December 19, 2013

Please don’t enable the sociopath in your life with these management books


Quick, hide the Covey, the Leaders are looking!

Quick, hide the Covey, the Leaders are looking!

Terrible people are hard to shop for. We all know that.

Think of the countless times you’ve picked out something meaningful for your favorite dead-eyed sociopathic Leader friend, only to have him stare at it in puzzlement, immune to feelings of joy, too empty to be bothered with politesse. On the one hand, you want to give him something nice, something he can use. On the other hand, he is a terrifying monster and must be contained.

Leaders want management books. Whatever you do, don’t give them management books.

Last month we looked at one of the season’s grimmest traditions: a ‘Best of’ list of self help books to give as gifts. I’ll save you the trouble of reading that piece: self help books make for terrible gifts. Don’t do it.

Now the fruits of that list have been peeled apart by another intrepid listmaker, and any bearable sweetness has been chucked away. Instead of all kinds of self help books, this post on the Forbes blog gives us only the bitter, waxy rind of that genre, a list of the best management books for your gift giving.

For example:

The Manager’s Bookshelf: A Mosaic of Contemporary Views by Jon L. Pierce, John W. Newstrom

This book reads like an exquisite tasting menu … It’s also a great place to start if you’re building a business library and want to know which books to pick up first.

I can’t speak to the particular merits of any of these books. I’m sure at least some of them are very good at teaching readers useful management techniques, the better to twist and control their employees so as to get optimal performance out of them in their company’s efforts to get people to buy rubber puke or Coco Smarms or whatever. These may be very effective books, exquisite tasting menus of manipulation and ambition.

I’m just saying that any person who might want to read such books might be a sociopath, and should not be given them.

Here’s another:

Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin

This book is a gold mine. Colvin distills the pervasive myth that great leadership requires inborn talent.

Sounds great; very egalitarian. Except it might be even better if the ‘gold’ weren’t being mined from the labor of your employees. Also, is it better or worse if  the sociopath calling herself your Leader is willing to admit that she is talentless?

I trust Sarah Vermunt, author of this list, to know what she’s talking about. After all, she has a Masters in Leadership Studies. Let’s assume that these are the management books any Leader will want. Let’s assume that these are the books that might finally kindle something like interest in the whirling Charybdis of ambition where your Leader’s soul should lie. Let’s assume that these are the best of the genre.

Except maybe for this one:

Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer by Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell

That one sounds pretty bad for, I think, obvious reasons.

But all of the others, even if they’re great, please don’t give them to the Leader in your life. We may never be rid of the Leaders around us, but for the sake of us all we can sure as hell stop enabling them.



Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.