6 Must-Read Books: The Government Leader’s Essential Library

I’ve always been a big reader – from reading the Hardy Boys growing up to reading favorites like Daniel Pink today, there’s nothing more I like than a great book.

While I’m always a big fan of great business or leadership books, as I entered public service in 2004, I began searching for government-related books. Books that helped provide insight to my growth as a public servant and the circumstances I was facing.

Thus, here’s my 6 favorite books that helped me understand the nature of government as well as the possibilites of public sector innovation.

1) Many Unhappy Returns – In this book, former IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti discusses his year’s leading the turnaround of Internal Revenue Service. It’s a great depiction from a senior leader on the challenges of leading large scale change & the difficulties making large technical changes (this is during shift to e-filing)

2) If We Can Put a Man on the Moon – I’m a big fan of all of Bill Eggers books however this is the one I like best. The sub-title of this book is “How to get big things done in government” and the book provides great case studies on how large government change has been accomplished and the unsung heroes behind the scenes making it happen. P.S. If you like Eggers work, I’m also a huge fan of Public Sector Innovator’s Playbook he co-authored.

3) Bureauracy – RIP to great author James Wilson for this amazing book sub-titled “What Government Agencies Do & Why They Do It.” This is more of an academic text than the previous two books but I found the framework really practical. It provides an analysis for the role of government and limitations that exist on purpose (for example some reasons why perhaps government 0shouldn’t be innovative)

4) Confessions of a Government Man – This is the most fun of all the reads so far. The author Alan Greenberg has blogged on GovLoop and his stories are amazing. The book is filled with stories from his time leading GSA Public Building Service in NYC – while often hilarious confessionals, I found the stories also useful to understand the factors affecting any large scale government project or dealing with co-workers

5) A Government Ill-Executed – Paul C. Light of NYU is arguably the most famous public administration professor right now. This book is one of his more mainstream books as it explores the decline offederal service and offers ideas on how to reverse the trend (ideas from shrinking number of political appointees to reducing the reliance on outsourcing).

6) First 90 Days in Government– This book was a follow-up to the broader First 90 Days Harvard Business School press classic. I like how this book focused on the government

needs & while it’s targeted to political appointees, I found the ideas useful for any public

sector leader

Bonus – I’m also a huge fan of Social Media Public Sector Playbook, Wikinomics, Open Government. In general, we need more books that focus on public sector versus broader business practices.

What’s your must-read book for public sector leaders?

Note: I do not have any fancy Amazon commission thing going on in the links. Go get the books from your library 🙂

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Mark Hammer

Leadership of Pubic Bureaucracies: The Administrator as Conservator – Larry Terry.

In a word, brilliant. In a few other words, short, persuasive, thorough, and immensely helpful. Can be easily converted into a comprehensive checklist of things you need to take care of to keep a public institution ON the rails, and respected, from how you recruit, on-board, and manage knowledge to how you present your institution to the public, the media, and to Congress. What I like about it is that it cares more for the soul, and ongoing legacy, of the institution than it does about one’s own career success. And not a speck of cereal.