This year’s reading list is geared towards helping people develop as leaders. To me, being a good leader requires a variety of skills: self awareness and empathy (understanding yourself and those you lead and follow), clear thinking, strategic thinking (including systems thinking), an understanding of your context (the environment within which you are working), a robust understanding of your work, and some flare. The books below don’t cover all of these characteristics, but they are a good start. “Thinking about Thinking” helps leaders understand why they and others think the way they do. Strategic Thinking helps leaders understand where their problems exist within a larger context, and gives insight into what external things may be influencing your problems.

The section labeled “Leadership” touches on mentorship, motivation and creativity in leadership. If you are looking for a basic primer on straightforward techniques on leadership you can do a lot worse than the basic Army doctrine manual, Field Manual 6-22 Army Leadership.

“Thinking About the World” introduces some different opinions about some emerging areas influencing society. Data, social networks, different views that challenge conventional wisdom… the point is to question the accepted views on a variety of topics, not to change your mind but to exercise your ability to consider different views.

“Just to be Different” section is really about introducing and exercising divergent thinking. How might this make you a better leader? Look, everyone is trying to do the same things as everyone else, only better. The way I figure, everyone is trying so hard to be “normal” that we are missing out on the things that can really make a difference in our organizations. If you look throughout history for those folks who really made a difference you don’t find too many conformists. Yes, you have to figure out which rules you need to follow, but following the herd isn’t going to make you a great leader. Think differently.

The final section is geared towards my own organization and our specific context. You should develop a short reading list for your place as well. One of the best ways to get folks socialized is to send them a book that helps them understand their new firm before they arrive.

I know it’s a long list… but you have as long as it takes. I recommend reading one from each category, taking a break (read some fiction… I’ll recommend some in a later post), and then looping back through.

Thinking about Thinking

Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely

Future Bable: Why Expert Predictions Fail and Why We Believe them Anyway by Dan Gardner

Think! Before it’s too Late by Edward De Bono

A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink

Don’t Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking by Thomas E. Kida

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Brain Rules (Updated and Expanded): 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J. Levitin

Strategic Thinking

The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge

The Systems View of the World by Ervin Laszlo

The Logic of Failure: Recognizing and Avoiding Error in Complex Situations by Dietrich Dorner

Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement by William Duggan

Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott



Grey Eminence: Fox Conner and the Art of Mentorship by Edward Cox

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink

Jamming: Art and Discipline of Business Creativity by John Kao

What Got you Here Won’t Get you There: How Successful People Became Even More Successful by Marshall Goldsmith

At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends by Dwight D Eisenhower


Thinking about the World

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker

Outliers: The Story of Success  by Malcolm Gladwell

Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World by Bruce Schneier

Social Physics: How Social Networks Can Make Us Smarter by Alex Pentland

The Post-American World: Release 2.0 by Fareed Zakaria


Just to be Different

On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation by Alexandra Horowitz

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt

Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie

Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World by Starrett, Kelly

Design in Nature: How the Constructal Law Governs Evolution in Biology, Physics, Technology, and Social Organizations by Adrian Bejan and J. Peder Zane

Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights by Gary Klein

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel

Thinking about our Work (Corps of Engineers)

Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do And Why They Do It by James Wilson

The First 90 Days in Government: Critical Success Strategies for New Public Managers at All Levels by Peter H. Daly, Michael Watkins, Cate Reavis

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, Revised Edition by Marc Reisner

Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America by John M. Barry

Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It by Glennon J.D. Ph.D, Dr. Robert Jerome

The Road Taken: The History and Future of America’s Infrastructure by Henry Petroski



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