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For this edition, we asked four thoughtful contributors to consider the wide assortment of volumes on leadership and recommend their favorites. Each selected a book that looks at leadership through a distinct and unique lens.
Scott Rogers RECOMMENDS:
Tao Te Ching
As Eastern-wisdom traditions continue their profound integration into Western thought and practice, Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching (Stephen Mitchell Translation) becomes increasingly relevant. One of the most widely translated classics of all time, this elegant work has spoken across 25 centuries with piercing insights into the heart and mind of leadership, in lines such as: “The Master doesn’t talk, he acts/When his work is done/the people say, “Amazing:/we did it, all by ourselves!” This slim volume offers life-changing -lessons that today’s leadership courses and manuals can only hope to transmit—and in a text that is all of 6,443 words.
Consider how, in the practice of law, one eventually realizes the benefit to actually reading that oft-quoted Supreme Court decision. There is perhaps no greater instance of the power of a primary source than that found in reading this slim volume. I reread it often and each time it offers up a different lesson on leadership and life —the one I am ready for at that moment.
Scott Rogers practiced law for 17 years and is now director of the Institute for Mindfulness Studies. He is the creator of Jurisight, a mindfulness-based program to help attorneys enhance performance.
Ida Abbott RECOMMENDS:
Women and Leadership: The State of Play and Strategies for Change
Edited by Barbara Kellerman and Deborah L. Rhode, Women & Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2007) is a compilation of scholarly essays about the challenges and strategies of leadership. While it is not light reading, it is definitely a valuable contribution to the field. One of the chapters that I found most interesting, “Disrupting Gender, Revising Leadership,” isn’t about women at all, but instead about men working on two offshore oil rigs. These are rough and dangerous environments where we would expect macho behaviors to be the norm. The researchers, however, found that the most highly valued workers were those who openly admitted their emotional and physical limitations, showed care for their fellow workers, listened carefully, and asked others for help.
Why were these men more willing to show their “soft side”? The oil company, having determined that traditional masculine behaviors were compromising workers’ safety, redefined the behaviors critical for safety and effectiveness—which led to a broader range of desirable behaviors for both employees and leaders. Leadership became available to more individuals, not just those who fit a stereotypically “masculine” image. This study is a cause for optimism. If oil riggers can accept such profound changes in styles, lawyers and law firms can assuredly come up with new models of success as well. In doing so, they can make leadership accessible to a wider range of people, especially women.
After practicing law for 20 years, Ida Abbott now helps employers develop, manage and retain talented lawyers. She writes widely about the legal profession and is Director of the Hastings Leadership Academy for Women.
Mark Beese RECOMMENDS:
Leading Leaders: How to Manage Smart, Talented, Rich and Powerful People
There are thousands of leadership books on the market today, but few deal with the unique challenges of leading elite professionals in horizontal organizations such as law firms. How do you lead people who consider themselves leaders? How do you build teams with people who prefer to work in silos? How do you motivate partners who seem to “have everything” to do the right thing for the firm? How do you gain and keep others’ trust in a skeptical culture? How do you lead people with big egos and strong opinions? Or, as we might put it, how do you herd cats?
These are among the questions Jeswald Salacuse, former dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Southern Methodist University School of Law, answers in his book Leading Leaders. His insights are practical and sometimes counterintuitive, reflecting the complicated and unique challenges facing lawyer-leaders. Emphasizing the precious value of personal relationships and carefully crafted one-on-one conversations, Salacuse draws a road map of how to negotiate a common vision, create a team, resolve internal conflicts, motivate others to change and build trust within organizations.
Steve Denning RECOMMENDS:
Socrates in Love: Philosophy for a Die-Hard Romantic
On being asked to recommend something from the vast and mostly arid field of books on leadership, why recommend Socrates in Love: Philosophy for a Die-Hard Romantic (W.W. Norton, 2007)? Because genuine leadership is undertaken only by the die-hard romantic, someone willing to embrace honesty and compassion and face sometimes terrible consequences in trying to make the world a better place. Just think of leaders like Socrates, Jesus Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela, who endured the harshest sanctions in changing things for the good of all. Arming readers for the challenges of leadership, then, author Christopher Phillips directs us to discover the kind of love that makes life worthwhile and inspires us to aim higher. He wanders the world, talking with people from all walks of life to explore the different varieties of love—love of neighbor, of country, of God, of life and of wisdom—and enriches us with his insights.
Steve Denning is the author of several books on leadership and organizational storytelling, including The Secret Language of Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2007). He formerly practiced law in Sydney, Australia, and worked for the World Bank.
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Reading Minds invites sage professionals to recommend favorite books on a chosen topic. If you have a book you’d like to share, contact Stephanie West Allen.