What makes a person a great leader? Is it a magnetic personality? Is it having a bold vision or confidence?
I would argue that all of these traits are possessed by great leaders. But how do you acquire these attributes? After all, there is such a thing as a “born leader”, but most of us who are called on to lead doesn’t fit into that category.
Fortunately, there is an abundance of information out there designed to give us the skillsets of a great leader. Reading management books is a good way to start.
Best Management Books For Aspiring Leaders
Here, I’ve listed the 20 best management books that will make you a great leader.
1. The One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard Ph.D. and Spencer Johnson M.D.
This is a remarkable book that tells the story of a young man in search of a good leader. While he encounters different management styles, some autocratic care only about results, and the workers suffered. Others with a democratic approach were only concerned with people, and the organization also suffered. Finally, he finds what he’s been looking for in a manager that uses the one-minute method.
The one-minute method is basically a way to set clear goals or expectations for those you manage.
For example, if you were told to clean a room, does that mean sweeping the floor, dusting the shelves, or organizing the bookshelves? But if you are told to sweep the floor and organize the bookshelves, the expectations are clearer. Then, there are one minute of praisings and one minute of reprimands where you give praise and reprimands immediately and quickly.
2. On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis
Considered a must-read for any business person, Warren Bennis was a business school professor at the University of Southern California. He got his first taste of leadership during world war 2 when he was one of the youngest lieutenants to serve in Europe. He is a firm believer that leaders are made, not born.
This one of the best management books out there. It outlines several traits that make up a great leader. For Bennis, a leader is self-aware, curious, and are risk-takers. A leader sees the big picture and does what is right.
3. Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders by L. David Marquet
Marquet was the captain of a submarine and was trained to lead in the typical military fashion of issuing orders and getting results. However, one time he gave an order that was impossible to follow, but his crew tried anyway with near-disastrous results. When he asked why, the answer was “because you told me to”.
That’s when he decided to try a different management style, giving those under him the responsibility for their job and the autonomy to do it. The results from the change in his management style were significant.
4. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek
Why do some teams come together to get the task done while other teams disintegrate into squabbling, infighting, and backstabbing?
Sinek tackles this question in Leaders Eat Last after he had a conversation with a Marine Corps general. He noticed that all the junior Marines ate first, while the most senior Marines were all at the back of the line. The general explained that “leaders eat last” because what was symbolic in the chow hall was deadly serious in war.
Leaders need to sacrifice their own comfort and even their lives for the good of the team they lead. He goes on to illustrate his ideas through examples of true stories in business and military.
5. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
A list of the best management books will not be complete without this book by Carnegie. This is probably one of the most famous books on leadership ever written, and that’s for good reason.
Carnegie reveals some of the “soft skills” of good leadership, such as making people feel important and appreciated. Implementing the ideas found in this classic will help you be a better leader, negotiator, and motivator.
6. The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Written over two thousand years ago, this is still touted by business people all over the world as a must-read for leaders. Sun Tzu was a military leader who put his philosophies regarding war and leadership to paper.
It is filled with timeless wisdom such as “Avoid what is strong and strike at what is weak.” and “Supreme excellence rests in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting”.
The book is divided into thirteen chapters and each one is devoted to a certain philosophy.
7. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey
Another classic, Covey is widely known as a world-renowned leadership expert. Although he already has other published works, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is his most famous one.
Covey’s idea is that true leadership starts from within. A good leader must first manage their inner well-being, create a personal vision, and cultivate self-control. Only then can they extend their influence to others.
Here’s a short video on the 7 habits of highly successful people:
8. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You by John Maxwell
One of the most popular books on leadership of all time, Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership is one of the best management books you can find.
Maxwell contends that while there may be more “laws” of leadership than 21, these 21 laws are true and needed for anyone to be effective. Furthermore, these laws apply to all leadership roles in society, be they be in the military, business, or government.
9. Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive By Harvey B. Mackay
Written by a self-made millionaire, Mackay gives practical advice on how to outsell your competition and motivate your employees. It’s a short read filled with useful and practical ideas. It contains much helpful advice like “If You Don’t Have a Destination, You’ll Never Get There,” “Make Decisions with Your Heart and What You’ll End Up with Is Heart Disease,” and “It isn’t the people you fire who make your life miserable, it’s the people you don’t”.
10. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini Ph.D.
Dr. Robert Cialdini spent his entire career researching the science of influence, earning him an international reputation as an expert in the fields of persuasion, compliance, and negotiation.
In his book, Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, he breaks down the principles of influence and persuasion into six categories that are easy to understand and implement. This book will teach you not only how to persuade others but also how to protect yourself from deceptive persuasion.
11. Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute
This book might be a hard read, not because of the concepts involved or the language used, but because it forces the reader to confront their responsibility for problems. Most of us like to blame things outside of us for the problems we have. But in order to truly find solutions, you need to be able to see your role in the problem.
The Arbinger Institute is recognized as a world leader in improving organizational effectiveness and conflict resolution.
12. Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman
A Wall Street Journal bestseller, this relatively short, 292-page read talks about two leadership styles.
In this book, leadership expert Liz Wiseman explores these two leadership styles, persuasively showing how Multipliers can have a resoundingly positive and profitable effect on organizations.
Multipliers are the ones who get more done with fewer resources, develop and attract talent, and cultivate new ideas and energy to drive organizational change and innovation. On the other hand, Diminishers are the type of people who drain creativity and innovation from their teams.
13. My Years With General Motors by Alfred Sloan Jr.
This is another management book that’s considered a “classic”. First published in 1963, Sloan’s My Years With General Motors became an instant bestseller. The author talks about the “discipline of management” that he has practiced for decades and which made him an effective leader.
Still relevant today, Bill Gates praises this book as the best book on management. Even Business Week named it “the number one choice for its bookshelf of indispensable reading.”
14. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
This New York Times bestseller was produced by the co-founder of Pixar Studios – the people behind some of the most famous and successful films of all time. In this book, the authors explore the leadership qualities that have made Pixar so successful.
Readers can find many great ideas in this book such as, “Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. But give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better,” and “It’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s job to make it safe for others to take them”.
15. Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott
Kim Scott was an executive at Google and later Apple. In this insightful book about leadership and management, she shares her years of knowledge about how to be an effective leader.
Her fundamental belief is that a leader must truly care while still challenging employees directly. If you don’t really care, it’s authoritarian. If you don’t challenge, it’s bad for the company. And if you do neither, it’s just manipulative.
16. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
Another New York Times bestseller, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us crushes the notion of the carrot and stick method of management.
In this book, Pink examines the difference between what science knows motivates us and what most businesses do. He postulates that people are motivated by three things, autonomy, mastery, and purpose. So, if you can provide them those things you will have a productive and efficient team.
17. Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis & Annie McKee
What’s the most important attribute of a leader? Intelligence, motivation, vision?
The authors of this book put forth the argument that “emotional intelligence” is the critical factor for leadership. for them, qualities like enthusiasm, empathy, relationship management, intuitive understanding are qualities possessed by great leaders.
Using many real-world examples, the authors try to define and explain those key qualities. Good leaders bring out “resonance” among a team, while poor ones create “dissonance.”
18. The Truth About Leadership: The No-fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
In this book, the authors spell out ten “truths” about leadership. One of these is credibility, which is the foundation of leadership. A leader values and drives commitment, and the best leaders are the best learners.
According to the authors, you either lead by example or you don’t lead at all. All of these truths must be understood by any great leader and you neglect them at your own peril.
19. Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh
Tony Hsieh is the founder of Zappos, an online retailer that does over one billion dollars in sales annually.
In this book, he explains his secrets to success. Some of the strategies he outlined include giving you employees control over their jobs (autonomy), acknowledging and encouraging progress both professionally and personally, connecting with your team personally, and being someone people would want to work for, among many others.
If you are interested in having your own business or just in managing people, this is a great read.
20. The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations by James Kouzes and Posner
Last but not the least, we have The Leadership Challenge, which is one of the best management books ever written.
Considered the “gold standard” of leadership manuals, The Leadership Challenge explores the difference between good leaders and great leaders. The authors outlined 5 practices of exemplary leadership: model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart.
Anyone looking for great management and leadership books has to add this to their list.
The Bottom Line
Leadership is both an art and a skill. And while you can’t teach the art part of leadership, you can acquire the skills of a leader.
This list of 20 best management books is by no means exhaustive, but by gaining the insights that they possess, you will be better equipped to lead.
In effect, the knowledge you can acquire from these books will have you standing on the shoulders of giants.
Featured photo credit: Daria Nepriakhina via unsplash.com