Update, May 2023: I have a new “if you have time to read only one book on leadership, read this book” recommendation: The Wisdom of the Bullfrog: Leadership Made Simple (But Not Easy) by Admiral William H. McRaven. Just a terrific book!
Recently, at the request of two different clients, I presented my synopsis of the very good book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman. I presented this book for a private client back in 2010, but also recorded it for this site. As I presented it twice recently, to put it simply, I had forgotten how good a book it is.
Around the time of the new year, I wrote a post on: The Essential Baker’s Dozen – 12 (OK – 13) Books to Read to set yourself up for more success in business and in life, in 2021; and beyond. And in that post, I listed four books to read under the category of Leadership; and Management. Here is what I wrote in that post, with the books listed, with brief comments:
This is a tough category. There are so many really good books. But, if you read these that I have listed, it will help you build a solid foundation of leadership understanding and leadership skills. Remember: a leader’s job is to help get the very best out of the men and women he or she leads.
Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.
These former SEALs have become well known, and sought after, for their leadership principles. This is their first book, and it is still a best-seller. The massage is simple: the leader owns the outcome. Extreme Ownership; that’s the idea. (Note: their follow up book The Dichotomy of Leadership adds to this wisdom. And Jocko Willink’s newest book on leadership. Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual, is equally valuable).
The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You by Julie Zhuo.
This is the practical book on managing others. It says: do this, and then do this, to get the best out of the people you manage. It is worth reading especially carefully, so that you get the instructions down well.
Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott.
This is one of the many “don’t beat around the bush, have those essential, to-the-point conversations” books. I think it is a really, really good book. Her formula is: “Care Personally, then Challenge Directly.” It is a compliment to those books like: Crucial Conversations, and Fierce Leadership, and Fierce Conversations, and others. Radical Candor is an essential leadership book for this era.
Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts by Brené Brown.
Brené Brown is something of a force of nature. This book shows the critical need for leaders with exceptional soft skills. And, it demonstrates that soft skills are not all that soft.
My intent was to give something of a basic list: a “read these books” list for a crash course on leadership.
But there is no doubt that organizations, teams, churches – any and every entity – could use better leaders. And these better leaders need to be throughout the organization.
At the very first First Friday Book Synopsis, back in April, 1998, my co-founder and former colleague Karl Krayer, presented his first synopsis of the book The Leadership Engine by Noel Tichy. Admittedly, that was a long time ago, but the image I have is that an organization is like a train moving forward, and instead of one engine, only at the front, the train needs lots of engines – leadership engines – interspersed throughout the cars of the train/the teams making up the organization.
And the fact is, after nearly 23 full years of the First Friday Book Synopsis (2 books presented every month), we have presented many, many good books on leadership
So I thought that a post with a more comprehensive list might be useful. Here are more book suggestions to anyone who actually leads people, regardless of your title: President, CEO, Director, team leader, supervisor, manager. Whatever your official role, you could probably learn more about leadership and put more of what you learn into practice.
So, maybe you could (maybe you should) always keep a good book going on leadership. Keep it by your nightstand, or by your computer, and read a few pages every day. Work through such books carefully; fully; methodically. And always practice some serious self-reflection, asking where you are falling short, and where you can improve.
Here are some additional books that I would like to recommend for this list, all dealing specifically with leadership issues. I will provide just brief comments about each:
- Encouraging the Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others by James Kouzes and Barry Posner (Simon and Schuster, 1999) – Read this book first. It will remind you that a leader is in the business of encouraging people in a direct, personalized way.
- Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman – HarperBusiness; 1st edition (June 15, 2010). – This book will describe that a good leader is a multiplier, and never a diminisher.
- Mindset by Carol Dweck Ballantine Books; Updated edition (December 26, 2007). – This book focuses on the need for leaders to have a ”growth mindset” instead of a ”fixed mindset.” In other words, the leader is in the people-development business.
- Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty. (Penguin Press HC, 2013) — This is kind of “how Phil Jackson “ led his teams. There are some elements I especially love about this book. (Years earlier, I read his earlier book, Sacred Hoops. It was also worth reading).
- Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead by Jim Mattis and Bing West. Random House (September 3, 2019). – This excellent book drips with examples of servant leadership, with tangible ideas on how to lead people. General Mattis is a leader worth learning from!
- The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You by Julie Zhuo. Portfolio (March 19, 2019) – This book is a “how to manage people” tutorial, practically a step-by step guide.
- Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by General Stanley McChrystal, Tantum Collins, David Silverman, Chris Fussell. Portfolio (2015) – General McChrystal calls for each team to be a part of a greater whole, and describes how leaders can make this a reality.
- Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace. Random House (April 8, 2014). – (Guest presenter, Charlotte Hudgin). – Ed Catmull was the CEO of Pixar. This is a truly terrific book on leadership.
- Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck — Why Some Thrive Despite Them All by Jim Collinsand Morten T. Hansen. HarperBusiness (2011). – This is something of a follow-up book to the better known Good to Great by Jim Collins. And this one is also worth having on your list.
Of course, I am leaving off as many books as I am including. And, there are good and needed books on different aspects of leadership: communication; team building; strategic thinking; big picture pondering…
But I would be remiss if I did not close this post with one more book suggestion. “The leader is servant first,” wrote Robert Greenleaf in his seminal work, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness. Everything you have heard or read about servant leadership started here. And, it is always worth remembering that the leader is the servant of the people he/she leads. It all starts here; servant first!.
The wisdom in these books can help you become a better leader…assuming that you put the wisdom into practice.
I have presented a synopsis of most of these books. Click here, search by title, and you can find my synopsis available for purchase. Each synopsis comes with my multi-page, comprehensive synopsis handout, and the audio recording of my presentation. (Some of these are from earlier years from our event, and the handouts are not quite as comprehensive; nor as well-designed).
And, if you would like to have some serious leadership sessions based on some of these books, I am available. Over Zoom or Webex right now; in person in coming post-pandemic days. Send me an e-mail, and let’s discuss the possibilities.