Reading leadership books is one of the best steps you can take to grow in your leadership and your career. There are a lot of leadership books out there, and in this article, we give you some of the best.
This article is a list of some of the best leadership books you can read. I have read each of these books and can recommend them personally.
This list is mostly focused on books specifically aimed at leadership itself and not just a good book that leaders should read (mostly, it’s probably not a perfect match).
Now, let’s get to the list.
- The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership
- Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work
- Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Some Don’t
- Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win
- Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t
- Good Leaders Ask Great Questions
- Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual
1. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell
This book, in my opinion, is a staple when it comes to leadership. John Maxwell condenses his years of leading and leadership training into 21 laws, or principles, that make an effective leader.
These laws include:
- The Law of the Lid – Leadership ability determines a person’s level of effectiveness
- The Law of Connection – Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand
- The Law of Influence – The true measure of leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less
- The Law of Explosive Growth – to add growth, lead followers – to multiply , lead leaders
- The Law of Buy-In – People buy into the leader, then the vision
- The Law of Empowerment – Only secure leaders give power to others
- And of course, more.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
- “If you think the people you attract could be better, then it’s time for you to improve yourself.”
- “..every leader’s potential is determined by the people closest to him. If those people are strong, then the leader can make a huge impact. If they are weak, he can’t. “
- “There are no Lone Ranger leaders. Think about it: If you’re alone, you’re not leading anybody, are you?”
- “He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.”
- “People don’t at first follow worthy causes. They follow worthy leaders who promote worthwhile causes. People buy into the leader first, then the leader’s vision.”
If you have never read The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, I highly recommend you making it one of your next reads.
2. Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work by David Rock
I’ll be honest. When I started reading this book, I didn’t have high expectations (I think it was the name). I didn’t think I would get much out of it.
I was wrong.
I gained much from reading this book, and it helped me think differently. I also looked at how I could apply the principles he discussed in other areas of my life as well.
One of the main points of the book is that leaders often do the thinking for their people instead of letting them do the thinking, and also that too often many are paid to think but are never taught how to think.
He tries to fix that.
He dives into how our brain works, how to change habits, and how to think about the way we should think. He also discussed how to talk to your employees or team so that they do the thinking and have the “aha” moments instead of just “telling them”.
He goes into the detail on how to help employees solve the problems they are facing (or other situations), the steps that you should take, and even the questions you can use.
Some of my favorite quotes include (and some are quotes of quotes, but hey, they were good):
- “ideas are like children, there are none so wonderful as your own” – from a Chinese fortune cookie 2005.
- Sir John Whitmore: “To tell denies or negates another’s intelligence. To ask honors it.”
- “Being generous is about speaking so that the other person relates to what you are saying, by using words they will connect with, and doing everything you can to ensure they fully understand where you are coming from. It also means sharing a bit of your humanity.”
- “The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions.” Anthony Jay
- “My experience is the answer to people’s dilemmas I almost never related directly to what is first put forward as the central problem. Thus, until we help people make more connections, our advice will be off the mark most of the time.”
I feel like I didn’t explain the book as well as it could have been and just scratched the surface, but I hope you can see how beneficial this book can be. It’s a great book for coaching and helping your team to think for themselves.
3. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Some Don’t by Simon Sinek
Simon Sinek covers various topics on leadership to show how to build great, productive teams. The main central concept that I grasped from it was this:
When your employees feel safe, they are more motivated and can focus outward to face the challenges and growth that may come.
When they don’t feel safe, they are looking inward instead of outward. They are looking how to protect themselves from within the organization instead of focusing on the challenges outside the organization.
Simon Sinek dives in this topic and discusses related topics including the importance of feedback, engaging employees, helping them see the benefit of what they do, and giving power to the people near the problem to solve the problem, and more.
Some great quotes include:
- “When the people have to manage dangers from inside the organization, the organization itself becomes less able to face dangers from outside.”
- “Stress and anxiety at work have less to do with the work we do and more to do with the weak management and leadership.”
- “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”
- “It’s not the work we remember with fondness, but the camaraderie, how the group came together to get things done.”
4. Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, in my opinion, do a good job explain certain principles of leadership very plainly and clearly. They make the book enjoyable to read.
For each principle they tell a story from their time deployed to explain it then give a business example as well.
The overarching concept (and the name of the book) is extreme ownership. It’s about you, as the leader, taking responsibility of all that happens.
Other principles they dive into include “cover and move” (working together as a team toward a central goal), “Simple” (keeping instructions, etc. simple), “decentralized command” (giving others decision making authority to move toward the goal), and more.
5. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t by Jim Collins
Jim Collins has written multiple well-studied and thorough books regarding leadership and successful companies. Good to Great is one of his most well-known books, and it is an important read for any leader.
When he started the study for this book, he told his team to ignore the leader and look for the other factors; however, no matter how hard they tried, they kept coming back to the fact that leadership is a key part in any successful company.
He found that a Level 5 leader is one who is driven (will, as he calls it) and humble. They usually aren’t the charismatic leaders you may think about in regards to “successful” executives.
He dives into other key points of successful companies, including:
- Leaders focus on getting the right people on the bus and in the right seats (and the wrong people off) before deciding where to drive the bus;
- Successful companies confront the brutal facts of reality – but they keep the belief that they will succeed;
- They embrace a “Hedgehog Concept” that drives their direction and decision making;
- They develop a culture of discipline;
- And more.
If you want to learn more about what makes a company great (and the type of leader that gets it there), check out this book.
6. Good Leaders Ask Great Questions by John Maxwell
Good Leaders Ask Great Questions is about principles of good leadership as well as the importance of questions.
Maxwell starts out discussing why questions are important and discussed questions to ask yourself as a leader and also questions to ask your team members.
One of the most valuable sections of the book is final section. In it, he takes the questions people have asked about leadership, distills them down to categories and questions within those categories, and then answers them.
He answers questions about how to work under poor leaders, how to start in leadership, leading yourself, and dealing with conflict as a leader.
Some of the great quotes I enjoyed from the book include:
- “If you are a leader, your goal is to lift you your people, not have them lift you up.”
- “Successful leaders don’t only take action. Good leaders listen, learn, and then lead.”
- “I believe there is no division between serving and leading. The foundation of effective leadership is actually service.”
- “Any time new leaders arrive on the scene, the people on the team ask three things: Do they care for me? Can they help me? Can I trust them? “
- “Successful followership is a learned skill, just as leadership is. If you want to be a good leader, understand following, and never forget what it’s like to sit in the follower’s chair.”
- “As long as you’re overly concerned about what other people think of you, you won’t be able to become a strong leader.”
- “One of the things you as a leader need to help your people understand is that nothing good comes out of being average professionally.”
- “If you don’t winnow out the dissenters and low performers, you lose people’s respect for your leadership.”
- “You cannot allow your personal feelings of not wanting to hurt somebody keep you from doing what’s best for the organization.”
- “Vision is critical to good leadership. I have yet to meet a great leader who lacks vision.”
- “Leadership decisions should always be made at the lowest possible level. The people on the front lines usually know the problems and solutions best. They are also closest to the problems and can usually act quickly.”
If you want to learn more, check out this book.
7. Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual by Jocko Willink
Leadership Strategy and Tactics is about taking the principles of Extreme Ownership and others and putting them into practice.
He covers various principles of good leadership and helps shows you how to apply them.
He covers topics from detaching, decentralized command, getting people to work hard, and influence, to starting off as a new leader, communication, and more.
Some of the quotes I enjoyed include:
- “The goal of leadership seems simple: to get people to do what they need to do to support the mission and the team.”
- That is one of the underlying themes of SEAL Team culture: you can never rest on what you have achieved in the past. You always have to improve.”
- “the better the relationships, the more open and effective communication there is. The more communication there is, the stronger the team will be.”
- To discriminate between things that matter and things that don’t, a leader must detach, take a step aback, and assess whether any detail in a situation matters”
- “A good rule to follow is that a leader should err on the side of not getting involved in problems; the goal is always to allow problems to get solved at the lowest level. When subordinates are solving low-level problems, it allows the leader to focus on more important, strategic issues.”
- “..if it makes you uncomfortable to get pushback or questions from your team, check your ego; it is probably a little inflated.”
- “Don’t be the leader with your hands in your pockets, but don’t be the leader with your hands in everything.”
- “When I think back to the best leaders I ever worked for, they were also incredibly subtle. Very rarely did they come right out and give direct orders stating exactly what to do and how to do it. The best leaders usually led not by orders but by suggestion.”
Bonus: Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute
Leadership and Self-Deception is one of those books that uses a story to teach certain principles and ideas.
It’s the second book in the series (though reading the first one is not required), and it comes after the book The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict.
The story follows Tom Callum who receives some mentoring meetings from Bud Jefferson and other characters.
Tom learns that he has a problem – he’s “in the box”. The book discussed what the box is, how we get into the box (self-betrayal), the fact that we don’t realize we are in the box, and what to do to get out of the box.
When we are in the box, we start seeing people as objects instead of people and treating them that way. We see other people as the problem, not ourselves, and we end up helping others get into the box as well – and it becomes a spiral where both of you help keep the other in the box.
Here are a couple quotes from the book:
- “self-deception – the inability to see that one has a problem. Of all the problems in organizations, it’s the most common – and the most damaging. “
- “if I’m not interested in knowing a person’s name, I’m not probably not really interested in the person as a person. For me, it’s a basic litmus test.”
- “Your influence and success will depend on being out of the box “
- “Don’t focus on what others are doing wrong. Do focus on what you can do right to help.”
- “Don’t worry whether others are helping you. Do worry whether you are helping others.”
Final Thoughts on Best Leadership Books
I hope this list helps you find a great next-read for your leadership growth.
If you have other books you recommend or any suggestions, comments, or questions, please let me know on the comment section below.
What is the best leadership books you’ve ever read?