15 Critical Books Every Leader Needs to Read

15 Critical Books Every Leader Needs to Read

Your leadership is critical to the success of your career. The question is, do you know enough about leadership to take your career to the next level?

Most leaders don’t, but that’s an easy fix. All they need to do is take a trip to their local library (or, more conveniently, Amazon.com), and browse through the leadership section.

Except… there are so many books. Where to start?

Over the years, I’ve compiled a list of leadership books that will, in my opinion, give you the best information with the least headache and lowest page-count possible.

There are a bunch of classics on this list, but also some lesser known ones that really deliver.

  1. StrengthsFinder 2.0, by Tom Rath. The recipe to real success begins with the words “know thyself”, and that’s exactly where this book starts you off by preaching that you can get more out of focusing on your strengths than you can by trying to compensate for your weaknesses. The book is small, and you don’t have to read most of it; the real value is in the online strengths assessment, to identify your top five strengths.


  1. Getting Things Done, by David Allen. You need a system for actually getting things done – that’s where David Allen’s book comes in. You will learn to group your next actions (what normal people call your to-do list) and manage your time for maximum results, which is exactly what you need to create more of an impact.


  1. Work with Me, by Barbara Annis and John Gray. Working in male-dominated departments and companies, my clients struggle with feeling respected and appreciated. This book alone has relieved a huge amount of stress for my clients by realizing that men are fundamentally different and they don’t have to take their actions so personally.


  1. Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni. This fun to read classic (I read it in one night, because I couldn’t put it down) tells a story of dysfunctional teams to illustrate what they all have in common, and how these “dysfunctions” can be overcome. The end of the book has the actual “model” in it, so that you can then easily apply what you learn in the story to your own teams and work groups.


  1. Mindset, by Carol Dweck. Are our abilities fixed, or can we get better? Many people have opinions, but this book makes a strong, research-based case that we in fact can get better – and not just us, but all the people around us, too. Useful and inspiring, this book is also practical, and gives you tools that you can use to cultivate your own abilities, and the abilities of those around you.


  1. Switch, by Chip & Dan Heath. In this book about changing behaviors (our own or someone else’s), the Heath brothers use the metaphor of a rider (the conscious mind) riding an elephant (the unconscious mind) down a path (the external environment), and teach you how you can direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path to make the changes that you want actually happen. The book is fun to read, and full of great examples.


  1. It’s OK to Manage Your Boss, by Bruce Tulgan. If my clients are miserable at work, generally it’s because there is a massive breakdown in communication and trust with their boss. This book shows them how they can manage up their boss in a way that their boss will acknowledge, respect and appreciate.


  1. The No Asshole Rule, by Robert Sutton. This aptly named book is all about why it is so important to be nice to people at work, and surround yourself with others who do the same. You will learn how to calculate a business’ TCA (total cost of assholes), and you will learn how to deal with the assholes that you might be stuck with today. This book is as entertaining as it is crucial!


  1. Boundaries for Leaders, by Henry Cloud. Often my clients are receiving feedback that they are micromanaging or not trusting their Direct Reports. This book helps them let go of the need to control the work and embrace how to control the emotional climate of their team.


  1. First, Break All the Rules, by Marcus Buckingham. This is the book that popularized Gallup’s research on what makes a great manager (12 things, it turns out). It is eye-opening, engaging, and is absolutely crucial reading for anyone who is in a position to manage anyone else.


  1. Death by Meeting, by Patrick Lencioni. You can probably testify to the enormous frustration and time loss caused by meetings. In this great book by the author of Five Dysfunctions of a Team, you will learn how to manage meetings so as to make them interesting, effective, and short — a valuable skill learned from an enjoyable book to read!


  1. Difficult Conversations, by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen. Managing people isn’t hard when everything is going well. It gets hard when things aren’t going so well, and difficult conversations need to be had. This book, by expert negotiators and authors of the classic Getting to Yes, will teach you how to do exactly that — have difficult conversations without offending people, while still getting the outcome that you want.


  1. The Power of A Positive No, by William Ury. When my clients first come to me, they are working longer hours than they should. This book is a great resource to help them draw work boundaries in a way that won’t upset their colleagues.


  1. Drive, by Dan Pink. What really motivates people to do a good job? Is it money? According to Dan Pink (and the research that he cites), the answer is no. People are motivated by interesting work, exciting work, and a sense of fulfillment. This book is a great read for managers and leaders.


  1. The Charisma Myth, by Olivia Cabane. Burnt out from spending most of their career in push mode, my clients come to me looking for a better way to get ahead. This book shows them how they can step out of “push mode” and create massive influence by creating a magnetic “pull mode”.

Final thoughts

This reading list of leadership books has helped me and many of my clients to gain the influence to drive change.

To find out how influential you are right now, download my free Magnetic Influence Litmus Test where I share 4 simple questions you can ask yourself to predict your ability to influence, and how to gain that influence.