The Best Book on Leadership & Management

November 1, 2018


70 000
I recall listening to a podcast on ABC Radio National titled, “Coping with the dark side of people at work” and in it the interviewee mentioned that there were 70000 books in the British Museum with the word “leadership” in the title. That is a staggering statistic and really serves to highlight the voluminous literature on the topic of leadership and management.

A quick search on how many leadership and management books are published each year yielded the following from the number one ranked website for that search:

“So far this year, 1246 paperback books have been published with the word ‘leadership’ in the title…which means new leadership paperbacks have been coming out in 2015 at a rate of more than four per day…Amazon offers 57,136 books with the word ‘leadership’ in the title.”

Suggested Approach
That is astounding and perhaps overwhelming. How can anyone really have any idea on what books to read on the topic without fearing you have missed something. I am not about to make a recommendation per se, although I do mention one book and one study, but I would rather like to offer an approach to help you decide what to read and focus on.

One approach is to focus your reading on books, or reports, that adopt a scientific approach to the topic and have a cross-sectional, or longitudinal methodology, with a large sample size.

Good to Great
The best exemplar of that approach that I am aware of is Jim Collins’s “Good to Great”. If you are going to read just one book on leadership and management and try to follow and implement the advice, it would be that book.

Jim Collins’ study started with 1435 companies. After reviewing 6000 articles and generating more than 2000 pages of interview transcripts, his team of 20 researchers who combined contributed 15 000 hours of work, identified the 11 companies that he described as “great”. It is difficult to ignore the outcomes from that level of intellectual rigour and process.

But, what about a home-grown local version of Good to Great? There was a very good paper published in 2003 that adopted the same approach as Good to Great, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Australian Study
In December 2003 the Graduate Program in Business and Technology at UNSW released a paper titled, “Simply the Best Workplaces in Australia”. The purpose of the study, which was conducted with the support of the Business Council of Australia, was to identify some excellent workplaces in Australia – the leading workplaces and exemplars of productivity.

The study was much smaller in scope than Good to Great and was based on 16 workplaces from 10 companies, however, there were still extensive interviews, surveys and other collateral information gathered.

In the end the study identified 15 key drivers that were present in all the identified excellent workplace. However, the number one driver was, “quality working relationships” and it was described as the “central pivot” on which excellent workplaces are founded and was underpinned by other drivers, such as good workplace leadership, clear values, having a say and being safe.

The 15 key drivers were:

The quality of working relationships: people relating to each other as friends, colleagues and co-workers, supporting each other and helping to get the job done.

Workplace leadership: how the immediate supervisor, team leader, manager or coordinator presented himself or herself, their focus of leadership and energy, not management and administration.

Having a say: participating in decisions that affect the day-to-day business of the workplace.

Clear values: the extent to which people could see and understand the overall purpose and individual behaviours expected in the place of work.

Being safe: high levels of personal safety, both physical and psychological, emotional stability and a feeling of being protected by the system.

Built Environment: a high standard of accommodation and fit out with regard to the particular industry type.

Recruitment: getting the right people to work in the location is important and they need to share the same values and approach to work as the rest of the group.

Pay & Conditions: a place in which the level of income and the basic physical working conditions (hours, access, travel and the like) are met to a reasonable standard, at least to a level that the people who work there see as reasonable.

Getting Feedback: always knowing what people think of each other, their contribution to the success of the place and their individual performance over time.

Autonomy & uniqueness: the capacity of the organisation to tolerate and encourage the sense of difference that excellent workplaces develop, their sense of being the best at what they do.

A sense of ownership & identity: being seen to be different and special through pride in the place of work, knowing the business and controlling the technology.

Learning: being able to learn on the job, acquire skills and knowledge from everywhere and develop a greater understanding of the whole workplace.

Passion: the energy and commitment to the workplaces, high levels of volunteering, excitement and sense of well-being, actually wanting to come to work.

Having fun: a psychologically secure workplace in which people can relax with each other and enjoy social interaction.

Community Connections: being part of the local community, feeling as though the workplace is a valuable element of local affairs.

Points of Indifference, i.e., excellence did not require the presence or absence of the following:
• Working arrangements and representation and covered union or non-union, contracts of employment, or hours of work.
• Technology varied, location not an issue, size of company or workplace or country of origin, or public or private sector,
• The composition of the workplace, in terms of age, gender or ethnicity.

The drivers, without exception, were present in varying mixes in all the excellent workplaces surveyed. However, Quality Working Relationships was the central factor from which all the other drivers, in varying degrees, contributed to excellence.

A hierarchy emerged amongst the drivers, with Quality Working Relationships being underpinned by Good Workplace Leadership, Clear Values, Having a Say and Being Safe. These drivers were further supported by Pay and Conditions, Getting Feedback, the Built Environment and Recruitment. From those drivers flow others such as Having Fun, Passion, Community Connections, Learning, a Sense of Identity and Ownership, and Uniqueness and Autonomy.

Thus, if you are feeling overwhelmed with the sheer numbers of books on leadership and management and are confused about what to read, perhaps spend some time reviewing the books methodology as a way of determining whether it’s worth the time and effort.


I am a Psychologist and owner of Fermion. I enjoy keeping up to date with the latest research in psychology and sharing that information. There are a lot of fads, gimmicks and clichés in the people & culture field and I believe it is important to be sceptical of hyperbolic claims about human behaviour. The focus of Fermion is helping businesses and organisations from making poor hiring decisions. It is through being up to date, and not tied to an accreditation or human resources product, that I can give my clients the latest and best scientific and empirical advice. If you would like to learn how to avoid hiring the wrong person contact Fermion.

“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”
Eleanor Roosevelt.