Leadership can be a loaded term. Ask someone what it takes to be a leader, and you’ll likely get different responses. However, there is an expectation for leaders, including a skillset leaders are assumed to master. So, I’ve taken the time to carefully craft a list of recommended literature along those expectations. Then I combined it with the topics most frequently requested in coaching.
This article organizes 29 of the most influential leadership books into eight categories.
1 – Leading Thought“It’s not an accident that successful people read more books.” Seth Godin Click To Tweet
2 – Grow Your Leadership In These Areas
Reading is vital to your growth as a leader, personal development, and those you will lead. This statement rings especially true if you want to be successful in your organization. Understanding the principles taught in books read by other successful leaders will help you lead well and navigate challenging territory.
To keep it simple, I have organized the recommended leadership books into eight categories. These categories keep coming up most frequently in our coaching conversations. This table of contents should help you quickly navigate to the segment of most interest to you:
3 – The Most Influential Books for Emerging Leaders
Productivity & Time Management
Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity is a must-read on productivity and a timeless classic. Learn how to get rid of ‘busy’ and gain control of your life and work. The author gives readers a practical toolset to overcome procrastination, get organized, manage priorities (vs. them managing you) and produce results without burning the candle on both ends.
Quote from this book:If you don't pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.”― David Allen Click To Tweet
The One Minute Manager has been first published decades ago and has proven to be relevant throughout the changing times. The authors communicate concisely via an easy-to-read story. The short book explains the “practical secrets” to “One Minute Goals, One Minute Praisings, and One Minute Reprimands.” Readers learn practical ways to lead others while the authors carefully explain why their techniques work so well.
Quote from this book:“Take a minute: look at your goals, look at your performance, see if your behavior matches your goals.”― Ken Blanchard Click To Tweet
Measure What Matters is a book for leaders who want to drive growth in their organization and create transparency in their teams. The methodology in this book has helped organizations like Google and the Gates Foundation to change the way they set goals for their employees and enabled them to grow. From this book comes a term you may have heard – or will certainly hear in your career as a leader: OKRs. OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results and has become a proven approach to achieve operational excellence by setting relevant goals (objectives) and tracking outcomes (key results) that matter. The approach creates a goal-setting system that allows the entire organization to be aligned by breaking down goals from the CEO to every employee.
Quote from this book:“Ideas are easy. Execution is everything.”― John Doerr Click To Tweet
Atomic Habits is a masterpiece on habit change. If you have found yourself starting over or giving up on changing old, die-hard habits, this book is for you. Learn the system that has helped others break habits and improve their lives, see results, overcome lack of motivation or willpower, and other common obstacles in the way of sticking with new habits.
The author provides practical tips and examples that are easy to relate to. If you are looking to improve – whether yourself or your team – Atomic Habits teaches you tools and strategies to make that transformation happen.
Quotes from this book:“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” ― James Clear Click To Tweet “Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.”― James Clear Click To Tweet
High Performance Habits answers the question of how you can become extraordinary through distinctive habits. The author has invested 20 years studying how some people thrive faster than others while being genuinely happy on their journeys.
This book helps you become a high-performer by seeking clarity, generating energy, raising necessity, increasing productivity, developing influence, and demonstrating courage. The author doesn’t just make lofty suggestions but shares practical ways for readers to put this into practice with science-backed approaches.
Quotes from this book:“When you learn the difference between busywork and your life’s work, that’s the first step on the path of purpose.”― Brendon Burchard Click To Tweet “To succeed, always remember that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”― Brendon Burchard Click To Tweet
Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High helps emerging leaders to develop the communication skills to talk about anything – even the most emotionally charged and potentially explosive topics. The authors provide you with the tools to create a safe space for high-stakes conversations. You will also learn how to turn “anger and hurt feelings into powerful dialogue.”
Quote from this book:“It’s the most talented, not the least talented, who are continually trying to improve their dialogue skills. As is often the case, the rich get richer.”― Kerry Patterson Click To Tweet
The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures is delightful to visual communicators and leaders who want to improve their communication and persuasion skills. The author uses simple and, of course, lots of visual examples to illustrate the methods used to communicate effectively. Learn how a simple drawing can be more potent than a polished presentation. You’ll be convinced when you read the story of “Herb Kelleher and Rollin King, who figured out how to beat the traditional hub-and-spoke airlines with a bar napkin and a pen. Three dots to represent Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. Three arrows to show direct flights. Problem solved, and the picture made it easy to sell Southwest Airlines to investors and customers.”
Quote from this book:“Any problem can be made clearer with a picture, and any picture can be created using the same set of tools and rules.”― Dan Roam Click To Tweet
The HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations is a must-read for emerging leaders who want to excel in their presentations and anyone trying to win over crowds. The book teaches you how to tell a story that keeps the audience attentive and engaged. You’ll learn how to create powerful messages and visuals to communicate in a way that resonates with your audience and makes an impact.
Quote from this book:“The people in your audience came to see what you can do for them, not what they must do for you. So look at the audience as the “hero” of your idea—and yourself as the mentor who helps people see themselves in that role so they’ll want… Click To Tweet
How to Win Friends & Influence People is a timeless and frequently recommended classic among leaders. The book has been quoted and keeps receiving raving reviews decades after its first publication. Learn how to make people like you, win them over to your way of thinking, and effect change without arousing anger.
Quote from this book:“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”― Dale Carnegie Click To Tweet
The Leader Who Had No Title teaches emerging leaders to lead without formal authority. You will learn powerful tactics to influence others, become resilient, overcome stress, and take advantage of opportunities in times of change and challenging circumstances.
Quote from this book:“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”― Robin S. Sharma Click To Tweet
teaches you six universal principles of influence, making the book a bestseller and a book frequently quoted today by leaders in marketing, sales, and management.
Learn how you can get people to say yes and learn how the techniques in this book may be applied to get you to do the same. Understand the psychology of persuasion at work, and you will be better equipped when someone applies it to you and enable your own persuasive powers.
Quote from this book:“A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.”― Robert B. Cialdini Click To Tweet
Overcoming The Impostor provides leaders and entrepreneurs practical help to overcome “impostor syndrome.” The author engages readers with relatable stories from business leaders like you. These leaders had nagging and hindering thoughts that they were about to be “found out,” exposed, demoted, called a fraud, or similar thoughts. These thoughts point to fears of being only an impostor and not deserving to be in a leadership role – despite experience and accomplishments. Learn how to overcome self-doubt, become confident, and manage your inner critic, even in high-stakes situations.
Quote from this book:"Just because you had a failure does not mean that you are a failure.”― Kris Kelso Click To Tweet
Undaunted is written by the CEO and founder of Hint, a successful beverage company. Learn from the author how to be undaunted and deal with your fears. Her personal story teaches readers to move forward despite uncertainty and shares how to turn criticism into motivation. If you want to learn how to be victorious in business in a sea of critics, learn from first-hand experience on dealing with doubters and be successful even when you lack “the right” credentials.
Quote from this book:"At AOL, everybody was asking questions of me and expecting me to supply the answers. Now I was asking the questions. Which meant I was learning. Every day. That is how you stay fresh and motivated. Always be learning.”― Kara Goldin Click To Tweet
Courageous Leadership is inspiring, motivating, and hands-on advice for emerging and established leaders alike. The author shares the lessons he has learned in three decades of setbacks and victories. In his passionate, engaging writing, he shares the tools and challenges in your calling to leadership. Learn how to use the power of vision to ignite action in those you lead, discover your leadership style while learning how to develop other leaders.
Quotes from this book:“You're a leader. It's your job to keep your passion hot. Do whatever you have to do, read whatever you have to read, go wherever you have to go to stay fired up. And don't apologize to anybody. ”― Bill Hybels Click To Tweet “Vision is a picture of the future that produces passion.”― Bill Hybels Click To Tweet
The Motivation Manifesto helps you to claim freedom from doubt and insecurity. It ignites your motivation to fight for personal freedom, social freedom, time freedom, financial freedom, emotional freedom, and spiritual freedom. Leading yourself into these big goals will help you lead others and understand the external and internal dynamics described in this book that can hold them back and move past these obstacles.
Quote from this book:“Personal power is directly tied to personal responsibility, which most people avoid.”― Brendon Burchard Click To Tweet
Start With Why may sound familiar to you if you are one of the more than 28 million who’ve watched his TED Talk based on this book, which became the third most popular TED video of all time. Learn from the author why some well-known organizations are successful, influential, and popular while attracting outstanding talent and why others struggle in these areas. Learn how a simple approach makes such a big difference in the results organizations produce, their profits, and their organizational culture.
Quotes from this book:“People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe”― Simon Sinek Click To Tweet “The role of a leader is not to come up with all the great ideas. The role of a leader is to create an environment in which great ideas can happen.”― Simon Sinek Click To Tweet
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People just released its 30th-anniversary edition, which tells you how influential this book is. The author has coached leaders for decades and shares inspiring and practical steps to become more effective. Applying the principles taught in his book will refine you both as a leader and as a family member, friend, and citizen.
Quotes from this book:"Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions."— Stephen R. Covey Click To Tweet "Start with the end in mind. "— Stephen R. Covey Click To Tweet
Business Model Generation is the book for entrepreneurs and business leaders to systematize business strategy and the generation of innovative business models that will find an audience and secure investors. Learn the method used by consultants and leaders worldwide at leading firms like 3M.
Quote from this book:“Companies should focus on one of three value disciplines: operational excellence, product leadership, or customer intimacy.”― Alexander Osterwalder Click To Tweet
SCRUM is a management process you need to know if you want to succeed as a leader in the corporate world. The methodology helps accelerate productivity and quality by as much as 1,200%. It has helped organizations like Amazon and the FBI to rapidly increase quality and productivity. It is a project management system that had initially revolutionized the technology industry and is firmly established as a basic toolset and knowledge required in today’s business world.
Quotes from this book:"Multitasking Makes You Stupid. Doing more than one thing at a time makes you slower and worse at both tasks."— Jeff Sutherland Click To Tweet "People who multitask the most just can’t focus."— Jeff Sutherland Click To Tweet
The Toyota Way has become the business bible on continuous improvement, teaching leaders the open secrets about Toyota’s success story and how the automaker became the lean, successful, high-quality, and profitable business they are. Learn how to create operational excellence, foster an atmosphere of continuous improvement and learning, eliminate (costly waste), and help employees become problem-solvers and transform organizations.
Quotes from this book:"Most Business Processes Are 90% Waste and 10% Value-Added Work"— Jeffrey K. Liker Click To Tweet "The act of deeply thinking through problems, energizing people, and aligning them toward a common goal is the only way to practice and develop real leadership ability."— Jeffrey K. Liker Click To Tweet
Blue Ocean Strategy has been recognized as one of the most iconic business strategy books ever written. So, if you are an ambitious leader aiming to grow your strategic thinking skills, this book will teach you how to develop strategies that set you free from competition. The book description on Amazon adds: “Based on a study of 150 strategic moves (spanning more than 100 years across 30 industries), the authors argue that lasting success comes not from battling competitors but from creating “blue oceans”–untapped new market spaces ripe for growth .”
Quotes from this book:"While good strategy content is based on a compelling value proposition for buyers with a robust profit proposition for the organization, sustainable strategy execution is based largely on a motivating-people proposition."— W. Chan Kim Click To Tweet "Value innovation is the cornerstone of blue ocean strategy. We call it value innovation because instead of focusing on beating the competition, you focus on making the competition irrelevant by creating a leap in value for buyers and… Click To Tweet
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team uses the power of story to engage readers as the author reveals the five dysfunctions that lead even the best teams to struggle. He outlines a powerful model and actionable steps that you can use to overcome these common hurdles and build a cohesive, effective team.
Quotes from this book:"Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare."— Patrick Lencioni Click To Tweet "Politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think."— Patrick Lencioni Click To Tweet
The Coaching Habit teaches you the key elements of coaching, which is not providing guidance, being a mentor, or teaching others, as many think. Learn from the author, who has trained more than 10,000 global leaders to ask transformative questions that will equip you to lead more effectively with research based on neuroscience and behavioral economics to unlock the full potential of your employees.
Quotes from this book:"Coaching for performance is about addressing and fixing a specific problem or challenge. Coaching for development is about turning the focus from the issue to the person dealing with the issue, the person who’s managing the fire. This… Click To Tweet "[….] Advice is overrated. I can tell you something, and it’s got a limited chance of making its way into your brain’s hippocampus, the region that encodes memory. If I can ask you a question and you generate the answer yourself, the… Click To Tweet "WITHOUT A GOOD QUESTION, A GOOD ANSWER HAS NO PLACE TO GO."— Michael Bungay Stanier Click To Tweet
Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind defines what ‘human culture’ means in the context of business. The author illustrates the differences between five cultures to help leaders overcome conflict and drive cooperation. The insights in this book are based on forty years of research spanning seventy countries. Readers learn how national cultures differ from organizational culture and how to navigate them.
Quote from this book:"Culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group from another."Geert Hofstede Click To Tweet
It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work cleans up worn-out paradigms about what it takes to be productive and successful at work. As the Amazon book summary states: “Long hours, an excessive workload, and a lack of sleep have become a badge of honor for modern professionals. But it should be a mark of stupidity, the authors argue. (…) The answer to better productivity isn’t more hours—it’s less waste and fewer things that induce distraction and persistent stress.”
Quotes from this book:"Sustained exhaustion is not a badge of honor, it’s a mark of stupidity."— Jason Fried Click To Tweet "Machines can work 24/7, humans can’t."— Jason Fried Click To Tweet
Boundaries for Leaders dives deeper into the bestselling predecessor: Boundaries, teaching readers the application of boundaries within their organizations, teams, and themselves. You’ll learn how to set limits and still care; how to effectively manage your digital life, so it doesn’t control you, deal with unfavorable responses to your boundaries, and take back control where the choice and responsibility to do so lies with you.
Quotes from this book:"The law is this: the higher you go in leadership, the fewer external forces act upon you and dictate your focus, energy, and direction. Instead you set the terms of engagement and direct your own path, with only the reality of results to… Click To Tweet "As a leader, you are always going to get a combination of two things: What you create and What you allow."— Henry Cloud Click To Tweet
The 4-Hour Workweek is the inspiring blueprint to escape the rat race, work smart instead of just hard. The book helps you focus, pursue your goals, and force you to think about what work you really need to do versus which tasks you should outsource. The author shares how he went from busy workweeks with low income to a balanced, enjoyable lifestyle while earning ten times more than during his most busy days.
Quote from this book:"What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do."— Timothy Ferriss Click To Tweet "People will choose unhappiness over uncertainty."— Timothy Ferriss Click To Tweet
The E-Myth addresses common misconceptions and awakes the readers to common pitfalls in business and how to overcome them. The book has been a bestseller that deals with two myths. The first is the entrepreneurial myth that most people who start small businesses are entrepreneurs. The second myth is the assumption that an individual who understands the technical work can successfully run a business.” The author then explains the three personalities at work within each business owner: the entrepreneur, the manager, and the technician. The ratio and “dance’ between these roles is crucial. The author then goes on to provide the solution with real-life examples.
Quotes from this book:"If your business depends on you, you don’t own a business—you have a job."— Michael E. Gerber Click To Tweet "Thus, the Entrepreneurial Model does not start with a picture of the business to be created but of the customer for whom the business is to be created."— Michael E. Gerber Click To Tweet
REMOTE is written by the founders of Basecamp. This book is crushing paradigms of how work gets done and what it takes to build successful companies. The authors authentically share how to create successful fully-remote, virtual businesses and add numerous examples from their own business and of other virtual organizations. Although this publication is now nearly a decade old, it couldn’t be more relevant in today’s business climate.
Quotes from this book:"If you can’t let your employees work from home out of fear they’ll slack off without your supervision, you’re a babysitter, not a manager. Remote work is very likely the least of your problems."— Jason Fried Click To Tweet "Pulling seven people away from their work for an hour is worth seven hours of lost productivity."— Jason Fried Click To Tweet
Which of these (or other) books have you read? Which books influenced you the most?