5 books that have influenced how I think about leadership and team culture

In a series of 3 posts, I’m sharing some books that I’ve found useful on the topics of community management, online interactions, and leadership and team culture. In this post, I recommend 5 books that discuss being an effective leader and creating a collaborative, open culture of learning within your organisation.

1. “The first 90 days” by Michael Watkins

This is really a book about change management – how to make a positive impact in the first 90 days in a new management level role. Given that most employees change their role in some way every couple of years – whether that’s acquiring new direct reports, additional projects or moving elsewhere – effectively managing change is key to a successful career.

Managing change: first step – a nice cup of coffee!

Most community managers (or anyone in a social leadership role) are likely to be change agents of sorts – surveying the current status of their group and helping to facilitate transitions to a new state.

“The first 90 days” includes details of how to identify which type of transition situation you’re in (a brand new project, one in need of turnaround etc.) and how to plan quick win projects to build your reputation and social capital with your colleagues and team members.

I particularly liked the emphasis on talking with existing team members to encourage them to voice their knowledge and beliefs about how things currently work within the organisation. I also appreciated the chapter dedicated to constructing your own support network to decrease the stress of transition periods.

2. “The Fifth Discipline” by Peter Senge

A learning organisation is one where all members can continually acquire knowledge and contribute new ideas such that the organisation continues to evolve over time. Senge and colleagues coined the phrase to contrast traditional organisations which focus on a specific niche and may fail to re-invent themselves as their markets change.

Senge lists five characteristics that are needed by individuals seeking to create learning organisations – i) Personal Mastery; ii) Mental Models; iii) Building Shared Vision; iv) Team Learning; and v) Systems Thinking. These combine to help create a more collaborative organisation where team members are able to enthusiastically envision new ideas; reflect together constructively, and deal with complexity.

I particularly liked the emphasis here on the importance of knowing yourself as well as creating spaces for reflection as a team. For example, personal mastery is about being clear about what motivates you and ensuring that the gap between your goals and your current reality is manageable.

I also like the inter-relationship between the 5 characteristics. Having a shared vision is crucial for a team, but without opportunities for team learning, there are limitations to how that vision can be adapted in light of new knowledge. Likewise, understanding our mental models can reveal our blind spots when attempting to analyse the systems as a whole. Mental models can also show us where we’re falling short as a team player because we’re getting caught up in replaying past situations.

This is a key text for thinking deeply about what makes a satisfying, creative workplace where the individuals and the organisation can successfully learn.

The power in personal mastery – no longer acting like a “selfish little clod of ailments and grievances” 🙂

3. “The Leadership Challenge” by James Kouzes and Barry Posner

The Leadership Challenge is written as a business book – with the standard format of describing an idea then illustrating it with examples from various organisations. But if that’s not usually your thing, it’s still worth looking into the 5 practices exemplified by great leaders that the authors have identified, based on years of continuing research into both what leaders do, and what their team members rate.

The 5 practices share much in common with Senge’s five disciplines – albeit using their own terminology: i) Model the way; ii) Inspire a shared vision; iii) Challenge the process; iv) Enable others to act and v) Encourage the heart.

“Model the way” has overlap with Senge’s notion of personal mastery, while “inspire a shared vision” clearly has much in common with Senge’s “Shared vision” chapter.


The five practices at the heart of The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner


4. “Humanize” by Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter 

“Humanize” also shares ideas in common with the Fifth Discipline – describing the characteristics of human organisations (a.k.a. Senge’s learning organisations). 4 characteristics are discussed – open, trustworthy, generous and courageous – with an emphasis on the 3 ways that they can manifest – as individual behaviour, organisational processes and culture.

This creates a 4 x 3 trellis framework which is discussed over the course of the book.

The “trellis” of characteristics of human organisations. Image credit: Slide by Maddie Grant.


5. “Finding the Space to Lead” by Janice Marturano

One of the common challenges of a community manager is juggling multiple tasks yet still finding time to stay calm and think strategically. “Finding the Space to Lead” has plenty of tips for any manager looking to add a few more purposeful pauses into their work life – to avoid burnout, connect more deeply with your team, and reclaim your schedule.

I read this book before adding Marturano’s workshop at the Mindful Leadership Summit in 2016 and have enjoyed putting into practice some of the techniques the book described. If you’re interested in exploring a few of these, you can find my own variations in some of my weekly “Reading for Leading” posts.


Have you read any of the above? What books have influenced your own thinking about leadership and building successful teams? I’d love to hear any recommendations to add to my reading list.

6 thoughts on “5 books that have influenced how I think about leadership and team culture

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