With the unique set of leadership challenges facing organizations today, many managers and executives are feeling the pressure to perform.
But leadership requires different approaches depending on the situation, and finding the right advice can be a challenge in and of itself. Because of that, we’ve rounded up 19 of the best leadership books that touch on many of the common challenges leaders are facing today.
Below, you’ll find books that discuss remote work, unconscious bias, uncomfortable conversations and the best way to measure progress, just to name a few of the topics.
When it comes to researcher, vulnerability expert and prolific author Brené Brown, it is tough to pick just one of her books to recommend to leaders. But if I must, it would of course be the one she wrote specifically for leaders: Dare to Lead.
In a refreshingly new take on what it means to lead, Brown describes the four skill sets of daring leaders that she has learned from her research:
Dare to Lead is a must-read leadership book for anyone trying to infuse more courage, empathy and vulnerability into their organizations so that everyone can feel empowered to perform at their best and bring their whole selves to work.
It’s likely that you’ve heard the term “psychological safety” thrown around a lot lately. You’ve heard that successful teams have it. But just what is it and where did it come from? Those answers and more can be found in The Fearless Organization. It’s written by Harvard researcher Amy Edmondson, the person who popularized psychological safety.
The Fearless Organization explores the research and practical application of the concept of psychological safety, which is helping your team feel safe enough to express their ideas, take risks and even fail-without fear of being reprimanded. This is essential to creating a culture of honesty, innovation and accountability and is a must for any business that wants to be successful.
So if you’ve been wanting to learn more about this buzzword, there’s really no better book to learn it from.
You can’t make a list about the best leadership books without mentioning How to Win Friends and Influence People. Published in 1936, this classic self-help book has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, cementing its place as one of the most popular books of all time. TIME Magazine even named it one of “the 100 best and most influential written in English since 1923.” Written by lecturer Dale Carnegie, this book’s power lies in its simple yet effective advice.
Leaders are constantly trying to create buy-in and influence their followers, making this one of the best leadership books to read whether you’re a new leader or a CEO.
Another one of those time-honored classics, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was first published in 1989 and has since sold more than 40 million copies. It was written by Stephen Covey, an American businessman who founded global professional services firm FranklinCovey.
Through short and simple aphorisms like "Begin With the End in Mind" and "Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood," Covey manages to deliver profound messages and actionable insights that are relevant for leaders even today.
While much focus and praise has long been directed toward mastery of hard skills and having a high IQ, Emotional Intelligence shifted the conversation to the important soft skills of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. These skills are equally essential for leaders who want to manage an effective team that is bonded, engaged and enthusiastic about their work.
Drawing upon brain and behavioral research, psychologist Daniel Goleman explores the concept of emotional intelligence (EI) and how we can build the skills associated with it. Rather than viewing emotions as something to be left out of the realm of work, Goleman shows us how to see them for what they are: useful tools when wielded properly. This book may finally help you see how EI is a crucial leadership skill.
As a leader, you make countless decisions that not only affect you but also a large group of people. The pressure to act urgently must be weighed against the pressure to think things through logically. That’s why Thinking, Fast and Slow is a crucial leadership book for anyone trying to improve their decision-making.
In this book, celebrated psychologist Daniel Kahneman walks you through two modes of decision-making that the brain uses: System 1, which is fast and intuitive and System 2, which is slow and rational. But rather than pitting them against each other, he shows you how they work together to arrive at the best decision. He backs up his assertions with plenty of scientific research, as well as practical applications for everyday use.
After reading this book, you’ll be more aware of the biases that we all fall prey to and how to use your brain’s two systems for optimal decision-making.
What makes people successful? Is it innate talent or blind luck? In this book, psychologist Angela Duckworth posits that it’s neither. Rather, as she explains, the difference between someone who fails and someone who succeeds is often their grit, which she defines as “a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal.”
And the good news is that grit isn’t some trait you’re simply born with or not-it’s a skill you can develop. In the book, Duckworth includes scientific research supporting this. This is good news for any leader trying to succeed or trying to develop their followers into the best professionals possible.
Overall, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance is a hopeful message and a must-read for any leader trying to understand the value of a growth mindset.
If you don’t yet realize the power of habits (your repeated behaviors), then this book will convince you. In an easy-to-digest manner filled with compelling anecdotes, James Clear shows you the magic of the “compound interest” of habits, the myth about motivation and how to break bad habits and build good ones.
The book is chock full of practical tips and tiny experiments that you can run, such as habit contracts, habit stacking and the “two-minute rule.”
When Ed Catmull was growing up, computer-animated movies were a mere dream. But when he co-founded Pixar in 1986, he turned them into reality, producing cutting-edge and heartwarming films such as “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” and “The Incredibles.”
What helped him accomplish this? A leadership style and management philosophies that inspired creativity in his team.
"What makes Pixar special is that we acknowledge we will always have problems, many of them hidden from our view,” Catmull writes in Creativity, Inc., “that we work hard to uncover these problems, even if doing so means making ourselves uncomfortable; and that, when we come across a problem, we marshal all of our energies to solve it."
Creativity, Inc. is a great read for any business leader struggling to boost employee motivation and innovation.
If you’ve ever wished there were a definitive, easy-to-follow method for making the best decisions possible, this book might be for you.
As a championship poker player, Annie Duke has had to make countless quick decisions under immense pressure. She brings knowledge gained from firsthand experience to her book How to Decide. This book is for anyone who’s ever drawn out a decision for weeks on end, wringing their hands, asking for yet another opinion as they once again consult their pros/cons list.
In How to Decide, Duke gives you actionable tips and exercises that help you make the best predictions possible, provides a framework that optimizes decision-making and helps you finally put to rest the misconception that the quality of a decision depends on its outcome.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's TED Talk "Why we have too few women leaders" has been viewed more than 11,000,000 times on the TED website. Clearly, her message has struck a chord. The many stories she received from women after that presentation are what inspired her to write Lean In.
Weaving personal stories with scientific research, Sandberg shares advice on how women can stop holding themselves back and build the career and life they’ve always imagined.
Published in 2018, The Long-Distance Leader is more relevant than ever as much of the workforce, forced into remote work due to the pandemic, continues to work from home (or wherever they can access wifi).
Remote team leaders face unique challenges, and that requires a unique approach. Written by the cofounders of the Remote Leadership Institute, The Long-Distance Leader walks you through the "Three-O" Model of outcomes, others and ourselves to suggest an effective leadership method that works from anywhere.
Through 15 "Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership"-such as “Accept the fact that leading remotely requires you to lead differently"-the authors teach anyone how to inspire and optimize their remote team.
Does it feel like your team is constantly being pulled in a million different directions? Are there too many projects and not enough bandwidth? Too many priorities?
The One Thing may help you hone your focus. As its title suggests, this book is all about simplifying and pruning so you can maximize your efforts. Entrepreneur Gary Keller walks you through the lies you may believe about productivity and shows you the surprising truth about what will help you really get things done.
As Keller writes in the book: “‘Going small’ is ignoring all the things you could do and doing what you should do. ... It's realizing that extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus."
Being a successful leader involves having tough conversations; there’s no way around it if you want to effect change. Crucial Conversations, which has sold more than 4 million copies, seeks to make those tough conversations more productive.
The authors define a “crucial conversation” as “a discussion between two or more people where the stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong.”
In their book, they show you a process of taming your emotions and making your conversation partner feel safe so you can have a more productive discussion. This is one of the best leadership books for anyone who’s been dreading having their own “crucial conversations.”
Unconscious bias affects us all. From two FranklinCovey employees comes this excellent guide that demystifies unconscious bias and shows you how to overcome it to help employees do their best work.
The authors define bias as "a preference for or against a thing, person, or group compared with another." Unconscious bias, then, are those preferences you're not even aware of, making it all the more insidious.
With tact and care, the authors tackle a sometimes uncomfortable topic in an engaging and judgment-free tone. You’ll learn how to identify the unconscious biases that negatively affect your team, and most importantly, overcome them.
Another one of the best leadership books for DEI efforts is Diversity in the Workplace. Attorney and startup advisor Bärí A. Williams gives you a glimpse into the world of minorities in the workplace through 25 interviews.
Williams offers definitions for many terms that have become buzzwords but of which people may not have a true understanding, such as "diversity," which she defines as "the distinct traits that make a person unique, such as sex, race, gender, religion, education, age, ability, and national origin and culture."
She also provides context around the discussion of diversity in the workplace, highlighting why it’s an important conversation to have. This is a must-read for anyone trying to practice inclusive leadership.
After training more than 10,000 managers on how to coach their direct reports, Michael Bungay Stanier shares his secrets in this book.
One of the key traits of coaching is that it's not about giving advice; it's about asking the right questions to help the other person gain insights. In The Coaching Habit, Bungay Stanier details his seven go-to coaching questions that will tap into your employees' full potential. These include the Kickstart Question, the Awe Question and the Lazy Question.
So the next time you’re tempted to give unsolicited advice to a direct report, pause, grab this book and learn about the coaching skills that could help your followers more than your advice could.
Wharton professor and renowned organizational psychologist Adam Grant will have you questioning what you think you know-and that's a good thing. In a world that's been forced to play it safe and has divided into factions over the course of this pandemic, Think Again encourages a radical curiosity and open-mindedness necessary for true excellence and innovation.
Leaders who want to gain more by exploring differing perspectives of their team members or learn the powers of a persuasive argument would benefit from reading this book.
Yes, leaders must motivate and inspire, but at the end of the day, you need to produce results for your organization. Managers who want to excel must master goal setting.
But what is the best way to set goals for your team that are ambitious, yet manageable? What’s the best way to measure progress and make sure you’re on track?
Well, if you look at Google, you might consider OKRs, or “Objectives and Key Results.” Measure What Matters dives into the history of OKRs and how they can transform your team’s goal setting and performance. The book’s author, venture capitalist John Doerr, built upon the ideas of Intel CEO Andy Grove. This book has been recommended by Bill Gates, who collaborated with and became friends with Grove.
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