Friday, February 13, 2009

The 10 Best Leadership Books of All Time

The task here at the Leadership Playlist -- to share must-reads from the world of leadership -- just got easier, thanks to The 100 Best Business Books of All Time, out this month from Portfolio. The authors, Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten, who run the business book publisher and website 800 CEO Read, list and review the 10 best leadership books.

And how did they choose them? "We had three litmus tests," Sattersten told me in a phone interview. "Was the book accessible and well written? Are its lessons applicable today? And, third, would we apply the insights in our own business?"

Of the 10 leadership books that made the cut, four were authored by On Leadership panelists. Authors Covert and Sattersten gave me a quick, Twitter-style run down on each.

1. On Becoming a Leader, by Warren Bennis. "His message is, you can't be a leader until you know who you are. It's that simple," said Sattersten. "Once you know, you have amazing ability to lead successfully."

2. The Leadership Moment, by Michael Useem. "It's a book you read for the stories, not because you're looking for a solution," Covert told me. "I think the stories sit in the back of your mind, and when you reach a crisis situation -- which so many people are right now -- you can call on them." (And yes, I am related the author, he's my dad.)

3. The Leadership Challenge, by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. "It's the first book your read on leadership because it offers such a compelling model for thinking about leadership," said Sattersten. "You can use it as a basis for looking at everything else you encounter."

4. Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will, by Noel Tichy and Stratford Sherman. The book, about Jack Welch's leadership at GE, is the story of "the great corporate turn-around story of the 20th century," said Sattersten. And not because GE was faltering when Welch took charge -- on the contrary, said Sattersten, GE at the time was running "an acceptably profitable business," and yet still Welch was able to implement major changes. "It's like Tiger Woods changing up his golf swing at the top of his game," added Covert.

The other books on their list are:
Leadership is an Art, by Max De Pree
The Radical Leap, by Steve Farber
Leading Change, by John Kotter
Questions of Character, by Joe Badaracco
The Story Factor, by Annette Simmons, and
Never Give In! Speeches by Winston Churchill.

Covert and Sattersten also said they'd add recently published Tribes by Seth Godin to this list if they could update it.

With many saying Wall Street has witnessed a massive failure of leadership, I asked Sattersten and Covert if they'd like today's leaders to read these books. Answered Sattersten: "Yes, I'd like them to read the books. But what I'd love more is for someone to actually lead us."

(By Andrea Useem/Washington Post)

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