find inspiration in his remarkable resilience.
The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins
This book is a great read for anyone starting a new position. Watkins offers practical advice to people who are in transition, and I think of his book as a checklist of topics that we should keep top of mind. The danger in any transition is that we can get sucked into working on the most important crises or decisions that need to be addressed, without properly understanding the complexity or diversity of interests inherent in these situations. Using a framework like The First 90 Days will help you maintain some perspective in order to make more intelligent decisions during the critical first few months in role.
Quiet by Susan Cain
Introverts are challenged – and sometimes pathologized – in a business world that puts most value on extroverted characteristics. Susan Cain’s thesis is that the thoughtful and reflective traits of introverts are needed in our world, and that introverts can develop strategies to succeed in an extroverted world. This book resonates with me personally, as I am an introvert who successfully ran a public company for eight years. It also resonates in my work as a coach to senior leaders, who have struggled with being “different” or “flawed,” but have never fully embraced their introverted nature, or understood how it can be advantageous to their organizations and themselves.
Welcome to my Library
Working Identity: Herminia Ibarra
This is my all time favourite book to recommend to anyone considering a career change. Herminia was one of my CCC instructors at INSEAD, and her research interest that inspired this book was a retrospective study of people who had successfully transitioned to very profoundly different careers (don’t be distressed by the first case study of the psychiatrist who became a monk – the insights that Hermina uncovers are much more accessible and applicable for most of us!) The theme I have often used with clients is that the process of career change is messy – involving many experiments and some false starts – as opposed to the simple, straight line transition that we seem to imagine.
Strategy Safari: Henry Mintzberg and Joseph Lampell
Henry Mintzberg has always been a beacon of common sense and plain speaking in a world full of hyperbolic business books. This book has been very impactful for me. I started my career as a strategy consultant in London, grew up in the GE system, and I now facilitate strategy sessions with a number of different companies. Throughout this journey I have learned that strategy means very different things to different people. Mintzberg helped me understand that there is no one definition or model of strategy, and in this book he traces the history of corporate strategy, defining ten different schools of strategy that are profoundly different and often contradict each other.
I recommend this book to anyone who wants to dig a little deeper and understand the full range of approaches to strategy. Having said this, this is not a “how to” book and it will not instruct you in any single approach.