These are a few books I recommend for anyone interested in the study of leadership. This list isn’t in any way comprehensive but is a starting point. I don’t agree with all the authors and the positions they advocate but their theories and works have had tremendous influence and to properly understand modern leadership theory it is important to be familiar with their ideas.
Plato’s vision of the perfect civic organization. Elitist in tone it emphasizes everyone’s responsibility to fulfill their assigned station in life (Leader, warrior, merchant etc) and has influenced political thought and discussions of leadership since it was written more than 2,000 years ago.
Marcus Aurelius Meditations
The Roman emperor’s thoughts on politics, government and man’s moral responsibilities as they apply to both. Aurelius was a deeply thoughtful man and his ideas are a key element of western thought on leadership and the morals that accompany its practice.
Sun Tzu The Art of War
The ancient Chinese writer focused his attention on the study of war but the lessons he teaches transcend military operations to inform leaders in any endeavor.
Thomas Hobbes Leviathan
Influential 17th century political thinker. Believing mankind in his natural state was incapable of controlling his baser instincts Hobbes argued that all men should willingly give up their political rights to an authoritarian central government that would guarantee civility through control of the state.
Niccolo Machiavelli The Prince
A classic treatise on government and the source of the famous idea that the ends justify the means. Machiavelli lived in medieval Italy where politics and government were in a constant state of chaos and The Prince was his prescription of how to create and run a government to address this problem.
One of the most influential Enlightenment philosophers, Voltaire believed the world man finds himself in is difficult and at best a negative influence, but that a man alone was inherently good and if left to his own devices could develop into a moral and virtuous person. Candide raises the issue of man’s relationship to society but leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions about what this relationship means.
James M. Burns Leadership
In this book Burns introduces the concept of transformative leadership. Unlike previous theories which focused on leadership as a transaction between people Burns argues true leadership should transform both the people and organizations involved. A landmark work in modern leadership theory.
Robert Greenleaf Servant Leadership
Greenleaf turned the discussion of leadership on its head by arguing a leader’s responsibility is not to be served but to serve others. While there are religious overtones (witness Jesus’ service to his followers) the basic concept is secular and can be applied in any setting.
Donald Phillips Lincoln on Leadership
One of the most insightful leadership texts in years Phillips examines Lincoln’s masterful performance as a leader and draws lessons anyone can use to improve their own leadership skills.
Peter Senge Fifth Discipline
Focusing on organizations Senge discusses methods and ways of thinking that can transform how leaders impact their own organizations.
Joseph Heller Catch 22
A darkly humorous take on the insanity of bureaucracy and the struggles we face in dealing with what at times can seem like an incomprehensible maze of rules and circumstances beyond our control. Helpful in keeping leaders focused on the most important thing they deal with, people.