Leadership books outside the self-help genre?
October 16, 2010 9:24 AM   Subscribe

Are there any books about leadership that don't fall into the self-help genre?

I'm looking for books that will help me improve my leadership skills, but I'm fairly tired of self-help books at the moment.

I'd like to find books that are 1) not written as a "how to lead" tome, 2) fun or interesting to read and 3) possibly really straightforward about leadership tactics, as opposed to overbroad strategy or theory.

Specific areas I'm interested in, if it helps:

Managing employees or subcontractors
Religious leadership
Government leadership

Biographies are the first type of book to come to mind, but I've read a lot of biographies that don't really go into leadership technique.

I know a lot of it is just getting out there and doing good things, but I'm most concerned about motivating people who also need to be out doing good things, resolving problems that arise in groups, that sort of thing.

posted by circular to Education (17 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I teach a political leadership course. I use Leadership by James MacGregor Burns.
posted by quodlibet at 9:30 AM on October 16, 2010

Want to add - you might also want to check out Gardner's Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership given your interests.
posted by quodlibet at 9:34 AM on October 16, 2010

I've found The Shogun Scrolls to be a good book on leadership. Unlike the usual "Let's take the Art of War and make it for business", Shogun Scrolls deals more with government in general, and addresses stuff like mergers, taking over new divisions/sections and the issues of changing policy.
posted by yeloson at 9:41 AM on October 16, 2010

For one of my leadership classes, we had to read a couple of Ronald Heifetz's books, Leadership Without Easy Answers and Leadership on the Line. I don't know if they're exactly what you're looking for, though, but they're not that self-helpy.
posted by pecknpah at 9:47 AM on October 16, 2010

"Good Boss, Bad Boss" is one of those academic books on the subject. You know, the kind that weaves narratives and anecdotes with academic research findings, in chapter book form. The author's style includes some annoying filler type checklists and chapter reviews, but is fairly interesting overall.

I'm not sure if it's in the self-help section or a "how to lead" tome, but it certainly compares management tactics on the basis of outcomes. Trying to recall a few concepts right now, and the big ones that strike me are that negative interactions outweigh positive ones roughly 5:1, so you don't need to get negative too often, and to link talk to action.
posted by pwnguin at 9:50 AM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Naval Leadership: Voices of Experience. Bite-sized short essays. The I Ching of leadership. You get something new out of it every time you read it.
posted by ctmf at 10:09 AM on October 16, 2010

Echoing ctmf, look to military officer manuals.
posted by eccnineten at 10:21 AM on October 16, 2010

Government leadership

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
posted by John Cohen at 10:23 AM on October 16, 2010

Up the Organization.

It's a bit dated now, but most of what he wrote about is still valid, and it's a fun read.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:46 AM on October 16, 2010

I'm not sure what you mean when you say you want something "straightforward about leadership tactics" but not a book about "how to lead". To me those two things sound about the same.

However, some books that you may find useful...

Primal Leadership - A book that describes the toolkit of effective leadership, and how to go about developing leadership skills. It is based on psychological and management research, and a lot more useful than biographies and self-help books which tend to suggest there's one right way for all people and all situations, and leave you with no clue about how to develop the skills necessary. The process it describes for developing leadership abilities fits with approaches I've seen work remarkably well for many people.

What Management Is - You often hear people making a distinction between leadership and management. From what you asked, you are interested in management techniques as much as leadership skills, and this will give you a good overview of what really matters in getting organizations to perform well.

Leadership for Dummies - Like a lot of the "Dummies" books, it's written by well informed people in an easy-to-digest format that's big on practical tips, and light on grand theories. Which might be just the kind of thing you were after.
posted by philipy at 10:55 AM on October 16, 2010

Classic leadership title: On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis.

A more fun read about motivation and coming up with and sharing great ideas is Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath.
posted by morganannie at 11:04 AM on October 16, 2010

"The Prince" by Machiavelli
posted by fivesavagepalms at 11:06 AM on October 16, 2010

From a different perspective, articles by M.D. Mumford, a very known name in the area of Industrial Organizational psychology.
posted by francesca too at 12:51 PM on October 16, 2010

Robert Caro's biographies of Robert Moses (The Power Broker) and Lyndon Johnson.
posted by Wet Spot at 5:16 PM on October 16, 2010

I liked It's Your Ship, by D. M. Abrashoff, captain of the USS Benfold. He's an engaging and intelligent writer with an attitude that inspires without coveying you to death.

Self-helpy and scammy books give me rabies, so I was happy to discover how pleasant it was to read this one. The examples in the book are all naval in nature, but he takes care to use specifics that can transfer easily to any rigid, pre-existing power structure (if this is what you are looking for -- you mentioned government and religious leadership.) He's concerned with methods someone middle-to-low on the org chart can use to motivate the people they support, and finding ways to stand out from the herd without exceeding your available resources, while preventing bad attention from above.

I don't know that I've ever tried to apply any of his wisdom to anything, but I enjoyed the book.
posted by Sallyfur at 6:06 PM on October 16, 2010

It's not a recent publication, but I remember reading Iacocca, an Autobiography back in the 80's and being inspired by his ideas on leadership and what makes a great manager. He recently published Where Have All the Leaders Gone, which might suit your purposes even better - but I haven't read it yet (these days I'm more interested in retirement).
posted by kbar1 at 7:16 PM on October 16, 2010

I liked "The Three-Meter Zone" (ISBN 0891417281) by Command Segreant Major J.D. Pendry. It's written about and for NCOs, but it helped get me oriented when I first started managing a small team.

I had four years of JROTC in high school, so the language wasn't a problem for me, but folks with no familiarity with Army jargon might find it a bit bumpy reading. The tone is very plain-spoken, and it's obviously intended for people doing first-line management (as opposed to mid-level managers).
posted by wenestvedt at 9:19 AM on October 18, 2010

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