For the last few years, usually in November or December, I’ve written two book recommendation blogs, highlighting some good reads. One commends books for disciples of Jesus, and that’s posted on my Discipleship Blog; the other is for leaders, posted in this Leadership Blog. I did the discipleship list as usual in December 2021, but the leadership one was stalled due to ill-health. So here we go – better late than never! This is my list of 10 Good Books for Leaders for 2022.
These are leadership books that I’ve found have helped me with my leadership in the last year. They’re not in any order of preference.
1. Brené Brown’s Atlas of the Heart
While we all sense a wide variety of emotions in life, Brown thinks that most people, according to her research, can only articulate three: happiness, sadness and anger. This book is written to broaden our understanding and perception of 87 emotions and experiences, in the hope that we’ll all become more emotionally intelligent and kinder. Written in Brown’s accessible style, this is a great book for anyone and I’d say a must for all leaders, because it will help us both understand ourselves better and grow in our ability to connect with others.
2. Steven Croft’s The Gift of Leadership
Steven Croft is the Bishop of Oxford and understands something of the demands of leadership. He recognises that ‘one of the most common experience of leaders … is the feeling of being overextended, exhausted and misunderstood.’ So through ten reflections on Old Testament passages on leadership he uncovers ambitious rulers and reluctant prophets, and helps us discover what good leadership looks like. It’s aimed not just for the church leader but also for those leading in a broader context, including the marketplace and in the voluntary sector. I was particularly stirred by his assertion that the Book of Ruth in the Bible is essentially a leadership book, with it being ‘entirely focussed on leadership and the foundations of leadership.’
3. John Kotter’s Leading Change
When I finished being a curate (trainee-Vicar) in Dore, Sheffield in the year 2000 I was given leadership responsibility for the church and parish of St Chad’s in Woodseats, Sheffield. The Bishop of Doncaster preached at my induction service and told everyone that I had come as ‘an agent of change.’ His words were empowering and helped me as I cut my teeth as a leader. I was very much learning on the job but to be honest I didn’t know where to go to find leadership resources. I found some but wish I’d known about this book by Kotter for it was already published – coming out in 1996 and being updated in 2012. It’s now an international bestseller and seen by many as the seminal text on transformational change. In it Kotter highlights an 8-stage process for managing change with positive results. The book also paves the way for Kotter’s newer ideas on acceleration – which are all about leading change with a sense of urgency. His books are for pioneer leaders working in any sector, who want to make a difference.
4. Emma Ineson’s Ambition
When I finished being a curate, the writer of this book followed me as curate in Dore, Sheffield. Now as Bishop of Lambeth, Bishop Emma distils some of her wise and incisive thinking on leadership as she looks at the subject through the lens of ambition. If followers of Jesus want to make a difference, is it ok to be ambitious? And ambitious for what? She believes it is, as long as ambition is tempered and is allowed to mature through a right understanding of vocation. There are lots of helpful leadership tips here, peppered with humour and a lovely final reflection on the Beatitudes which she sees as ‘key spiritual disciplines for ambitious people.’
5. HBR’s Confidence (in the Emotional Intelligence series)
The Emotional Intelligence series of books from Harvard Business Review are short, multi-author books opening up a simple subject. Written mainly for leaders in the secular work-place, this seven chapter book is mostly authored by gifted female leaders who share thoughts, ideas and tips on how to overcome self-doubt and nerves, as well as what to do when feeling too self-assured. Practical and easy to read. Very helpful.
6. Tod Bolsinger’s Canoeing the Mountains
This is an unusual book on leadership. It tells the story of Lewis and Clark, the US explorers who in the early 1800’s led the expedition to cross the newly acquired western portion of the country after the Louisiana Purchase. As church leader Bollinger tells the story, so he relates leadership lessons for life and church today – especially for those leading in contexts they’re not expecting. I read this during one of the lockdowns and found it surprisingly relevant and refreshing.
7. Herminia Ibarra’s Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader
This book challenged me. That’s because it’s basic premise is that leaders should act first and think second. I immediately disagreed, knowing – as most leaders do – what it’s like to pick up the pieces after we, or someone we lead has not thought things through before acting! But to be fair, her thesis is more nuanced – as she is particularly speaking into contexts of rapid change, especially when we find ourselves in times of fast transition and uncertainty. At such times we can be paralysed by fear and procrastinate. Leaders can’t afford to do that. Decisions need to be made. So, she argues, get on and do, and learn and adapt as you go along; rather than bringing ‘insight’ she champions the principle of ‘outsight.’ This book will make you think what it is to be a leader in times of change.
8. Ric Thorpe’s Resource Churches
As a leader of a resource church, and someone who’s written about them, I read this book with great interest. It’s by the Bishop of Islington and is the definite guide on resource churches. As well as providing a biblical, historical and theological framework, it’s practical and provides a wise, step-by-step guide for all involved (from Bishops to clergy to lay leaders) in seeing more resource churches develop so that other churches can be planted or revitalised. Although written from a Church of England perspective, there are useful things here for all church leaders, with many stories included from those involved in the planting and leading of resource churches. I loved reading it and was delighted to interview + Ric about the book last year.
9. James Ashton’s The Nine Types of Leader
Journalist James Ashton has interviewed many leaders and reckons that when it comes to it there are basically nine types. In this book he introduces some obvious and not-so-obvious types of leaders through stories and anecdotes and assesses the strengths and weaknesses of each type. There’s no link to the Enneagram, with its 9 personality and leadership types; rather this book is simply Ashton’s analysis on a breadth of leaders who he’s encountered mainly in the world of business. There’s much to learn here from reading about other leaders, especially from the things they say they’d do differently if they had to do it all again.
10. The Bible
All these books on leadership have things to help us become better leaders in every sector of life, whether you’re serving in business, education, the arts, medicine, the media or church. For church leaders and all followers of Jesus, we have a text that guides our leadership like no other, that we commend to all – which is the Bible. This past year I’ve read the Bible daily, which is why, yet again, it’s on my list! I’ve read it primarily to strengthen my relationship with Jesus. But I also use it as a leadership text, because it’s that too. If you’ve never read it through the lens of leadership then may I urge you to do that: to ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you and equip you for leadership as you read it. If you don’t know where to start, begin with the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), which are the 4 accounts of the life of Jesus. I expect you’ll be surprised how your life and leadership changes for the good. That’s why the Bible is still my No.1 leadership text.
I hope you’ve found something in this list that interests you as a leader in these fascinating and stretching days. Covid-19 has been, and is, a defining moment in world history and it’s challenged how we live and lead. Leaders in particular have had to adapt and change. We know we need to be more nimble and flexible. Most of all we need to keep on learning. So in 2022 keep reading. And listening. And thinking. And praying. And loving. And leading.