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Marshall Goldsmith’s Required Reading

The top-ranked executive coach recommends four books that will make you a better leader.

The other day I was reading about a CEO who had a near-fatal skiing accident, which caused him to embrace a more humanist approach to leadership that is now transforming his company. Marshall Goldsmith would call the accident a trigger, which he defines as “any major or minor stimulus that reshapes our thoughts and actions.” In his new book, Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts — Becoming the Person You Want to Be (Crown, 2015), he explores the role that such stimuli play in behavior change.

Helping leaders achieve positive, lasting behavior change has been Goldsmith’s life work. A top-rated executive coach, he has worked with more than 150 CEOs of major companies and their management teams. Among many recognitions and awards he has received, Goldsmith has been ranked among the 15 most influential business thinkers in the world in the biannual Thinker50 list since 2009. He teaches executive education at Dartmouth’s Tuck School and has been a volunteer teacher for U.S. Army generals, Navy admirals, Girl Scout executives, and International and American Red Cross leaders.

Goldsmith has written more than 30 books, including What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful (Hachette, 2007) and MOJO: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back If You Lose It (Hachette, 2010), winner of the Harold Longman Award for Business Book of the Year. When I asked him to name a few books that could serve as triggers for leaders who are intent on enhancing their performance, he recommended the following titles.

Hesselbein on Leadership, by Frances Hesselbein (Jossey-Bass, 2013)

“Of all of the great leaders that I have had the honor to coach, Frances Hesselbein, the former CEO of the Girl Scouts of America and a winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S., stands out as one of the few from whom I learned far more than I taught. Peter Drucker said that she was the most effective executive that he had ever met, and after having served on the Drucker Foundation Advisory Board for 10 years, I can assure you that he was no easy grader! In Hesselbein on Leadership, Frances shares her philosophy on leadership and life. If you take nothing else away from it except the importance of leading by example, reading it will be time well spent.” 

The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations, by James Kouzes and Barry Posner (5th ed., Jossey-Bass, 2012)

“This book, first published more than 25 years ago, in 1987, is still the gold standard on leadership. The five leadership practices that it details are based on extensive research, and they add up to the most comprehensive and thoughtful analysis of what it takes to be a great leader that I have ever seen. And I love the stories and examples because they are immediately applicable by leaders at all levels — not just CEOs.”

Management of Organizational Behavior: Leading Human Resources, by Paul Hersey, Kenneth Blanchard, and Dewey Johnson (10th ed., Prentice Hall, 2013)

“The development of the situational leadership theory by Paul and Ken in the 1970s gave us the first practical model for analyzing situations and determining which leadership style work best in each. Since then, I have taught this model to thousands of leaders. The ideas in this textbook can seem like common sense, but they are far from common practice.”

The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation, by Thich Nhat Hanh (Beacon Press, 1999)

“I have been a philosophical Buddhist for many years and have read more than 400 books on Buddhism, but no other Buddhist author has influenced my thinking as much as Thich Nhat Hanh. His work is simple and profound at the same time. What, for instance, could be more powerful a leadership mind-set than to approach every task as an opportunity to enhance your awareness of the world? Many of the elements of my coaching process, such as feedforward, have been derived from this Vietnamese monk’s work.” 

“Many of the elements of my executive coaching process, have been derived from this Vietnamese monk’s work.”


Theodore Kinni
Ted Kinni

Theodore Kinni is a contributing editor of strategy+business. He also blogs at Reading, Writing re: Management.



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