Issue No. 301 of Your Weekly Staff Meeting features Peter Drucker’s pick for the “best book on leadership.” ‘Nuff said! And this reminder, check out my Management Buckets website with dozens of resources and downloadable worksheets for your staff meetings.
Drucker: “Still the Best Book on Leadership”
I’m often asked to recommend my top leadership or management book. So, almost on autopilot, I hit play and blather the following:
“It’s impossible to pick one leadership book. Everyone’s at different levels of experience and need. That’s why you need 20 management buckets—and dozens of niche leadership books. Blah…blah…blah.”
Then (gulp) this past January I read and reviewed The Practical Drucker: Applying the Wisdom of the World’s Greatest Management Thinker, by William A. Cohen. Here is Peter Drucker’s response to that question: “the first systematic book on leadership—the Kyropaidaia by Xenophon, himself no mean leader of men—is still the best book on the subject.”
Kyropaidaia (or Cyropaedia) was also known as Cyrus the Great (c. 580 – 529 B.C.). Cyrus founded the Persian Empire in the sixth century B.C. by uniting the Medes and the Persians, the two original Iranian tribes. His empire “extended from India to the Mediterranean Sea and was the most powerful state in the world until its conquest two centuries later by Alexander the Great.”
What did Drucker see in this remarkable figure? “The great Persian’s astonishing military successes and mild rule provided just the kind of raw material that Xenophon needed to fashion his portrait of a human paragon.”
Fortunately, Larry Hedrick, a former air force officer and military historian, has edited Xenophon’s work (c. 431 - 355 B.C.) and crafted a stunning, page-turner leadership treatise, Xenophon's Cyrus the Great: The Arts of Leadership and War.
Five chapters in the Old Testament, Ezra 1-5, salute the generosity of Cyrus the Great for liberating the Jews from Babylon and for his generous gifts for the temple in Jerusalem. According to Hedrick, the Iranians regard Cyrus as “The Father,” the Babylonians as “the Liberator,” the Greeks as “The Law-Giver,” and the Jews as “The Anointed of the Lord” (see Isaiah 45).
So why did Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, call Xenophon’s book (written 100 years after Cyrus died) “the best book on leadership?”
Start with more than 140 you-gotta-read-these subtitles (inserted into Xenophon’s new abridged edition by Hedrick):
• Inspire Your People with an Enticing Vision of a New Order
• Know When to Keep Your Own Counsel
• Err on the Side of Self-Reliance
• Obedience Should Not Be the Result of Compulsion
• Imagining Disaster May Save You from Tragedy
• Exude Confidence, Not Anxiety
• Recognize the Inevitability of Conflict
And those are just samples from the first 33 pages. Cyrus the Great was a life-long learner—with unusual wisdom. “Let us remember our forefathers,” he preached to his warriors, “but let us no longer exaggerate their virtues.”
And this from Cyrus’ father: “If you wish to be thought a good estate manager, or a good horseman, or a good physician, or a good flute player without really being one, just imagine all the tricks you have to invest just to keep up appearances. You might succeed at first, but in the end you’re going to be exposed as an imposter.”
Delivered like the off-camera color commentaries popular on TV sitcoms today, Cyrus’ frank assessment of both allies and enemies is instructive—this one on Syazarees, his uncle: “He seemed only half awake to the extraordinary responsibilities of his office, and he exuded far more anxiety than confidence.”
So Xenophon (channeled in modern leadership/management lingo by Hedrick) paints a leadership masterpiece with both subtle tones and bold smash-face war scenes. Whew! (Not what I was expecting!)
Most of my reading colleagues tilt towards the skinny management books, not 295-page tomes. But this is neither.
This is readable. This is exciting. Leadership, coaching, mentoring, innovation, psychology, motivation, crisis management, social styles, cultural hiccups. Plus: stunning acts of kindness. And generosity—AMAZING generosity. The case studies in generosity (on and off the battlefield) will shock you. Wow. Here’s Cyrus on his favorite subject:
“Allow me to pause and emphasize this general rule: Success always calls for greater generosity—though most people, lost in the darkness of their own egos, treat it as an occasion for greater greed.”
There’s wisdom and insight on almost every page. More subtitles:
• Brevity Is the Soul of Command
• Address Different Audiences with Different Emphases
• Minimize Distinctions of Rank
• Create a Psychological Advantage by Seizing the Initiative
• Nip Ill-Advised Plans in the Bud
• Counter Demoralizing Words with Reasoned Argument
• Understand the Motivations of Your Followers
• Overconfidence Has Been the Undoing of Many
• Defeat the Foeman Known as Envy
• Convince Your People of the Benefits of Change
• Blessed Are Those Who Take the Initiative
There. These teasers should be enough for you to hit “purchase” at Amazon. But really—if Peter Drucker said it’s “still the best book on leadership,” what more do you need?
To order this book from Amazon, click on the graphic below for Xenophon's Cyrus the Great: The Arts of Leadership and War, by Xenophon (Larry Hedrick, Editor).
Your Weekly Staff Meeting Questions:
1) Cyrus the Great wrote the first human rights charter. Imagine—centuries before Christ, a king takes out a blank sheet of paper (I said “imagine”) and begins. What’s on his Top-10 list? What’s on yours?
2) Cyrus said that “one fine instance of generosity can inspire dozens more.” In our organization, how might we excel at generosity so our acts inspire dozens or hundreds more? What would that look like here?
Subtle Signs of Slippage - Insights from Mastering the Management Buckets: 20 Critical Competencies for Leading Your Business or Nonprofit
One of the big ideas in the Board Bucket, Chapter 14, in Mastering the Management Buckets is to grow a great board. Bob Andringa says that one of the greatest legacies a CEO can leave to an organization is a great board.
For help, check out the series of blogs I recently wrote for the ECFA governance blog—five “Board Meeting Rules of Thumb.”
• Subtle Signs of Slippage
• 2 Prayers and a Poem?
• Do Not Interrupt!
• Uninspiring Agendas = Uninspiring Meetings
• The First 45 Minutes
For more help, book recommendations, and templates for CEO reports, board agendas and more, visit the Board Bucket.