How do you deal with talented but undisciplined subordinates? How do you handle people who aren't there when you need them -- particularly if you need them a lot? Company managers face such questions every day -- but so do a lot of other people. And you don't need to confine your reading to business books to learn how smart leaders cope with them.

Take, for example, Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara, a beautifully written historical novel about the personalities and decisions that shaped the Battle of Gettysburg. By dramatizing the thoughts of the characters, Shaara turns one of the most studied events in U.S. history into a powerful story. The lessons for managers are hard to avoid

Right before the battle, for instance, J. E. B. Stuart took his cavalry off on a "joyriding" expedition through Pennsylvania. From a military standpoint, a foray like that was a reasonable move, keeping the enemy off balance. Trouble was, Robert E. Lee didn't know where Stuart was or when he would be back. When the battle started without Stuart, Lee's staff urged the general to fire him. On the second day of the battle, when Stuart returned, Lee took him aside. Chastened, Stuart did the honorable thing and handed Lee his sword in resignation. Lee refused to take it; the matter was over, and he needed Stuart's skills. result: Stuart learned his lesson, and Lee kept a valued officer. No doubt he needed him after Gettysburg.

Killer Angels is a yarn; it's also a study of strong personalities under stress to perform, just as they are in business. However you approach it, the book is worth the effort. It's even available from Books on Tape, read by a talented narrator who adds to the overall effect.