Arising from a conversation with Simon Warburton on his blog and on Twitter and a request from Zoe Ross, below is a limited selection of the most influential books I have read related to leadership in the last twelve months.
I want to make it very clear that no book or approach has the ‘answer’ and the usefulness of the book will ultimately depend on where you are in your leadership development, your style, the particular environment you work in and what other things you have read.
I worked with Mark Lauder, the Headmaster at Ashville College, in a previous school and was always amazed by his ability to focus on the core issue and strip away extraneous information. What Mark did (and I did not realise at the time) was to reduce the issue to one of core purpose – does it really fit with the principles driving the school? Returning to principles provides a sense of clarity and drive hard decisions by saying ‘no’ to certain things that detract from the main focus.
Some people have an issue with the ‘getting the wrong people off the bus and getting the right people on the bus’ metaphor in the book (although the author of the post, Keven Bartle, admits that he has not read the book). My view is that it depends on the situation you are in and focussing on this issue detracts from the most important aspect I took away from the which is ‘core purpose’ – what is important to the institution and what drives it? Focusing on this means turning down things that are tempting but do not really link to the principle guiding the institution (it has caused me to turn down a number of speaking engagements as they do not fit into my core purpose or the core purpose of my school). One criticism is it business focus and I was pleased to find that Collins has written a monograph for the ‘Social Sectors’ as a companion to the main book (which might answer Bartle’s criticism on the use of the metaphor).
I use Sinek’s idea of the ‘Golden Circle‘ all the time in my thinking as it always forces me think whether the problem under discussion really fits with our core purpose. Sinek argues that institutions know ‘how’ they do things and ‘what’ they do but they do not necessarily know ‘why’ they do those things. Starting with ‘why’ provides clarity for all subsequent actions.
Teaching involves building the capacity of students. Leadership also involves building capacity and the book below has really also made me think carefully about my work with students, colleagues, parents and other organisations.
This book has had a major impact on my thinking. I found it has given me concrete tools to build the capacity (as the book terms it, ‘how the best leaders make everyone else smarter’) and it identified quite clearly the things I have have done in the past to ‘diminish’ the performance of others. I cringed when I read certain parts of the book that identified precisely the poor leadership/management processes (as I could see myself in them). Continuing in this manner was not really an option. I have been extremely fortunate to read the forthcoming version focussed on education and I do believe it will be of use to everyone in a leadership position in schools.
I have to say that this area is something that has developed over a period of time through watching others interact and trialling some ideas myself. I have tried to work really hard on this in the last twelve months and I believe it has helped in interactions with colleagues, parents, students and representatives from other organisations.
There are many books on body language and non-verbal communication and they (I would argue) get to the point very quickly. However, this book really cemented for me the importance of paying careful attention to conversation and non-verbal signals (possibly because it helped the author solve crimes). As with any non-verbal communication book, the real work comes from working on noticing cues until they become the default setting. It has certainly helped me defuse/respond to a number of situations effectively.
Starting a new job
Starting a new job well is crucial, especially in a leadership role in another school where you have to assimilate a new culture quickly. The book below really helped me think carefully about what I had to learn and my limitations and goals in the first few months of my new role.
Ian Phillips, Assistant Head at Haberdasher Aske’s Boys’ School, recommended this book to me and it provides a framework for thinking about your role and practical strategies to minimise the difficulty of coming to grips with a new culture/role.
A selection of other books/magazines that I found useful in the last twelve months: