Q. I'm starting my own business and would like to read up on great bosses (my own one was pretty uninspiring). Who should I look into? And please don't say Branson!
Jeremy says: The best books about bosses are not about bosses. They're about people who've managed to accomplish remarkable things. Very few will be soloists. All the great engineers, scientists, statesmen, generals, philanthropists, explorers, athletes, businessmen, team managers and impresarios owe some of their success to those whose allegiance they commanded. So don't buy autobiographies; buy biographies of those whose achievements you most admire. The fundamentals of being a good boss haven't changed that much so it doesn't matter if many of your chosen subjects are long since dead. Some starter thoughts: Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey; Churchill by Martin Gilbert; The Double Helix by James Watson; Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.
The life-long chronicle of most exceptional people contains at least one period of apparent failure and despair. Study these passages with exceptional attention. How people treat underlings when times are tough is a great deal more revealing than when the sun is shining.
Be on your guard while reading biographies written by former employees. In theory, they've had the ringside seat that makes their perception more fully informed. In practice, the closer they've been the more likely they are to be either hagiographers or iconoclasts.
Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London