Browse resources for transformational leadership

If you’d like to expand your thinking and develop your practice of leadership, dip into the suggestions below.

This is a curated list of books, articles and videos on leadership based on the work of some of the best-regarded leadership thinkers and practitioners. Some of these thinkers are Christians, many are not, and all of them provide insights that have much to offer the church.

Todd Bolsinger: what do you do with a canoe in the mountains?

In his book, Canoeing the Mountains, Bolsinger uses the story of Lewis and Clark as a metaphor for the challenges of Christian leadership in our day. In 1804, Lewis and Clark set off canoeing down the Missouri River, trying to find a route across North America. When they came to the Rocky Mountains, however, their canoes proved worse than useless. In Tempered Resilience, Bolsinger writes about flourishing in ministry; how to devise a rhythm which will sustain you missionally for the long haul. 

Watch a short video of Todd introducing Canoeing the Mountains:

Read Canoeing the Mountains.

Read Tempered Resilience.

Brené Brown on the power of vulnerability

Brené Brown’s work is all about the power of vulnerability to help us live, love and lead better. Brown’s books are very accessible and easy to read, yet they’re based on years of research into the practices and attitudes that help people to flourish. By ‘vulnerability’ she does not mean weakness or over-sharing, but rather the courage to have difficult conversations, to acknowledge and to move past our own insecurities, and hence to live what she calls a ‘whole-hearted’ life.

Start with her TED talk, which went viral, and to date has been viewed over 60 million times:

If you have more time, check out one of her books, such as Dare to Lead: Brave work. Tough conversations. Whole hearts

Jim Collins’ research on greatness

Collins has spent years researching the features of outstanding businesses and organisations. Our favourite project resulted in the 2001 book Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap… and others don’t. Collins and his team carefully selected eleven American companies that had been moderately successful, and had then gone through a change process which led to really great results. They then compared each company with a similar one that was facing the same market conditions, but did not enjoy the same results, looking at the factors which helped some companies to succeed where others did not. Although the subject of the team’s research was profit-making businesses, Collins argues convincingly that ‘business thinking is not the answer.’ The principles the team developed are about greatness, not about business.

If you have half an hour, start with this article.

If you have a little more time, read the book.

And check out the monograph (very short book) in which Collins applies his work to nonprofits, such as churches.

Harvard Business Review

The Harvard Business Review website, www.hbr.org, has a huge archive of high-quality articles about leadership and management. You can read two articles each month for free, plus another two if you register. Subscriptions start at £105 per year (although take care - not all the content is available on a basic subscription). 

Why not start with this article by Patrick Lencioni about organisational values.

Chip and Dan Heath on what makes change happen

The book Switch by these American brothers is an easy and accessible read. It explores human behaviour in an engaging and entertaining way, helping us adapt the way we think, speak and behave to bring about change. It simply explains how our minds work and is packed with really helpful tips and tools. It uses an easy to remember metaphor to help us understand change: ‘the rider’ refers to our rational brain, ‘the elephant’ refers to our emotional brain, and ‘the path’ to the way we want to go. Chip and Dan Heath argue most change efforts fail because they are focused only at the rider; we need to speak to the emotions as well.

Start with this short video:

If you have more time, read the book.

Herminia Ibarra: Act before you think

The Evangelism and Growth and Ministries Teams both recommend Herminia Ibarra's book, Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader. She argues that, if you want to be a good leader, start doing the things leaders do. Start, not by looking inward for insight, but by acting in the world to develop ‘outsight.’ Bias to action is a key value for the Transformational Leadership Learning Community. Let’s do something different.

You can read a summary of the book here.

If you have more time, read the book.

John Kotter and a melting iceberg

Well-regarded leadership thinker John Kotter uses the metaphor of penguins living on a melting iceberg to explore the factors that bring about a successful change process. A young penguin realises that the iceberg on which his community is living will not be able to sustain them for long. He has to try and convince his community of the danger and to help them find a solution to their problem. We particularly liked the way in which the different gifts and experiences of the penguins in the team came together to help the community move forward.

If you find metaphors and stories helpful, read Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber.

If you have less time, or prefer a less playful approach, here’s an article which summarises Kotter’s thinking.

Simon Sinek, Start With Why

Sinek argues that most organizations know what they do, many understand how they do it, but very few really understand why they do what they do – i.e. their purpose, the thing that makes them get up in the morning. He maintains that we will be most effective when we truly ‘understand our why.’ 

Start by watching Sinek’s TED talk. Then read this short article by former Learning Network Officer, Nigel Pimlott, for whom Sinek's work has been transformational. If you have more time, check out Sinek's book, Find Your Why , a practical workbook that enables you to through the process of finding your why for yourself.

Here are the personal 'why' statements of Nigel and Emma, who put this page together:

  • Nigel: To help others thrive and flourish so that we all experience shalom
  • Emma: To delight people and reveal glimpses of the divine so that everyone is illuminated

Dave Snowden, creator of the Cynefin Framework

Snowden's work is complex and takes a little time to grasp, but it offers some fascinating insights when applied to the problem faced by the Christian church in the global north. Snowden's Cynefin (pronounced "kuh-ne-vin") Framework suggests that issues fall into four quadrants. The 'complex' quadrant is particularly interesting: there is no right answer to a complex problem, as it involves a number of interacting factors which cannot be known. A complex problem calls for 'safe-to-fail' experimentation in order to figure out what works and what doesn't.

In this short video, Snowden introduces the Cynefin framework:

If you have a little more time, watch this longer video in which Snowden is interviewed about the framework:

And if you prefer to tackle complex ideas by reading about them, check out this article.

Simon P. Walker and undefended leadership

Walker is a former Anglican priest whose writing on leadership feels very different to most of the work on this list. Walker’s approach is to help us understand who we are in leadership and our relationship to power, so that we can lead in healthy ways, without defensiveness. The Undefended Leader trilogy is published in one volume as well as in three short books: we’d particularly recommend the first two in the trilogy.

The Undefended Leader trilogy

Leading out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership

Leading with Nothing to Lose: Training in the Exercise of Power