Manager's Reading List

A running list of must-reads for public managers, suggested by readers of The B&G Report

We've asked readers to submit suggestions for reading materials that are useful for government managers. Here's our running list of their suggestions. If you've got a favorite book to recommend, email us!

-- Alan Ehrenhalt, former Governing executive editor
 
Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni
-- Michael Jacobson, performance management section manager of King County, Wa.

Confessions of a Civil Servant by Bob Stone

"This is a very readable book on the 'darker' side of government, describing his struggles in improving service quality both at DOD and then for Al Gore's National Performance Review. It is full of fine examples of struggles to change the focus of government to a 'customer' orientation."

-- Harry Hatry, author with the Urban Institute

The Art of the Turnaround by Michael Kaiser

"Kaiser runs the Kennedy Center in Washington. His specific audience is managers of nonprofit arts organization, but lots of government managers have units needing turnaround, and Kaiser's book will get them thinking in new ways about their situation."

-- Dall Forsythe, former budget director of New York State and a professor at NYU's Wagner School

The Facilitative Leader in City Hall by James H. Svara

"Political leadership is a continuing challenge in virtually every city of any size in the United States. Svara, a recognized scholar in the field of municipal leadership, demonstrates through case studies by him (and a few guest authors) that mayors utilizing a facilitative style of leadership -- providing vision, building relationships with the city council and administrative staff, can be more effective than mayors operating through authoritarian or power-based style, regardless of the form of government employed by a city. Svara thus presents a strong argument that, contrary to some beliefs, many mayors in cities utilizing the council-manager form of government, can and indeed are currently offering strong political leadership for their communities."

-- Terrell Blodgett, the Mike Hogg Professor Emeritus in Urban Management at the LBJ School of Public Affairs of the University of Texas

The Power of Ethical Management by Norman Vincent Peale and Ken Blanchard

"[C]oncise and packed with a powerful message ... the most important thing I got out of this book was that a leader does not have to compromise ethics to exert influence; to the contrary, "power" as a leader is absolutely enhanced by practicing ethical behavior."

-- Jim Crane, section manager of California's Franchise Tax Board

On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis

"This book revealed to me the essence of leadership which I believe Mr. Bennis describes as 'deployment of self.' This book led me to turn the corner and become a leader with management skills as opposed to simply being a manager. The notion of deploying one's self may be frightening at first because it requires that one both understand one's self deeply and be comfortable in their own skin. People taking this book to heart will do a lot of work getting to the answer (or at least, partially to the answer) of that lifelong question -- 'Who Am I?' and, as a result, be much more effective as a leader."

-- Jim Crane, section manager of California's Franchise Tax Board

Why Employees Don't Do What They're Supposed To and What You Can Do About It by Ferdinand F. Fournies

"What I like most about this book is that it is not gimmicky. It takes a remarkably objective approach to correcting performance problems. It works whether you're in the public or private sector."

-- Julie Lobur, project manager for the Business Solutions Center of Excellence in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Office of Administration

Orbiting the Giant Hairball -- A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie

"I had the good fortune to witness a presentation by Mr. MacKenzie at the Michigan Department of Transportation's Leadership Conference some ten years ago. His talk centered on the difficulty of maintaining creativity within a rigid corporation or bureaucratic organization. The book is short, quirky, and fun, but raises insights and questions that anyone in government management should consider.""

-- Irene Jackson Henry, architect manager with the design and construction division for the state of Michigan

The Quality Toolbox by Nancy Tague

"It is very practical and gives great concrete ways for managers who have a problem and want to solve it. It shows how to start walking through the data that's available to make decisions about the solutions you want to try. It's not a book to read, but more of a reference book to use. I'm a huge fan of the approaches to quality improvement in that book."

-- Raelene Freitag, director of the Children's Research Center in Madison, Wisconsin

The Five Essential Leadership Questions by R. John Young

"Young has been doing some work with NLC's executive team on our senior management strategy and I've found him to be a good resource."

-- Chris Hoene, the director of policy and research at the National League of Cities

Good to Great and the Social Sectors by Jim Collins

"I finally had heard so much about Jim Collins' work that I had to find out for myself what all of the hubbub was about. Given that I work in what Collins loosely describes as the "social sectors," I decided to give that monograph (sort of an add-on to the book) a try first (plus, it has the advantage of being only 35 pages long...and really, if it takes more than that to do management strategy, we're probably all in deep trouble)."

-- Chris Hoene, the director of policy and research at the National League of Cities

Goal Analysis: How to Clarify Your Goals So You Can Actually Achieve Them by Bob Mager

"I strongly recommend it for people who find it hard to define outcomes. It's great for clarifying the search for concrete ways to measure outcomes and dispel fuzzy thinking."

-- Jim Moore, director of government programs at the Rensselaerville Institute

The Thinker's Toolkit: 14 Powerful Techniques for Problem Solving by Morgan Jones

"[This] is a book that was recommended to me by a fire chief I hold in very high regard:. I usually shy away from books like this, that appear to offer faddish quick-fixes. In this case, though, I have found the ideas offered very practical and generalizable to lots of circumstances. The book doesn't make trite pronouncements, but explains a variety of ways of structuring problems that can help problem-solvers be more thorough, systematic, and creative, depending on the kind of problem they confront. None of these approaches will yield 'the answer,' but they all help assure the problem at hand is well understood. For those analysts and academics familiar with Stokey and Zeckhauser's Primer for Policy Analysis, this is, in a way, a more approachable version of that excellent but more technical text."

-- Amy Donahue, head of the department of public policy at the University of Connecticut

National Incident Management System by the Federal Emergency Management Agency

"This might seem like a strange recommendation, but here's why I make it: I predict that almost every manager in every sector of society will at some point during their careers be confronted with some serious disaster -- whether they find themselves leading a government agency that must respond in some way or whose workforce is affected, a nonprofit organization that wants to help, or a private company that can provide support, or even if they personally are affected by an event. This could be anything from a major storm like Katrina, which involved thousands of managers across the nation (many of whom did not anticipate being involved), or a major power outage like the Northeast recently experienced, or a willful act like we experienced in Oklahoma City or on 9/11. The National Incident Management System (NIMS) articulates the operating philosophy that our nation -- from local governments to federal agencies -- uses to respond when something happens. Any manager who might need to act when something goes wrong ought to understand how the system is designed to work. Currently, most managers do not understand the system, and find themselves frustrated by unmet expectations. Bottom line: It is every manager's professional responsibility to understand NIMS."

-- Amy Donahue, head of the department of public policy at the University of Connecticut

The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin

"Toobin humanizes the United States Supreme Court, providing an in-depth look at the various members of the Supreme Court and an analysis of how their personalities, political views, and circumstances have shaped the history of the Court's most important decisions over the years. Informative, entertaining, it will satisfy your curiosity about these secret chambers."

-- Cynthia Green, a public policy analyst and former board member of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board

Choose the Life by Jim Huling

"This is the first book from Jim Huling of The Jim Huling Group, who writes a column for Smart Business magazine. I love his columns and I am enjoying his book."

-- Rebecca L. Morse, chief financial officer of the Village of Palm Springs, Fla.

Without Fear or Favor by L. Harlow

"Chronicles a progressive era city manager through some down and dirty management challenges."

-- Erik Bush, chief financial officer of Peoria County

Tales from the Top by Graham Alexander

"Great insight from top executives."

-- Erik Bush, chief financial officer of Peoria County

Contrarian's Guide to Leadership by Steven B. Sample

"Discusses the pitfalls of approaching issues in a black-or-white sense."

-- Erik Bush, chief financial officer of Peoria County

A Rulebook for Arguments by Anthony Weston

"Because everyone should know how to avoid weak arguments."

-- Erik Bush, chief financial officer of Peoria County

Bullshit and Philosophy by Gary Hardcastle and George Reisch

"Because everyone should know the difference.

-- Erik Bush, chief financial officer of Peoria County

The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff "Because everyone should understand the importance of balance."

-- Erik Bush, chief financial officer of Peoria County

The Next Government of the United States: Why Our Institutions Fail Us and How to Fix Them by Donald Kettl

"The glory of the book is the way Don provides multiple horror stories about the breakdown of government and still emerges with a book full of optimism about ways government can function more intelligently and effectively than in the past. [Full disclosure: We think of Don as a friend, and one of the wisest men we know. So we'd be inclined to like his book in any case.]"

-- from Katherine Barrett & Richard Greene

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

"Amazing 'feel like you are there' moments with Lincoln and his Cabinet"

-- from Michael Jacobson, performance management director, King County, Washington

Listening to the Public by Barbara Cohn Berman

"Berman's take on how to engage with the public around performance issues"

-- from Michael Jacobson, performance management director, King County, Washington

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

"Not new but a great read, even for non-baseball people about how changing a single metric can alter an entire organization"

-- from Michael Jacobson, performance management director, King County, Washington

Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

"One of the easiest reads on the role of social marketing"

-- from Michael Jacobson, performance management director, King County, Washington

Marketing in the Public Sector by Philip Kotler & Nancy R. Lee

"Brings private sector expertise on getting ideas adopted by the public and profiles public sector stories."

-- from Michael Jacobson, performance management director, King County, Washington

Launching a Leadership Revolution by Orrin Woodward and Chris Brady

"A must read leadership training book that takes you through the five levels of leadership, one by one, with practical examples and challenging exercises. You will be amazed at the training in this book, if you will read it thoroughly and apply the principles contained in it."

-- from Susan Rash, assistant city manager, Rosenberg, Texas

Why Employees Don't Do What They're Supposed To and What to Do About It by Ferdinand F. Fournies

"What I like most about this book is that it is not gimmicky. It takes a remarkably objective approach to correcting performance problems. It works whether you're in the public or private sector."

-- from Julie Labor of the Business Solutions Center of Excellence for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Understanding Costs from the Business Fundamentals series

"One of the most helpful finance publications I've ever read (and I do a lot of reading) is more of a pamphlet than a book. It is a collection of plainly written and very enlightening articles about how to develop and apply cost information for business decisions. It should be read by everyone working in government or private enterprise, finance professional or not. It will even make you a more informed elected official, if that's your role."

-- from Larry Davenport, senior vice president for finance and administration for Hampton Roads Transit in Virginia

A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink

"Based on a good deal of research, it gives a totally different perspective on left brain/right brain thinking, the evidence that successful people are using more right brain concepts, and how this will affect jobs and productivity in this country in the future."

-- from Cory Smith, city administrator, Grandview, Missouri

Deep Economy by Bill McKibben

"It gives you an alternative look at local economy and how it might be developed."

-- from Julie Bauer, human resources assistant, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

"[Ariely] explores the basic assumption that markets (and individuals) behave in a rational manner and, through actual experiments, shows that this is not always the case. Rather, we often make what classical economics would term an 'irrational' decision, but, he argues, one which can be predicted. I found the book a very enjoyable exploration of actual human economic behavior that provided some insight into not only economics, but the human decision making process as well."

-- from Ed Barrett, city manager, Bangor, Maine

The Constitution of the United States and The Declaration of Independence

"How many public servants have never read [these]? Or haven't read [them] for a long while? I usually carry a couple in my briefcase and often give them away.

-- from Deborah Kerr, senior lecturer, Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M

Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

The status (as they say on Facebook) of the written word seems to be "in disrepair." I recommend this small book to my grad students and I refer to it often. All by itself, the admonition to "omit unnecessary words" makes the entire book worthwhile."

-- from Deborah Kerr, senior lecturer, Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M

Mary Parker Follett: Prophet of Management by Pauline Graham

"While hardly anyone knows about her, Mary Parker Follett should have 'a place in the pantheon of classic business writers.' This collection of her lectures includes insightful commentary by editor Pauline Graham and other renowned management scholars. It isn't easy reading, but the depth of understanding about the way things really work is remarkable."

-- from Deborah Kerr, senior lecturer, Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&Ms

The Opposable Mind by Roger Martin

"Strategic planning and thinking is the focus rather than simply learning the difference between conventional and integrative thinkers. The examples given are practical applications of the 4 step model of Integrative Thinking: determining relevance; examining causality; organizing the parts into the whole; and appraising the outcome. Martin presents "both/and" thinking in a new way that makes sense."

-- from Dennis Rogers, assistant director for strategic development, Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services

Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolvsk

"It's a great book on biology...written for a broad audience; easily accessible; and the humor and anecdotes are terrific! It deals with stress, the body's chemical composition and how the body responds to certain stimuli (e.g., stress!), and how the nervous system processes it all."

-- from Mike Pagano, dean of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, University of Illinois in Chicago

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