November 17, 2017

The Top Five Books for Managers #3: Leadership is an Art

Book cover art for Leadership is an Art
The Top Five Books for Managers: Leadership is an Art

This article is the third in a series of five blog posts from management expert, and Cydcor Chief People Officer, Jeannie Finkel. In this series, Jeannie recommends the Top Five Books she believes can help you transform your management style and become a better, more effective leader.


There are some clear cut skills that can help anyone become a better manager, but it can take a harder-to-define set of qualities to be a strong leader. Management expert Jeannie Finkel recommends Max De Pree’s Leadership is an Art to anyone looking to find out how to establish your unique point of view as a leader, fill your organization with passion, and foster loyalty and drive within your organization. Great managers show enormous faith in the potential of their people, and this book can help you discover how to lead by establishing relationships based on mutual trust, building a culture of inclusiveness, and by offering constant support.


Below, Jeannie Finkel explains why every manager and aspiring manager should read Max De Pree’s book on leadership, to build their identity as a leader and help shape their vision for their organization:


Book #3: Leadership is an Art

Author: Max De Pree


Short summary: This is a beautifully written collection of leadership principles written by Max De Pree, son of the founder and former CEO and Chairman of Herman Miller, Inc. Herman Miller is a nearly 100-year-old company, but it has consistently been recognized throughout its history as one of the best companies to work for in America, as well as one of the best managed and most innovative.

If you’re looking to understand how leaders can create a culture and set of principles that can stand the test of time, this book is a great place to start.

De Pree opens with a story about his father as a young manager whose experience with the death of a long-time employee shaped his philosophy of leadership. De Pree’s father went on to weave those ideas into the fabric of his company and the hearts and minds of his sons, who ran the company after him. The various chapters, each written as a little essay, bring this philosophy to life, starting with the question everyone asks at one point or another: “What is Leadership?”

 The most important aspect of this book is the belief in the potential of people that it expresses. Share on X


What you’ll learn: The most important aspect of this book is the humanity and belief in the potential of people and the human spirit that it expresses. If you are not familiar with the concept of servant leadership, by the time you finish reading, you will be, and hopefully will be inspired by it.

De Pree also lays out his ground rules for how work relationships should operate based on mutual accountability. He looks at the capitalist system and helps us imagine how it could be enhanced through a more inclusive mindset where everyone participates. He provides guidance on how to stimulate innovation by recognizing and supporting “giants”, and he reminds us of the importance of sharing culture, values and shared history through storytelling.  De Pree also offers techniques for becoming alert to the signs of complacency in ourselves, and he teaches us how to recognize the signals of organizational entropy, as well.


Every time I read this book (which is about once a year!) I take something new away from it.


Why it’s a must read:

This is an enduring classic. I came upon this one because I fell in love with Herman Miller’s products and services, and their exquisite attention to design, aesthetics, functionality and harmony in creating a work environment in which people were inspired and enabled to do their best. I had the privilege to have HMI as a client when I was in the recruiting business, and in order to do my best work and find the right people for them, I had to understand the culture.  The manager I worked with encouraged me to study the company and read the book – and I was captivated. It helped me visualize the kind of company I hoped to be a part of and the kind of leadership I wanted to practice.  It left me with a sense of my obligations as a leader which I’ve tried hard to live up to ever since.


And on top of everything else, the writing is absolutely beautiful – it’s like reading poetry!

This book let me see the kind of company I hoped to work for & the kind of leader I wanted to be. Share on X


If you found this book recommendation helpful, make sure to check back for upcoming posts in this series to learn about two more books that can help managers build their skills, earn the trust of their team, and lead their organizations to success.  In case you missed it, don’t forget to read last week’s post about the book The Elements of Style.


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portrait of Jeanie Finkel, Chief People Officer at Cydcor.
Jeannie Finkel, Chief People Officer at Cydcor.

Jeannie Finkel, Chief People Officer at Cydcor, the recognized leader in outsourced sales, has more than twenty-five years of business experience, managing human resources and administration at top firms. Jeannie served for nearly twelve years as a Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Charles Schwab & Co. Jeannie was also Head of Human Resources and Administration for a leading asset management firm, and served as Managing Director, Talent Management Systems and Strategies for a Fortune 100 organization. Jeannie later became a Partner with leading global retained search firm, Heidrick & Struggles. With years of experience managing teams and overseeing organizations, Jeannie is a seasoned expert in management, administration, and leadership.