We should all strive to become a better leader and learn from others. Leadership books are often a valuable tool in learning how to harness the power of leadership tactics.
Take a look at our recommendations for the best leadership books to help develop your skills.
How We Chose Our Ratings
We are always striving to have the most accurate reviews and “best of” lists out there. To help you understand how we chose the leadership books that we did, we included a breakdown of how we determined our rankings.
Take a look at our “Buyer’s Guide” section at the end of this article if you want some more help deciding which book would be best for you.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence
The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever
Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader
Dying for a Paycheck
Top 5 Best Leadership Books
Here are our top five leadership books that we found throughout our research. As we’ve stated, much of these rankings have to do with a subjective assessment, and our top five might not be the same as your personal top five.
With this list, we hope to give you a jumping-off point for where, to begin with your leadership development. If we missed any of your favorite leadership books, let us know about it! We’re always looking to find the next book that speaks to us.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable combines many of the elements most people want in a leadership book. It includes a gripping story with Lencioni’s excellent storytelling capabilities and a message about leadership that transcends even the corporate world.
The story is equally effective in teaching leadership and teamwork. In fact, coaches for professional sports teams have included this book in their reading list, teaching their player how to become outstanding leaders and teammates.
Through Lencioni’s fable, he outlines the dysfunctions of the team being:
- Absence of trust
- Fear of conflict
- Lack of commitment
- Avoidance of accountability
- Inattention to results.
You can get a lot out of this tale. The messages and lessons at the end are equally as easy to understand as they are effective.
Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence
Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee takes an analytical approach to leadership that is absent in a lot of other recent leadership publications.
The writers focus on practical application as well, but the bulk of this book is dedicated to exploring the scientific reasoning behind good leadership. We naturally respond to good and bad leaders, which shows that certain tactics work across the board.
This book is fantastic for those who don’t traditionally gravitate towards leadership books. It gives you reasons - outside anecdotal evidence - why certain leadership strategies and characteristics are more effective than others.
The Coaching Habit:
Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever
The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stranier tackles one of the difficulties a lot of managers have with their employees: coaching. Coaching is one of the essential leadership roles any manager can complete, but it’s one that few can master to their fullest potential.
Stranier draws on his own experience training managers in his style of coaching and breaks it down in his easily-digestible book. It’s packed with behavioral studies that support his teachings, along with real-world experiences of his teaching put into action.
This book excels in its ability to deal with coaching in practice. It gives managers tools they can use to unlock the most from their employees by becoming aware of their own behavior.
Being a good coach and a good leader are often one in the same. If you’re not getting the most out of your employees, the problem is likely with the manager and not the worker.
Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader
Hermania Ibarra’s Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader challenges the idea that you already know how to be the best leader for your team. Instead of sweeping adjustments, Ibarra suggests small, incremental changes that develop you into a modern, successful leader over time.
Ibarra recognizes that it’s difficult to find time to develop your leadership skills among your other daily tasks. In this book, you’ll learn about the smaller changes you can make to help hone your skills and get the most from your team.
Dying for a Paycheck
Dying for a Paycheck: Why the American Way of Business Is Injurious to People and Companies is an interesting look at how the professional workplace is slowly killing us. It doesn’t only focus on how bad the problem is, however, but injects solutions that need to take place from top to bottom.
Dying for a Paycheck offers insight that a lot of other books don’t. It’s an honest look at the shortcomings of modern professional life, and how we can change them for the better. The best leaders should know the data, statistics, and natural tendencies behind their workforce and Dying for a Paycheck will give you that perspective.
The book is a bit dense, however, and can take a bit of focus to get through. Still, there is some extremely helpful insight between those pages, and we recommend checking it out.
Almost everyone strives to be a better leader in both their personal and professional life. Leading people means teaching them, inspiring them, and finding out how to harness their full potential.
Leadership books are jam-packed with helpful tools you can use in your work. Many of them extend far outside of professional life as well. Ahead is our rankings for the best leadership books we could find. See what you think and let us know if we missed one of your favorites.
The author’s personal accomplishments are some of the biggest considerations we made before even picking up some of these books.
The self-help and management literature space is full of authors who have little qualifications other than the books they’ve written. Most of these authors are better at marketing than anything else and end up selling their books despite having no real-world leadership experience to speak of.
Some of these books include some helpful bits of information that you can use in your quest to becoming a great leader. When this is the case, though, the author usually took most of their anecdotes from leaders who have actually experienced the struggle of getting to where they are.
These books provide entertainment value more than anything and aren’t worth reading if you’re serious about becoming a great leader. It's much better to learn from someone who has been through what you hope to one day achieve.
Great writers write great books, but that doesn’t mean they were a worthy leader. On this list, we only included books from authors who have had experience in top leadership roles.
Did the Book Help?
Inspiration comes from many sources, and different people get inspired by different things. Unlike some of the other products we’ve reviewed, it’s hard to get a sense of how impactful a book can be based on user reviews.
User reviews are still helpful, however, when you consider how much a leadership book has impacted those who have read it.
The best leadership books will inspire the reader to try these leadership tactics on their own. When readers come back and tell the public how a certain section or chapter translated into their personal or professional life, the book is usually worth reading.
We combed through user testimonials before picking up most of these books. We usually gave a book a chance if the scores were overwhelmingly positive. If people found the writer’s tone off-putting or difficult to understand, we didn’t include it in this list.
We’re aiming to give our readers the best leadership reading experience, and reviewed what other readers thought to help our rankings.
Accessibility is one of the larger concerns with any piece of written content. When we were compiling our list, we asked ourselves: how many people will get the most that this book has to offer?
A lot of books hold pieces of wisdom but are far too dense for the vast majority of people to understand and enjoy. A book that reads like a textbook might be full of useful information; but how many people will realistically read the thing from cover to cover?
We weren’t looking for books that read like a high schooler could have written them, but easily digestible information ranks higher than dense, statistically-driven leadership books.
Many of these leaders never trained themselves to write any long-form content. Keeping a reader’s attention is difficult, and not everyone can master the art of the page-turner.
We prioritized books that were easily accessible and interesting to read. They included stories of personal experiences that were told in an engaging voice, with a positive or educational message at their core.
We didn’t go out of our way to exclude leadership books that were published a while ago; we mostly considered books written in the past five or six years.
Certain leadership sentiments transcend time. People have been using these tactics for decades or centuries, and they are no less applicable to today’s leadership culture.
Still, the professional and personal landscape has changed immensely - even in the past decade. Recent books will give you the most up-to-date tactics that will help give you the edge in today’s technological climate.
Now that we’ve given you our top five recommendations for leadership books, we’ll take a closer look at what you can look for in some of these books. After all, we left quite a few compelling pieces off of our list.
The best leadership books come with a bit of subjectivity. We believe almost anyone in any leadership role will find these books helpful, but you might notice that other authors tell stories that are more meaningful to you and your life experience.
Consider the following when choosing the best book to pick up and read. After all, reading a book is an investment, and you want to feel like your time was well spent when you finish the last page.
Choosing a Topic that Appeals to You
There are all kinds of leadership books out there, and finding the best one is a bit subjective. Everyone has different tastes and preferences when it comes to consuming content, and leadership books are no different.
A recommendation from your friend might not mean very much if they have different sensibilities than you do. Something the author said might have resonated with them, and the same sentence might seem like a bunch of nonsense to you.
It’s important to select a book from an author that you think applies to your situation. You might benefit from the teachings of someone in a different industry, but choosing a book from someone who has already established your “dream career” will probably be the best choice - at least for your first leadership book.
These authors will be able to give you insight into how they got where they are. If you aspire to follow a similar career path as the author, they can give you a roadmap along with some helpful tidbits.
This point might seem contradictory to our previous piece of advice, but it doesn’t have to be. The best leadership books will apply to a wide range of readers while still challenging what the reader believes and how they are going about managing their team.
You are going to have to make yourself uncomfortable if you want to become a great leader. Reading a book that tells you everything you’re doing is perfect won’t do you any good.
Sure, it might be nice to hear that your tactics are all you need to succeed, but it probably isn’t the reality. It’s uncomfortable - yet more useful - to read a book that tells you why everything you’re doing is counterproductive.
Changing your leadership tactics might not be something you want to hear right away, but it’s something you need to hear. There’s a reason these authors are in a position of authority on the topic of leadership. They’ve been through the failures and trials, and have come out the other side.
Reading a book that keeps you in your comfort zone won’t do as much for you like a book that challenges you will. Seek out authors who write about doing things differently than you do them. You don’t have to take all of their advice, but there’s certainly something you’ll be able to take away from the experience.
After all, you’re looking for the best leadership books to learn something, not to have the author reinforce your current ideas and strategies.
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