I am often asked by my clients and workshop participants to recommend some books and articles for managers. I tell them that over the years, I have compiled a list of my favorites and that it is available via my website  But, often I am pressed to tell them which books are my all time favorites?

While I have never been able to narrow it down to just one or two, Max De Pree’s “Leadership is an Art”, published in 1989, is as close as it gets to the top of the list for me.

The son of the original founder of the Herman Miller furniture company, manufacturer of the well-known and much prized Aeron office chair, Max De Pree   served as CEO of the company from the mid 1980’s until 1990. Since then, he has been sharing his insights and philosophy of managing and leading as a member of the Board of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership.

Max’s book is a treasure.  It is an elegant, highly personal exploration of what it means to lead and manage a highly successful, productive, and profitable business by putting people first.  It is simply impossible to adequately summarize Max’s wisdom in the space of this blog. To fully appreciate this book and its power, you need to read it.

At its core, Max’s philosophy — as elaborated in “Leadership is an Art” is that one’s personal beliefs should shape one’s approach to life, management, and leadership; that is, that our management and leadership style should reflect what we deeply believe, what is in our hearts. (See PP. 23 – 27). This is what I often call operating from the inside out. Believing that the best managers and leaders are those who empower others, Max writes “the first responsibility of a leader” is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor that enables others” (P. 11)

Max dedicates an entire chapter of this book to “intimacy”, which he defines as achieving a sense of oneness with one’s work, subordinates, colleagues and organization. He champions “participative management” which he believes must begin with a deep belief in the potential of human beings. He advocates the forming of respectful, trust-based covenants with subordinates based upon an understanding of subordinate needs and legitimate expectations. And he extols the virtue of leading by continuing to encouraging others to learn, stretch and constantly grow. “We can’t become what we need to be”, he writes, “by remaining what we are”. (P. 100)

Over the years as a manager, I returned to Max’s book on many occasions, each time to find some new insight and inspiration. I was never disappointed. I always came away with a renewed faith in human potential and the power of managing and leading in harmony with one’s beliefs.   It is a book on leadership like none other I have read.  The San Jose Mercury-News in its review of the book writes ” De Pree’s book is stunning…From the start, DePree reveals his compulsion with putting people first.  But he doesn’t, like most others, tiptoe around some of business’s most forbidden words — spirit, trust, love, grace, warmth and intimacy” (See the cover notes.)   Read it and share it with fellow managers. They most likely will thank you.

Categories: Managing & Leading, Managing People

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