30th March 2012: Reading List on Leadership

James Macgregor Burns. Leadership. New York: Harper & Row, 1978. TS-4. The classic study on charismatic, transformational and transactional styles of leadership which shaped research agendas over the next two decades. The meme of transformational leadership came from Burns’ study.

Jack Welch & Suzy Welch. Winning. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. TS-3. Winning can be read in several ways. It provides a snapshot of Welch’s coaching advice to potential corporate leaders. It is a ‘medial’ guidebook to the LBM attitudes that some MBA executives adopt (and thus what you are likely to encounter in the corporate jungle in Lean Six Sigma and Workout projects, which are both worth mastering). It is an LBM exercise that diverted attention from Welch’s divorce to his first wife. For a more skeptical view of Jack Welch’s GE tenure see Thomas F. Boyle’s At Any Cost: Jack Welch, General Electric, and the Pursuit of Profit (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998) and the Welch/Tom Peters chapter in Jeff Madrick’s Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present (New YorkL: Knopf, 2011).

Robert N. Lussier & Christopher F. Achua. Leadership: Theory, Application, Skill Development (5th ed.). New York: South-Western/Thomson, 2012. TS-3. A best-selling university textbook on leadership frameworks and business applications. For current practices also see Jay A. Conger and Ronald E. Riggio’s anthology The Practice of Leadership: Developing the Next Generation of Leaders (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007).

Joe R. Katzenbach & Douglas K. Smith. The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 1993. TS-3. In the early 1990s companies such as 3M, Motorola and Apple focused on innovation through teamwork. This is the classic study that influenced the next decade’s research on knowledge management. It occurred just as American managers experimented with business process reengineering and quality circles.

Sydney Finkelstein. Why Smart Executives Fail: And What You Can Learn From Their Mistakes. New York: Portfolio, 2003. TS-1. If you aim to climb the corporate ladder then Finkelstein’s accessible study is TS-1 mandatory reading on the LBM patterns of failure, otherwise this is TS-3. Finkelstein conducted 197 interviews and examined 51 US and international companies on corporate failure. He provides diagnostic tools to recognize failure and suggests early warning signals in the common situations in which corporate failure occurs.

Paul C. Nutt. Why Decisions Fail: Avoiding the Blunders and Traps That Lead to Debacles. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc, 2002. TS-3. A collection of case studies from the Ford Pinto to the Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas in 1993. Nutt identifies 10 different categories of blunders, decision errors and traps across his case study cohort. His solutions include understanding the ‘arena of action’, developing an ethical sense, insisting on learning, and identifying a range of options. For a more recent study incorporating behavioural finance insights, see Gary Klein’s Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009).

Connie Bruck. The Predators’ Ball (revised edition). (New York: Penguin, 1989). Bruck’s reportage on junk bond maven and philanthropist Michael Milken has three parts. The first part is an LHP Adept manifesto on how Milken and Drexel Burnham Lambert became the dominant United States market-makers for junk or high-yield bonds. It contains many lessons on the active use of university research; the design of investment vehicles; and how to deal with initiatory allies. The second part deals with the 1980s merger wave, the high-profile deals, and Milken’s role as a financier in it. The third part deals with Milken, speculator Ivan Boesky, and Drexel Burnham Lambert’s fall. This cautionary tale of leadership and ethics foreshadowed similar books on the demise of Bear Stearns and Lehman Bros, and controversy about Goldman Sachs, during the 2007-09 global financial crisis. For background on Milken and the 1980s merger wave, see the third and fourth episodes of the Adam Curtis documentary series The Mayfair Set (BBC, 1999).