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25 Books That Will Teach The Most Powerful Leadership Lessons
You’ve heard the old saying right?
“All great leaders are readers.”
… well, it’s true. And I’m reminded of it at least once a week, when I interview an inspiring author, entrepreneur, or thought leader on my show. I ask my guests a series of questions about what contributed to their success and ability to become such great leaders. You want to know what nearly every single one of them tells me? They read books. Books are like training weights for the brain. And reading the right ones can provide you with powerful leadership lessons in a very short period of time. In this list, we’re going to go over 25 powerful books on leadership. Ready? Let’s dive in.
1. Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman
Primal Leadership. Cool title, eh? This is the original book on emotional intelligence, right here. Pick it up and learn classic lessons in dealing with people through empathy and understanding (it’s more powerful than you think.) The depth at which the authors get into the neuroscience of influence and impact is incredibly interesting. And they become especially powerful when you connect these insights to how you lead others.
2. The Seasons of Life by Jim Rohn
Jim Rohn was one of the greagtest speakers and storytellers to have ever lived. Period. His books and teachings on leadership and business focused on the fundamentals of human behavior and how they have an impact on optimal performance, personally and professionally. My favorite thing about Jim Rohn’s work is his ability to take complex ideas and simplify them such that anyone could understand and apply them for immediate results. Read this book for powerful lessons in leadership and a primer on living well.
3. The Leader Who Had No Title by Robin Sharma
“A Modern Fable on Real Success in Business and in Life.” The reason why this is such a powerful leadership book is because it gets down to the nitty gritty of some of those easily overlooked qualities of leadership: modesty, consideration, empathy. When those you lead begin to see you actually living the values preached by the organization or team you’re leading — that’s when you can lead without a title. Because that is when you can be confident that you’ve gained more than mere compliance; but respect. Get the book here.
4. Lincoln on Leadership by Donald T. Phillips
Lincoln On Leadership is more than just a list of tips from Honest Abe on how to lead (though you couldn’t go wrong with that!) This is a powerful book about how to take some of Lincoln’s most potent leadership qualities and apply them to the modern times we live in today. Read this book for classic lessons of leadership, and how to apply in the technologically-driven world of now.
5. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell
Behold, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership — follow them and people will follow you. This is a powerful set of principles written by one of the foremost minds behind modern leadership thinking, John C. Maxwell. All 21 “laws” are very easy to understand, and the stories that support them make each of them actionable for us to apply within our own lives and individual leadership roles.
6. Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath
Written by the people who brought you StrengthsFinder 2.0, the good folks at Gallup have also been focusing on the topic of leadership. And after studying over 1 million teams, and conducting more than 20,000 in-depth interviews with leaders, they’ve come out on the other end with more than just a few big ideas on leadership. Read this book to learn about great teams, and great leaders, and why people follow them.
7. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry
Complete with a testimonial by The Dalai Lama himself, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 provides you with a modern handbook of research-driven rules on connecting with others and building relationships to help you lead. The book also comes with an emotional intelligence test to help you determine where you should focus to become a more effective and well-esteemed leader.
8. Turn the Ship Around! by L. David Marquet
Written by an Navy officer David Marquet, Turn The Ship Around! is a compelling and powerful leadership read that’s sure to get you thinking about leadership in a whole new way. To give you an idea of what you’ll find in this thought-provoking book, here’s a quote from the author himself: “Leadership should mean giving control rather than taking control and creating leaders rather than forging followers.” Pick this book up for true stories and first hand accounts of what it takes to turn followers into leaders. The book comes complete with a workbook filled with tips, tools, and tactics to help you take action towards your leadership goals.
9. Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
Why is it that some teams pull together, and others don’t? You’ll learn the difference in this superbly written book with stories peppered throughout. In Leaders Eat Last, author Simon Sinek asks us to imagine a world where almost everyone wakes up inspired to go to work, feels trusted and valued during the day, then returns home feeling fulfilled… this is not some idealistic dream, Sinek says, but something that is actually happening in various organizations across the United States. Buy the book here, get the audio summary, or text summary so you can get the key take-aways in under 20 minutes.
10. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is one of the most popular personal development books ever published. Essential reading for every leader. The subtitle says it all: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. It’s true. Both in life and in business. The author, Dr. Stephen Covey, provides research-driven advice gleaned from decades of data on what it takes to become as effective as possible across every dimension of life. If I were you, I’d grab a copy of the original book and the audiobook, or if you’re short on time — the 20-minute book summary by FlashNotes.
11. On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis
Essential lessons in leadership by a foremost expert in the field, Warren Bennis (also known as “The Dean of Leadership Gurus” according to Forbes), this book provides insights on why leaders are not born, but rather, that they are made. On Becoming a Leader provides us with research on the various elements and qualities that define leadership, with real-life examples to support them. Actionable insights on how to become a better letter are also outlined.
12. Good to Great by Jim Collins
Why is it that some leaders can take companies into the multi-million (or billion!) dollar level and beyond — and others struggle to lead the customer service department? Find out in Good To Great as author Jim Collins guides you through the best leadership practices deployed by the best businesses, companies, and organizations around the world.
13. Principle-Centered Leadership by Stephen R. Covey
Another classic by Dr. Covey on the values and virtues of true leadership. In Principle Centered Leadership, Stephen Covey gives examples of some of the greatest leaders from around the world and what they did to become so influential. In the book, he covers how these leaders would bridge gaps amongst people who might otherwise hate each other. And he shows us how to do it through meaningful communication strategies and gentle persuasion This book is best consumed via audiobook (I’ve probably listened to it over 100 times, and because it’s only about an hour long, you may end up doing the same thing too.) But if you prefer books, you can always go that route too.
14. Drive by Daniel H. Pink
This book is packed with some of the most powerful leadership lessons you’ll ever learn. Author Daniel Pink debunks some of the biggest myths about what really motivates us at work; immediately putting Drive on every serious leader’s reading list. Drive describes the characteristics of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation — and how far too many organizations rely on extrinsic motivators, even though these are often counterproductive. Instead, Pink explains how we can best motivate ourselves and others by understanding how to utilize intrinsic motivators. Bottom line? You can’t lead anyone unless you know what moves and inspires them, and Drive is a cornerstone book on how to figure that out.
15. Leadership Without Easy Answers by Ronald Heifetz
Making decisions is no easy task when the buck stops at your desk. If you’re the type of leader that needs to make hard decisions, then author Ronald Heifetz has the strategies to help you make them as effectively as possible. In this book, he draws on a dozen years of research from leadership professions of various degree, including: managers, officers, politicians, non-profit leaders, business leaders, and even teachers. He all this data and translates it into clear, concrete steps for anyone who needs to take the lead in — regardless of industry or title.
16. Leadership from the Inside Out by Kevin Cashman
This book teaches long-term leadership principles you’ll carry with you for life. Leadership from the Inside Out is really a personal growth disguised as a business and leadership book. Packed with research, case studies, tools and strategies — this book is an excellent guide for current and aspiring leaders at every level.
17. The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker
Written by the most prolific management and leadership writer of his time (and perhaps, of all time), Peter R. Drucker, this is the definitive guide to getting the right things done that every leader needs to read. Get the book here. Or pickup the book summary here.
18. Give and Take by Adam Grant
Most people operate as either takers, matchers, or givers. Whereas takers strive to get as much as possible from others and matchers aim to trade evenly, givers are the rare breed of people who contribute to others without expecting anything in return. Adam Grant takes a deep dive into why helping others drives our success in life and business. Packed with profound and powerful lessons in how strategic giving and contribution helps us get ahead — both personally and professionally. Pick up the summary to get the actionable insights or purchase the full book.
19. A Path Appears by Nicholas D. Kristof
This is an incredibly inspiring read that will make you think hard about making a difference in the world — regardless of where you stand today. A Path Appears is a road map for anyone that wants to find and lead a life that matters. It will help you become a more effective global citizen, in your own special way. This is a book about giving and contribution — an all too forgotten leadership lesson that might be the most powerful one of them all.
10. The ONE Thing by Gary Keller
The surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results? Focus on your ONE thing. If you can cultivate the habit of doing this, you’ve already harnessed one of the most powerful leadership lessons out there. If you haven’t, then go get this book. Or read the book notes for the key take-aways.
21. The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr
The authors of The Power of Full Engagement say that the real key to high performance isn’t about managing your time — it’s about managing your energy. Because let’s face it — no matter how powerful your leadership title says you are, you’re powerless without your health and wellbeing. When you break it down to the basics — you find that this book provides us with a much needed crash course on a much needed topic: well-being.
22. The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun
The author of The Promise of a Pencil, Adam Braun, was on what he thought was the straight-path to financial prosperity beginning from the age of sixteen, when he began working summers at hedge funds. He’d planned on embarking on a successful Wall Street career… that is, until he traveled to India and ran into a child on the streets begging for the things that most of us take for granted. When Adam asked the boy what he wanted most in the world, he replied, “A pencil.” And this is where Braun began his journey from corporate consultant to global philanthropist. This book has some unconventional — but powerful — leadership lessons to help you lead a successful and significant life.
23. Zero to One by Peter Thiel, Blake Masters
The most powerful leadership lessons in this book are about building the future without being too concerned about what people think, or feeling like you’ve got to mould inspiring ideas into another boring business. Zero To One is a powerful book about leading the future — both in technology and otherwise. And because of its focus on building a brighter future for humanity by way of innovation — Zero To One also makes for excellent reading for leaders looking for better answers in the world of technology and business. Pick it up here. Or go for the book summary here.
24. Start With Why by Simon Sinek
Simon Sinek’s first book on leadership was an instant hit, because it gave easy-to-understand examples of how great leaders like MLK and the Wright Brothers defied the odds and inspired people to take action… and getting people to act, let alone inspiring them in the process, is one of the most difficult, but powerful leadership lessons anyone can learn. This book teaches you how… and why.
25. How To Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Who could forget this classic? How To Win Friends & Influence People will teach you some of the powerful leadership lessons in dealing with people elegantly — even when dealing with the worst of personalities. Here are three ways to enjoy Carnegie’s timeless classic: get the original book, get the audiobook, or get the book summary.
Which book will you read first?
Now that you’ve got this list of books — and the powerful leadership lessons contained within them – there’s only one question left… Which one do you read first? Should you go out and get all of them immediately? Should you read them all at once? So many options. So little time. Ultimately, it’s totally your decision what you do with this list and how you apply it to your life and career. But if I may, here’s what I would suggest you consider as you get started:
- Subscribe to a book summary site, like FlashNotes Book Summaries to get the key-takeaways from the books on this list.
- If you’d prefer to read an entire book, I would highly suggest that you read just ONE book at a time. Sometimes, when we see something new and exciting, we have tendency to want to do/learn/read it all at once… and as we all know, this is nearly impossible to do without stressing ourselves out. So, choose a book. And then commit to reading it from start to finish.
- If you’re in a rush, try Audio books, or Audible Book Summaries.
- Finally, if you’re in a super rush, checkout some YouTube video book summaries, like this one.
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