Top 10 Topical Leadership Books

Read these books to better understand leadership.

Posted Jul 17, 2011

These are books by esteemed leadership scholars that have academic rigor, but are interesting, accessible, and entertaining. They are divided into specific topics. Read these, and you will get a sense of the breadth of leadership research, the complexity of the leadership construct, and you (hopefully) will get hooked on learning more about leadership.

Books on good leadership:

1. Burns, James MacGregor (2003). Transforming Leadership. New York: Grove.

This follow-up to his 1978 classic, Leadership, reviews Burns' take on the very best form of leadership, with lots of examples of world leaders. He suggests that good leadership is the key to solving the world's biggest problems.

2. George, Bill (2003). Authentic Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Former Medtronics CEO, Bill George, merges experience and research to outline the qualities and character that lead to exemplary leadership. As one review noted, it was too bad that George did not write this book earlier to keep executives from going astray in the ethical debacles of the early 2000s.

Books on bad leadership:

3. Lipman-Blumen, Jean (2005). The Allure of Toxic Leaders. New York: Oxford University Press.

This exceptional book discusses the motivations and types of destructive, toxic leaders. The book's subtitle - Why we follow destructive bosses and corrupt politicians - and how we can survive them - suggests that this is as much about how followers respond to leaders as it is about bad leader behavior.

4. Kellerman, Barbara (2004). Bad Leadership: What it is, how it happens, why it matters. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing.

An in-depth analysis of the "dark side" of leadership. Along with Lipman-Blumen, these two books turn the study of leadership on its head and stand in direct contradiction to the many books that extol positive leaders.

Books that challenge traditional thinking about leadership:

5. Heifetz, Ronald A. (1994). Leadership Without Easy Answers. Harvard University Press.

Heifetz suggests that while many everyday problems can be solved through leader analysis and decision making, complex social problems and major business challenges require what he terms "adaptive leadership."

6. Greenleaf, Robert (1977/2003) Servant Leadership (25th anniversary edition). Paulist Press.

Drawing on Eastern philosophy, and his experiences working in mega-corporation AT&T, Greenleaf suggested an approach to leadership that is quite different than Western conceptualizations - leader as servant. This is a very popular notion, but has not spawned much good research, it is a very different orientation to leadership, however.

Women and Leadership

7. (2007). Through the Labyrinth: The Truth About How Women Become Leaders. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing

Eagly and Carli discuss why women are vastly underrepresented in positions of leadership and do an outstanding analysis of the psychological and behavioral processes that keep the majority of humans from attaining positions of leadership and power. The author intent is to change the metaphor of the "glass ceiling" for women leaders.

Personal Leadership Development

8. Avolio, Bruce J. (2005). Leadership Development in Balance: Made/Born. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum (now available from Psychology Press).

There are many guides to personal leadership development, but most are not grounded in research. Avolio's book is based solidly on research and on his own consulting work. It is academic, but in an accessible writing style.

The "Flip Side." A Book on Followership:

9. Chaleff, Ira (2009). The Courageous Follower: Standing Up To and For Our Leaders. (3rd ed). San Francisco: Berret-Koehler.

This is the first book that outlines what it means to be a good follower, and has spawned a movement to focus on building followership in organizations.

10. Drucker, Peter F. (2004). The Daily Drucker (with Joseph A. Maciariello). New York: Harper Business.

It is impossible to understand the depth and breadth of leadership without knowing something about the writing of "Father of Modern Management," Peter Drucker. Although he preferred the term "management" to "leadership," much of Drucker's thinking relates directly to why and how leaders are (or aren't) effective.


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