It was a great question though, and I immediately jotted down six of the dozens of titles I might have used as my answer. Here are six of the books I find myself returning to and re-reading regularly (in alphabetical order). These are books that have influenced and contributed my overall world view. The takeaways I have gleaned are incorporated into my overall DNA of how I think and feel about whatever I encounter.
I'll be offering similar lists in the future, but each one will focus on a particular topic; i.e. innovation.
a simpler way
by Margaret A. Wheatley and Myron-Kellner Rogers
I actually own two copies because my first is so highlighted. It is well-designed both in content and form, offering beautiful poems that complement kernels of insight about life and organizational dynamics:
"We encourage others to change only if we honor who they are now. We ourselves engage in change only as we discover that we might be more of who we are be becoming something different" (p. 50).
Built to Last
by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras
Generally regarded as a seminal work in the business and management genre and included on a myriad of "best of" lists, Built to Last has influenced many in management and leadership, as has the subsequent writing of Jim Collins in Good to Great, Good to Great and the Social Sectors, and How the Mighty Fall. Their simple yin-yang framework of "preserve the core (values and purpose) and stimulate progress in all else (culture, operating practices, goals, and strategies)" is a critical part of how I approach strategy development.
The Leadership Challenge
by James Kouzes and Barry Posner
A well-researched, repeatedly valid, and easy-to-understand leadership framework tied to individual behaviors as opposed to personality or charisma … what's not to like? Very little when it comes to this book and the Leadership Practices Inventory that assesses how frequently you engage in the leadership behaviors associated with the 5 practices and 10 commitments in the model Kouzes and Posner created. It's also one of the few models that has been validated for students as well.
Their definition of leadership alone is packed with leaning and insight: "Leadership is the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations." That's good stuff.
Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest
by Peter Block
Block's definition of stewardship helps shape how I contribute to the communities and causes I care about, as well as how I approach my consulting and facilitating: "Stewardship asks us to be deeply accountable for the outcomes of an institution, without acting to define purpose for others, control others or take care of others" (p. 18).
Block is anti management suggesting those that do the work should manage it and that organizations should not compensate individuals who do nothing but "watch, measure or define what is best for other human beings."
Tempered Radicals: How People Use Difference to Inspire Change at Work
by Debra E. Meyerson
While I often feel a bit revolutionary in my thinking or aspirations, when it comes to getting this done I see more of myself in the language and framework of tempered radicals as defined by Meyerson. While many draw on the book's diversity and inclusion implications in terms of ethnic and cultural differences, the basic principles are more far-reaching. Meyerson explores what it means to have to function as an insider when you feel like an outsider. In doing so she illustrates how individual acts of deviance from the norm or dominant culture can ripple throughout the enterprise and be amplified into significant change. Money quote: “Whenever people refuse to participate in their own subordination, they resist the way power asserts itself in organizations and society.” This Fast Company article gives you a nice preview of the book's thinking.
Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change
by William Bridges
All our lives undergo numerous transformations and transitions. Bridges' book is one of the most popular resources for thinking about how to navigate them, as well as support others in doing so. His three-part transition process (endings, the neutral zone, and the new beginnings) offers great insight for how to manage personal or organizational change. Too many people get stuck (either because of their own mindsets or because of ill-structured organizational change efforts) in neutral and fail to move forward.
What book (s) would you add to this list based on what you return to re-read regularly?