Not too long ago, we discussed five business books that every Catholic leader should read. In this follow-up post, we’ll look at five more books of merit— five influential books with lessons on leadership, the nature of success, or human nature. So, pick them up at your library, buy a copy for your Kindle, or stake out your friend’s personal library. Find them, read them, and be ready to talk about their leadership insights at the proverbial water cooler next time you are at work.
#1: Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life, by Michael Novak
In Business as a Calling, Michael Novak makes bold claims about how business is not just an arbitrary career choice but a real calling. It’s not immoral to want to be rich, he says. Capitalism can be considered “the best hope for the poor of the third world,” he describes. Novak’s book does not need to be taken as seriously as Scripture; a faithful Catholic can read it with questions and a sense of counterpoint. But it’s a thought-provoking discussion of faith, business, and human nature that every Catholic business person should read.
In particular, Novak gives a balanced look into how business is often negatively associated with materialism and greed, yet well-structured businesses create wealth, not necessarily greed. According to Novak, self-made people are often the most grateful and fulfilled people. At the same time, he recognizes, wealth does not cause happiness, and having more options can actually be paralyzing or make someone feel guilty that they still experience unhappiness.
Here’s a taste:
This inquiry is for Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others who take the inner life seriously, including those who while hesitant to belong to any church take seriously their vocation as thoughtful and self-questioning beings. Those who have eaten awhile of material success know that there is more to life than bread. They desire more than having. – Michael Novak, Business as a Calling.
#2: Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing
One of the greatest leadership tales of all time, Enduranceis stuffed with examples of what it means to be an influencer of a group. Endurance tracks how Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton led his men, against all odds, on an extraordinary survival journey after their ship was crushed by ice. The strength of human nature in the face of danger and death, as well as the power of a single personality to organize and synergize a group, are vividly manifested in this true story.
Here’s a taste:
In ordinary situations, Shackleton’s tremendous capacity for boldness and daring found almost nothing worthy of its pulling power; he was a Percheron draft horse harnessed to a child’s wagon cart. But in the Antarctic—here was a burden which challenged every atom of his strength… Thus, while Shackleton was undeniably out of place, even inept, in a great many everyday situations, he had a talent—a genius, even—that he shared with only a handful of men throughout history—genuine leadership. He was, as one of his men put it, “the greatest leader that ever came on God’s earth, bar none.” – Alfred Lansing, Endurance.
#3: Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness, by Robert Greenleaf
The classic authority on what servant leadership means, Robert Greenleaf delves deep into the subject in Servant Leadership,providing a thought-provoking description of servant leadership as well as follow-up chapters on servant leadership in specific arenas: business, education, churches, etc. Although the pages of Servant Leadership aren’t as easy to whiz through as those of Endurance, it is eminently worth it for the Catholic business person.
Here’s a taste:
Leaders must have more of an armor of confidence in facing the unknown— more than those who accept their leadership. This is partly anticipation and partly preparation, but it is also a very firm belief that in the stress of real life situations one can compose oneself in a way that permits the creative process to operate. – Robert Greenleaf, Servant Leadership.
#4: The Prince, by Machiavelli
The quintessential “how not to be a leader” book, Machiavelli’s The Princemust rank on any list of the most influential business books of all time. Dripping with insight into human nature and utilitarianism in particular, The Prince is a reminder of leadership struggles throughout history. The Catholic leader will find much to disagree with, but a challenging perspective can be helpful for refining one’s own beliefs. Of course, Machiavelli is best read in conjunction with a dose of coffee and St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
Here’s a taste:
It is much safer to be feared than loved because …love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails. – Machiavelli, The Prince.
#5: Winston Churchill’s War Leadership, by Martin Gilbert
A quick and breezy read, Winston’ Churchill’s War Leadershipis nonetheless an important introduction to the character traits that made Winston Churchill one of the most momentous and influential figures of the Second World War. Reading about how Churchill blended productivity and personal affinity is also quite interesting. Did you know, for example, that Churchill loved working from bed, which seemed to heighten rather than harm his productivity? Gilbert’s carefully documented work provides tremendous insight into an influential statesman and what made him so efficacious.
Here’s a taste:
Each night before going to bed, or each morning before getting up, he would read all the main newspapers— nine or ten in all— absorbing the way the public were being informed about the war, studying the editorials, and looking through news items… Much of the thrust of Churchill’s reading of the newspapers was to reduce hardships and grievances among the public, especially factory workers, servicemen and women, and their families. Two examples: Reading of a prison sentence imposed on a woman who had compared him to Hitler, Churchill insisted on the sentence being reduced. He did likewise when he read of a group of firemen who had been on duty during a night of severe bombing and been heavily fined for ‘looting’ some bottles of wine and spirits from a bombed-out pub. – Martin Gilbert, Winston Churchill’s War Leadership
What books have most influenced you as a business person and a leader? What would you add to our growing list of influential books for Catholic leaders?