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8 Inspiring Reads for Leadership Development

Readers shared with us the books that inspired them to be a good leader.

In many parts of the world, the summer season is well underway, with extraordinarily high temperatures offering an added incentive to hibernate indoors with a good book. Even where it’s not summer, reading is always a great way to find new inspiration for self-development. We recently reached out to our social media followers and AACSB leadership to ask, “What books have inspired you to become a better leader?” Here’s what resulted from their responses.

The first suggestion was not a book but an author. Todd Kuckkah, a consultant with the John Maxwell Team, unsurprisingly offered “anything by John Maxwell.” A well-known and prolific author on leadership, Maxwell has published books that have become bestsellers on the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and BusinessWeek lists. Some titles include 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Developing the Leader Within You, and Failing Forward. Maxwell has an educational background in ministry and also spent time as a pastor prior to becoming an author and speaker. Maxwell was named to the Society of World Changers by Indiana Wesleyan University, where he also received an honorary doctorate.

Now on to the list:

1. To start, what leadership reading list would be complete without 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, by Steven Covey? This was submitted by Joanne Powell, a senior advisor at QED: The Accreditation Experts (an AACSB business member). Originally written in 1989, 7 Habits was updated 2004 and 2013 and has sold over 25 million copies worldwide. Through his book, Covey helped popularize the term “paradigm,” and subsequently “paradigm shift,” in the business world (the term was originally introduced by scientist Thomas Khun). An important focus of the book is to explore and challenge our paradigms—our mental maps or assumptions about the way things are—to become better leaders. Covey earned business degrees from the University of Utah and Harvard University and taught as a tenured professor at Utah State University’s Huntsman School of Business.

2. Numerated titles seemed to resonate with the submissions we received, as in the next title, Love Works: Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders, by Joel Manby. AACSB’s chief accreditation officer, Stephanie Bryant (an avid reader and author of last year’s reading list), submitted this book. Manby’s idea for the book was based on overwhelming response to his appearance in the television show Undercover Boss. In the show, Manby, then president and CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment (HFE), disguised himself as a low-wage worker at HFE’s theme park to learn about the real experiences of employees on the ground. Manby discovered that the organization’s philosophy of “leading with love” had seeped into the hearts of its workers at all levels, and attributed the organization’s success to that infectious passion. The experience inspired him to define and elaborate on the seven characteristics underlying the philosophy: patient, kind, trusting, unselfish, truthful, forgiving, and dedicated. All proceeds of Love Works go toward HFE’s charitable arm, the Share It Forward Foundation, which provides assistance to employees in need.

3. Also looking at leadership through a lens of compassion is The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict, by the Arbinger Institute. This title was submitted by Nate Regier, CEO of management consulting group Next Element, as well as an author himself. The Anatomy of Peace focuses on conflict resolution in personal relationships, with relevant professional applications, and has earned acclaim by global business, political, and peace leaders. It “demonstrates how conflicts home, conflicts at work, and conflicts in the world stem from the same root cause,” according to the publisher. Through a fictionalized story about struggling parents and enemies turned allies, the book examines how our own self-deception impacts our beliefs about others and often prevents empathy, thereby enabling conflict to persist. It offers a methodology for resolving this conflict and, ultimately, hope for reconciliation.

4. The next book was written by an author who might sound familiar: Nate Regier (see above). Conflict Without Casualties: A Field Guide for Leading With Compassionate Accountability was submitted by Carrie Gilligan, learning consultant and adjunct business instructor. Regier asserts that drama—defined in the book as “what happens when people struggle against themselves or each other, with or without awareness, to feel justified about their negative behavior”—lies at the root of much of our conflict. His approach to conflict resolution uses transformative communication to get from drama to compassion. Many people misuse the energy that results from conflict, he says, and what he offers instead is a framework for how we can use that energy toward positive pursuits; in other words, turn it into “positive conflict.”

5. Following the theme of transformation, Raj Devasagayam, business school dean at SUNY Old Westbury, offered as his choice Reframing Academic Leadership, by Lee Bolman and Joan Gallos. As the title indicates, this book focuses on the specific leadership challenges encountered in academia. The authors state in the preface that “[h]igher education administration is demanding work that tests the mind, soul, and stamina of all who attempt it” (can you relate?), situating their discussion in the complex landscape of academic institutions. Bolman and Gallos know of what they speak; both accomplished professors, administrators, and scholars, the authors use cases and examples from their experiences to offer advice on the common challenges academic administrators face, as well as sustainable solutions for success and satisfaction in the higher ed leadership role.

6. The next book also explores authenticity. Deborah Merrill-Sands, dean of the University of New Hampshire’s Peter T. Paul College of Business, submitted True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, by Bill George and Peter Sims (the updated edition by Bill George is titled Discover Your True North). The book purports that following our “internal compass” will lead us to authentic leadership. It helps us explore important questions of who we essentially are; what are our values, passions, and motivations? What helps orient us when everything around us feels disorienting? Through interviews with some of the world’s top business leaders (of companies like Xerox, Goldman Sachs, Starbucks, and Time, Inc.), True North illuminates how others have developed their leadership—in both struggles and triumphs—and outlines a plan for anyone to find their way to becoming an authentic leader.

7. A.G. Krishnamurthy, author of The Invisible CEO: My Mudra Years, certainly found his way to authentic leadership—and rapid success. Submitted by Anupam Bhaskar, senior admissions manager at FORE School of Management in New Delhi, this book shares the reflections of former founder and CEO of Mudra Communications, Krishnamurthy, and his 23 years spent leading one of India’s top advertising agencies. The title refers to a nickname given to Krishnamurthy for being notably absent at high-profile events that his peers clamored to attend. Proud of his low profile, Krishnamurthy believed that his work should speak for him and not the other way around. He writes, “No matter how different you are, or how much of an ‘odd man out’ you feel, if you believe strongly enough and long enough, it is possible to continue to be who you are and to make a success out of doing what you love.”

8. Finally, Branko Ljutic, founding partner of SFAI Montenegro and finance professor, closes out the list with his selection, The Effective Manager, by Peter Drucker. With a focus on managing oneself rather than managing others as the basis of his management approach, Drucker’s time-tested 1967 book argues that effectiveness must be learned and practiced; it is not innate in even the best executives. Drucker identifies five key areas of focus for developing effectiveness: managing time, making the right contributions, mobilizing strengths, setting priorities, and honing decision-making. Drucker says that “the effectiveness of a modern society and its ability to perform—perhaps even its ability to survive—depend increasingly on the effectiveness of the people who work as executives in the organizations.” No small endeavor.

The responses to our post keep coming in, so make sure to check in for more inspired reading, or add your own!


Lee DavidsonLee Davidson is the editor for digital content at AACSB International.