When it comes to leadership, sometimes it takes a little inspiration to help lead the way. Especially if you are leading a team, it is essential to have an arsenal of tools to empower others, improve performance and capability, and motivate. Over the years, some of the best pieces of leadership inspiration has come from a book. There have been times where I was searching for answers, felt frustrated, or simply uninspired, and my bookshelf is a great reflection of those experiences. Some of my most favorite books have helped solve my greatest challenges, given me bigger and better ideas, and changed things for the better.

The following five books are mainstays on my bookshelf and some you may want to consider for yourself when you are searching for leadership inspiration.



If you haven’t read this book, you should. Let me explain: What greater responsibility could we, as local government managers, have than to instill the discipline of greatness within our organizations? In Good to Great, author Jim Collins provides insights and tools that local governments can use to start making the changes needed to become high performing. This is not about running local governments like businesses—it’s about developing a relentless culture of discipline. Good to Great reminds us that there is a high performing organization in all of our communities.

Key notes:

  • Leading from good to great does not mean coming up with the answers and then motivating everyone to follow your messianic vision. It means having the humility to grasp the fact that you do not yet understand enough to have the answers and then to ask the questions that will lead to the best possible insights.
  • Yes, leadership is about vision. But leadership is equally about creating a climate where the truth is heard and the brutal facts confronted.
  • Enduring great companies preserve their core values and purpose while their business strategies and operating practices endlessly adapt to a changing world. This is the magical combination of “preserve the core and stimulate progress.”


For the creative thinkers out there, this book is for you. There was a time when those “right-brain” abilities may have been perceived as soft skills that are not essential to successful leadership. But as we are moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, this has changed. Daniel Pink’s theory is that if we have a “whole new mind,” we can have an economy and society that are built on inventive, empathic and big-picture capabilities. The main characters now are the creator and the empathizer, and we need to move from high tech to high concept and high touch.

Daniel Pink outlines the six fundamentally human abilities (design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning) that are essential for professional success and personal fulfillment – and reveals how to master them, in A Whole New Mind. And it can all be easily applied to local government. Read and get a grasp on how these R-directed skills apply to your important work in public service, how we can use empathy in dealing with our staff and our citizens to create better outcomes, why the ability to attract knowledge workers is critical to local economic growth in your community, and how you can nurture the new skills in yourself and your team that are essential to success.

Key notes:

  • Even though we all say we believe in empathy, we often fail to demonstrate it with the very people who surround us for most of our daylight hours: our coworkers.
  • Those who score high on a multidimensional sense of humor scale have lower levels of depression and higher levels of purpose than those who score low in humor.
  • When you’re working on a project, empty your bulletin board and turn it into an inspiration board. Each time you see something that you find compelling – a photo, a piece of fabric, the page of a magazine – tack it to your board. Before long, you’ll start seeing connections between the images that will enliven and expand your work.


A full year of insight and motivation for getting the right things done. If you need a book that can inspire you and help you remain calm in even the toughest of situations, keep The Daily Drucker at the top of your bookshelf.

Key notes:

  • Integrity in Leadership. Character is not something one can fool people about. The people with whom a person works, and especially subordinates, know in a few weeks whether he or she has integrity or not. They may forgive a person for a great deal: incompetence, ignorance, insecurity, or bad manners. But they will not forgive a lack of integrity in that person. Nor will they forgive higher management for choosing him.
  • Focus on Contribution. Maintain a constant focus on the contribution you can and should make to your organization.
  • Economics as a Social Decision. Before you finalize a major budget or strategic decision, set aside a half an hour to make sure you have really considered the impact it will have on your people in your organization and on your customers.


I enjoy this book because just as it states, it will change the way you look at yourself – and the world around you – forever. At the ICMA annual team meeting, we introduced StrengthsFinder 2.0 to discover each employee’s strengths and found new ways we can work together more effectively and efficiently.  I discovered a lot about the staff at ICMA that I didn’t know before. Use StrengthsFinder 2.0 with the goal of fostering an environment where every employee can come to work every day and do what he or she does best. By focusing on what is right with people and what is working in your organization, you are able to replicate and refine those behaviors to cultivate future successes.

Key notes:

  • Each person has greater potential for success in specific areas, and the key to human development is building on who you already are.
  • You cannot be anything you want to be – but you can be a lot more of who you already are.
  • When you’re not in the “strengths zone” in the workplace, you are six times less likely to be engaged in your job. When you’re not able to use your strengths at work, changes are that you: dread going to work, have more negative than positive interactions with your colleagues, treat your customers poorly, tell your friends what a miserable company you work for, achieve less on a daily basis, have fewer and positive creative moments.


If you are looking for a book that examines leadership in a unique way, look no further. The authors of The Dance of Leadership provide a different perspective described through various accounts of how leaders and artists put leadership into play every day. It’s a book that focuses on common themes between artists and organizational leaders, including: the awareness of the importance of space, time and energy; rhythm; the use of images and symbols in communicating; improvisation; and focus, passion and discipline.

Key notes:

  • Art, even the art of leadership, can be developed, and those from the traditional disciplines can provide excellent advice on how to go about that.
  • For many who lead, a good sense of rhythm and timing seems innate. For others, learning about rhythm and actively applying that new understanding enables surprising new acts of artistic leadership.
  • One of the important roles of the leader is to organize the flow of energy through time and space so as to best achieve valued results.
  • Improvisation is what allows leaders to respond to situations and opportunities as they occur with both sensitivity and a sense of shared purpose and direction.
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