A twitter challenge


FullSizeRender[3]To which I, of course,  replied, less testily(!),  that I’d think out my favourite five. But which five?

There are fashions in books, and organisational life has changed since I was at the stage of my career that I imagine is where Adrian Plunkett is now, and the books one learns the most from aren’t always the most elegantly written or enjoyable ………… but these are excuses!

Which do I think most influenced my life?

Here are some candidates:

Leadership is an Art, by Max De Pree

Max De Pree was Chairman and CEO of Hermann Miller Inc., the US furniture manufacturer where Charles and Ray Eames designed their iconic (still highly desirable) furniture. Here he talks of what he learned from the Eames’ (e.g. the importance of working with ‘good goods’) and of his views of leadership:

Leadership: Liberating people to do what is required of them in the most effective and humane way possible. Leaders don’t inflict pain, they bear pain.

Leaders increase the performance of an organisation by developing the maturity of its members.

Maturity includes a sense of self worth, a sense of belonging a sense of expectancy, a sense of responsibility, and a sense of equality.

 When I first read it I started by underlining everything I thought was wonderful or important and soon decided it would be easier to underline the things I didn’t!

 The Fifth Discipline, by Peter Senge

As I was based in a department of Systems Science when i read this I was familiar with many systems concepts but it took the Fifth Discipline for me to fully understand their essential day- to- day practicality and find ways of conveying these simply and persuasively to others. I can’t think of anyone I haven’t recommended this to!

People are almost instantly hooked by ‘does your team have a learning disability?’ (and then find boiling frogs (among other disabilities) all over the place!)

Systems of Survival, by Jane Jacobs

Recommended to me by someone in whom I had the utmost faith, I struggled with this at first, finding the construction (a series of conversations between friends) laboured. But the key message, that there are two distinctly different sets of behaviours with which we can approach our organisational lives, and that they must not be merged, and that we must choose the right one for the right situation, was profoundly important and helpful.

It has become more relevant rather than less as so many more aspects of life have become marketised, and should now be compulsory reading for all clinical leaders as well as politicians and, well everyone!

 Transitions, by William Bridges

Here Bridges distinguishes changes that we make (new job, new partner, new location) from our transition from one set of understandings and sense of self to another. He helps us grapple with the sense of discomfort and uncertainty and not-knowing when we are in the middle of the transition that we had embarked upon as a simple change, and offers support in the manner of a sensitive wise friend.

You may not recognise the wisdom in this until you need it!

 Understanding Variation: the key to managing chaos, by Donald Wheeler

Definitely not a self help book, this is so fundamental to managing any kind of organisation that I’m surprised it isn’t more widely known. Wheeler contrasts the voice of the customer (the specification or requirement) with the voice of the system. ‘The voice of the customer defines what you want, the voice of the system defines what you’ll get’. ‘It is [our] job to work to bring the voice of the process into alignment with the voice of the customer’.

In other words, ten years ago when it came to implementing the 18 week and 4 hour targets, NHS organisations had a choice between focusing on improving their systems and as a result achieving the target, or solely on meeting the target. Sadly, encouraged by bullying at all levels from the very top downwards, almost every organisation chose the latter, in the process wasting the very considerable extra money provided, and leaving the fundamental systems as decrepit as ever.

Wheeler instead shows us how to hear the voice of the system by means of Walter Shewhart’s statistical control charts. Truly every clinical leader needs to understand and really use these.


But this leaves out so many others, for example:

The Unconscious at work by Anton Obholzer

‘Groups that are part of a larger organisation have directly observable structures and functions, and also an unconscious life, comparable to heat described by psychoanalysis in an individual’.

‘Institutions pursue unconscious tasks alongside conscious ones and these affect efficiency and the degree of stress on staff’.

‘Social and psychoanalytic perspectives must be deployed together to achieve real change’

Systems thinking in the public sector, by John Seddon

John Seddon’s self belief can be slightly irritating but he is completely right about the importance of applying systems thinking to public services, and of ascertaining and meeting he needs of the customer – as seen by the customer. This book gives him space to convince us of that.


But then there are so many others. For example there was a brilliant plethora of those on supporting change in organisations, published in the ‘80s and ‘90s which was a period of fantastic flourishing in this kind of literature: still drawing on excellent observational research and not yet trivialized into simplistic buzzwords, charts and tick-boxes.

So at the end of this blog you’ll find my list of those classic texts. I do want to mention though  two of my own books, written especially for clinical leaders:

Really Managing Health Care

This weaves together many themes from these books with practical examples from my own experience and has been popular with clinains and managers alike for 20 years now.

 Why Reforming the NHS Doesn’t Work: the importance of understanding how good people offer good care.

A look at the wider political influences on health care ,  the ways these diminish the quality of care and how we can challenge that influence.

And what about that kindness industry mentioned in the original tweet? ‘be kind: to your self and others’

I think that may be a  busy man’s understandable take on some rich and valuable books, or it may be that Adrian has missed the best of them. So when you are looking for books that support your ability to look after yourself, go for the real experts. I suggest these will include

 Awakening Joy, by James Baraz

A step by step guide that I think can be profoundly helpful

The Compassionate Mind, by Paul Gilbert

Rather more wordy than it needs to be but very strong underlying argument

When things fall apart, by Pema Chodrun

(or almost anything by her). Does what it says on the tin, beautifully.

Loving kindness, by Sharon Salzberg

A practical guide to the Buddhist practice of ‘metta’ that is just wonderful.


Happy reading!!!!!

Do let me know if any of these change yor life!





Classic books I’m very thankful to have read



The Strategy Process: concepts, Context, Cases Henry Mintzberg and James Brian Quinn
Thinking Strategically: the competitive edge in business, politics and everyday life Avinash Dixit and Barry Nalebuff
What is strategy and does it matter? Richard Whittington
Strategy Safari: a guided tour through the wilds of strategic management Henry Mintzberg,
Competing for the future Gary Hamel and C K Prahalad


Systems Thinking, Chaos and Complexity theory


The Fifth Discipline Peter Senge
Systems and Decision Making: a management science approach Hans Daellenbach
Soft Systems Methodology in Action Peter Checkland and Jim Scholes
Chaos James Gleick
Managing Chaos Ralph Stacey
Complexity and Management Ralph Stacey, Douglas Griffin and Patricia Shaw
Systems thinking in the public sector John Seddon
Why most things fail: evolution, extinction and economics Paul Ormerod
Aid on the Edge of Chaos: rethinking international cooperation in a complex world Ben Ramalingam

Biases in decision making

Judgment in managerial decision making Max Bazerman
Human Judgment, the eye of the beholder Donald Laming

 Operations Management and management accounting

Costing: an introduction Colin Drury
Restoring our competitive edge: competing through manufacturing Steven Wheelwright and Robert Hayes
Understanding variation: the key to managing chaos Donald Wheeler
Lean Thinking James Womack and Daniel Jones


Behaviour in organisations and facilitating change


Perspectives on behaviour in organisations Richard Hackman, Edward Lawler and Lyman Porter
Managing People at Work John Hunt
Organisational Learning Chris Argyris and Donald Schon
Overcoming organisational defences: facilitating organisational learning Chris Argyris
Organisational transitions: understanding complex change Richard Beckhard and Reuben Harris
Process consultation 1Process consultation 2 Edgar Schein
TA today: an introduction to transactional analysis Ian Stewart and Vann Joines
Counselling for Toads Robert de Board
The unconscious at work: individual and organisation stress in the human services Anton Obholzer
Talking from 9-5, language, sex and power Deborah Tannen
Strategies for cultural change Paul Bate
Audit Cultures: anthropological studies in accountability, ethics and the academy Ed Marilyn Strathern
Personal and Group Development for Managers Roger Gaunt

Professional dynamics (in health care)

The Reflective Practitioner Donald Schon
Philosophy of Medicine Henrick Wulff, Stig Andur Pedersen, Raben Rosenberg
The profession of medicine Eliot Friedson
Making Sense of illness: the social psychology of heath and disease Alan Radley
The death of humane medicine Petr Skrabnak
Medical power and social knowledge Bryan Turner
High Technology Medicine Bryan Jennett
Liberating medicine David Seedhouse
The foundations for achievement David Seedhouse
Practical medical ethics David Seedhouse, Lisetta Lovett
Disease, Diagnosis and Decisions G Bradley
Complexity and health care Eds Kieran Sweeney, Frances Griffiths
Complexity in primary care Kieran Sweeney
The renewal of generosity: illness, medicine and how to live Arthur Frank
Medical choices, medical chances: how patients, families and physicians can cope with uncertainty Harold Burzstajn
A Flourishing Practice? Peter Toon
Medicine as culture: illness, disease and the body Deborah Lupton
Meetings between experts David Tuckett, Mary Boulton, coral Olson, Anthony Williams
Information and medicine Marsden Blois
Systems of survival: a dialogue on the moral foundations of commerce and politics Jane Jacobs
The definition of quality and approaches to its assessment Avedis Donabedian

Management and Leadership


Tough Minded Management Joe Batten
Leadership is an art Max De Pree
The one minute manager Ken Blanchard
Leadership and the one minute manager Ken Blanchard
The practice of management Peter Drucker
Good to Great Jim Collins
Mintzberg on Management Henry Mintzberg







Some of the more recent life savers

The Compassionate Mind Paul Gilbert
Awakening Joy James Baraz
The courage to be present Karen Kissel Wegela
The wisdom of no escape Pema Chodrun
Start where you are Pema Chodrun
Confessions of a Buddhist atheist Stephen Batchelor
Loving Kindness Sharon Salzberg
Finding meaning in the second half of life(and many others by JH ) James Hollis
The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning Iain McGilchrist






1 thought on “A twitter challenge

  1. Samir Heble

    Dear Valerie , I have read your articles with interest. I’d there an analogy you have found useful for explains difference between Management and Leadership ?


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