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Four books that helped me see leadership differently

I’m reading a few books right now which all running around in my brain, impacting my ideas on technical leadership, systems, software, and people. I thought I’d share them with you, in case you had a lull in your summer reading list.

I’m going to give them in the order I started them because one has lead to another.

I’ve linked to the books on Amazon, but I don’t use affiliate links, in case you were curious.

Relational Leadership – Nicholas Clarke

I like this book a lot. It nicely introduces the idea that leadership is a social process which occurs between people, based on the perceived relationship people have with one another. It also argues against ‘Great Man Leadership’ ideas, such as trait-based theories and style-based theories, positioning these as “leader-centric” views which focus solely on the leader.

I couldn’t agree more.

Snippet: “Despite the pre-eminence often afforded to leadership as accounting for organizational success, it remains the cast that there are relatively few studies that have offered empirical support for a relationship between leadership and organizational performance. Few have stopped to ask why this is so.”

Boom: truth bomb dropped; mind blown.

Warning: while not quite a research paper, this is an academic book. It’s full of research citations, nifty diagrams, and sociology-speak. If you like that stuff, it’s for you. If you’d rather read compelling prose and stories, skip it.

Dialogue by William Isaacs

If leadership is a process between people, a dialogue is a key part of that process. Yet, most of us don’t dialogue very well, or for the wrong reasons.

For example, much of my time listening is actually spent planning what to say next. This approach makes agreement difficult, if not impossible because I’m always asserting my agenda.

Due to this book, I’m practicing new ways of listening, talking, and thinking together with others.

Snippet: “The intention of dialogue is to reach new understanding and, in doing so, to form a totally new basis from which to think and act. In dialogue, one not only resolves problems, one dissolves them. We do not merely try to reach agreement, we try to create a context from which many new agreements might come. And we seek to uncover a base of shared meaning that can greatly help coordinate and align our actions with our values.”

The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge

This book is rocking my world right now. It’s the simplest, most coherent introduction to ‘systems thinking’ I’ve come across. I plan to re-read “The Goal” afterward, as I think there’s some interesting overlap. I’m sure it’s got a lot more to offer, but right now I’m enamored with looking for the feedback systems in my everyday life.

Favorite part: Senge explains how the simple act of filling a glass of water is seen as a system and explains the variables in the system: how far the tap is turned on, the target water level, the current water level, the delay between turning the tap and the water flow, etc.

Now that I see it, I can’t unsee it. This morning I was filling a glass of water and thought, “Does my hand control the water level, or does the water level control my hand?” Of course, both are true, because it’s a feedback loop in the system.

Highly recommended.

The Satir Model by Virginia Satir

Full disclosure – I’m a big Virginia Satir fanboy. This book outlines her model of how families work interact, which we then bring into the workplace.

Favorite part: She outlines the four common stances of conflict: blaming, placating, calculating, and distracting. Each one is out of balance with the three-part system of a) self, b) others, c) context. Blaming discounts ‘others’, taking only ‘self’ and ‘context’ into account. Placating discounts ‘self’, taking only ‘others’ and ‘context’ into account. Calculating discounts both ‘self’ and ‘others’, taking only ‘context’ into account. Distracting discounts everything, pretending there’s no conflict.

Of course, we see this at work all the time, so it’s not actually about families, but about human systems.

Approachable and insightful to read.

Now it’s your turn

What are you reading these days?

What should I read next?


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About Marcus Blankenship

Where other technical coaches focus on process or tools, I focus on the human aspects of your Programmer to Manager transition. I help you hire the right people, create the right culture, and setup the right process which achieves your goals. Managing your team isn't something you learned in college. In fact, my clients often tell me "I never prepared for this role, I always focused on doing the work". If you're ready to improve your leadership, process and team, find out how I can help you.

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