The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Holiday reading for federal leaders

With the new year approaching, now is a good time to step back, assess the current state of affairs at your workplace and look for some insights to help you prepare for 2014.

An array of new books explore management issues and provide leadership lessons to improve morale, motivate the workforce, spark creativity, build teams and keep the trains running on time. Here are some of my recommendations to ring in the new year:

Grounded: How Leaders Stay Rooted in an Uncertain World" by Bob Rosen explores different approaches leaders can use to best manage uncertainty, cynical employees and personal burnout. The book features stories from leaders in a variety of organizations, including the New York Fire Department, PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Lego Group and Medstar Health.

As a federal leader, you are likely the anchor for your team amid the current turbulence. "Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence," by Muriel Maignan Wilkins and Amy Jen Su, offers great advice for communicating authentically and connecting more easily with employees in a positive way.

If budget cuts have you struggling, you’d be wise to pick up a copy of “Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All”– the latest book by David and Tom Kelley. Two of the original founders of innovation design firm IDEO, the authors outline a set of principles and strategies for tapping into our creativity to solve problems in the workplace. They’ve worked with many of the world’s top companies and their personal anecdotes help bring their concepts to life.

To help implement your team’s great ideas, check out “Beyond the Idea: How to Execute Innovation in Any Organization” by Chris Trimble and Vijay Govindarajan, which eschews platitudes in favor of a set of concrete steps for making innovation a reality. While much of their work is based on their private sector research, you’ll find insights and best practices about how to overcome challenges and execute innovation initiatives regardless of sector.

Another good read, “The Solution Revolution,” by William D. Eggers and Paul Macmillan, explores how business, government, philanthropy and social enterprise are converging to solve big problems and create public value. The book looks at examples of crowd-funding, ridesharing, app-developing and impact-investing to deal with problems ranging from fighting poverty to creating renewable energy to preventing obesity.

If you’re a federal leader who enjoys learning from history, then Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism,” will fit the bill. This book examines the relationship between Roosevelt and Taft as well as their leadership styles, and puts it all in the context of their era—a time when there was a huge gap between rich and poor, congressional stalemates, increasing influence of money in politics, small wars proliferating overseas and new inventions speeding the pace of daily life. Sound familiar?

Finally, this list wouldn’t be complete without including one older book: Nelson Mandela’s moving memoir, “Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela.” Mandela, who was one of the great political leaders of our time, tells the story of his remarkable life from the struggles and setbacks to his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa. The book is rich with leadership lessons for every public servant.

Federal managers and employees, what books have you read recently that you might recommend to others?  Please share the names of other titles that can help federal leaders become more effective managers, solve problems or get perspective on current times. Tell us your picks in the comments section below. You can also email me at

Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership, is vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. He also heads the Partnership’s Center for Government Leadership.

Read also:

How to stay grounded as a federal leader

How to develop your presence as a leader

Like On Leadership? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.