by Meridith Levinson

Leadership Lessons Learned Through Books

Oct 04, 2010

Which books--be they fiction or nonfiction--taught you the most about leadership?

The Society for Information Management (SIM) unveiled the list of books it will use as part of its Regional Leadership Forum leadership development program for 2011. 

Every year SIM compiles a list of 30 to 35 books that it encourages Regional Leadership Forum (RLF) participants to read. The books cover a range of topics, including leadership, team building, change management and diversity, and the reading is intended to increase participants’ self-awareness and to get them thinking about their leadership style, according to SIM. (And yes, participants have to read every single book on the list over the course of the year-long program, says Bob Rouse, RLF director and facilitator.)

SIM added six new titles to this year’s list, including The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Gary Hamel’s The Future of Management, Winners Never Cheat, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and The Visual Miscellaneum

Some of the old standbys that have remained on the list year after year include the existential memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning, by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl (Rouse says has been on the list for 20 years); Machiavelli’s classic, The Prince; and Managing Transitions by William Bridges. 

The list of books that Regional Leadership Forum participants will be studying this year prompted me to think about the works of fiction I’ve read (I don’t read a lot of business books) that contain strong messages about leadership. Two titles quickly came to mind: Lord of the Flies and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

These are hardly traditional leadership books, but both contrast different leadership styles. You have the Big Nurse’s authoritarian, condescending style of leadership, which meets its match against Randle McMurphy’s populist leadership style in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In Lord of the Flies, the two young school boys who emerge as “leaders” on the desserted island represent savage man (Jack) and rational man (Ralph). The book illustrates the different ways each “leader” motivates his supporters, not to mention the effectiveness—and consequences—of their styles. 

I’m curious: What are your favorite books for leadership lessons, be they fiction or nonfiction, and what specific lessons have you learned from them?