Leadership: 5 great books you may not know

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Shelley graduated from college last year and found a job as a marketing manager in a good sized corporation. When she heard what I do for a living, she asked me if I could recommend a book to “help me be more effective as a manager.”

I immediately thought of The Effective Executive, one of the all-time great business books. She wrote down the title and author. But when I mentioned that it was one of Peter Drucker’s first books, she looked puzzled. “Who’s Peter Drucker,” she asked.

Even if you check the Beloit Mindset List regularly, it’s easy to forget that people from a different generation might not understand what you think are obvious references. I apologized to Shelley and explained who Drucker was. The fact that she didn’t recognize Drucker’s name wasn’t a failing on her part.

A lot of very good and worthwhile stuff gets plowed under as new generations take over the workplace and the world. That’s just the way it is. But it got me thinking about what great management books might have slipped away from common currency while I wasn’t paying attention.

Here’s a list of five great business books that may not be on your radar because they were published more than twenty years ago. They’ve all still got valuable lessons, even if the references are dated and some things we’re used to (like email) are not mentioned. Some have been updated and some have not. I dip into all these books frequently.  Putting this list together reminded me of the many gifts of information, insight, and inspiration these books have given me.

The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge

If you’ve heard the term “learning organization,” this is the book that started it all. The fifth discipline of the title is the discipline of systems thinking. “Appendix 2: Systems Archetypes” is worth the price of the book.

High Output Management by Andy Grove

This one of the best books ever about how to do the job of being a manager. It was first written in 1983 and it’s about managing in a manufacturing company. Don’t let that put you off. It’s practical advice, cleanly conveyed.

Corporate Cultures by Terrence Deal and Allan Kennedy

This is the book where I first read Marvin Bower’s definition of culture as “The way we do things around here.” The book is a good, simple, well-written introduction to corporate culture. It was written in 1988.

Creativity in Business by Michael Ray and Rochelle Myers

Business books tend to treat creativity in one of two ways. For some authors, creativity is a black art which some people can practice and others can’t. Other authors seem to think that you can be creative with the help of someone’s numbered instruction sheet. This book does neither. It’s a delightful blend of Eastern philosophy and creativity research written for business readers.

The Abilene Paradox by Jerry Harvey

If you’ve ever wondered why some corporate initiatives seem to take on a life of their own pulling unwilling workers to places no one wants to go, you should read the title “meditation.” It’s superb, but my favorite is the meditation entitled “Captain Asoh and the Concept of Grace.” Jerry Harvey put this collection together in 1988.

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Stephen J. Gill   |   30 Apr 2015   |   Reply

Wally, I like your choice of books, especially The Abilene Paradox. Harvey’s book continues to have an important lesson for all organizations and teams. One correction: Senge’s “Fifth Discipline” is systems thinking. Team learning is one of the other disciplines.

Wally Bock   |   30 Apr 2015   |   Reply

Thanks for the kind words and the correction on the “Fifth Discipline.” I’ve changed the post test to reflect the change.

Stephen J. Gill   |   22 Jan 2016   |   Reply

Wally, thanks for this reminder about these great books. I especially appreciate the renewed attention being brought to Harvey’s The Abilene Paradox. I think he explains the reason for much of what goes wrong in organizational decision-making today, from faulty ignition switches to lead-poisoned water.

Wally Bock   |   23 Jan 2016   |   Reply

Thanks, Stephen. Fads come and go, but human nature doesn’t change. That’s why many older management books are still valuable and why history and biography are always sources of great wisdom.