Books lead the way to better prepared leaders (HR Manager's Bookshelf)

Super Skills for Supervisors • Flexible Leadership • Leading Self-Directed Work Teams • Organization Smarts • The Leadership Challenge
By Ray Brillinger
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/06/2005

Supervisor, team lead, manager, organizational leader. At all levels, the challenges of leadership confront those who are talented, fortunate — or in some cases unfortunate enough to take on the role. Here are some books that shed light on the skills and the mindset that leaders at various levels can use in their quest to succeed.

We begin with a storytelling tour of front-line supervision as experienced by five “supers” who face the stress of their roles head on and take the high road of progressive practices. They learn to do things to help their teams, and themselves, in the complex life of day-to-day work.

Super Skills for Supervisors

By Frank Buchar, 167 pages, Author House (2005), ISBN 1-4208-1161-4
Also available from Books for Business (416) 362-7822 or

Five fictional front-line supervisors from different organizations, with varying levels of experience, meet periodically for lunch at a dim sum restaurant. They share their common problems, and together build ideas and approaches for handling tough situations.

The setting alternates between the lunch gatherings and the plants and offices where the five “supers” work. Along with them, readers gain insight into the challenges of gaining respect from employees, communicating, improving employee skills and performance, and dealing with unsupportive management.

In the introduction, author Frank Buchar, a Hamilton-based consultant, states: “Front-line supervisors are on the fault line between management and employees, pressured equally by both groups, and expected to perform miracles with little incentive — usually for only a 10 to 15 per cent uplift in salary. In most cases, they receive precious little training to equip them for the supervisory role. That’s the reason behind this book: front-line supervisors need simple and yet elegant solutions to their common, ongoing problems.”

Gary is a brand new supervisor, faced with unclear expectations, contradictions and negative surprises from his boss. He also has to deal with some manipulative employees and must learn a lot, quickly, about motivation and discipline.

Raymond is experienced, close to retirement, and remains positive and excited about his role. His challenge is to develop strong facilitation capabilities among his team so they can continue to thrive after his departure.

Terry’s challenge is a broad set of technology changes for which his people have not been adequately prepared or trained. He finds that the company has paid attention to all aspects of the new technology, except the human side.

Marty is a police force supervisor who’s also dealing with change management issues: new computer systems that will completely change the ways things are done. His people include seasoned police officers who exhibit a high degree of resistance to the changes.

The fifth super, Sylvie, is struggling with team effectiveness issues, difficult team dynamics and some disrespectful, challenging team members. A big question for her is how to establish the boundaries between team input and involvement on the one hand, and decision-making scope on the other.

Through their lunch conversations and workplace experiences, the five main characters deal with the importance of careful listening, the nature of coaching as a performance management approach, successful steps in on-the-job training, making good presentations, and undertaking process improvement and continuous improvement initiatives.

Every chapter wraps up with an “inukshuk” graphic summarizing key elements, steps or guidelines for dealing with a particular skill area, such as training staff, optimizing teamwork or running effective meetings. Inukshuks are Inuit stone figures used to indicate direction in a landscape where there are few visible markers. It’s a meaningful parallel to the front-line supervisor’s quest for direction and guidance.

The book could serve as a basis for development discussions or seminars with supervisors and managers, as a source of case studies for supervisory staff to review and apply to their own situations, or as a roadmap for individual readers who want to better understand the supervisory role, pressures and opportunities.

Flexible Leadership

By Gary Yukl
and Richard Lepsinger, 270 pages, Jossey-Bass (2004), ISBN 0-7879-6531-6. Available from Wiley Canada,

Aimed at all levels of management from team leaders to the CEO, this book presents a model of flexible leadership and examines the behaviours, programs and systems needed to support three key performance determinants: effective leadership of efficiency and process reliability, innovation and adaptation, and human resources and relations. Finding the right balance between these three areas is the hallmark of a flexible leader.

The authors describe how the book differs from other leadership books: “We provide a more comprehensive model that incorporates what has been learned about effective leadership in more than a half-century of research. Our model of flexible leadership builds on earlier leadership theories, and it incorporates ideas from related areas of study, such as organization theory, strategic management theory, traditional management theory, and theory of change management. Our model also includes insights provided by practitioner books and books about famous leaders, but these insights are incorporated into the theoretical framework. The model has a much broader range of leadership behaviours, including some often regarded as examples of managing rather than leading.”

Leading Self-Directed Work Teams

By Kimball Fisher, 339 pages, McGraw Hill (2000), ISBN 0-07-134924-3.
Available from McGraw-Hill,

For “bosses who don’t boss” and HR or management development professionals working with them, this book is a thorough guide to self-directed work teams and the evolving role for team leaders: the classic supervisor is an endangered species.”

In-depth coverage is given to the transition from the traditional role to the new role (“sheep herders drive subordinate flocks” while “shepherds lead and develop”) as well as the team’s transition from its old ways of functioning. Key leadership skills include business analysis, coaching, eliminating barriers, facilitation, creating accountability and leading virtual teams.

Organization Smarts

By David W. Brown, 213 pages, Amacom (2002), ISBN 0-8144-7109-9. Available from McGraw-Hill, 1-800-565-5758,

Here’s a book to help HR professionals in their own quests to be strong leaders.

A background in industry and political environments led David Brown to write this book, which offers “portable skills for professionals who want to get ahead.” Readers can learn about:

•the “real” organization — culture, sources of information, power relations;

•how to establish a credible reputation;

•understanding what others want — working with higher-ups, gaining commitment, bargaining;

•working with experts; and

•changing the status quo by finding allies and securing change.

“This book is written for those who are always ready to move on, looking for a new challenge, a better deal, a chance to shine; quite simply, people who want to get ahead.”

The Leadership Challenge

By James Kouzes and Barry Posner, Jossey-Bass (2003), 3rd ed.,
ISBN 0-7879-6833-1. Now available in soft cover. Available from Wiley Canada,
1-800-567-4797, See also

The hard copy version of this outstanding view of leadership was reviewed previously in Canadian HR Reporter. The authors present a detailed profile of five practices of “exemplary leadership”: model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart. Its insights apply to supervisors, managers and executives at all levels.

Ray Brillinger is a certified management consultant who works with clients on organizational change, HR strategy and performance improvement. He can be reached at (905) 547-8193 or

Add Comment

  • *
  • *
  • *
  • *