Here’s my Top 10 leadership books for the year. They’re books I’ve read over the last twelve months that I recommend to transformational leaders – that is, anyone seeking to lead with influence. As a follower of Jesus, this list (and this blog) has a Christian bias, but I hope those of other faiths or none will still find it helpful. Do connect and let me know.
So here we go:
10. Bobette Buster, Do Story
This excellent book in the ‘Do’ series is a great introduction to the art of story-telling, which is a crucial component to communication. Buster is both a practitioner and professor and she writes with clarity and simplicity to help readers craft a great story.
9. Stephen Cottrell, Hit the Ground Kneeling
This is a short book by the new Archbishop of York, written back in 2009 but still very helpful today. He takes common ideas about leadership and rethinks them in the light of the Christian faith. It includes some lovely stories and much wisdom for servant leaders to embrace.
8. Ian Randall, Rhythms of Revival
This is not about leadership but is a well-researched book on the Christian revival that took place in much of the western world between 1857-1863, about which all leaders should be aware. These kind of religious and sociological movements can easily be written off today, but they shaped many individuals and families and indeed whole communities. Some of my ancestors found faith in Christ at this time and they and future generations were for transformed. Randall’s analysis is fascinating and challenging.
7. Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus
Professor, writer and theologian Nouwen wrote this book to challenge contemporary views of leadership, urging leaders to learn from Jesus and move ‘From Relevance to Prayer’, ‘From Popularity to Ministry’ and ‘From Leading to Being Led.’ This is a short but nevertheless powerful book.
6. Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership
Barton writes with insight and depth, urging leaders to look after their soul. As part of each chapter she offers a spiritual practice to nourish and sustain for the long-haul. A must-read for all leaders, especially those who recognise they’re becoming tired, anxious or losing their way.
5. C S Lewis, The Reading Life
I write this annual leadership book-list to encourage leaders to be readers. One of the most influential leaders of the last century, who himself was an avid reader, was C S Lewis, so when I discovered this book I digested it with great interest and I was not disappointed. Cultivated from his many essays, articles, and letters, as well as his classic works, The Reading Life provides guidance and reflections on the love and enjoyment of books. Engaging and enlightening, it includes Lewis’ reflections on science fiction, why children’s literature is for readers of all ages, and why we should read two old books for every new one.
4. Gary L McIntosh & Samuel D Rima: Overcoming the Dark Side of Your Leadership
This book considers a much-neglected aspect of leadership, addressing the dark side of leadership. I touch on this a little in my recent book, Overflow, recognising that our gifts and abilities have a shadow side which we need to take seriously and compensate for. This book takes this much further and helpfully offers steps for leaders to consider and tools to use, in order to turn our weaknesses into creative opportunities.
3. Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve
Friedman was the first to tell us that all organizations have personalities, like families, and to apply the insights of family therapy to synagogues and churches, rectors and rabbis, politicians and teachers. His understandings about our regressed, ‘seatbelt society,’ oriented toward safety rather than adventure, help explain the sabotage that leaders often face today. His message for leaders to be brave and be a ‘non-anxious presence’ is still relevant and helpful.
2. Stephen Cottrell, On Priesthood
This is the best book I’ve read on priesthood. Even if you’re not a church leader, or even a Christ-follower, I’d still recommend reading this book, as there’s much insight into understanding and leading people. Archbishop Stephen takes five key words: messenger, sentinel, steward, servant and shepherd and helps us grasp what they mean for priests today. Thoughtfully written with his usual insight as well as humour, this book is likely to become a classic on priesthood.
1. The Bible
As in previous years, this is my number one book recommendation for leaders. While the Bible is so much more than a leadership book, it nevertheless continues to be the best resource for leaders today. I know many leaders, in all sorts of walks of life, who regularly make time to read a passage from this book. They might read a number of Proverbs, or from the stories of Jesus, or a selection of different parts of the Bible. Some use a lectionary or bible-reading plan to give a systematic structure. However you do it, the most important thing is to read the Bible, daily if possible, with an open heart and mind, and to ask the Spirit of God to speak. That’s how the message becomes alive so we can then live it and apply it each day. It’s the best resource for being a transformational leader.