Maybe I'm unlucky or a bad chooser, but I've encountered whole shelves of one-horse fluff and drivel. It gives the gems a bad name.
But! Here are three great books that have stuck with me. I found each really helpful in navigating an aspect of organizational change and leadership.
- Nonprofit Lifecycles: Stage-Based Wisdom for Nonprofit Capacity by Susan Kenny Stevens. This slim book provides cogent and insightful analysis of organizational evolution from startup to growth to maturity to decline to turnaround (hopefully). I have used this book in many ways over the past few years: to diagnose and understand an organization that was new to me, to plan for the future, and now, to relearn the needs and abilities of my organization as it moves out of turnaround and into growth. These 130 pages have a magical quality; I keep finding more in them. I didn't know what "capacity building" meant when I first picked up this book. I still don't entirely. But I do know that this book keeps helping me learn and grow... and that's about as good a definition as I've got at this point.
- The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins. I've been recommending this book to many friends and colleagues recently as they take on new leadership roles. Unlike the other two books on this list, this book is more about the individual in the organization than the organization itself. I found it to be incredibly helpful when I was preparing for and then taking on an executive director role, but it can be useful for anyone taking on a new role who wants to do so mindfully and successfully. This book uses the classic business book formula--pithy missives mixed with diverse examples--but it does so really, really well. The thing it does best is help you think about how to strategically plan out not just what you will do at work but who you will be, and how you can construct your position, relationships, and roles intentionally instead of having them "happen" to you.
- The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni. I picked up this book on a whim at the beginning of the year based on the fact that Fractured Atlas, an organization I admire, was using it to guide their work. Like The First 90 Days, The Advantage employs a classic business book formula. But instead of focusing on individual leadership, this book focuses on organizational culture. I'm not sure I completely buy Lencioni's big idea, but the content is solid and useful--regardless of what trumps what. For us at the MAH, this book has been helpful as we shift from a startup culture of change and experimentation into a growth culture of strengthening and deepening our work. We are using approaches from The Advantage to write meaningful organizational values, infuse those into our hiring, onboarding and performance review processes, and protect and cultivate the unique aspects of our interpersonal culture that make us thrive.
Now, I'm hunting for truly great books about moving from startup to growth/mature operations while maintaining energy, collaborative spirit, and creativity. I'm personally struggling with this a bit and would love your recommendations of books that can help in thinking about how to add structure in a way that supports and builds with minimal ossification.
What kinds of books would help you most in your work? What books would you recommend?