My Favourite Book on Leadership

For my sins I subscribe to the McKinsey Quarterly and every year one article is published that hits the mark.  Not much impressed me in the past 12 months but the latest edition contained this wonderful article by Professor Jeffery Pfeffer: “Getting beyond the BS of leadership literature”.  Pfeffer, on his own, has written extensively about power.  Pfeffer and his Stanford co-author, Robert Sutton have written extensively about evidence based management theory.  In his latest book, Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time combines these two themes.


In the McKinsey extract, Pfeffer lists five books that he considers worth reading and extracts from them five core principles of successful leadership.


Core principle 1: Build your power base relentlessly (and sometimes shamelessly).

Book: Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III By Robert A. Caro.


Core principle 2: Embrace ambiguity by being flexible.

Book: The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York By Robert A. Caro


Core principle 3: Eschew popularity contests.

Book: Steve Jobs By Walter Isaacson


Core principle 4: When the situation demands change—adapt.

Book:  Team of Rivals By Doris Kearns Goodwin


Core principle 5: Master the science of influence

Book: Influence: Science and Practice by Robert Cialdini


I have read the last three books but I consider Pfeffer omitted what is the best book on Leadership, his own.  If you work in a larger organisation, be it corporate or government and wish to become a leader in that organisation you have to read Managing with Power: Politics and Influence in Organisations (1992)One of my most treasured possessions is a copy that Pfeffer kindly signed during one of his visits to Australia.  His chapter on Leadership is easily the best ever written.  Two great quotes from the book:


“To succeed as a leader it is necessary to be able to modify one’s behaviour.  Flexibility is essential to success, particularly for managers.  People may not like flexibility in the abstract but they do like what it is able to accomplish.”

“Leaders are willing to engage, when necessary in conflict and confrontation.  Many people believe that to get along you go along.  This belief is inculcated from an early age.  However, leaders have discovered that conflict will often provide you far more power than pliability.”


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