Top 5 Books on Leading Change

Back in September, I offered my picks for the top 25 leadership books of all time.  That was a fun list to create, but there are just too many good leadership books to stop there.  So throughout the year, we’ll explore a “Top 5” list for specific leadership topics.  Let’s start with a subject that every leader must embrace – leading change.  I’m hoping that these lists will spark discussion and debate – if I don’t include your favorite books on a subject, write in to set me straight!

OK – here we go, in reverse order, these are my selections for the best leading change books:

# 5 – Our Iceberg is Melting (John Kotter, Holger Rathgeber, Spencer Johnson)

It’s amazing how popular the business fable has become (well, given the times, maybe not, actually).  Anyway, this little gem from the grand master makes this list at # 5, primarily because of its widespread popularity.  Kotter presents his framework for an effective corporate change initiative through the tale of a colony of Antarctic penguins facing danger – inspired, perhaps, by today’s real-life global warming crisis.  Under the leadership of one particularly astute bird, a small team of penguins with varied personalities and leadership skills implement a thoughtful plan for coaxing the other birds in their colony through a time of necessary but wrenching change.

# 4 – Winning Through Innovation (Charles O’Reilly & Michael Tushman)

Many successful companies continue to live on their past success and miss the drastic changes taking place in the market. This symptom ultimately makes their successes short-lived and their market positioning easily challenged and overtaken.  To avoid such perils, this book explains the idea of discontinuous innovations through which a “culture of innovation” can find traction. Without innovation, no organization can ever think of surviving in this cut-throat competitive market.  In my book, innovation = change.  An under-rated and often overlooked book.

# 3 – Good to Great (Jim Collins)

This book could make several top 5 lists.  In the end, I see this as a screaming billboard for change.  Collins does his homework, and who can argue with the premise that a commitment to innovation and change produces greatness?  Companies HAVE to be committed to staying ahead of the competition – and change is a constant in the companies profiled here.  Collins is the man, for sure (bonus points for the mountain climbing, Jim).

# 2 – Managing Transitions (William Bridges)

If you’re not familiar with William Bridges, check him out.  He is one of the world’s leading experts in the area of managing the human side of change.  Bridges originally introduced the notion of “transition” in his first book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes (1980), which was a primer on coping with the tumultuous life changes we all face on a personal level.  In Managing Transitions, Bridges applies the concept of transition within the context of organizational change, and presents a model for understanding how individuals deal with change.  This is an important concept for the leader, as we all need to understand how each employee is dealing with change on an individual level.

# 1 – Leading Change (John Kotter)

Harvard professor John Kotter scores his second book on this list, and I think many would agree that this is the seminal work on large-scale organizational change.  Kotter presents an 8 step model for leading change that really makes sense, and was one of the first authors to really push the notion that change needs to be led, not managed.  A true classic, and a model that will stand the test of time.

There you go – that’s my list.  Let me know if I missed one… and stay tuned for future Top 5 book lists!