BENGALURU: There are more books on leadership than real leaders! On an average, at least four books are released every day with the word ‘leadership’ in the title, but hardly any of the bestselling ones are written by women – a glaring omission. The practice of leadership has evolved over the years and so has the understanding of it. Writers now apply concepts of neuroscience, evolutionary biology and behavioural economics to the study of leadership.
The traditional model of leadership has produced hierarchies that do not work anymore. The new environment of interconnectedness has created a fundamental shift, where leaders are at the centre of the circle and not the top of the pyramid. Leaders are comfortable operating at the edge of chaos and ambiguity, where the ability to ask questions, to think in non-linear and non-binary ways, is more important than having concrete answers. The new-age leaders are an amalgam of yin and yang.
As Daniel Pink, author of When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing says, “They are humble but not too humble. Confident but not too confident. The very best strike that right balance between humility and confidence”. Instead of trying to emulate what exceptional leaders do, we need to understand and emulate how they think. This is a personal list of leadership books that have had an impact on my life, books with compelling ideas and best practices.
Art of War is a must-read leadership book. Published in the 5th century BCE by Sun Tzu, each of the book’s 13 chapters is devoted to an aspect of warfare and how it applies to military tactics. The book remains the most influential strategy text in East Asian warfare and has influenced Eastern and Western military thinking, business tactics, legal strategy and more. Another ancient guide to effective leadership is How To Be A Leader by Plutarch. Blending pragmatic advice with historical anecdotes and political history, this book lays out a timeless vision of the qualities of all great leaders have in common.
Stewardship by Peter Block, published in 1993 remains one of the most provocative and revolutionary books written on leadership, business, and organisational design, and shows us how we can transform our organisations for the common good of the wider community.
Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There is essential reading for anyone in the ascendant to leadership. One of Goldsmith’s interesting insights is that smart people know what to do; they need to know what to stop. Create a To-Stop-list rather than a To-Do-list.
Rajeev Peshawaria’s Open Source Leadership argues against some common myths and that “positive autocracy” must replace democratic leadership; talent and innovation are abundant not scarce; early identification of high-potentials is counter-productive; and setting employees free to do as little as they want will increase productivity. Liz Wiseman’s Multipliers focuses on leaders who use their intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities of the people around them. This book will show you how to harness all the energy and intelligence around you.
One book that has had a great impact on me and I believe is a model for organisations and leadership in the future is Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux. One of its case studies is about Buurtzorg, a healthcare company in The Netherlands with more than 10,000 employees but with no management and no organisational structure in the classic sense. I was fortunate to meet the CEO Jos De Blok and his talk was an eye opener that encouraged many of us to break away from the traditional structures. To this list I would add popular bestsellers like 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, True North by Bill George and The Five Levels of Leadership by John C Maxwell. The list goes on!
The author is a technologist based in Silicon Valley who is gently mad about books