Blog – Posted on Monday, Jul 19
The 40 Best Leadership Books of All Time
Who even needs leadership books? Surely I can just learn everything on the job, right? But try asking any CEO and they’ll no doubt tell you about how much they wished they’d known before setting out on their leadership journey.
The greatest leadership books offer insight and advice you can apply to both your professional and personal lives. In this post, we've put together the 40 best leadership books to give you a headstart on your peers. From world leaders like Nelson Mandela to business titans like Warren Bennis, they'll cover all the angles of leadership you'll need to sharpen your instincts and prepare to tackle the role head-on.
1. Legacy by James Kerr
What can the world’s most successful national sports team, New Zealand’s All Blacks, teach us about business and leadership? A lot, in fact: in Legacy, bestselling author, speaker, and coach James Kerr shares 15 lessons to learn from this legendary squad.
Legacy offers a perspective that many others don’t, tackling everything from achieving world-class standards to creating a legacy to be proud of. However avid a rugby fan you are, this is one of the best leadership books to read if you want to learn from people who are the best at what they do.
2. Start With Why by Simon Sinek
In his global bestseller (and third most-watched TedTalk of all time), Simon Sinek posits the idea that why you do something is much more important than what you’re actually doing. Start With Why is based on that compelling premise: anyone can be a leader if they start by questioning their ‘why.’ Only once you find it, Sinek argues, can you encourage customers to believe in your business and lead a team of employees who understand your mission — giving your business the longevity it needs to survive.
3. The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins
Transitioning into a new role, especially as a manager, can be one of the most daunting and stressful challenges within a workplace. In The First 90 Days, Michael Watkins reveals a way to make these transitions as smooth as possible, offering strategies to avoid the most common mistakes made by new leaders. With self-assessments and checklists to complete as you go, this leadership book is the perfect guide for leaders of any level who want to make the most of their first 90 days in a new role.
4. Lead from the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change by Stacey Abrams
Stacey Abrams is one of the most influential and accomplished politicians in the US. In reaction to her home state’s voter suppression laws, she worked tirelessly to galvanize 800,000 people of color to register as voters in Georgia.
Lead from the Outside is her must-read guide, based on years of Abrams’ personal experiences, on how to harness your strengths as an outsider to become a better leader and inspire others to do the same. Particularly relevant for future leaders outside of the traditional white male hierarchy, it touches upon rarely discussed topics (such as the relationship between leadership and money), and will give you practical tools to make a difference yourself.
5. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
Do you know what really motivates you? According to Daniel Pink, too many business leaders mistakingly rely on extrinsic motivators (spoiler alert: it’s usually money). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us shows how, by first understanding how motivation works, leaders can encourage their team far more effectively and produce real, meaningful results. Pink’s engaging writing style makes this book an easy read, powerfully inspiring people to examine their own motivational practices.
6. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek
Great leaders make sacrifices so that their whole team can thrive — not just those at the top. The second Simon Sinek entry on our list of the best leadership books, Leaders Eat Last pulls back the curtains on all of the qualities of a true leader, including that willingness to eat last. After all, an office isn't so different from the battlefield. As in the Marine Corps, the best teams are formed when leaders put the needs of their teammates above their own, creating a trusting, mutually cooperative environment in the process.
7. How to win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnies
Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People has achieved superstar status within the genre of leadership books. And for good reason: Carnegie’s 1936 bestseller was one of the first to reveal how to achieve your maximum potential as a leader, sharing then-revolutionary advice such as being generous with praise, remembering people’s names, and showing genuine interest in other people’s opinions.
Now in its tenth decade, the book has naturally been criticized in recent years for being somewhat outdated in its outlook — however, with investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett swearing by the book’s lessons, there’s still much you can learn from Carnegie’s words.
8. The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You by Julie Zhuo
At 25, Julie Zhuo taught herself how to manage a team on the job. In her 30s, she published this critically acclaimed book so that you don’t have to make the same mistakes she did.
The Making of a Manager is the culmination of her years of leadership experience, offering crucial strategies for dealing with pressure at work — especially when you don’t have formal management training. Zhuo is generous with her wisdom, sharing tips on succeeding in your first three months as a manager, hiring well to build the best team possible, and giving feedback which leaves people feeling more inspired and driven.
9. Leading Change by John P. Kotter
Change — whether that be personal or professional — happens every day. And in his book, Leading Change, John Kotter argues that we shouldn’t be afraid of it: instead, we should learn to make the most of it in order to maximize our opportunities. His legendary 8-step process is meant for people who not only want to deal with change, but also lead change within their organizations.
10. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
If you want to learn from one of the world’s most outstanding moral and political leaders, then Nelson Mandela’s autobiographical work Long Walk to Freedom should be on your list of great leadership books. An undeniably important voice in human rights and the fight for racial equality, there is much to be learned about leadership from the way Mandela approached struggle and adversity, becoming an inspiration for millions. You don’t have to be changing the world to implement some of his lessons — which include learning to forgive and to develop the strength to never give up — into your daily life.
11. The Truth About Leadership by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
James Kouzes and Barry Posner, two of the biggest names in leadership circles, offer ten truths that all leaders should know in their bold, honest, and personal book, The Truth About Leadership. Based on 30 years of advanced research, it offers proven advice to help leaders move beyond the temporary trends and fads that modern-day social media spurs on. For millennials who want to go back to the basics and understand the simple truths of leadership, this is a must-read.
12. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
Feeling overworked and yet unproductive in a fast-paced environment? Trying to figure out what, exactly, is negatively impacting your leadership and overall output? As a Silicon Valley CEO, Greg McKeown is well-placed to impart the strategies needed to survive — and lead — in intense, competitive environments. McKeown believes the best leaders should develop set criteria for what is deemed essential work: as leaders, this allows us to channel our time and energy more efficiently to achieve greater results.
13. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. by Brené Brown
Next up on our list of the best books on leadership, Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead calls for more daring leaders who will take responsibility for finding potential in those around them. The struggles of leadership are not sugar-coated in this book! Instead, Brown reveals that to ‘dare to lead’ means tackling difficult conversations head-on, staying curious, and sharing our power with others around us to see the results we need.
14. The Four Fixations of a Brilliant Leader by Alan J. Sears
The Four Fixations of a Brilliant Leader continues the trend of Alan J. Sears’s brilliant books about leadership and management. Sears presents a unique setup: Part one is structured as a fictional anecdote, with leadership teachings woven throughout part one of the book. Part two then pulls back the curtains and explains the technical features, background, and key management behaviors shown in Part one.
After his previous bestselling success, The Four Fixations of a Brilliant Leader proves that Sears has perfected the art of creating easy-to-visualize and relatable leadership scenarios for you to understand.
15. First, Break All the Rules: What the world's Greatest Managers Do Differently by Jim Harter
A few years ago, management consulting company Gallup studied more than 80,000 managers to reveal what the best ones do to stand out from the rest. Their findings? The best leaders didn’t hesitate to First, Break All the Rules — and they weren’t afraid of deviating from the norm. How do you blaze a fresh trail when it’s tempting to follow the crowd and safely blend in? Read this to find out.
16. Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer L. Eberhardt
Unconscious biases affect our behaviors every day, no matter how well we think we navigate them. Jennifer Eberhardt is a pioneer in the field and has compiled her revolutionary findings in Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think and Do.
For all leaders, this book is doubly important to read: biases can affect staff diversity and retention rates and negatively impact the sense of unity among your team. Although bias is a universal human phenomenon, Eberhardt reassures us that, with a bit of work, it can be overcome.
17. The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength by Jennifer B. Kahnweiler
Jennifer Kahnweiler’s The Introverted Leader deals with an underrepresented topic in business. The broader culture often dismisses introversion as shyness or a lack of confidence. But Kahnweiler explains that the assumption that all introverted people are too shy to lead a team couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, introverts have a different (but no less worthy) set of strengths which they can harness. And she’ll show you just how to capitalize on those strengths to shine in the workplace as an introverted leader.
18. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
A staple in any list of the best books on leadership, Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has been read by millions of people worldwide. First published in 1989, Covey’s book's timeless insights cover proactivity, time management, and how to take the lead on what’s within your control. By Habit 7, you’ll be learning how to ‘Sharpen the Saw’ by creating a better work-life balance, leaving you with more energy to apply yourself as a leader to the right places.
19. Seeing Around Corners by Rita McGrath
The best leaders can anticipate change before it happens and “see around corners,” so to speak. Seeing Around Corners — the aptly titled book by Columbia Business School professor Rita McGrath — reveals just how to do that. More than that, McGrath demonstrates how to use what she calls ‘discovery-driven planning’ to predict and take control of these changes to lead your organization to success.
20. How to Own the Room: Women and the Art of Brilliant Speaking by Viv Groskop
While women have made numerous advancements in the business world in recent years, we have yet to arrive at true gender equality in the workplace. Viv Groskop wrote How to Own the Room: Women and the Art of Brilliant Speaking to show what some of the world’s most influential and inspirational women can teach us all about how we can replicate their confidence and conviction in our own personal and professional lives. From classic heavyweights like Virginia Woolf to modern-day icons like Michelle Obama, every woman is given a voice in this book to inspire others to own the room for themselves and continue fighting for a fair workplace for all.
21. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Kahneman
In a fast-paced and highly accessible read, Daniel Kahneman takes readers on a tour of the mind and explains how to utilize it to the fullest extent. Thinking, Fast and Slow breaks our thinking process down into two systems: System 1 is fast, instinctive, and emotional; System 2 is slower and more logical.
While leaders of the past have often propped up System 1 as the preferred mode of thinking, Kahneman argues that the obvious assets of fast thinking can also incur faults and biases. By shedding light on the benefits of rational thought, Kahneman offers practical advice to help you tap into your own thinking system and take the lead in your business as well as your personal life.
22. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
If you prefer to take age-old advice from emperors, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (the final of the “Five Good Emperors” of the Roman Empire) is the one for you. Aurelius famously adhered to the Stoic philosophy, which focused on humility, awareness, and control of one’s emotions.
Meditations outlines the complex spiritual reflections and practices that Aurelius developed to lead a little organization known as the Roman Empire. While never intended for publication, the collection has since inspired countless leaders — including former president Theodore Roosevelt, who took a copy with him on a near-fatal eight-month journey through the Amazon.
23. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't by Jim Collins
What makes a company go from simply ‘good’ to ‘great’? What does it take to stand out from the crowd and make that leap? After five years of research and some surprising results, Jim Collins singled out 11 top businesses who have done just that for his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don’t. This bestselling leadership book introduces key concepts such as ‘Level 5 Leadership’ and ‘A Culture of Discipline,’ offering a comprehensive framework for both new and experienced business leaders to take their companies to the next level.
24. On Becoming a Leader by Warren G. Bennis
Warren Bennis believes that leaders aren’t born — they’re made. And in times of so much global uncertainty, it’s never been more important to encourage people to take up leadership roles. On Becoming a Leader offers essential insights into what it takes to lead and has become a frequently-cited classic within the genre. Warren Bennis’s decades of experience (as President of the University of Cincinnati, visiting Professor of Leadership at the University of Exeter, and an advisor to four US Presidents) make him more than qualified to offer advice on becoming a leader.
25. If I Could Tell You Just One Thing by Richard Reed
Can’t settle for reading just one person’s leadership advice? Don’t worry. If I Could Tell You Just One Thing brings together the big names from a wide-ranging spectrum of industries to present all of their most valuable life tips. With people ranging from Sandi Toksvig and Olivia Coleman to Bear Grylls and Bill Gates, there’s truly something for everyone in this illustrious archive of advice. This book contains advice on work, relationships, creativity, and so much more — all of which can help boost your confidence and leadership skills in your own life. If we could tell you just one thing, it’s to pick this book up.
26. High Output Management by Andrew Grove
High Output Management immortalizes the management skills that Andrew Grove developed as the driving force behind Intel Corporation. This leadership handbook sugarcoats nothing and unveils Grove’s tried-and-tested techniques to motivate teams and increase performance. With his hard-won knowledge about building and managing a company from the ground up, High Output Management is an excellent handbook for anyone looking to actually exercise leadership!
27. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead quickly topped bestseller lists after its release in 2013, igniting crucial discussions on women and leadership. Gender equality in the workplace has undoubtedly improved in recent years — however, as Sandberg explains, there is still a long way to go.
Indeed, many have criticized Lean In itself for its limited white and white-collar feminist perspective, and Sandberg has since admitted that her book wasn’t as inclusive as it could be. That said, the groundbreaking COO of Facebook still provides concrete advice for women on how to feel more confident in the workplace through small but crucial day-to-day changes.
28. Mental Models: 30 Thinking Tools that Separate the Average From the Exceptional. Improved Decision-Making, Logical Analysis, and Problem-Solving by Peter Hollins
Written by bestselling author and human behavior researcher Peter Hollins, Mental Models divides the psychological traits of good leadership into thirty defined models. With a laser-sharp focus on typical psychological traits in leaders, Hollins takes the best-fitting ways natural leaders react psychologically to situations and teaches you how to apply them to your own life as a leader.
29. Now It Can Be Told: The Story Of The Manhattan Project by Leslie R. Groves
Everyone knows of the Manhattan Project, perhaps the most intense and deadline-driven project in history. And for this project, one man was placed in charge of America’s efforts to build the first atomic bomb: Lt. Gen. Leslie Groves.
This is his story, which doubles as a revealing and compelling account of multifaceted project management. From the technical details that Groves shares about decision-making and mitigating mistakes to dealing with conflict resolution in a large team, this book covers everything you need to know about large-scale leadership and management. If you’re looking for detailed insight on planning, communication, or how to lead a massive, compartmentalized team, then you won’t be let down by the man who went through it all under immense pressure to deliver.
30. Leadershift by John C. Maxwell
Globally renowned leadership-guru John C. Maxwell offers a written masterclass in how you can continue to innovate and improve your business in his formative work Leadershift. Maxwell outlines 11 key shifts — such as ‘Ladder Climbing to Ladder Building’ and ‘Positional Authority to Moral Authority’ — which every leader must embrace if they want to see success across their team.
And you can trust him on this: each of these shifts played a role in shaping his personal trajectory, setting him up for new and better opportunities. The book’s simple and straightforward approach makes it one of the best leadership books for anyone ready to examine how they think and put in the work to achieve the best results possible.
31. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl’s 1946 book chronicling his time captive in Nazi concentration camps during World War II has riveted readers for decades. Man’s Search for Meaning is a deep exploration of Frankl’s lessons for spiritual survival, based on his own experiences surviving Auschwitz, as well as those of his patients during his time as a psychiatrist. Most of all, it is an enduring testament to Frankl’s theory that humans are driven by finding meaning in life — even if it stems from suffering.
32. Becoming by Michelle Obama
A captivating memoir in its own right, Becoming is a heartfelt invitation into Michelle Obama’s world that shines a light on her experiences and challenges from childhood to her time as the first African American First Lady of the U.S.A. As one of the most recognizable world leaders, Obama explains how the biases she faced motivated her to create the most inclusive White House to date. Like the woman herself, Becoming will inspire you, too, to carry on leading despite the adversities that you may face along the way.
33. More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say) by Elaine Welteroth
Brought to you by the revolutionary editor who introduced social awareness to Teen Vogue, Elaine Welteroth’s More Than Enough will take you on a journey to come into your own. Welteroth draws on her experiences of climbing the ranks in the media and fashion world, particularly as a Black woman from small-town California, to share the lessons she learned along the way.
This book stays true to its name, exploring how young women (particularly young Black women) bosses are more than enough, despite often being told otherwise — a highly recommended read, especially for aspiring Black female leaders.
34. Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis & Annie McKee
In Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman argues that the critical role of a leader is to manage the emotional atmosphere of their community. We’ve all experienced our moods brightening and dampening based on the people around us; Goleman expands upon this to build a compelling case that people look to their leaders to set the overall mood. This book shows that it’s possible to learn effective leadership, and Goleman has the practical advice that will help you develop that emotional intelligence and leadership competency.
35. Leadership Is an Art by Max DePree
If you’re less interested in the “hows” of leadership — particularly corporate leadership — and more interested in the “whys,” then you may want to turn to Max DePree’s pivotal book, a treatise on leading in a way that focuses on employee autonomy and well-being. DePree views leadership as a stewardship that cannot work without also empowering employees first. His book underscores the importance of building relationships, developing ideas, and creating strong systems within an organization.
36. The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger
After becoming CEO of The Walt Disney Company in 2005, Robert Iger had a clear idea of where the company needed to go. The Ride of a Lifetime details his successful leadership as one of the most prolific CEOs in the world. Iger breaks down Disney’s success into four parts: quality content, embracing technology, large-scale thinking, and, most importantly, taking a decency-over-dollars approach to every project. According to Iger himself, this isn’t just a leadership book for aspiring CEOs, but for “anyone wanting to feel less fearful [and] more confidently themselves.” This is a large-scale success story to teach large-scale leaders!
37. How to Be a Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big Impact by Jane E. Dutton and Gretchen M. Spreitzer
How to Be a Positive Leader captures insights into how the small actions that leaders take can greatly affect individuals and organizations, encouraging them to be their best. Jane E. Dutton and Gretchen M. Spreitzer have built this book on a foundation of contemporary research from positive organizational scholarship to give you the most informative read. If you’re focused on creating a positive atmosphere and impact in your workplace, then Dutton and Spreitzer have got your back.
38. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adapted from her viral TEDx talk, We Should All Be Feminists draws on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s experiences as a professional woman in a world filled with issues from blatant discrimination to more normalized and insitutionalized sexism. Adichie offers an analysis of what “feminism” means in the twenty-first century, and why gender discrimination is detrimental to both women and men. Of course, Adichie's nonfiction prose is just as witty and observant as in her fictional books — her recognizable writing style makes this book a masterclass in leadership as a woman and a joy to read as well.
39. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz
Ben Horowitz does not shy away from the thorniest leadership issues that even business schools don’t cover. Indeed, the whole premise of The Hard Thing About Hard Things discusses the problems that aren’t usually spoken aloud — like having to fire friends or poaching from competitors. This brutally authentic book breaks down the hardships that come with being a leader into three key ideas: being clear about what you want to be done, making sure other people are clear about what has to be done, and facing difficult questions early. Discussions on honesty and transparency — and their positive effects on leadership — are at the forefront of this read.
40. Excellence Wins: A No-Nonsense Guide to Becoming the Best in a World of Compromise by Horst Schulze
A no-nonsense compilation of the leadership values that helped Horst Schulze triumph as cofounder of the Ritz-Carlton hotel brand, Excellence Wins argues that you can still follow the same principles to success, no matter your title or age. And of the principles that it advocates, Excellence Wins champions self-discipline and self-standards above all else — even in scenarios where it may not seem necessary. Give this a read if you’re willing to challenge yourself to become a more self-aware — and overall better — leader.