The 20 Best Leadership Books to Become a Better Leader

The 20 Best Leadership Books to Become a Better Leader

Being a leader is more than just making your voice heard or standing out in a crowd. Being a leader means you possess characteristics that can take the organization to the next level. You have fresh ideas, you think outside the box, and you know how to communicate effectively with people.

While you may have been born with these traits, you still room to grow. And, what better way to do so than through books?

There are some books that are great to have for show on the bookshelf in your office. And, then there are others that are books you should read. Actually, no – they are the best leadership books that you must read. See, leaders aren’t born, they are made, learning and developing their traits from others as they grow.

Believe it or not, books change lives. If you are looking to make an impact and become one of the best leaders, then you need to start reading.

Here is your list of the 20 best leadership books:

1. The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Bungay Stanier (2016)

If there is one thing that every great leader knows, it is that saying less is often more. So often in business – and in life – there is a misconception that the loudest individual or the one who is the most vocal is taking charge. But, true leaders know that to be false. Stanier shows the impact of talking less – and confirms how it can make a great leader.

Summary: Drawing on years of experience training more than 10,000 busy managers from around the globe in practical, everyday coaching skills, Bungay Stanier reveals how to unlock your peoples’ potential. He unpacks seven essential coaching questions to demonstrate how–by saying less and asking more–you can develop coaching methods that produce great results.

2. The Positive Organization: Breaking Free from Conventional Cultures, Constraints, and Beliefs by Robert E. Quinn (2015)

Leaders embrace change. They know that there is always something that can be done to better a situation, whether it is productivity, office morale, or anything in between. Keeping the status quo is not leading, but coming up with new, innovative ideas – and shedding the old – is.

Summary: The problem is that leaders are following a negative and constraining mental map that insists organizations must be rigid, top-down hierarchies and that the people in them are driven mainly by self-interest and fear. But leaders can adopt a different mental map, one where organizations are networks of fluid, evolving relationships and where people are motivated by a desire to grow, learn, and serve a larger goal. Using dozens of memorable stories, Quinn describes specific actions leaders can take to facilitate the emergence of this organizational culture helping people gain a sense of purpose, engage in authentic conversations, see new possibilities, and sacrifice for the common good.

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3. Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance by Kim Cameron (2008)

There is something to be said for learning from others. A leader knows that by educating oneself, greater success can be achieved. Why would you try to do something as someone else did – and failed? If you don’t learn about the successes and failures of those in surrounding industries, you may waste a lot of resources for negative results.

Summary: The objective of this book is different. It aims to explain strategies that can help leaders reach beyond ordinary success to achieve extraordinary effectiveness, spectacular results, and positively deviant performance. It does so by relying on validated findings from empirical research. The book is based on analyses of organizations that have achieved exceptional levels of success. …Carefully examining organizations such as this one has helped uncover some atypical leadership strategies that enable levels of performance that dramatically exceed expectations and reach extraordinary levels of excellence.

4. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t by Jim Collins (2001)

Leading a company to success for a brief period is not as triumphant as leading it through sustained, continual success and growth. Leaders don’t just instantly have a winning company- they must create it. Collins uses his expertise to give an inside look at sustainable companies that have greatness weaved into their core.

Summary: Built to Last, the defining management study of the nineties, showed how great companies’ triumph over time and how long-term sustained performance can be engineered into the DNA of an enterprise from the very beginning. But what about the company that is not born with great DNA? Learn about this study in this book.

5. The Emperor’s Handbook by Marcus Aurelius (2002)

Sometimes a simple quote can affect the decisions we make – especially when the quote comes from one of the most powerful leaders and rulers. This book is filled with quotes that any leader would deem useful. And, finding yourself focused on them can prove to make you a better leader, too. Choose to carry this book with you, turn a powerful quote into a mantra, or simply hold it as somewhere to turn when you need guidance.

Summary: Marcus Aurelius ruled the Roman Empire at its height, yet he remained untainted by the incalculable wealth and absolute power that had corrupted many of his predecessors. Marcus knew the secret of how to live the good life amid trying and often catastrophic circumstances, of how to find happiness and peace when surrounded by misery and turmoil, and of how to choose the harder right over the easier wrong without apparent regard for self-interest.

The Emperor’s Handbook offers a vivid and fresh translation of this important piece of ancient literature. It brings Marcus’s words to life and shows his wisdom to be as relevant today as it was in the second century. This book belongs on the desk and in the briefcase of every business executive, political leader, and military officer. It speaks to the soul of anyone who has ever exercised authority or faced adversity or believed in a better day.”

6. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey (2004)

Perhaps a classic book that everyone – especially those in leadership roles – should read. As with other books, we see the theme of change here in Covey’s book. Creating habits that are beneficial to you as change inevitably occurs. Developing habits that will have you ready to face the change and embrace new opportunities can only come with practice.

Summary: In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen R. Covey presents a holistic, integrated, principle-centered approach for solving personal and professional problems. With penetrating insights and pointed anecdotes, Covey reveals a step-by-step pathway for living with fairness, integrity, service, and human dignity–principles that give us the security to adapt to change and the wisdom and power to take advantage of the opportunities that change creates.

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7. Leadership is an Art by Max De Pree (2004)

De Pree’s book has been often referred to as the Bible of leadership in the business world. And, for good reason. Because leaders need to be kind and generous. Leaders who harbor these traits will find that they will have more success in driving a business forward than those leaders who take more of an aggressive, dictator approach.

Summary: Pree looks at leadership as a kind of stewardship, stressing the importance of building relationships, initiating ideas, and creating a lasting value system within an organization. Rather than focusing on the “hows” of corporate life, he explains the “whys.” He shows that the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality and the last is to say thank you. Leadership Is an Art offers a proven design for achieving success by developing the generous spirit within all of us. Now more than ever, it provides the insights and guidelines leaders in every field need.

8. It’s Not About the Coffee: Lessons on Putting People First from a Life at Starbucks by Howard Behar (2009)

Starbucks has achieved great things in the coffee world which means we can learn a thing or two from one of its top execs. And, if you have ever been in a Starbucks, you may have noticed just how happy the employees seem to be. As a leader, it is important to remember that your employees are what will make your business grow. Sure, you are leading them, but you cannot do it alone. So, take an interest in those who are on the ride to success with you.

Summary: During his many years as a senior executive at Starbucks, Howard Behar helped establish the Starbucks culture, which stresses people over profits. … Behar shows that if you think of your staff as people (not labor costs) they will achieve amazing results.

9. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek (2014)

The culture of your company is incredibly important if you want to lead it to success. When you create a place where employees want to work – and they want to work together – you can grow and achieve. Leaders must first gain the trust of the employees and then work to get them to trust one another. This process may get ugly and uncomfortable for everyone involved.

Summary: Today, in many successful organizations, great leaders create environments in which people naturally work together to do remarkable things. Too many workplaces are driven by cynicism, paranoia, and self-interest. But the best ones foster trust and cooperation because their leaders build what Sinek calls a “Circle of Safety” that separates the security inside the team from the challenges outside. Sinek illustrates his ideas with fascinating true stories that range from the military to big business, from government to investment banking.

10. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There are no Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz (2014)

Leaders should know that being a leader is hard. No one ever said it would be easy. There wll be difficult moments, uncomfortable moments, times when you want to throw in the towel. There will also be empowering moments and blissful moments. Being real and knowing that the struggles will come will help you prepare to tackle them when they do.

Summary: While many people talk about how great it is to start a business, very few are honest about how difficult it is to run one. Ben Horowitz analyzes the problems that confront leaders every day, sharing the insights he’s gained developing, managing, selling, buying, investing in, and supervising technology companies. A lifelong rap fanatic, he amplifies business lessons with lyrics from his favorite songs, telling it straight about everything from firing friends to poaching competitors, cultivating and sustaining a CEO mentality to knowing the right time to cash in.

11. #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso (2015)

Anyone can be a leader. Let’s say that again – anyone can be a leader. It doesn’t matter where you come from or how your life started. This is a story of someone who made some poor choices early on in life and you would have never imagined it eventually leading her to become a CEO. If you don’t think you have what it takes or even if you are afraid to break the rules, this book is for you.

Summary: #GIRLBOSS proves that being successful isn’t about where you went to college or how popular you were in high school. It’s about trusting your instincts and following your gut; knowing which rules to follow and which to break; when to button up and when to let your freak flag fly.

12. Developing the Leader Within You by John C Maxwell (2005)

Leaders can learn from everyone. Don’t be fooled by the Christian background to this book. Maxwell has proven over decades just how productive and powerful his leadership skills are. Leaders take information when they can – and when they know its good. And, a good leader will know what information to take and how to use it to benefit.

Summary: …leadership that John Maxwell has used as a pastor and business leader for more than forty years. These same principles and practices are available for everyday leaders in every walk of life. It is a lofty calling to lead a group—a family, a church, a nonprofit, a business—and the timeless principles in this book will bring positive change in your life and in the lives of those around you.

13. The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership by Bill Walsh (2010)

Leaders get noticed. And, you don’t have to be coaching an NFL team for that to happen. Walsh lead the 49ers through some amazing transformations while every football fan was watching. As you lead, you will get noticed and you will turn heads. Not only will your decisions affect your employees or your team, but they may have an impact on all those extra pairs of eyes.

Summary: Bill Walsh is a towering figure in the history of the NFL. His advanced leadership transformed the San Francisco 49ers from the worst franchise in sports to a legendary dynasty. In the process, he changed the way football is played. Bill Walsh taught that the requirements of successful leadership are the same whether you run an NFL franchise, a fortune 500 company, or a hardware store with 12 employees.

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14. Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Patty McCord (2018)

Leaders must be able to step outside of the normal method of doing business and try something new. See what works for your company or your team, rather than accepting it as status quo. Good leaders know that what works for one team may not work for another, so they must make changes when needed.

Summary: McCord, the founder of Netflix, “…argues that the old standbys of corporate HR―annual performance reviews, retention plans, employee empowerment and engagement programs―often end up being a colossal waste of time and resources. Her road-tested advice, offered with humor and irreverence, provides readers a different path for creating a culture of high performance and profitability. Powerful will change how you think about work and the way a business should be run.

15. The Art of War by Sun Tzu (2005)

When you think of leadership, do you think of the military? Whether you do or not, the military gives birth to some greatly skilled leaders. And, many of the lessons they learn can be used in other areas of life. Leaders do not make impulsive decisions. Instead, they develop plans and strategies, just as they do in the military.

Summary: Twenty-Five Hundred years ago, Sun Tzu wrote this classic book of military strategy based on Chinese warfare and military thought. Since that time, all levels of military have used the teaching on Sun Tzu to warfare and civilization have adapted these teachings for use in politics, business and everyday life. The Art of War is a book which should be used to gain advantage of opponents in the boardroom and battlefield alike.

16. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl (1946)

Leaders are born from struggles. If you have dealt with some rough patches in life or have hit rock bottom – and you have survived – then you have the inner core of a leader. Applying the strength used to overcome obstacles to your business life can give you a great advantage as a leader.

Summary: Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose.

17. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. (1984)

You will face resentment and protests as a leader. Change is difficult for many people so, while you may have some people on board with your choices, others will fight you along the way. Persuasion can be a powerful tool.

Summary: You’ll learn the six universal principles, how to use them to become a skilled persuader—and how to defend yourself against them. Perfect for people in all walks of life, the principles of Influence will move you toward profound personal change and act as a driving force for your success.

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18. Giants of Enterprise: Seven Business Innovators and the Empires They Built by Richard S. Tedlow (2003)

Leaders lead, but they also learn from example. Think about it – would you want to try something that someone has done and failed? That would be a waste of time and resources. And, trying something that others have done and succeeded could give you a bit of insight for your business. As a leader, always be open to learning how others have done it.

Summary: Seven business innovators and the empires they built. With the depth and clarity of a master, Tedlow illuminates the minds, lives and strategies behind the legendary successes of our times: George Eastman and his invention of the Kodak camera; Thomas Watson of IBM; Henry Ford and his automobile; Charles Revson and his use of television advertising to drive massive sales for Revlon; Robert N. Noyce, co-inventor of the integrated circuit and founder of Intel; Andrew Carnegie and his steel empire; Sam Walton and his unprecedented retail machine, Wal-Mart.

19. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1998)

Leaders not only direct people into making changes and guiding them through new ideas, but they also inspire those around them. In fact, empowering others is a great part of being a leader. When someone feels good around you and feels strongly about your beliefs, they will begin to follow.

Summary: Dale Carnegie’s rock-solid, time-tested advice has carried countless people up the ladder of success in their business and personal lives.

20. Never Give In: The Best of Winston Churchill’s Speeches by Winston S. Churchill (2003)

Leaders follow leaders. They look to leaders who have gone before them for inspiration, guidance, and wisdom. Take into consideration the way they move, the way they speak, the way they rally those around them, the way they carry themselves overall. A good leader’s example can lead to many more powerful leaders.

Summary: Winston Churchill was the most eloquent and expressive statesman of his time. It was as an orator that Churchill became most completely alive, and it was through his oratory that his words made their greatest and most enduring impact. Today, Sir Winston Churchill is revered as an indomitable figure and his wisdom is called upon again and again. Reading these speeches, from the perspective of a new century, we can once again see Sir Winston Churchill’s genius and be moved and inspired by his words.

A software to apply your knowledge

There are many books out there claiming to be the best leadership books. And, although many of them have a lot to offer — each taking a different approach — we’ve brought you this list of the best leadership books available on the market today. From classics to modern-day bestsellers, you will learn something beneficial from each of them.

Leaders learn from other leaders. They put their followers before themselves. And, they learn that, despite where they are now on their journey, they, too, can become a phenomenal leader. And how do they know this? From all of the knowledge that floods the pages of these 20 best leadership books.

While you are busy reading these best leadership books and honing your skills, your work won’t stop. Your team relies on you as a leader. So, when you need to take time to grow yourself, make the innovative choice to keep your team on track. Organize the team, get real-time metrics, and know where every project is every step of the way – with Runrun.it’s Complete Work Management Platform.

Take a moment away from reading your leadership books to sign up for your free, 14-day trial today. It will change the way you do business!

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