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Top 10 Classic Conscious Leadership Books

Flip Brown May 22, 2017

Who hasn’t benefited from a good business book–the kind that results in a major epiphany, sparks an organizational transformation, or delivers pithy wisdom from a pioneer? You may well be like me, in that I have a stack of approximately twenty-five books on the “I’m going to read this one next” pile. There’s just no shortage of good ones.

Yes, the Internet and all its progeny–websites, blogs, e-readers, webinars–are useful. However research indicates that we comprehend better and retain more when we take in information from the printed page rather than on an electronic screen.

Over the last twenty years I’ve loaded up several bookcases with an eclectic collection of titles on business, psychology, personal growth, leadership, and mindfulness. Some I never got around to reading, in some I didn’t make it much past the middle, and then there are those keepers that I not only continue to refer to, but champion to peers and clients.

I also am aware that one person can totally fall in love with a particular publication like it was their special hot sauce while to someone else it is equivalent of stale kale. So while I’m sure you have your favorites, I’ll share my top ten list of classic books that have been published at least five years ago, in hopes that you may find some tips, tools, and techniques to manage yourself and your altruistic endeavors.

1. “Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values”—by Fred Kofman

Conscious Business by Fred KofmanKofman talks about “unconditional responsibility, unflinching integrity, authentic communication, impeccable commitments, and right leadership.” A great map for understanding and practicing the attributes and competencies that help us integrate the personal and professional. Published 2006.

Strength: A great holistic model.

Challenge: Some of the process descriptions could be a bit more concise.

To go deeper: Check out the audiobook companion.

2. “Organizational Culture and Leadership“—by Edgar H. Schein

Organizational Culture and Leadership by Edgar Shein CoverOne of the first to take an in-depth look at business culture, Schein draws on years of experience to decode the assumptions, patterns, and beliefs that make up the workplace.

Strength: Gets way beyond the casual, superficial understanding of organizational culture.

Challenge: Some of the business examples are now outdated.

To go deeper: “Process Consultation Revisited,” by the same author.

3. “The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self, and Relationship”–by David Whyte

The Three Marriages BookUsing rich, poetic language Whyte delivers a compelling narrative of how to examine our inner and external relationships to being in business, being in partnership, and being ourselves.

Strength: Powerful metaphors, musings, and metaphysical nuggets.

Challenge: Nothing specifically related to running your business better.

To go deeper: Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity by the same author.

4. “Awake at Work: 35 Practical Buddhist Principles for Discovering Clarity and Balance in the Midst of Work’s Chaos”–by Michael Carroll

Awake at Work BookCarroll had a successful career in human resources management with companies like Disney and American Express while maintaining an active study and practice of Buddhist teachings. He put them all together, and the result is a fascinating hybrid.

Strength: Short chapters contain pearls of wisdom in a news-you-can-use format.

Challenge: While you don’t have to be familiar with Eastern traditions, it helps.

To go deeper: The Mindful Leader: Awakening Your Natural Management Skills through Mindfulness Meditation by the same author.

5. “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful”–by Marshall Goldsmith

What Got You Here Won't Get You There BookConsidered the “coaches’ coach” Goldsmith brings a lighthearted but solid method for seeing yourself more clearly, and then taking specific actions to create change.

Strength: His list of “twenty habits that hold you back from the top.”

Challenge: His every-single-night phone check in doesn’t work for me.

To go deeper: Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee.

6. Difficult, Crucial, and Fierce: Three Books on Conversations

Okay, I snuck a few extras into this top 10 list! Any of these three titles can all help you handle conflicts in the workplace productively.

  • “Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most” – by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen
  • Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High” – by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
  • “Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time” –by Susan Scott

No matter what your goals are in business, your success will be limited unless and until you have an adequate toolbox to move through normal business conflicts, whether they are related to workplace tasks or relationships. These three models all have their value.

Strength: “Difficult” is the easiest, “Crucial” the most comprehensive, and “Fierce” the most introspective.

Challenge: Any of these methods will need additional follow-up and support.

To go deeper: Read all three!

7. “Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World”–by Margaret J. Wheatley

Leadership and the New Science book

Wheatley ties in big-picture concepts like quantum physics, field theory, and fractals – to name a few – as she skillfully ties together

the patterns of the universe with our business organizations. A fascinating read.

Strength: Mind-expanding in a positive way.

Challenge: Not a lot of detailed implementation instructions.

To go deeper: Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time by the same author.

8. “Ben & Jerry’s Double Dip: How to Run a Values-Led Business and Make Money, Too”– by Ben Cohen & Jerry Greenfield

Ben and Jerry's Double Dip bookVermont’s merry pranksters of socially responsible sweetness dish out their recipe for success.

Strength: “If it’s not fun, why do it?” (their famous bumper sticker) is balanced with lots of examples of how they struggled.

Challenge: They weren’t able to see what was around the corner for them, which led to . . .

To go deeper: Ice Cream Social: The Struggle for the Soul of Ben & Jerry’s by Brad Edmondson.

9. “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business”–by Gino Wickman

Traction by Gino Wickman bookLooking for some guidance on a “nuts-and-bolts” approach to results? Wickman provides a solid model of an operating system that provides clarity around purpose and people.

Strength: Even if you don’t go for the whole enchilada, there’s some good secret sauce here.

Challenge: Lots of good thinking, not a lot of warmth and soul.

To go deeper: See the website for this community.

10. “Everything I Know About Business I Learned from the Grateful Dead: The Ten Most Innovative Lessons from a Long, Strange Trip”– by Barry Barnes

Everything I Know About Business I Learned from the Grateful Dead bookOkay, I’ll admit that having the experience of conducting business negotiations and being backstage with the band may have colored my perceptions on this choice. However, they did blaze some unique trails in how they interacted with their fans, community, and internal organization.

Strength: A unique way at looking at the Grateful Dead’s considerable force on pop culture through a solid business lens.

Challenge: If you’re not a fan this may or may not be a stretch.

To go deeper: Might I suggest listening to “American Beauty” or “Europe ’72?”

Pick a Book and Get Inspired!

A good book in this area can transport us into a place where we affirm that our multiple bottom line business quest is the only true choice. After all, business should enrich our lives, not diminish them, and the good news is that there are those who have gone before us who can shine a light on the path. Good reading to you!

Social Entrepreneurship / Stakeholder Capitalism
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