July 26, 2002

In a past column, I promised to keep an eye out for worthwhile books for news leaders — books that are practical, well written, and worth a busy news manager’s limited free time. It’s the time of the year for gift giving, so here are some books to give or put on your own wish list.

For the leader interested in the science of motivating employees:

Driven, by Paul R. Lawrence and Nitin Nohria
The authors, researchers at the Harvard Business School, explore the biological reasons humans behave as they do. We are genetically coded, they posit, with four main drives: to acquire, to bond, to learn, and to defend. This book examines reams of evolutionary and behavioral science to reach its conclusions. It is not a how-to or self-help book: no simple moving cheese parables. The intriguing theory of the book leaves the reader hungry to explore its applications in the workplace, which the authors only seem to begin to address toward the end of the book, as they invite further research into their theories.

For the leader who is interested in self-improvement:

Understanding and Changing Your Management Style, by Robert Benfari.
So your annual review says you have a few weak spots as a manager and you want to do something about it? The author believes you really can make improvements to your leadership style. First, he helps you take a good look at your personality. Benfari uses the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a tool for understanding one’s personality, as a starting point. After describing types and offering a mini-version of the instrument, he provides other self-diagnostic tools for managers to explore their values, their reactions to stress, and their approaches to conflict. The book, which has been out for a few years, is practical and powerful. I especially recommend it for managers whose organizations offer no leadership training. If you have to do it yourself, this book will be a great help.

For the leader interested in building teams and trust:

In Good Company: How Social Capital Makes Organizations Work, by Don Cohen and Laurence Prusack
Good leaders build cultures of trust and communication–and at the core of it all are relationships. The authors look at how good organizations build networks and communities, how stories are important in organizations, how workspace can contribute to connections, and how even telecommuters can be a part of an organization’s community. In times of stress and change, social capital can be a powerful force to keep an organization operating successfully. A good, thoughtful read.

For the leader who wants to understand what employees really want:

First, Break All the Rules, by Curt Coffman and Marcus Buckingham
This one has come to be a contemporary classic. Its main point: employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers. The book is based on Gallup organization research on high performing employees in high performing business units of companies. The authors identify 12 key dimensions of a great workplace (“In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work,” “I know what is expected of me at work,”…etc.) Nearly all of the 12 key elements are under the direct control of managers. There’s a follow up to the book titled, Now, Discover Your Strengths, but its predecessor still seems to generate buzz among leaders.

For the leader who’s tired of reading about CEO superstars:

Good to Great, by James Collins
Take companies that outperformed Wall Street for at least 15 consecutive years. Then figure out what those companies have in common. That’s what Collins and his team spent five years researching. One of the things they found was that those companies were led by what they call “Level 5 leaders.” The level 5 crowd turned out to be unassuming, humble, apt to deflect praise from themselves to their team, and dedicated wholly to their organization. They hired folks for character, held positions open until they felt they had just the right person, and in the end, believed their success was probably due less to their own brilliance than to luck. You may disagree with the author’s premise that “Greatness” of a company is measured by the bottom line alone, but in these days of bottom line pressure in newsrooms, it is comforting, if not thrilling, to read about the values of these level 5 leaders. They built good workplaces and beat Wall Street at the same time.

For the leader who wants a smorgasbord of essays on leadership:

Leader’s Companion: Insights on Leadership through the Ages, by J. Thomas Wren
Read this book and you’ll understand why every person who manages others is not a leader–and why leadership is something than can be studied and learned. It is a step-by-step examination of leadership theory from Lao-tzu to Warren Bennis. It is interesting, helpful, and eminently readable. It includes essays from some of the greatest researchers and thinkers on leadership. You can use it for inspiration, information, or problem-solving. I’ve given it as a gift to leaders I admire, knowing they’ll find themselves somewhere in those pages.

For the leader who wants to recharge his/her journalistic batteries:

The Elements of Journalism, by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel
People who come to Poynter tell us our seminars help them get in touch with why they got into journalism in the first place. This book had the same effect on me. It re-connected me with the core principles that guide the vocation. Kovach and Rosenstiel remind journalists of their values, their ethics, and their service in a democracy. Newsroom leaders would do well to read it. The people who work for you hunger to know that the nine principles articulated in the book are indeed the values that you, their leader, embrace and embody. News consumers who’ve read the book expect the same.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Jill Geisler is the inaugural Bill Plante Chair in Leadership and Media Integrity, a position designed to connect Loyola’s School of Communication with the needs…
Jill Geisler

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