Jim Clemmer's book reviewsIn the past few months I’ve been asked by workshop participants and readers for my recommendations on organization improvement, leadership, or personal development books. One example was an e-mail from a manager at the American Society of Training and Development:

“We are building our reference list for the ASTD Forum Lab in India in October. The theme is Executive global leadership. We’d like your recommendations for our reference list.”

A safety leadership consultant from Australia wrote:

“I have just finished The Leader’s Digest and thought your leadership wheel was good. I am going to get more of your books. I have read about 30 leadership books including Maxwell, Kouzes & Posner, Kotter, and Schein.

I was wondering if there are any other books you could particularly recommend. I am only interested in the theory as far as it extends to practical outcomes. I have read a few of the books from CEOs or Ex-CEOs who have transformed American companies. They usually spend a lot of time telling you what great blokes they are. These have left me pretty cold.”

I am also left pretty cold by — generally puffed up — autobiographies written by CEOs detailing their leadership experiences and “insights.” If their ghost writer is especially skilled, “the bloke’s” story can be quite entertaining. But generally there’s little to be applied or learned from reading their book. Journalists writing books about business leaders usually write them for entertainment and leave behind very few leadership lessons.

You can find my recommended reading list in the nearly three dozen book reviews on my LinkedIn or Amazon profile. If you’re a LinkedIn member and view my profile, please send me an invitation to connect — if we’re not already connected.

I am often asked to review manuscripts and provide a “jacket quote” for new books that are scheduled for publication or whose authors are looking for a publisher. I am not in the publishing industry and I am certainly not an expert in what makes one book a bestseller and another die on book store shelves. Some mediocre (or worse) books are bestsellers because of strong marketing, a great title, or they’ve caught a trend. Some outstanding books sell very poorly.

Following is what I consider in deciding whether to endorse a book or put it on my recommended reading list. Few books score high on all criteria items. But those I recommend or endorse score well on most of these points:

  • Writing style: is it conversational, personal, and high energy?
  • Wit and humor: is the book fun to read?
  • Logic and flow: is the book easy to follow along?
  • Generalities and platitudes: is there real substance or a unique perspective?
  • Original context or phrasing: is it just rehashing or piecing together other people’s material?
  • Stories and examples: are they crisp, succinct, and relevant?
  • Research, studies, and citations: are the approaches supported by facts and analysis or just theories and suppositions?
  • Practical applications: are there lots of “how to” steps and implementation suggestions?
  • System, model, or framework: do the chapters connect together and have an integrated approach or methodology?
  • Heart and soul: does it touch deep emotions and the human spirit?

What do you look for in an organization improvement, leadership, or personal development book? Which ones do you recommend and why?