Influential Books by Management Gurus

According to Wikipedia: "A Guru is a teacher in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, as well as in many new religious movements. The guru is seen in these religions as a sacred conduit for wisdom and a way to self-realization, and the importance of finding a true guru is emphasized."

Management gurus, in theory, are those writers, thinkers, and speakers who impart true wisdom about the art of management. In practice, we use the label "guru" for any highly influential management thinker.

I picked the gurus on the following list based on the way their thoughts have become our thoughts. If they hadn't written their books, produced their audio programs and given their speeches, the way we think and talk about management would be different.

I restricted the list to those whose works were read by a lot of managers during my lifetime. That leaves out some significant thinkers. W. Edwards Deming and Chris Argyris were both powerful thinkers. Many managers learned great things from them.

But neither of them sold great numbers of books and so their impact on management practice came mostly through the work of others. My list begins where many such lists begin, with Peter Drucker.

Peter Drucker was the starting point for me. I love his insights and his prose. My pick from among his works go back forty years. I'm listing two books, but I see than as two halves of the same book. The Effective Executive is about managing yourself. Managing for Results is about managing the enterprise. The principles Drucker outlined here some forty-plus years ago are still valid and worth revisiting.

Charles Handy has always been a mind-stretcher for me. He's an author who gets me to ask good questions as opposed to authors who present answers for your edification. My pick among his works is The Age of Unreason.

Tom Peters, with co-author Bob Waterman, created one of the first of the business best sellers with In Search of Excellence. With that book and others and with his speeches and articles and columns and now his blog, Peters has changed the way we talk about management. While other gurus have written about rational approaches to management, Peters has been the voice crying out for trying things and for action over planning. My pick among all his books is the first one.

Warren Bennis has written several books on leadership. All are well written and insightful. My pick is one of his earliest books, Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge, written with Burt Nanus. This is the book that introduced the idea that leaders and managers are different. Whether you believe that or not (I don't), this book gave us an interpretation of what leadership is that remains influential, so much so that it's often presented as received wisdom.

I have never understood why Sumantra Ghoshal was not more popular in the US. He is one of the most insightful writers and thinkers on what we now are calling globalization. My pick among his works is Managing Across Borders, co-authored with Christopher Bartlett.

Kenichi Ohmae is best known in the US for a book he wrote over twenty years ago: The Mind of the Strategist. The subtitle of the book is "The Art of Japanese Business." Don't be fooled. That was probably tacked on by his editors to sell books at a time when everything Japanese was supposed to be worth copying. The book is really about the thought process of developing a strategy, which Ohmae understands to be more creative and intuitive than it is rational.

Gary Hamel writes about strategy, innovation and shaping the future. His recurring themes are that you need to be light on your feet, based in reality, and taking actions to shape your future. My favorite book of his, written with C. K. Prahalad, is Competing for the Future. It introduced concepts like "core competence" and "strategic intent" to the language of management.

I don't like Michael Porter's classic, Competitive Strategy. I think the advice is flawed because it concentrates on what are essentially supply-chain issues as the drivers of competitive advantage. It is academic in the extreme, with prose that would gag a goat. But it also changed the way we talk and think about strategy. If you are going to talk or write about corporate strategy in today's world, you have to read and know Porter, because he created the language that everyone uses.

So, there's my list of influential books by guru authors. They've all made me think. They've all changed the way we practice the art of management.


What did you think of this article?

  • No trackbacks exist for this post.

  • 8/26/2007 8:16 AM Chris Herbert wrote:
    Any thoughts on Norton's books on Strategy Maps and Balanced Scorecard?
    Reply to this
    1. 8/26/2007 8:25 AM Wally Bock wrote:
      I don't have enough experience with strategy maps to comment. Balance Scorecard is a great concept but often fails in practice because so many things start getting measured. Most of the time, managing to more than a goal or two leads to scattered efforts and poor results. Thanks for the question.
      Reply to this
Leave a comment

Submitted comments are subject to moderation before being displayed.


 Email (will not be published)


Your comment is 0 characters limited to 3000 characters.