LOOKING for good books on leadership? The most recent, and one of the most astute, is John W. Gardner's ``On Leadership'' (New York: Free Press). (See review, Oct. 11, 1989, Page 13.) Written for the nonspecialist, it reflects a lifetime's experience by the former secretary of health, education, and welfare and founder of Common Cause. Asked in a recent telephone interview from his office at Stanford University to recommend other books on leadership, Professor Gardner suggested:
``Leadership,'' by James MacGregor Burns (New York: Harper & Row, 1978), which he describes as ``the first genuinely comprehensive book on leadership, rich in references and scope and ranging over history and the world.'' A political scientist, Professor Burns is a Pulitzer Prize-winning scholar and biographer.
``Organizational Culture and Leadership,'' by Edgar Schein (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1985). ``It is, I think, one of the best treatments of leadership in context,'' says Gardner, adding that ``leadership always is in context, but writers don't always treat it that way.''
``The Knowledge Executive,'' by Harlan Cleveland (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1985). ``A highly readable book by a broadly experienced person,'' says Gardner. Observing that Mr. Cleveland ``has led, and he has reflected on the process of leading,'' he notes that this ``lucid, articulate, and practical book'' is aimed at a broader audience than either Mr. Burns's or Mr. Schein's books. Cleveland, former ambassador to NATO and dean of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, has written widely on foreign affairs.
``Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations,'' by Bernard M. Bass (New York: Free Press, 1985), which Gardner describes as a book directed at students of leadership, ``written for the business world but strongly based in research.''
Gardner notes, however, that books about leadership are not the only avenues for learning about the subject. If he were recommending books to a member of his family, he says, ``I would say at some point, perhaps even after the first book, `Read William Manchester on Churchill' [``The Last Lion: Biography of Winston Churchill,'' Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1988].
``I wouldn't overemphasize such books, but biographers of leaders, without ever using the word leadership, tell you a great deal about leadership by simply looking at one person in context - the context of history, the institutional context, and so forth.''
Other books in this category: ``An Autobiography,'' by Mohandas D. Gandhi (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957); ``Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago,'' by Mike Royko (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1971); and ``Charles De Gaulle: A Biography,'' by Donald Cook (New York: Putnam, 1984).
Gardner also notes that ``it wouldn't hurt for somebody interested in leadership to take a look at any of several studies of the presidency.'' Example: Richard Neustadt's ``Presidential Power: The Politics of Leadership from FDR to Carter'' (New York: Macmillan, 1980). Political scientists studying the presidency, he notes, ``have probably given us the best portraits of a leader in an institutional context - in the tangle of institutions that every leader gets caught in.''