Top 11 Books (and 1 Poem) for Local Government Leaders to Read

If you’re one of the many in the grips of a cold, snowy winter, you might be looking for a good way to pass the time. And if you’re a local government employee or leader, I have a list of solutions. Here are my suggestions for 11 books anyone working in local government should read this year:

  1. Engaging Government Employees: Motivate and Inspire Your People to Achieve Superior Performance: Written by Bob Lavigna, a former Wisconsin HR leader, the book delves straight into how to motivate and engage government employees in a sustainable way. Lavigna rejects the one-size-fits-all approach to motivation (see ya, Bagel Fridays!), and instead teaches readers about the value of investing time and effort into developing a program that works.
  2. How to Win Friends and Influence People: Based on a series of lectures by Dale Carnegie in 1936, this book launched the self-help movement. It offers advice on managing people in a way that makes you likeable, enacting change without creating resentment, and explaining your ideas to bring people around to your side.
  3. Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?: In their book, Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones take a new look at leadership, viewing it from the perspective of those being led. The book offers thoughts on how to develop your own brand of management while keeping apprised of how your employees are feeling.
  4. True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership: From a series of more than 100 interviews, Bill George explores what it means for young leaders to understand themselves and develop their own personal set of leadership principles.
  5. A Prayer for the City: Pulitzer Prize winning author Buzz Bissinger delves into the world of Ed Rendell while he was major of Philadelphia, struggling to do anything he could to save his city. The book presents a tale of eternal optimism and strength in leadership that will reinvigorate anyone in government.
  6. Leadocracy: Want to know why great leaders avoid government and how to fix it? Check out Geoff Smart’s book on his experience working with private sector leaders who made the leap to government, and the lessons he learned.
  7. Citizenville: There are plenty of books out there on technology and government, but former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s one takes a bit of a different view, looking at how citizens use technology to reach government. It’s a great read if you’re looking for methods to determine how best to engage with your customers.
  8. The Human Side of Budgeting: Budget Games and How to End Them: Most budgeting books focus on the federal government, but Scott Douglas Lazenby’s 2013 title looks at budgeting from a local government perspective. The book shies away from traditional budgeting methods, and instead focuses on working through the budget process while recognizing the importance and strengths of your workers.
  9. Many Unhappy Returns: One Man’s Quest to Turn Around the Most Unpopular Organization in America: Written by former IRS Commissioner Charles O. Rossotti, the book takes a critical look at how even the most unpopular, scandal-ridden agency can transform the way it does business for the greater good.
  10. Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time: We’re all stressed and overworked (and if you aren’t, please feel free to share your secrets in the comments). In her new book, Washington Post reporter Brigid Schulte explores how our culture has become so “busy” obsessed, and what we can do about it without burning ourselves out. The book is full of great tips for setting a better work-life balance.
  11. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die: I’ve heard government referred to as the “place where good ideas go to die.” I disagree with such an assessment, but think there are ways to improve how the best ideas in government impact lasting change. In Chip and Dan Heath’s book, they offer suggestions on new ways to communicate ideas that can help ensure their adoption and staying power.

If you’re short on time, just read Rudyard Kipling’s “If” for a quick reminder of why you’re amazing at what you do.

Leave your book recommendations in the comments below!

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John Waid

Dale Carnegie’s book was so popular that the late comedian Jackie Vernon (a Sad Sack persona with a dead-pan delivery) back in the late 60’s used this line to describe his life: “Dale Carnegie once punched me in the mouth.” Obviously, he assumed his audience would know who Dale Cargegie was. (He is best known today as the voice of Frosty in the first two Frosty the Snowman animated features.)

No matter how much our tools improve, government itself will not improve as long as the Culture of Fear has hold of us. Everyone from department heads on down looking over their shoulders worrying if they can be criticzed for making certain decisions. It was once estimated that a third of government regulations involve trying to prevent human error. As long as people are unwilling to make decisions for fear of getting someone above them in dutch, nothing will change.

Tom Augustine

Is fear the same as lack of courage? Don’t think so. I’d characterize the issue as placing on higher value on minimizing the appearance of impropriety than efficiency. For instance, government purchase credit cards were once widely available in my technical government agency. Due to highly publicized but statistically insignificant abuse they are now tightly held with the result that huge inefficiencies exist. For instance, instead of paying my certification fees online myself I need to go through multiple levels of management and then make a special trip to another location to meet with a credit card holder. So maybe 20 extra hours of labor (>$2K) to charge $85.

Titus Alexander

I would recommend a couple of books by John Seddon, a management thinker and consultant in the UK: The Whitehall Effect (2014) which shows the ways in which central government makes public services worse and increases costs, and Systems Thinking in the Public Sector, which applies the approach of WE Deming to service organisations.
Another book I’d recommend is Reinventing Government, by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler about the entrepreneurial spirit in the public sector.