Human nature is about sharing – we’ve been passing on information ever since the start of human history. The written word is one of the most powerful ways of sharing knowledge and the ability to read should be treated as one of life’s most valuable gifts. Through literature, we can expand our understanding and open our eyes to new experiences and ideas.
Therefore, reading is an essential part of being a leader and an entrepreneur. Research has highlighted how reading can improve intelligence, reduce stress, and boost emotional intelligence – all key aspects of a solid leadership strategy.
With that in mind, we’ve selected 41 leadership books every CEO should read. The books include some of the biggest classics, tips on how to define your own leadership and how to get past obstacles on your journey. We’ve also included the best business books by CEOs who’ve done it all, and the building blocks of success. At the end, we’ll even point you in the direction of a few fictional books with valuable leadership lessons.
- 1 THE ESSENTIAL LEADERSHIP CLASSICS
- 1.1 Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
- 1.2 The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven R. Covey
- 1.3 Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins
- 1.4 How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- 1.5 Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton
- 1.6 Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
- 1.7 Business Adventures by John Brooks
- 2 DEFINING YOURSELF AS A LEADER
- 2.1 Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute
- 2.2 The Truth About Leadership by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
- 2.3 First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
- 2.4 Choose Yourself by James Altucher
- 2.5 The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton
- 2.6 Crazy Bosses by Stanley Bing
- 3 OVERCOMING OBSTACLES AND THE FEAR OF FAILURE
- 3.1 Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankel
- 3.2 The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen
- 3.3 Endurance by Alfred Lansing
- 3.4 Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
- 3.5 The War of Art by Steve Pressfield
- 3.6 Flying Without a Net by Thomas J. DeLong
- 3.7 Do Over by Jon Acuff
- 3.8 Leading with GRIT by Laurie Sudbrink
- 4 THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF SUCCESS
- 4.1 Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leader… and Others Don’t by Jim Collins
- 4.2 Start With Why by Simon Sinek
- 4.3 Drive by Daniel H. Pink
- 4.4 Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
- 4.5 Getting Things Done by David Allen
- 4.6 Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- 4.7 Essentialism by Greg McKeown
- 4.8 Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy
- 4.9 Leading Across New Borders: How to Succeed as the Center Shifts by Ernest Gundling and Christi Caldwell
- 4.10 Tribes by Seth Godin
- 5 LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM CEOs
- 6 FICTION BOOKS FOR LEADERS
THE ESSENTIAL LEADERSHIP CLASSICS
There are certain books in the genre of leadership you simply cannot miss. While many of the books on the list are rather old, the lessons within them are timeless. The following books are the classics of the genre, with people all over the world frequently returning to read them. If you are at the start of your leadership journey or you want to be aware of the essence of leadership, the following seven books are definitely worth adding to your reading list.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”
The Roman Emperor ruled from 161 to 180AD, Marcus Aurelius has often been touted as the ‘philosopher king’. Meditations is a collection of his personal thoughts and ideas, including topics such as leadership. The classic book is an example of the basic principles of leadership.
Although leadership theories have developed in the past few decades and we now have different ways of interpreting leadership, the book shows how much of leadership is still down to these universal ideas that have been around since the start of human history. If you want to get a sense of the history of leadership and the core ideas of being a leader, Meditations is worth picking up.
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven R. Covey
“Knowledge is the theoretical paradigm, the what to do and the why. Skill is the how to do. And desire is the motivation, the want to do. In order to make something a habit in our lives, we have to have all three.”
Stephen R. Covey’s book has been a top-seller in the field of personal and professional development for over 15 years. The book was first published in 1990, but it continues to feature in reading lists. Its popularity is down to the clarity of language and principles in the book.
The core message of the book deals with the habits successful people follow in their lives and it provides helpful ideas and processes anyone can follow. In terms of leadership, the book emphasizes the importance of integrity and humanity – qualities that are necessary for today’s business leaders.
Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins
“Leaders are those individuals who live by empowering beliefs and teach others to tap their full capabilities by shifting the beliefs that have been limiting them.”
Another self-development classic comes from the master of personal growth, Tony Robbins. Awaken the Giant Within is an important lesson in the importance of taking of control of your life.
The book provides a step-by-step program for maintaining self-mastery, which can help identify your true passion and help you follow the path to success. The lessons are valuable for all areas of life, but especially to leadership since you can’t lead your team efficiently if you aren’t sure of the direction you want to go.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
“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 wrote the book in 1937 and while it naturally contains some dated language, the message of How to Win Friends and Influence People still resonates in today’s world. The book’s key message has been tried and tested with business minds such as Warren Buffet.
The book provides the building blocks for becoming more persuasive, likeable and therefore, an influential leader. If you want to ensure you’ll gain the respect of your colleagues and subordinates, achieve results, and grow as a person, this old classic is still worth reading.
Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton
“The ability to see the situation as the other side sees it, as difficult as it may be, is one of the most important skills a negotiator can possess.”
One of the key elements of leadership is the ability to negotiate. A leader’s ability to reach agreements can determine the success of the organization and the leader’s personal objectives. Reading Getting to Yes can be a helpful tool for improving one’s ability to solve problems. The book has held its position as one of the most popular books on deal making since its publication in 1981.
The key concept set forward in the book is the BATNA model: best alternative to a negotiated agreement. By following the model, you can improve your collaborative qualities as a leader.
Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
“Leadership is not domination, but the art of persuading people to work toward a common goal.”
Leadership is not about getting results through any means necessary, but the focus has moved increasingly towards the impact it can have on the human nature. The term ‘emotional intelligence’ has become a buzzword and the birth of the concept can be traced back to Daniel Goleman’s book.
The book has sold over 5 million copies around the world, with the concepts laid out in the book influencing how leaders are perceived. Goleman’s key ideas of self-awareness are essential to understand by anyone looking to guide other people in their personal development.
Business Adventures by John Brooks
“In industry, you take a bump now and then, but you bounce back as long as you don’t get defeated inside.”
Business Adventures is a classic other CEOs often mention when sharing their favorite leadership books. The book includes twelve business moments from the US, with the examples ranging from scandals to successes. The stories teach lessons on how leaders should act, what can be the driving forces for success, and the problems unchecked leadership can bring about.
The issues are researched in-depth and each story has a unique lesson to learn. For example, the story about the 1962 Flash Crash exemplifies the problem of human nature and irrationality. It can help you understand that as a leader you need to focus on the emotional wellbeing as well, since people don’t always make decisions based on facts.
DEFINING YOURSELF AS A LEADER
While the above classics are great for understanding the ideas behind a leadership framework, you’ll also want to delve deeper into what it means to be a leader. The below books can help you define leadership and the characteristics required to be a good leader.
Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute
“The most effective leaders lead in this single way: by holding themselves more accountable than all.”
If you are interested in actual facts and figures behind leadership, then the book by the Arbinger Institute should go onto your reading list. The publication is based on extensive research, outlining the most crucial problem in most organizations: self-deception.
You can learn about what self-deception is and how it manifests within organizations. Towards the end, there are also plenty of tips on how to solve the issues, not just on the organizational scale, but also as a leader.
The Truth About Leadership by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
“Leadership can be learned. It is an observable pattern of practices and behaviours, and a definable set of skills and abilities. Skills can be learned, and when we track the progress of people who participate in leadership development programs, we observe that they improve over time.”
The Truth About Leadership is an attempt to compress the topic of leadership into something concise and clear, with the book succeeding in the task rather well. The book examines the heart of leadership through research and personal experiences, coming out with ten truths about leadership, including “Challenge is the crucible for greatness”.
The concepts within the book seem developed and the application of them can have an actual impact on your leadership performance. It provides a new way of looking at classic ideals surrounding leadership, such as the importance of having people to follow you.
First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
“Focus on each person’s strengths and manage around his weaknesses. Don’t try to fix the weaknesses. Don’t try to perfect each person. Instead do everything you can to help each person cultivate his talents. Help each person become more of who he already is.”
Buckingham and Coffman’s book is a classic in the world of leadership books. It explores the findings of a mammoth study done years ago by the Gallup Organisation, which queried around 80,000 managers in a variety of industries. The book details the surprising findings, which see the best managers ignoring many of the golden rules about leadership.
For example, you’ll learn how leaders should be focusing on employing people based on talent instead of skills or experience. It’s an eye opening read and can help you understand efficient leadership from a different angle altogether.
Choose Yourself by James Altucher
“The only truly safe thing you can do is to try over and over again. To go for it, to get rejected, to repeat, to strive, to wish. Without rejection there is no frontier, there is no passion, and there is no magic.”
The book is based on the stark realization that much of the security we’ve been searching for has disappeared from the modern life. New technologies and economic changes have created an environment where instead of waiting for others to help you fulfill your dreams, you need to do it yourself.
The story is inspiring and provides plenty of examples of how you can make a difference in your own life, but ultimately, help others as a leader in the face of uncertainty.
The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton
“Winning is a wonderful thing if you can help and respect others along the way. But if you stomp on others as you climb the ladder and treat them like losers once you reach the top, my opinion is that you debase your own humanity and undermine your team or organisation.”
Sometimes the best way to define your leadership comes not from understanding the essential elements, but rather from studying the characteristics you need to avoid. The No Asshole Rule explains the problems of tolerating these bad behaviors.
Sutton examines the toxicity of allowing the so-called ‘star performers’ to do as they like within a team. The book will be essential for leaders in setting up boundaries of acceptable behavior and turning positive emotions into a profitable business.
Crazy Bosses by Stanley Bing
If you want to learn more about the kind of leader you definitely don’t want to become, Crazy Bosses is worth reading. Stanley Bing, which is the pen name of Gil Schwartz, has examined the relationship between authority and madness and as a result, written a book about the weird and often-horrific acts leaders can make.
The book outlines the different disguises leaders fall into: the Bully, the Paranoid, the Wimp, the Narcissist and the Disaster Hunter. If nothing else, the book can boost your confidence knowing you’re not on the pages. If you do recognize yourself, it might be a time for a change.
OVERCOMING OBSTACLES AND THE FEAR OF FAILURE
Leadership is often difficult craft to master and your role at the top of an organization will be filled with doubt and obstacles. A book can be a great reminder of how to find that inner passion and keep moving forward, even in the face of adversity.
The following books also include great lessons in finding your inner creativity and getting past those moments when business and growth seem like the last things, you want to think of.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankel
“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”
Viktor Frankel is an Austrian psychotherapist who was imprisoned at Auschwitz during the Second World War. Man’s Search for Meaning is an examination of how the human mind can cope with these horrific conditions by holding on to meaning.
The book’s essential message is that no matter what the surroundings are and what they are telling you, there are ways to find more meaning and keep working towards something. After reading the book, you should have better coping mechanisms and the ability to overcome any leadership obstacle.
The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen
“To succeed consistently, good managers need to be skilled not just in choosing, training, and motivating the right people for the right job, but in choosing, building and preparing the right organisation for the job as well.”
Clayton Christensen’s book illustrates the difficulties of building modern companies and it provides a revolutionary way of looking at innovation. According to Christensen, leaders need to avoid focusing on the right policies because even these can lead to failure.
Instead, he sets out examples on how to capitalize on disruptive innovation. The Innovator’s Dilemma provides an interesting view on when leaders need to step outside conventional wisdom and instead trust in their own ability to know what is going to work.
Endurance by Alfred Lansing
“No matter what the odds, a man does not pin his last hope for survival on something and then expect that it will fail.”
Similar to Frankel’s book, Endurance looks at the real life experiences of Antarctic explorer Earnest Shackleton. Lansig’s book explores the journey, while providing an intimate look at how to survive in tough conditions and the importance of leadership when everything is at stake.
The story is a lesson on the essence of leadership: being accountable and taking charge when the situation calls for it. Not only can you learn a lot about weathering the storms from the book, but also on the importance of effective leadership in guaranteeing positive results.
Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
“This notion that the leader needs to be “in charge” and to “know all the answers” is both dated and destructive. Its impact on others is the sense that they know less, and that they are less than. A recipe for risk aversion if ever I have heard it.”
Leadership is not only about strength and power, but also about embracing vulnerability and imperfection. That’s the message of Brené Brown’s powerful book.
The researcher basis her argument on years of studies conducted in the field, which have made her see vulnerability as strength towards more meaningful relations. The book can help leaders understand there are no bulletproof solutions and perfection is not something that exists out there in the real world.
The War of Art by Steve Pressfield
“Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it?”
Although The War of Art is mainly driven with creative professionals in mind, the book entails some essential tips for effective leadership. Pressfield’s book discusses the dangers of not following your true passion; something he refers to as The Resistance.
It’s what keeps people from following their passion, with the book providing tips on how to ensure The Resistance doesn’t win the battle for your ultimate vision. If you need encouragement and a kick to get you closer to realizing your leadership vision, the book is worth reading.
Flying Without a Net by Thomas J. DeLong
Fear is a powerful emotion and one that Thomas J. DeLong suggests should be used as a resource in leadership. Instead of letting fear paralyse you and allow it to enforce bad practices upon you, you need to draw strength from uncertainty.
In essence, Flying Without a Net is a book about doing the right things, even if done poorly, rather than waiting to do them perfectly. The book has plenty of research to support its arguments, as well as inspiring stories to motivate you to try some of the tactics from the pages.
Do Over by Jon Acuff
“The distance between comfortable and comatose is surprisingly short.”
If you are feeling lost on your leadership and in your professional life in general, Acuff’s book is an eye-opening take on starting over. According to Acuff, we are prepared for emergencies in all other areas except our work. Plan B doesn’t seem to exist for many, yet it’s important to have a Career Savings Account for those rainy days.
Ultimately then, the book’s lesson is about making sure you don’t take your career for granted, but are able to handle the possible bumps that may come along. In fact, it’s not just about being prepared for the disaster, the book also thinks you need to be aware of following your passion, even if it points out to a direction you didn’t think it would.
Leading with GRIT by Laurie Sudbrink
GRIT stands for Generosity, Respect, Integrity and Truth, and according to the book’s author Sudbrink the process you need to get through the tough times in your professional and private life. The book provides concrete tips on how to use this process to be a better leader and to enhance your decision-making.
The essential lesson to learn from the book is how misery and dissatisfaction are often simply emotions we choose to feel, instead of opting for a more positive approach.
THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF SUCCESS
The road to success is not easily replicated and every leader and CEO must find his or her own unique path. But the books below can point you in the right direction and teach invaluable lessons on what is required for effective leadership.
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leader… and Others Don’t by Jim Collins
“The good-to-great leaders never wanted to become larger-than-life heroes. They never aspired to be put on a pedestal or become unreachable icons. They were seemingly ordinary people quietly producing extraordinary results.”
The focus of the book is to look analytically at the factors that make good companies into great success stories. Collins and his research team examined corporate data from public companies and identified the keys to success. According to the book, the successful businesses followed six core principles, with one of the principles being good leadership.
The book outlines some key concepts of not just ensuring a business succeeds, but also of becoming a better leader. These include characteristics such as humility and a culture of discipline. If you are running a business and you are looking for the answers, Good to Great is a must-read.
Start With Why by Simon Sinek
“Leadership requires two things: a vision of the world that does not yet exist and the ability to communicate it.”
If you are looking for a book to outline your vision and to communicate this better as a leader, Simon Sinek’s Start With Why should be at the top of your reading list. The book is based around the core idea of knowing the ‘Why’ behind their business.
According to Sinek, the concept is not at the heart of what most businesses do, but instead the focus is on the ‘What’ and ‘How’ of the business model. But understanding the why can actually improve your ability to lead because you are better at explaining your reasons and evoking an emotional response. By finding an answer to ‘Why’, you can move on to the next aspects of creating a successful business.
Drive by Daniel H. Pink
“Once we realise that the boundaries between work and play are artificial, we can take matters in hand and begin the difficult task of making life more liveable.”
Drive is an essential book for CEOs because it takes leadership strategies away from the 20th century and into the modern era. The key message on the pages says how the traditional management style of reward and punishment won’t work with the workers of the 21th century.
According to Pink, the motivational elements leaders need to utilize are: autonomy, mastery and purpose. By acknowledging and implementing these elements, a modern leader can achieve better results and maintain a happy workforce.
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
“His success in dealing with the strong egos of the men in his cabinet suggests that in the hands of a truly great politician the qualities we generally associate with decency and morality – kindness, sensitivity, compassion, honesty, and empathy – can also be impressive political resources.”
Team of Rivals is a dissection of the leadership qualities of Abraham Lincoln. It offers an interesting take of human behavior and motivation, and how Lincoln was able to utilize these during a turbulent time in American history. The book analysis how Lincoln was able to convince different personalities to work in his administration and to draw out the best of these people, even when the men seemed to disagree on a lot of topics.
If you want to understand how to manage a diverse group of people and to get the most out of personalities that might clash with each other, Team of Rivals provides an essential look into how to achieve those objectives.
Getting Things Done by David Allen
“Trusting yourself and the source of your intelligence is the most elegant lesson of experiencing freedom and manifesting personal productivity.”
Leadership requires decisive decision-making and effective actions. If you are looking to improve these aspects of your leadership, you need to grab hold of Getting Things Done by David Allen. The book is not the newest in terms of productivity, but it provides clear guidelines for achieving your objectives in all areas of life.
The step-by-step guide to cleaning out your life from unimportant tasks and setting up a more efficient way of working will help you become a more effective leader as a result.
Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
“Hobbies that demand skill, habits that set goals and limits, personal interests, and especially inner discipline help to make leisure what it is supposed to be – a chance for re-creation.”
If you’d like to take your leadership to the next level and ensure you don’t just lead, but that you lead in a meaningful way, you need to read Flow. The book provides you an in-depth look into happiness and meaning, creating a roadmap for a more pleasurable experience.
The book outlines the elements dictating our happiness and the ways you can engage yourself more with learning, mastering and being conscious. If you want to be a happier leader, Flow can help you cultivate your purpose and passion.
Essentialism by Greg McKeown
“The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves. If we underinvest in ourselves…we damage the very tool we need to make our highest contribution.”
Essentialism is a book about the art of discerning between external noise and internal voice. The idea of the book is to prepare you to change your mindset – focusing on the issues that have meaning and impact. McKeown believes the modern world emphasizes accomplishment and quantity more than necessary, creating an environment where we do more, consume more and think more without a valid reason.
The book advises you to instead focus on the ideas that matter to you the most and putting your effort behind the actually important things, not necessarily the most socially required. If you are stressed and find it hard to focus on the things that create the biggest impact, Essentialism can be a helpful read.
Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy
“Everyone procrastinates. The difference between high performers and low performers is largely determined by what they choose to procrastinate on.”
Brian Tracy is a well-known leadership expert, who has written a number of books you should consider reading. But among the top list of Tracy’s books is Eat That Frog. The book is in its essence about procrastination and how you can avoid it. From the pages, you can find 21 effective and tested methods to increase your productivity.
Leading Across New Borders: How to Succeed as the Center Shifts by Ernest Gundling and Christi Caldwell
Gundling and Caldwell’s book teaches important lessons on how to lead companies in the current globalised environment. The authors believe most leaders, even solopreneurs, need to become better at understanding different cultures and approaches to doing business in order to survive. Leading Across New Borders provides concrete advice on managing and growing a global business through nurturing talent for the future.
Tribes by Seth Godin
“The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.”
Seth Godin’s book is essentially a guide to marketing your business, but the pages include plenty of leadership lessons as well. According to Godin, the world is full of likeminded people and the leader’s role today is to bring these people together and help them achieve success. There are plenty of opportunities out there for leaders, but fear often stops them from elevating the team further. Godin’s essential message is to find your passion and to lead through generosity.
LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM CEOs
Sometimes the best lessons are provided by those who have actually gone out and defined and succeed in leadership. Therefore, autobiographies, biographies and books on real CEOs can help better understand what good leadership looks like in action. F
urthermore, these stories can often teach you about how different people define leadership and the journeys people have travelled in order to get to the point there are in.
Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh
“Open, honest communication is the best foundation for any relationship, but remember that at the end of the day it’s not what you say or what you do, but how you make people feel that matters the most.”
Tony Hsieh is the founder and the CEO of Zappos, the online shoe retailer and delivery company. In his book, Hsieh outlines his journey and the vision he believes is the best for delivering successful business results. The book explains the unique leadership structures at play, with the company culture being at the heart of creating leadership. To Zappos, the ‘customers come first’ strategy is not just warm words, but must always be put to action.
Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan
“The behaviour of a business’s leaders is, ultimately, the behaviour of the organisation. As such, it’s the foundation of the culture.”
The business world is full of examples in bad execution and if you want to avoid those mistakes with your leadership, check out Execution. Bossidy has served as the CEO and in other executive positions in some of the world’s biggest companies, such as the General Electric Company, and he teamed up with a successful advisor to CEOs, Ram Charan to write the book.
The book is a valuable lesson in what it takes to actually get things done, instead of simply talking about them. The book outlines the importance of proper executing, the key elements of good execution strategy, and the processes you need to go through. It gives tips to leaders in terms of the behaviors supporting effective execution and you’ll be much better at drawing up strategies after reading the book.
Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk
“Live your passion. What does that mean, anyway? It means that when you get up for work every morning, every single morning, you are pumped because you get to talk about or work with or do the thing that interests you the most in the world.”
If you are interested in an easy-read, with a basic message and no convoluted concepts then Vaynerchuk’s book is a must-read. The book is a straightforward account of the things you should be doing with your passion and your business. It’s a practical guide to implementing processes that have been proven to be effective and you can learn a lot about his own leadership ethos from the pages of this book.
#Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso
“Knowing when to speak up and when to shut up will get you very far not only in business, but in life.”
Sophia Amoruso is the founder of retailer Nasty Gal and her book details her story from turbulent youth to tremendous success. The #Girlboss gives advice on how to find your passion and follow it, but also provides encouragement for everyone to forge their own path. The book is also valuable for any female CEOs because it does provide a refreshing angle to studying leadership. #Girlboss is essentially telling that leadership and success are not an easy ride, but worth the effort.
Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance
“I’d rather play video games, write software, and read books than try and get an A if there’s no point in getting an A.”
Elon Musk is undoubtedly among the most talked about CEOs of the modern world. Ashlee Vance’s book about the business leader is a fascinating account into the mind of Musk and his ascent to success. Musk’s difficult childhood shines through the pages and exemplifies the core lesson of leadership: ideas instead of fame should always be the motivation.
The book also interviews other people close to him, perhaps highlighting the failings and problems Musk’s leadership style can sometimes bring about. It’s a refreshing book about the hard work required to succeed, but also provides a reminder of everyone’s humanity – even the greatest business minds have weaknesses that require control.
Ladies Who Launch by Victoria Colligan, Beth Schoenfeldt, and Amy Swift
“Women tend to think of dreams as bigger than themselves, pies in the sky, morsels of imagination saved for a rainy day…in other words, out of reach.”
Ladies Who Launch is not just a book, but also an US-based program that helps women across the country to achieve entrepreneurial success. The book is therefore a great tool for any female entrepreneur who wants to understand what it takes to make it in business. The book outlines the four-step incubator program, encouraging women to ‘Imagine It’, ‘Speak It’, ‘Do It’ and ‘Celebrate It’. The book adds an important feminine voice to the discussion surrounding leadership.
FICTION BOOKS FOR LEADERS
While the above are great examples of leadership books, it can be helpful to mix in some fiction to your reading list. Not only can it be a refreshing change, but also fictional characters can teach you a lot about the drawbacks of bad leadership. So, if you are looking for something a bit different, try the below fiction books.
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
“If you are under the impression you have already perfected yourself, you will never rise to the heights you are no doubt capable of.”
The Remains of the Day tells a story of head butler of one of England’s most notable families. The Booker Prize winning novel examines the man’s life through the common lens of private and professional life – something every leader has to deal with and find the balance that works for them. Mr Stevens, the butler is passionate about his profession and he works hard to achieve perfection of the craft.
But while he is close to achieving his ideal vision of a butler, as a private person his life seems out of balance. The Remains of the Day provides a stark look about the dangers of forgetting your humanity when working towards a professional objective.
The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk
“You can’t understand command till you’ve had it. It’s the loneliest most oppressive job in the whole world. It’s a nightmare, unless you’re an ox. You’re forever teetering along a tiny path of correct decisions and good luck that meanders through an infinite gloom of possible mistakes.”
Leadership is definitely a skill often associated with the military, with the different national armies providing the world with a number of famous leaders. In The Caine Mutiny, the story follows USS Caine, which is a minesweeper operating during the First World War. A US Navy Lieutenant boards the ship and finds it leadership in a mess. In essence, the book looks at the failures of leaders and how to navigate your way out of them in an efficient manner.
The book is perfect for helping you to understand the two different ways of leading: inspiring others and sharing a vision, and the more authoritarian approach to leading through hierarchy and coercion. If your reading list is already a bit too big, you could also watch The Caine Mutiny, as it has been made into a popular movie in 1945.
The Martian by Andy Weir
“I guess you could call it a “failure”, but I prefer the term “learning experience”.”
The Martian is another popular blockbuster, but you should definitely consider reading the book, which the movie is based on. The story of astronaut Mark Watney is a perfect illustration of the perseverance and creativity you need to implement as a leader. More broadly, it also highlights the organizational importance of looking after your team.
In the book, the NASA crewmates go through fierce discussions as to how and why should the rescue operation happen. The book provides many insightful thoughts regarding personal growth as a leader, but also how team leadership can evolve and develop.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
“Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure. On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility. No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourself. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”
The George Orwell classic is a fine example of a fictional leadership book that every CEO should read. The book is a great comparison of different leadership styles; mainly Snowball’s empathic and visionary view and Napoleon’s more autocratic and charismatic style. Animal Farm’s leadership lessons have been widely analyzed, and the book provides an important balanced view about the hard decisions leaders have to make.