Stories of Leadership in Government





Playing the Enemy

By John Carlin

This book, which inspired the movie Invictus, tells the story of how President Nelson Mandela used the 1995 Rugby World Cup to help unite whites and blacks in post-Apartheid South Africa. Provides much more background than the movie about Mandela's early years and his growth as a leader.  Read More...

Cover of "It's Your Ship"

It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy

By D. Michael Abrashoff

Captain D. Michael Abrashoff's own account of how his grass roots leadership style transformed the USS Benfold into the best ship in the Pacific Fleet.  Abrashoff's strategies can be easily adapted to any large bureaucratic organization.  (If they can work in a bureaucracy that is as big and tradition-bound as the U.S. Navy, they can work anywhere.)  Read more...

It's Our Ship: The No-Nonsense Guide to Leadership

By D. Michael Abrashoff

When Mike Abrashoff published It’s Your Ship in 2002 he recounted how, as Captain of the USS Benfold, he had inherited a demoralized crew and engaged them in the phenomenally successful process of turning Benfold into the best ship in Navy. In his superb follow-up book, It’s Our Ship, he tells more anecdotes from Benfold as well as stories of several outstanding business leaders—all of which he tells through the prism of greater experience and wisdom. For example, he demonstrates humility in expressing regret that his extreme competitiveness vis-à-vis other Navy Captains had blinded him to opportunities for building a strong sense of teamwork with the other ships in his battle group. Includes many terrific stories related to issues of trust, speaking truth to power, collaboration, and taking risks.  Read More...

The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty

By Caroline Alexander

History has been unkind to William Bligh, the Commander of the Bounty, who (along with 17 others) was set adrift in the South Pacific by Fletcher Christian and his band of mutineers.  The traditional caricature of Bligh portrays him as a physically abusive tyrant.  In this thoroughly researched and wonderfully written account of the story, Caroline Alexander paints a much more complex portrait of Bligh as a brilliant navigator who took fastidious care of the health of his crew and mostly tried to avoid corporal punishment (by that day's standard).  Bligh learned a great deal of value from his mentor, Captain James Cook, but Bligh's sharp tongue, micromanagement, and failure to learn from his mistakes cost him dearly throughout his life.  Read More...

Many Unhappy Returns

By Charles Rossotti

When Charles Rossotti took over as Comissioner of the Internal Revenue Service in 1997 the IRS had more customers than any organization in America--and the lowest customer service rating.  In Many Unhappy Returns, Rosotti describes how he lead a major turnaround of the agency in spite of the extraordinary constraints he faced.  This is an epic tale of organizational transformation as well as being a very engaging read.  Read More...

Cover of "Leadership Counts"

Leadership Counts: Lessons for Public Managers from the Massachusetts Welfare, Training and Employment Program

By Robert D. Behn

Bob Behn uses the Massachusetts "ET Choices" welfare-to-work program as a vehicle to explain the importance of leadership for public managers who are trying to implement effective public sector programs.  Along the way, he provides a very insightful discussion of the issues and constraints faced by public managers and the difficulty of evaluating government programs.  An engaging read. 


Defeat into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945

By William Slim

In 1942 Field Marshall Lord William Slim was sent to lead British troops in Burma and found himself presiding over the forced retreat of his out-manned, outgunned, and poorly supplied troops who had been routed by the Japanese.  Slim lead his forces into India and spent the next year rebuilding morale, training his men, and obtaining adequate supplies and armament for them.  Slim's army went on to smash the Japanese forces and push them out of Burma.  This is a classic--and aptly named--story of recovery from a disastrous defeat.  Defeat into Victory covers the details of the battles and Slim's military tactics in compelling detail, while providing numerous excellent leadership insights. Read More...

Cover of "Caught Between the Dog and the Fireplug"

Caught Between the Dog and the Fireplug, or How to Survive Public Service

By Kenneth Ashworth

Don't be put off by the offbeat title.  This terrific book should really be called Serving with Integrity: Letters from a Supremely Effective Public Servant.  Written as a series of letters to a fictitious niece who is preparing for a career in public service, Ashworth recounts many stories from the 21 years he spent as Commissioner of Higher Education for the State of Texas.  Includes sections on dealing with the press, working with politicians, dealing with unpleasant people, risk taking in government, delegating, professional development, ethics, and leadership.  The stories are highly instructive and at times quite funny.  A speech (PDF) Ashworth gave a few years ago provides examples of the stories and wisdom found in the book. Read More...

Cover of "Confessions of a Civil Servant"

Confessions of a Civil Servant: Lessons in Changing America's Government and Military

By Bob Stone

As Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Installations, and later as chief of the Clinton Administration's Reinvention team, Bob Stone inspired and facilitated countless improvements in the way the government operates.  In his riveting book, Confessions of a Civil Servant, Stone uses many colorful stories from his career to describe how government performance can be dramatically improved by empowering front-line workers and aggressively cutting stupid bureaucratic rules.   While "reinvention" may no longer be the official catchphrase for improving government, this book is a great read and should be an inspiration to any government employee who wants to make a difference.  Read More...

Tales from the Trenches: Achievements, Blunders, and Challenges in Local Government Management

By Len Wood and Joe Baker

Both useful and highly readable, Tales from the Trenches uses more than 60 true stories to highlight examples of good--and bad--public management.  In many cases the names were changed to protect the hapless, but the stories provide many wonderful insights into the day-to-day challenges faced by public managers.  The stories address issues such as decision making, leadership style, budgeting skills, relations with elected officials and the media, and ethics.  The authors, both former public managers themselves, provide numerous helpful tips and observations about the lessons taught by each story.  While tailored to public managers at the local level, many of the stories and insights are relevant to managers at any level of government. Read More...

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage

By Alfred Lansing

In 1914, Ernest Shackleton led an to Antarctica in hopes of being the first to cross the southern continent by land.  Before even arriving in Antarctica, however, Shackleton's ship, Endurance, became trapped in ice--and was eventually crushed by it.  Stranded on an ice floe with no means of communication, Shackleton led the crew through a 26-month struggle for survival.  Thanks to Shackleton's determination, crisis leadership and effective management of group dynamics, not a single member of the 27-man crew was lost.  This is an epic saga full of leadership lessons. Read More...

Get Your Ship Together: How Great Leaders Inspire Ownership from the Keel Up

By D. Michael Abrashoff

Mike Abrashoff has followed up his powerful first book, It's Your Ship, with this new study of six leaders from the public and private sectors who have used grassroots leadership styles to achieve great things.  Each of the profiles includes several compelling stories of effective leadership.  The chapters about Captain Al Collins (US Navy), and about Ward Clapham of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, are particularly inspirational.  Throughout the narrative Abrashoff also includes a number of new stories from his tour as Commander of the USS Benfold.  Read More... 

Questions of Character

Questions of Character: Illuminating the Heart of Leadership Through Literature

By Joseph L. Badaracco

Using a very refreshing approach to the study of leadership, Joseph Badaracco analyzes several works of literature that provide excellent insights into real-world leadership dilemmas. He discusses some great stories, such as Things Come Apart , A Man for All Seasons, and Antigone, which deal with dilemmas such as adapting traditional values to a changing environment, speaking truth to power, dealing with success, and the importance of reflection. Badaracco’s analysis is as useful as the stories are engaging.  Read More...