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Required Reading: Thomas Bateman

Thomas Bateman

Professor Thomas Bateman is the management area coordinator at the McIntire School of Commerce and director of the undergraduate leadership minor. He does research on the topics of leadership, problem solving, employee motivation, decision making, and managerial goals. He recently published a chapter about leadership and self-development in the book Self-Management and Leadership Development and is currently writing the 10th edition of Management: Leading & Collaborating in a Competitive World, with Darden professor Scott Snell.

Which books have particularly influenced your work?

The Human Side of Enterprise by Douglas McGregor is a landmark and highly influential book for both academics and practitioners. The title not only highlights the “human side” of business but also emphasizes that people are enterprising. This idea stood in stark contrast to the prevailing assumption of the time that most people were inherently lazy and therefore bosses needed to strictly monitor and control their every behavior. McGregor compellingly described enlightened and productive management practices—which sometimes receive only lip service and are mere clichés, but are powerful when done right—from job enrichment to participative management to empowerment to authentic leadership. His ideas are neither touchy-feely nor superficial; instead they are profoundly effective for those who want to realize the full potential of people and organizations.

Despite its unfortunate title, How to Be a Star at Work: 9 Breakthrough Strategies You Need to Succeed by Robert Kelley is a useful research-based book for people who want to learn to be highly effective in their work. Kelley studied “stars” at three big, successful organizations populated by people with great academic records and test scores. “Stars” were highly competent people recognized by bosses, peers, direct reports and outsiders such as customers or vendors. It turns out that stars aren’t defined by brute intelligence or education but rather by their personal work strategies and styles. For example, most people think of initiative as not procrastinating and figuring how to improve their own performance, whereas stars view it as going beyond accepted routines by offering new, bold, value-added ideas that benefit not only themselves but their colleagues and the entire organization.

What are you reading now? What are the new ideas you’ve been working with in the last few years?

Over the past decade, I’ve been reading books about the failures of leadership. The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley is an account of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath; it tells the stories of incompetent officials and unsung heroes alike. I’ve also been reading books about the war in Iraq, including Thomas Ricks’ Fiasco and Hubris by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. My motives for reading these books aren’t political or policy related, instead I’m interested in incompetence and its impact. When leadership fails, it both creates and exacerbates crises.

Is there a book that doesn’t belong specifically within the business book genre that has contributed to your understanding of leadership?

An influential book, although not explicitly managerial, is Mindfulness by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer. She makes clear that much of what we do is habitual, routine and unthinking. She also offers practical advice about what can be done to move from mindfulness to thoughtful action.

Another favorite is The Last Place on Earth by Roland Huntford, an authoritative account of the race between Britain’s Robert Scott and Norway’s Roald Amundsen to reach the South Pole at the dawn of the 20th century. It was a head-to-head competition between two accomplished explorers with very different leadership and decision-making styles. Amundsen left little to chance, respected his men and sought their input in important decisions. Scott was a more traditional command-and-control boss. It is a fascinating story with many lessons for leadership.

Six Books for Leaders

  • Leadership Without Easy Answers by Ronald Heifetz
  • Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together by William Isaacs
  • The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton
  • Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities by Adam Kahane
  • Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility by Stewart Brand
  • The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander