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Powerful leadership learning and current thinking on coaching

Welcome to our book reviews

Take a look at the books that have stood the test of time in leadership and coaching.  

You'll find reviews and author interview clips below.

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Bob Hughes, Forton Group CEO & Creator of the Leadership Book Club

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We interview authors in our Leadership Book Club.  You're welcome to join our discussions - find out more here.

Sun-tzu: The Art of War

buy the art of war from amazon

It's unusual for us to spotlight books where we're not interviewing the author at the same time, but I'm sure you'll forgive me when I point out that Sun-tzu lived around 544-496 B.C.  This book is known as "the most influential book of strategy in the world" - and worth reviewing for that reason alone. 

I urge the pacifist in you to walk around the title and focus on that word 'strategy' - rather than seeing this book as a way to start a war.  Look at it as an opportunity to think about being a more effective leader, create more successful strategies and understand better the world around us - and yes, including the competitors in your market-place.

What makes The Art of War particularly successful is that the author distilled, refined and laid down his ideas for many years before, like a fine whisky, he brought them out into the light of day.  My copy is the  Penguin version, translated by John Minford, and the text is light and clear - easy to read, yet so much to savour.

To give you a flavour of the relevance to leaders, I love the distinction between 'The General' and 'The Ruler' - as many leaders and manager are sandwiched between the 'troops' and the ruler (line manager) above them.  Sun-tzu says:

  • "The general is the prop of the nation.

When the prop is solid, the nation is strong.

When the prop is flawed, the nation is weak."

The Ruler can over-rule the General - which may lead to "ignorant meddling" and Sun-tzu describes different ways in which the Rule can bring "misfortune" on his people.  This relationship is recognisable in today's organisations and is a useful warning from the past.

Sun-tzu writes about strategies, signs and signals to watch out for, different kinds of terrain - how to attack and when to retreat.  It's all fascinating reading and it's easy to see why it this book is said to have inspired Napoleon, or today's business gurus.

Many writers have emphasised the need to 'know oneself', whether Socrates or Plato, or the latest book on emotional intelligence.  Daniel Goleman's model starts with self-awareness and self-management, leading to social awareness and relationship management.  Sun-tzu says:

  • "Know the enemy, know yourself,

And victory is never in doubt,

Not in a hundred battles."

He devotes a whole chapter to 'Espionage' - which I see as a parallel to 'management information' - and Sun-tzu talks about the importance of deploying spies successfully:

  • "Without wisdom,

It is impossible to employ spies.

  • "Without humanity and justice,

It is impossible to employ spies."

At around 100 pages, this really is an easy book to read, yet one worthy of returning to again and again.  When the Leadership Book Club met to discuss this book, we were planning to compare it with Machiavelli's "The Prince" but we had such an interesting and absorbing discussion that we decided to look at that book separately.  We're also going to take a look at a more recent book "The Princess" - to consider these issues from a specifically female perspective.


Liquid Leadership, by Damian Hughes
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