The Best Leadership Book I Ever Read is About Bunnies

There are three general ways to become a better leader: experience, study and, ideally, a combination of the two.

Unfortunately, many leaders are too busy dealing with day-to-day challenges to make a deep study of leadership. And of course if they do manage to carve out the time, they immediately face the obstacle of deciding where to begin.

The most popular reads are a good place to start. I recommend the terrific values-oriented work of Covey’s “Seven Habits,” Collins’s “Good to Great,” and Sinek’s “Start with Why.”

“The Leadership Challenge” by Kouzes and Posner explores five solid and time proven leadership practices. Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence” is a powerful framework. Both are well-researched and academically grounded options.

Then of course there are the seminal scholarly works by pioneers of modern leadership theory including “Leadership” by Burns, “Organizational Culture and Leadership,” by Schein, and “Servant Leadership” by Greenleaf.

Wisdom from Unexpected Sources

All are excellent choices from a vast selection of valuable perspectives presented by practitioners and scholars alike. But when folks ask me what book about leadership they should read first, I hand them an unlikely option: “Watership Down.”

It’s a novel by Richard Adams and it’s about rabbits.

Yes, I said rabbits.


Simultaneously intense, joyous, and sometimes dark, it tells a tremendous story jam-packed with insight into the meaning of leadership — and being a leader.

Hazel, a relatably normal fellow, finds himself leading a ragtag band of bunnies on a perilous cross-country search for a new home and a bright future. Along the way he encounters nearly every type of leadership challenge imaginable, from the mundane to the life and death and… No spoilers.

You’ll have to read it to find out what happens. If you are a leader, you should.

What do Rabbits Have to do With Leadership, Really?

Are you starting a new entrepreneurial endeavor? Trying to get the most out of a hybrid team of diverse experts with contrasting personalities? Part I: The Journey, has it covered.

Have you achieved success, but your team is in danger of growing complacent and losing momentum? Read Part II: On Watership Down.

Are you looking for inspiration in the face of overwhelming competition? Look to Part III: Efrafa and Part IV: Hazel-Rah.

Perhaps the most important parts of developing as a leader are introspection and self-awareness. Watership Down addresses both as others turn to Hazel as their leader when he has reached the very limits of his knowledge, experience, and strength.

The novel began as a series of tales Adams told his children on long drives. He didn’t set out to write a book about leadership, but I hope he would have been pleased to learn it is being used for that purpose.

Whether you are an experienced leader or just setting out on your own leadership journey, NoC’s coaches will help ensure you are the kind of leader you would want to follow. I can think of no better place to start than with the visionary Fiver, timid Pipkin, clever Blackberry, speedy Dandelion, bull-headed Bigwig, and their reluctant leader, Hazel on their search for a new home atop Watership Down.

If you enjoyed this article, please visit NoC on the web to learn more about Communication-Based Leadership from a perspective North of Center.

Author Cliff W. Gilmore, PhD, is CEO of North of Center, LLC, a coaching and consulting practice that helps people become the kind of leaders they’d want to follow. He is a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonel with more than 20 years experience leading teams and advising senior leaders from battlefields to boardrooms.