10 Leadership Book Recommendations

Limiting my number of book recommendations to a list of ten has been an interesting exercise. There are more that I could add to the list, but these are the ones that have inspired me most to think differently and grow as a leader.

I have read these books over the past decade. It’s important to note that my state of mind, or issues I was struggling with while reading, greatly affected my willingness to be impacted by the books on this list. These books addressed important issues for me right when I needed it.

I encourage you to read one or two books that most resonate with where you are right now, recognizing that in six months, you may be in need of a different book. There are a range of styles and topics presented in this list, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding an option that fits the issue(s) you’re thinking about now.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

by Elizabeth Gilbert (Riverhead Books, 2015).

Beautifully written. Yes, I just used the word beautifully to describe a book. I was hooked after the first few paragraphs, and I couldn’t put it down until it was finished. This book will get your creative juices flowing, and you will be primed for innovation. If not now, eventually you need to read this book! Words, style, concepts – everything about it is simply beautiful.

“And you have treasures hidden within you – extraordinary treasures – and so do I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small.” (Page 27)
Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

by Tony Hsieh (Hachette Book Group, 2010).

This is a story about building and then sustaining a unique organization. Hsieh shows how to create a corporate culture that values people and relationships. This book is inspiring for those who are interested in providing customer service at a very high level. It is written from a very personal viewpoint by the founder and CEO of Zappos.

“No matter what your past has been, you have a spotless future.” (Page 227)
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

by Daniel H. Pink (Riverhead Books, 2011).

This book challenges assumptions about motivation and provides a new lens through which to view employee engagement. Practical techniques for increasing motivation are provided throughout. The book is well-researched and the writing style makes it easy to understand the concepts presented.

“Here’s something you can do to keep yourself motivated. At the end of each day, ask yourself whether you were better today than you were yesterday. Did you do more? Did you do it well?” (Page 155)
Pour Your Heart into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

by Howard Schultz (Hyperion, 1999).

I love stories about building something special, and this is one of the best stories out there. From beginning to end, there are meaningful observations about how decisions were made at Starbucks. If you are working at scaling your organization, this book will be helpful in your planning. If you do read it, you will soon want to read the follow-up book, Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life Without Losing Its Soul. This book reads like a novel – enjoyable, accessible, and applicable to a wide audience.

“In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic.” (Page 248)
Tap Dancing to Work: Warren Buffett on Practically Everything, 1966-2012

by Carol J. Loomis (Penguin Publishing Group, 2013).

Buffett is so much more than an investor. He is also a leader and an entrepreneur. His unique, genuine, and sometimes humorous insights are found throughout these pages. This book is one of the longest ones listed here, but it is easy to read.

“You never know who’s swimming naked until the tide goes out.” (Page 161)
The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business

by Patrick Lencioni (Jossey-Bass, 2012).

This book provides practical guidance for how to build and sustain organizational health. In my view, this is the most actionable book on this list. The writing style is very accessible and the content is laid out in such a way that you can quickly refer back to it when you need to.

“There is just no escaping the fact that the single biggest factor determining whether an organization is going to get healthier – or not – is the genuine commitment and active involvement of the person in charge… At every step in the process, the leader must be out front, not as a cheerleader or a figurehead, but as an active, tenacious driver.” (Page 190)
The Motivation Manifesto: 9 Declarations to Claim Your Personal Power

by Brendon Burchard (Hay House, 2014).

I usually run fast and far from self-help books, but this one is different. If you need some help with motivation, this is a great place to start. The book’s style is rich and complex, and it requires time to fully integrate and appreciate each sentence.

“Great men and women don’t give a damn if anyone approves. They rarely seek permission from the world, because they know that the masses bound by mediocrity will never approve of anything that breaks convention or smacks of boldness and magic.” (Page 145)
The Truth about Leadership: The No-Fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know

by James M. Kouzes & Barry Z. Posner (Jossey-Bass, 2010).

If I were teaching a university course in leadership, this would be one of the books I would require students to read. The book provides a review of the essential elements of leadership and is laid out in a practical, easy-to-read style that flows easily from one chapter to the next.

“There seems to be this myth about leadership that what you are supposed to do is ascend the mountain, gain enlightenment, descend with the tablets, and then proclaim the truth to your followers. Nothing could be more damaging to the work of a leader.” (Page 42)
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

by Steven Pressfield (Black Irish Entertainment LLC, 2002).

This is a different kind of book than you would normally expect to find on a list of leadership books, but it’s simply an amazingly insightful and masterfully crafted piece of work. If you are currently procrastinating on starting something, this book will give you the boost you need. Though it is small in size, this book requires slow, focused attention to fully appreciate.

“Resistance is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, harder to kick than crack cocaine. We’re not alone if we’ve been mowed down by Resistance; millions of good men and women have bitten the dust before us. And here’s the biggest bitch: We don’t even know what hit us.” (From the Introduction)
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

by Seth Godin (Portfolio, 2008).

Godin is a master wordsmith who, in a just a few short sentences, will have you thinking about leadership in different ways than you ever have before. For those of you with no time to read, this is a quick and accessible book – it’s the shortest book on this list.

“Part of leadership (a big part of it, actually) is the ability to stick with the dream for a long time. Long enough that the critics realize that you’re going to get there one way or another . . . so they follow.” (Page 132)


Randy Grieser, Author & Speaker

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