11 Books Every Great Leader Should Read (or Return To)
It takes work to be a good leader. And to be a great one requires an understanding of how to lead your team or yourself to success. While you can’t learn everything from a book, a great leader also knows that the best way to get ahead is to expand your knowledge base. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?
Your passioncuriosityagilityempathymakes you a leader.
Whether you listen on-the-go or enjoy soaking up the written word, we’ve come up with a list of eleven great books for you. These are the books that every leader should start with if they want a better understanding of business, leadership, or management. Whether you’re just beginning your career or you’re an established executive, you’ll find the perfect book to boost your leadership skills.
1. Learning to Lead – Ron Williams
Ron Williams, the former chairman and CEO of global insurance giant Aetna, pens this book not for established executives but for anyone starting their careers or struggling to find their way into leadership. He offers practical advice for career advancement including how to avoid professional pitfalls and easily avoidable wrong turns, handling workplace conflict and interpersonal issues, problem-solving, and developing an effective, personal leadership style.
2. Good to Great – Jim Collins
Jim Collins asks the question “Can a good company become a great company?” And if it can, how does it manage the transition? Let’s face it, many startup companies fail. Don’t want to be another statistic? Check out this book on why companies choose to succeed or fail and more importantly, how you can bring a struggling company back up to speed. Collin and his team studied more than 1,400 companies around the world, looking for those that made major improvements in their performance over time. What they found is unconventional – but it gets results! Get the book | Get the audiobook
3. Drive – Daniel H. Pink
If you want to master the art of motivation, this is the book you need. While most people think motivation is tied to money or other rewards (i.e. the carrot and the stick), Daniel Pink argues that isn’t the case. Or at least, it’s not the best motivating factor you can offer. Examining the three elements of motivation – autonomy, mastery, and purpose – shows that what businesses believe work isn’t necessarily the same as what the science proves. While it was published ten years ago, the major tenets are still relevant today.
4. Dare to Lead – Brené Brown
“How do you cultivate braver, more daring leaders, and how do you embed the value of courage in your culture?” That’s the question author Dr. Brené Brown explores, using history, interviews with businesses that range from Fortune 500s to nonprofits, and her seven-year research study on the topic.
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5. Emotional Intelligence – Daniel Goleman
Originally released in 1995, Emotional Intelligence lays out exactly why your IQ isn’t everything. Sometimes, it isn’t even close to the most important skill a leader can possess. Dr. Goleman lays out why factors like self-awareness, self-discipline, and empathy are just as important as facts and data when it comes to getting ahead. Goleman also gives us a view of leadership styles in his version of situational leadership. Learning how to relate to people is just as important as knowing how to run a project. Leadership is ultimately about your ability to interact successfully with people, after all.
6. The Art of War – Sun Tzu
This is one of the most iconic leadership books ever written, though few actually take advantage of the essential knowledge within. While it is the ultimate guide to combat strategy, it’s also so much more! The Art of War is a manual for how to approach any problem, effectively manage others, and understand the philosophy of success. One of the most important skills a leader should have is knowing when to wait… and when to act. Sun Tzu’s ancient teaching gives you lessons in both.
7. Multipliers – Liz Wiseman
Pulling from nearly 200 interviews with executives and her own experience, Liz Wiseman makes the argument that there are two kinds of leaders: Diminishers and Multipliers. While Diminishers focus on ego and self-centered success, Multipliers know how to attract employees and bring out their full potential. Becoming a good leader is crucial to maintaining a career but becoming a great leader can change a company forever.
8. Leaders Eat Last – Simon Sinek
We could easily have put any of Sinek’s books on this list but Leaders Eat Last is our must-read for anyone managing a team (or anyone who wants to). The book explores the best ways to foster an environment where people work together for the greater good of their company and themselves. With the adage “leaders eat last” taken from a Marine Corp General, Sinek shows how good leaders sacrifice for the good of their teams and how that can foster trust, communication, and success.
9. On Competition – Michael Porter
This must-read collection of Porter’s landmark articles from Harvard Business Review is essential for any good leader. Often unconventional but always brilliant, Porter is the master of modern strategy. His advice has been used as a primer for business programs and CEOs alike, outlining frameworks that address how companies, as well as nations and regions, gain and sustain competitive advantage. If you’re ready to tackle business strategy and master the forces of competition, you need to read this book.
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10. First, Break All the Rules – Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman
Did you know there’s a difference between managers and leaders? Both are crucial to an organization – but where do you fall in the distinction? Buckingham and Coffman explore this divide and explain the skills needs to succeed in management to become a true leader: someone who pushes the company forward instead of settling for the status quo. The authors tackle a lot of topics, from the merit of hiring employees based on talent instead of experience, how to cultivate strong relationships within your team, and the importance of feedback.
11. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R. Covey
I couldn’t go past this one for any list of great leadership books. This perennial favorite by author Stephen R. Covey has sold over 30 million copies, and for good reason. His book is a classic mix of practical teachings and personal stories that are good for both life and leaders. In fact, the “7 habits” are so widely accepted and recognized, that they are taught to school students as life principles all over the world.
What do you think a great leader needs for success? Did we miss the book that has changed your leadership life? Drop us a line and let us know what books have helped you the most in your career or in your leadership journey and which ones you can’t do without!
RECAP: 11 Books Every Leader Should Read (or Return To)
- Learning to Lead by Ron Williams – for starting your career.
- Good to Great by Jim Collins – to transform your team or business
- Drive by Daniel H. Pink – to master inspiration and motivation
- Dare to Lead by Brené Brown – for organizations to cultivate authentic leaders
- Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman – to learn invaluable people interaction skills
- The Art of War by Sun Tzu – for the art of problem-solving in any situation
- Multipliers by Liz Wiseman – for maximizing the potential of any team
- Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek – for fostering teams that work together for the overall benefit of the organization
- On Competition by Michael Porter – to master business strategies
- First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman – to move from manager to a leader
- 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey – for practical life and leadership lessons
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