I was asked to review the book The Portable Guide to Leading Organizations by David Burkus. I got a pdf copy of the book, for full disclosure purposes. It’s a relatively short book, maybe 110 pages or so of true content, so it didn’t take long.

To start off with, this isn’t a book that one sits down to read for enjoyment. When you see that the subtitle is a brief introduction to theory, you start thinking of it more in terms of thesis than pleasure.

That’s what you get in this book, theories of leadership. In all Mr. Burkus look at 10 theories of leadership, 18 theories of management, 5 theories of change, and 11 theories of strategy. Each one of these gets a few pages of thought, and in this regard they’re all laid out nicely, whether you agree with all of them or not. Actually, you wouldn’t be disagreeing with what he says as much as maybe the people whose ideas he highlights on some of the points made.

For instance, he mentions something known as “servant leadership”, a theory put forth by Robert Greenleaf. Maybe it’s just my mindset but I absolutely hate this theory, and always have. Mr. Burkus doesn’t give us an opinion on the theory at all, but highlights it in a few pages so that you at least get an understanding of what it is.

Here and there Mr. Burkus does lead with a personal tale before describing a principle, but not often. I like little touches like this and wish he’d thrown more in, such as this little bit when beginning to talk about the theory of goal setting: “Thank you very much. I’ll be here all week. Try the veal.”

By the way, though he calls it “goal setting theory” while talking about it, he lists this under “management”. Since goal setting is something I’m big on and love to talk about, I was somewhat disappointed that it basically only got 2 pages of commentary. Then again, it’s probably something the author figured a lot of people already have heard so much about that anything more would just be rehash.

Overall this isn’t a book that will teach you how to be a better leader. It’s a book that identifies a lot of different thoughts of management and leadership so that you the reader might be able to see which niche you fit into and possibly use that as a template for training later on.

In a way, I view it as the type of book college students clamor for whenever they’re looking for books to reference while writing term papers. But it’s an easy and quick read, and if you’ve ever wanted to see all the theories of leadership and management in one place, this book is for you.

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