8 books to make you a more open leader

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Yearbook cover 2015


Open source principles continue to invade new domains, and in 2015 we saw this trend accelerate. Traditional organizational structures are giving way to new models―more open models—and the nature of our collaborations is changing. Rapidly.

When Jim Whitehurst published The Open Organization in June, he crystallized something that's been nascent for years: a new management paradigm, one fit for the 21st century. Leaders everywhere are scrambling to understand their roles under this paradigm, and our community has come to their aid with recommendations for books that will guide them across uncertain terrain. If you've resolved to become a more open leader in 2016, then you'll want to start here.

Discover Your True North

by Bill George (Recommended by Sam Knuth)

Bill George has written extensively on authenticity in leadership, which includes transparency, honesty, and openness. Discover Your True North draws on George's personal experiences with many authentic leaders across many industries, pulling together the themes that contribute to their successes and failures. Consistently, the same principles Jim explores in The Open Organization emerge as critical leadership traits in the experiences of both George and the leaders he profiles.

Discover Your True North is not only a great collection of case studies and experiences but also a guide to practicing authentic, open leadership for people at any stage in their careers.

The Engaged Leader

by Charlene Li (Recommended by Jason Hibbets)

Using social media to engage and listen isn't a science. It's an art. And in this book, Li helps you navigate these waters with examples from different industries and from leaders at various levels in their organizations. I've recommended this book to several of my colleagues at Red Hat (and beyond) who want to use social media and other digital tools to be more engaged with the their customers, people they lead, and especially other leaders.

Li provides practical stories and tips to help you to adapt to this new era of digital engagement.

How to Develop Emotional Health

by Oliver James (Recommended by Laura Hilliger)

A quick and fun read, this book will help you identify personal hang-ups that may stop you from being an open and engaged leader.

James offers solutions and insights on how to work through your past, present, and future to lead a mentally healthy, happy, and productive life—touchstones for good leaders and, indeed, "open sourcers" in general.


by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson (Recommended by Marten Mickos)

This book talks about organizing work in the modern world, where people work from home and largely know what to do. It's full of pithy, illustrated advice ("Pick a fight." "Meetings are Toxic." "Inspiration if Perishable.") for anyone looking to revamp the workplace.

While the authors may not use the term, it's easy to see that openness is an underlying principle of this book.

Quiet Leadership

by David Rock (Recommended by Rebecca Fernandez)

Whether you're a manager, a mentor, or both, you want to coach and give feedback in a way that promotes another person's growth and contributes to autonomous decision-making.

Through compelling neuroscience, Quiet Leadership shows why leaders should stop giving advice and offering up ideas. Learn how to listen more, talk less, and ask the kinds of questions that help people find their own solutions.

The Open Organization

by Philip A. Foster (Recommended by Bryan Behrenshausen)

Before The Open Organization by Jim Whitehurst was The Open Organization by Philip A. Foster. While Jim admits that his book isn't management theory ("I'll leave that to the academics," he says), Foster's is unabashedly so. Published in 2014, The Open Organization is quite frankly the textbook on what both authors call a "new management paradigm."

Meticulously researched and annotated, Foster's volume draws on sources running the gamut from management theorists to practitioners. And as a neat bonus, Foster offers a compelling case study: GitHub, whose mission to "create awesome" prompted interesting organizational choices. For enthusiasts, it's a moment of precious insight into daily life at a firm embracing the open source mission. For leaders, it's simply required reading.


by Richard Hytner (Recommended by Laura Hilliger)

Although this book weighs in heavily on the "evil corporate" examples and name-dropping, it contains some wonderful undertones about being a leader who guides rather than directs.

The so-called "second in command" is all of us in any given conversation. Knowing to respect and wield that power can help make you an influential leader in distributed networks.

Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader

by Herminia Ibarra (Recommended by Jeff Mackanic)

In The Open Organization Jim Whitehurst writes: "What I need to do is create the context for Red Hat associates so they can do their best work. My goal is to get people to believe in the mission and then create the right structures that empower them to achieve what once might have been impossible." In Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, Ibarra offers advice on empowering leaders this way.

She writes that in order to act like leaders, we will have to devote much of our time to the following practices: bridging across diverse people and groups, envisioning new possibilities, engaging people in the change process, and embodying the change. Ibara then provides detailed ideas for ways leaders can grow in each of these areas. This book is full of insights, and can certainly help you become a more open leader.

Bryan Behrenshausen
Bryan formerly managed the Open Organization section of Opensource.com, which features stories about the ways open values and principles are changing how we think about organizational culture and design. He's worked on Opensource.com since 2011. Find him online as semioticrobotic.

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