What is Leadership?

Leadership is the influencing word, the forthright movement in the right direction, the ability to make decisions, and be followed. From decision making to the way you speak and your ethical values. Do you want to be a leader of people, a business leader, or to lead a revolution? Welcome to the 20 best books on leadership.

You will not learn how to lead by reading, but books can teach you a great deal about leadership.

Works by or about great leaders and leadership theory can offer essential lessons in leading others. Even if you do not learn how to lead, the top leadership books offer wisdom in life, strategy, and business.

Here are a few volumes that offer valuable insights into the art of leadership.

Top 20 Best Books on Leadership & Management

Developing the Leader Within You by John C. Maxwell

Maxwell has updated his classic analysis of leadership for the 21st Century with examinations of a variety of leadership styles.

One advantage of Maxwell’s method is that he offers leadership insights for a wide variety of fields, including the church, government, and business.

The most valuable insight Maxwell examines is the leadership influence and a breakdown of different types of leaders.

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Leadershift by John C. Maxwell

Leadershift (2019) helps leaders and would-be leaders develop the ability and desire to make the changes in their leadership that will positively boost not just their growth, but that of their organizations.

It shows how, with the right mindset and the most up-to-date thinking, we can all achieve great things as leaders.

A new work by one of today’s greatest experts on leadership. Maxwell shows how leaders can change organizations by implementing what calls “Leadershifts.”

The book emphasizes personal growth and examines the shifts that shaped his own career.

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If I Could Tell You Just One Thing by Richard Reed

If I Could Tell You Just One Thing: Encounters With Remarkable People And Their Most Valuable Advice by Richard Reed

Virgin CEO Sir Richard Branson describes this work as his favorite book on business leadership. Reed created the book by asking, “Given all that you have experienced, given all that you now know, and given all that you have learned if you could pass on only one piece of advice, what would it be?”

The work applies to leadership because many of the people Reed interviewed were leaders in a variety of fields. Those leaders range from former President Bill Clinton (D-Arkansas) to the Dalai Lama.

The research enabled Reed to collect an incredible amount of advice from extraordinary individuals. For instance, perfume entrepreneur Jo Malone told Reed, “No matter how bad it is, no situation is ever greater than you. you always have three options: you can change the situation, accept the situation, or change your mindset on how you see the situation.”

If you are looking for basic insights on leadership from many leaders, If I Could Tell You Just One Thing is the reference book for you.

Many of the quotes distill the basic philosophies, ideals, and values of successful leaders in an easy-to-understand format. Some of the advice is practical, while other quotes are inspirational.

The late chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain offered a great piece of strategic advice for any leader or entrepreneur. The advice was, don’t work with “a**holes or toxic and obnoxious people.”

Bourdain’s simple but brilliant insight was that such rude and obnoxious people waste time, money, and resources while making your life miserable. Plus, a**holes distract you from your goals while creating problems. Avoiding those individuals who get in your way is a good basic strategy to success.

The tremendous lesson If I Could Tell You Just One Thing teaches that valuable advice and useful insights are all around us if you are just willing to listen. Hence, this book offers a lesson in the power of listening and paying attention.

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Leadership is an Art by Max DePree

DePree shows how to lead and inspire creative individuals by recounting his work as CEO of the furniture maker Herman Miller Inc.

A must for those in manufacturing, technology, entertainment, and other fields where creativity is the key to profit.

The best leaders know that empathy and elegance are the keys to workplace success, not tough talk, and harsh discipline. When you look at leadership as an art form, you won’t just improve your company but also make life better for the people you lead, too.

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The Ride of a Lifetime by Bob Iger

The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as the CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Bob Iger – #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

One of the world’s top entertainment executives offers his philosophy of leadership.

Iger reveals that treating business acquaintances with respect led to his four most important deals. The acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel Entertainment, Lucasfilm, and 21st Fox; four companies that make up the modern Disney (NYSE: DIS) empire, resulted from personal relationships Iger established with those companies’ CEOs.

George Lucas sold Lucasfilm and Star Wars to Disney partially because of the way Iger treated him 20 years earlier. To explain, in the early 1990s, Iger, then an executive at ABC television, kept his word and allowed Lucas’s unsuccessful series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles to run for two full seasons. Two decades later, Lucas remembered that when Iger offered to buy Lucasfilm.

Iger also muses on the importance of such values and attributes as optimism, courage, fairness, curiosity, focus, decisiveness, integrity, and thoughtfulness. An excellent account of ethical leadership in action in a cutthroat business by somebody who has walked the walk.

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Leading Change by John P. Kotter

Kotter shows leaders how to be part of the change rather than resist it. In particular, Kotter tells you how not to manage change. Instead, he offers a methodology for leading change and shaping its direction.

This classic is a vital road map to survival in today’s ever-changing world.

This book is a must-read for leaders in a business and technology landscape marked by constant change and continuous disruption. Leaders who want to learn how to leverage disruption can benefit from Kotter’s work.

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Excellence Wins by Horst Schulze

Excellence Wins A No-Nonsense Guide to Becoming the Best in a World of Compromise by Horst Schulze with Dean Merrill

Schulze, the former president of the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain, reveals his secrets for offering high quality and uncompromising customer service in a throwaway world.

In particular, Schulze shares his secrets for empowering employees to become leaders.

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The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

“The morning after Trump was elected president, the people who ran the US Department of Energy – an agency that deals with some of the most powerful risks facing humanity – waited to welcome the incoming administration’s transition team. Nobody appeared. Across the US government, the same thing happened: nothing.”

One of the greatest living business writers examines leadership from a different perspective that of mid-level managers and employees. Lewis examines the careers of long-term federal civil servants in the United States.

In particular, Lewis shows how mid-level managers are the key to top-notch civil service and organizational consistency. A must-read for managers and leaders trying to understand those below them.

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Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Essentialism (2014) teaches you how to do better by doing less. By offering practical solutions for how to get your priorities straight, Essentialism helps you to eliminate all of the junk in your routine that’s keeping you from being truly productive and fulfilled.

McKeown offers insight into a leader’s daily routine and the importance of discipline. In particular, he offers advice on surviving the day-to-day struggles that shape every organization.

This book is unique because it focuses on the art of everyday survival for leaders rather than big-picture thinking and values.

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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven R. Covey

This book is a rare leadership classic that lives up to the hype. It was named the “most influential business book of the 20th Century” for a good reason. Covey shows leaders how to identify the most effective employees and get the most of them.

“Taught in every Business School in the Free World.”

Still one of the best blueprints for action for managers available. Covey’s book also serves as an insightful guide to the principles and philosophy of leadership. This book is a must-read for anybody trying to assemble a team or form an organization.

“The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) is the enormously influential self-help phenomenon that can teach you the principles of effectiveness. Once you make these principles into habits, you’ll be well on your way to more success, both in your personal and your professional life.” Blinkist Summary

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Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

In this behavioral science classic, Goleman examines the mental and emotional traits that make people successful. Leaders need this book because it shows what personality traits you need to look for in employees.

Importantly, Emotional Intelligence shows what kinds of employee organizations need to avoid if they want success. Moreover, Emotional Intelligence offers a coherent philosophy of leadership and success and shows how those principles apply to individual team members.

Understanding Emotional Intelligence can help leaders understand the motivations and thoughts of employees. Additionally, this pivotal work will help you identify emotional strengths and weaknesses in yourself and individual team members. Knowing those traits can transform a group of individuals into an effective team.

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When the Buck Stops With You by Alan Axelrod Ph.D

Harry S. Truman on Leadership

A very entertaining examination of the leadership philosophy of one of America’s greatest presidents.

Truman had little leadership, or administration, experience, yet he found himself thrust into the most powerful office in the world at the height of World War II. Axelrod does a great job of distilling Truman’s leadership philosophy and values for ordinary people.

A great book for ordinary people who find themselves in unexpected leadership positions. Many business leaders find themselves pulled from obscurity and suddenly placed into leadership roles. In addition, Truman had to make extraordinary decisions, including the use of the atomic bomb and negotiate with one of the worst tyrants in human history, Joseph Stalin.

Truman’s ability to adapt to extraordinary situations can serve as a role model for any leader in any situation. Axelrod does everybody a service by distilling a set of leadership values anybody can apply from Truman’s career and sayings.

This is a rare book; there are only a few available on Amazon – It is Well Worth It.

Business Adventures by John Brooks

Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street by John Brooks

This classic is a favorite read of both Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. In fact, Gates reveals that Buffett recommended Business Adventures to him.

Gates reports that Business Adventures is Buffett’s favorite business book. The Microsoft co-founder thinks Business is the best business book he’s ever read.

Brooks dissects corporate life and business strategy by examining notable events in the history of large companies. For instance, Brooks examines the epic failure of Ford’s Edsel car and the success of Xerox.

This book can help you understand what motivates two of today’s most successful business leaders.

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Creative Construction by Gary P. Pisano

Creative Construction: The DNA of Sustained Innovations by Gary P. Pisano

Pisano, a Harvard Business School professor, argues that large companies can thrive in a changing world.

Pisano challenges the conventional wisdom that only startups can innovate and enter new fields. Creative Construction, an intellectual framework for understanding disruption.

Pisano’s focus is on adapting big established enterprises to adapt to a changing market. Pisano spent three decades studying disruption on the ground. If you need a perspective about today’s market, this book is for you.

 

First, Break All the Rules by Jim Harter

First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Jim Harter

This book is based on a 25-year Gallup study of over 80,000 managers at 400 companies. The hope was to identify what the best managers do differently from everybody else.

This book offers important insights into human resources management, team building, team leadership, and employee/manager interactions. One person who swears by this book is Lori Goler, Facebook’s Vice President of People.

The most important lesson from this book is that the manager’s personal behavior shapes employee success. Harter emphasizes the differences between managers and leaders. Leaders look outward to see the big picture while mangers look inward to watch the details.

Thus, Harter offers an important insight into the difference between management and leadership. That lesson is successful leaders must be willing to break with the past and change everything. Leaders who do not learn that lesson will fail in today’s world of continuous disruption.

Pisano also shows how to get the most out of the best employees. One advantage of this book is that it is based on advice from real business leaders who are in the office every day rather than academics.

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Insanely Simple by Ken Segall

Insanely Simple: The Obsession that Drives Apple’s Success by Ken Segall

This book reveals and examines the simple philosophy that drove Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) to reach a $1 trillion market capitalization.

The philosophy imparted by Steve Jobs was simplicity. Segall got first-hand experience of that philosophy by sitting in the conference room with Jobs.

In the book, Segall reveals how Jobs made that philosophy reality and used it to drive Apple’s incredible turnaround. Segall shows how the philosophy drove Apple to perform better and faster and make more money.

Anybody that wants to apply their philosophy and values to a company needs to take a look at Insanely Simple. If you need a basic business philosophy to shape strategy, this is the book for you. It also provides a great introduction to marketing, advertising, strategy, and design.

If you want a book that offers a basic and easy to understand but proven business philosophy, Insanely Simple is it. Understanding the importance of simplicity can help any leader succeed.

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Seeing Around Corners by Rita McGrath

Seeing Around Corners: How to Spot Inflection Points in Business Before They Happen by Rita McGrath

Columbia Business School Professor Rita McGrath asks the interesting question, “how do leaders spot change and disruption before they occur”.

McGrath theorizes that change and disruption in business flow from inflection points. Hence, leaders who can spot the inflection points can profit from them. Steve Jobs, for example, spotted the inflection point of the smartphone and deduced how the phone could become a major source of entertainment and information.

Apple is so successful today because Jobs was a master at spotting inflection points and seizing control of them first. Jobs realized that smartphones could create a huge market for digital entertainment, so he created the App Store.

McGrath offers several strategies for spotting inflection points and capitalizing on them. In addition, she shows how to decentralize strategy in order to find several paths to success and customer loyalty.

Importantly, McGrath shows how entrepreneurs can spot new technologies and markets coming and take advantage of them. She does this by examining Netflix’s identification of streaming video and the construction of a platform to profit from that market.

Seeing Around Corners is a timely book because of its focus on digital platforms and markets. If you want to learn where a business is going and plan for it, Seeing Around Corner is a must-read.

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Connected Strategy by Nicolaj Siggelkow

Connected Strategy: Building Continuous Customer Relationships for Competitive Advantage by Nicolaj Siggelkow and Christian Terwiesch

This book answers the all-important question, “how do you turn an occasional shopper into a devoted customer?” The authors offer a comprehensive strategy of customer service designed to build relationships.

A connected strategy leverages technology by combining it with traditional customer service. Connected Strategy is a must for any leader who wants to make relationship building and customer service priorities.  

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In Search of Excellence by Thomas J. Peters

In Search of Excellence by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr.

Taught in every Business School in the Free World.”

All leaders need to read this classic, which some readers call the “Greatest Business Book of All Time.”

Peters and Waterman studied 43 of America’s best-run companies to learn their management’s secrets. As a result, the two found eight basic principles that lead to management success.

If you need a basic philosophy of management and business leadership, this is the book for you. In Search of Excellence demonstrates the importance of management philosophy by teaching philosophy.

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Different by Youngme Moon

Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd by Youngme Moon

Harvard Business School Professor Youngme Moon shows how to make a brand stand out in today’s crowded and hyper-competitive market.

Young’s original research on Google and IKEA show how mavericks can disrupt industries and build successful brands. I advise those searching for a unique path to success to look at Different.

This book also provides a great introduction to branding and marketing in today’s world. If you want to build something new and unique, this book is for you.

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Books On Leadership & Management Summary

No book can teach you leadership, but all the books we list here offer insights into leadership. Successful leaders read because successful leaders are constantly seeking new knowledge and wisdom.

The more you learn about leadership, the better a leader you will be. If you tell yourself I know nothing about leadership and need to learn, you could succeed as a leader.

Studying the best books on leadership is a great way to understand leadership and its importance.

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Barry's 25 years of experience with Silicon Valley Corporations such as IBM, Compaq, Hewlett Packard, Hewlett Packard Enterprise & DXC Technology enables him to share his knowledge of succeeding in today's professional corporate environments and develop a great work life for yourself.

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  1. leadership books August 13, 2020

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