There are two kinds of people: those who are led and those who lead them. We’re guessing you’re here because you want to be one of the latter.
It’s both a thorny path and a hell of a responsibility once you get to the end! So, just like Frodo, you better find a good fellowship before you embark on your journey.
And we’ve rounded up the usual suspects. The top leadership books are here! – just for you.
#1. “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu
If you haven’t heard about “The Art of War” before, we’re probably not living on the same planet!
Speaking of which: the author of this book, a Chinese military general named Sun Tzu, might have been from another planet as well! It’s kind of fascinating to think that he lived over two and a half millennia ago, and wrote something which is still widely read by CEOs worldwide.
In fact, it has influenced leaders as diverse as General MacArthur, Marc Benioff, and Bill Belichick!
In thirteen sections, each analyzing different aspects of warfare strategies, “The Art of War” serves as a perennial reminder that the business world is a modern battlefield. And that you need to be prepared for everything to gain the advantage and win.
#2. “Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times” by Donald T. Phillips
Abraham Lincoln is nowadays almost routinely ranked by both scholars and the public as one of the greatest – if not the greatest – US presidents. And this even though he had the unfortunate trouble of leading the country through its bloodiest war, and its greatest political crisis. In four years’ time!
Donald T. Phillips’ book was the first to go through the skills and talents which made Lincoln such a capable leader. And it doesn’t only examine what Lincoln did to overcome the insurmountable obstacles he faced. It also explains how his actions are relevant today, as well.
Read it! Especially, if you are ever in need of a strategy for some tough times. Because, let’s face it, you’ll never have more problems than Lincoln did.
#3. “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl
The inclusion of Viktor E. Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” in a list of top books about leadership may seem a bit odd. After all, the book chronicles the experiences of the famous Austrian psychiatrist in Nazi prison camps during the Second World War!
But, that’s once again the point! Just as Lincoln can teach you something about leadership because he had to lead the US through the Civil War, Frankl can teach you even more because he survived through Auschwitz.
His main observation: the people who survived the Holocaust were the ones who didn’t give up. And they never gave up, because they had some purpose in life. A goal, which gave them the right mindset to understand that even suffering may be a teacher.
Possibly, the best one.
#4. “On Becoming a Leader” by Warren Bennis
One of the ultimate leadership classics; maybe even the book to read if you want to learn what is a good leader. In fact, that’s the exact question Warren Bennis – once described by “Forbes” magazine as the “the dean of leadership gurus” – posits to hundreds of different people, from a wide array of professions.
In “On Becoming a Leader” you’ll find the question answered by a host of executives and entrepreneurs, but also by numerous philosophers, psychologists, scientists, and entertainers. Well-researched, broad, and thorough, “On Becoming a Leader” should be your Leadership 101.
#5. “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… And Others Don’t” by Jim Collins
It’s hard turning a mediocre into good company after years of averageness; and it seems impossible to turn it into a great one.
Based on a 5-year study which included an in-depth analyses and contrast/compare study of the strategies and practice of 28 different companies, “Good to Great” is Jim Collins’ attempt to get to the bottom of the causes which separate the great companies from the good ones. And his findings are both surprising and enlightening!
Want to become a Level 5 leader, that is, the humble guru who always does what’s best for his company? Read this book and find out how.
(Spoiler alert: Level 5 leadership is merely one of the seven characteristics of great companies.)
#6. “Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman
Obviously, vulnerability is not something you’ll look for in a good leader instinctively.
Let us rock your world:
“Primal Leadership” further reinforces “Good to Great’s” conclusion that the most successful companies are led by humble leaders! Moreover, Daniel Goleman, the author who popularized the concept “emotional intelligence,” claims that great leaders possess something even more special: a quality called “resonance.”
It basically means that they are in touch with their emotions; and that they are able to channel even their negative responses in a positive direction.
Both revolutionary and long-lasting, as far as leadership development books go, “Primal Leadership” is a no-brainer on any top list!
#7. “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” by Simon Sinek
As Sun Tzu enlighteningly taught us in “The Art of War,” all the preparation works only if it’s put into practice. Or, in other words, we have strategies so that we know how to act promptly when some situations inevitably occur.
In “Start with Why,” our favorite humanity-lover optimist Simon Sinek, shows how it’s not only about the actions of the great leaders themselves, but it’s also about the actions they inspire in the people around.
And where does inspiration come from?
Well, it’s not in the “how” – it’s in the “why.” Because only when you know why you want to be the CEO of a certain company, you’ll know how to run that company.
And what to tell those around you to inspire them to act the right way.
#8. “Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t” by Simon Sinek
When we started making this list, we wanted each author represented with one book only. And just a few seconds later, we couldn’t decide which Simon Sinek book on leadership is the better one. So, we’ve decided on both.
After all, they are a perfect pair! Because, if “Start with Why” is about the “why,” then “Leaders Eat Last” is definitely about the “how.”
And, just like many of the books on this list, it’s once again about the “hows” of being a good leader; not a Machiavellian one. The latter one is obsolete nowadays, says Sinek here. The good one eats last, and, thus, creates a Circle of Safety, i.e. a group of loyal coworkers and employees who love him and follow him blindly – because they believe his vision.
You know: a fellowship.
#9. “Turn the Ship Around: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders” by L. David Marquet
L. David Marquet takes Simon Sinek’s advice and raises it by one!
Why not, he says, instead of creating a nice little camaraderie of colleagues/friends who follow you for the right reasons, try to turn your subordinates into leaders just like you!
Bearing in mind the fact that Marquet is a former U.S. Navy captain, this may not seem like such a wise idea. However, as he explicates in “Turn the Ship Around,” it more than works! In fact, it’s what transformed the crew of the USS Santa Fe submarine from “worst to best”.
Think operating your company is harder than captaining a submarine?
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#10. “How to Win Friends and Influence People: The Only Book You Need to Lead You to Success” by Dale Carnegie
When it was first published in 1936, the subtitle of Dale Carnegie’s bestseller might have seemed a bit pretentious. Fast forward a century, and 30 million people would certainly beg to differ! No wonder the book made it in the Top 20 of “Time Magazine’s” list of most influential books. Ever.
But, what can today’s leaders learn from “How to Win Friends and Influence People”?
Well, mostly the same they would from reading Socrates – a little between the lines. And that is, that people are egotistical and think they know everything, when they actually know little.
Carnegie’s advice: use it your benefit. A combination of charm and the right number of compliments can turn self-dubbed lions into hand-eating sparrows.
And the best part: they’ll think they lead you whilst you’re pulling the strings!
#11. “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change” by Stephen R. Covey
The first non-fiction book to sell more than one million copies of its audio version, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” proved to have been both a paradigm shifter, and a timeless leadership manual.
Engagingly and with a lot of bravado, Stephen R. Covey claims that good leaders are good people as well, and that they all share seven characteristics.
The first three define their independence. Namely, they are proactive, with a mission statement, and a personal vision. The second three habits talk about their interdependence. In other words, they value people, respect and understand their opinions, and are capable of combining their strengths. Finally, they continually improve.
Covey would later go on and add one more habit – but, that’s a different book.
#12. “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You” by John C. Maxwell
Even across two books, Covey ends up with 8 habits which define leaders. In “21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” John C. Maxwell lists three times more. Obviously. Even more obviously – he thinks they are indisputable.
Now, a short summary may do enough for seven rules – but 21? No, we’re not even going to try to list them.
But, we’ll tell you that, for example, Maxwell’s law of influence explains why Abraham Lincoln was demoted from a captain to a private. Or, that if McNamara knew his law of solid ground the Vietnam War might have been a different affair. Or, that the law of buy-in is the inspiration behind the passive resistance movement.
Now – did we tickle your fancy?
#13. “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World” by Adam Grant
If you want to be the leader of the pack, you have to be someone who doesn’t belong in the pack. And in “Originals,” Adam Grant teaches you how – and why – you must be different. For the sake of humanity.
Because, as he shows through a lot of interesting studies and real-life-examples, if it was left to the conformists, humanity may have never moved an inch!
For example, did you know that the pilot episode of “Seinfeld,” possibly the greatest sitcom ever, was deemed to be “weak” and “unwatchable”? And that it was saved by a TV executive who didn’t even work in comedy?
The conformists believe in the holiness of the status quo. The originals try to disrupt it. In which group do you think the good leaders belong?
#14. “Wooden on Leadership” by John Wooden
If you’re not a sportsperson, you may have never heard of John Wooden. Which is a pity, because he was so successful and revered as a coach, that they nicknamed him “Wizard”!
In “Wooden on Leadership” – one of the seven books on leadership he authored – you can easily see why. Everything is so magical. Neatly structured and organized, and, yet – inspirational as hell! (After all, he was a basketball coach, so no lack of inspirational messages here, folks!)
So, what are you waiting for? Acquire this book and start leafing through the reasons behind Wooden’s achievements. You’ll be hooked by Chapter 1 already, dedicated to his triangular 25-behavior high “Pyramid of Success”!
Oh, you know that pyramid? Well, it’s his!
#15. “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg
We can tell you so much about the significance of this book by merely going through Sheryl Sandberg’s portfolio.
First, chief of staff for United States Department of the Treasury Lawrence Summer. Then, a vice president for online sales at Google. And then, the first woman to serve in Facebook’s board of directors. Finally, Facebook’s COO.
Also, a billionaire and a Time 100 laureate in 2012.
If she can’t tell you a thing or two about gender equality – who can? Here’s a quick preview for all the members of the gentler sex: seize the day! Lean into your careers. And take back what you’ve been unjustly deprived of for millennia!