Type in “leadership books” on Amazon, and you’ll get a list of 60,000 possible titles to peruse. Add “2018” to narrow the search, and almost 300 books will pop up that have been published this past year alone. I’ll admit, I love reading about leadership. In fact, my own shelves are filled with wisdom from corporate executives, entrepreneurs, and ministry leaders. But if I purchased only the newest leadership books and read 12 hours a day without stopping, it would still take me about four months to get through them all.
Thank goodness that, when it comes to leadership books, there are plenty of “must-read” lists available—and the lists are there for good reason. If you want to be a better leader, you need to make reading a priority. Harry S. Truman said it well:
“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”
Leadership expert Michael Hyatt says reading strengthens your leadership skills by making you a better thinker, a more relational person, and a stronger communicator. Plus, he says, reading helps you relax and keeps you young.
“If you want to lead, you simply must read. It’s one of the surest ways to develop the qualities that will make you stand out and simultaneously equip you to lead as your influence grows.”
CEO.com provides a list of books it says you need to read before you die.
QARA founder Paul Sohn (whose book is featured on my list) has his own must-read list of books for current and future leaders.
I’ve gathered my own collection of great leadership books – and other books you need to add to your library that have powerful leadership principles tucked inside them.
So, what makes this list of 12 books different?
The books featured have values and principles that can be lived in real life. They are books that offer more than simple tips that can only be used in a limited setting. Instead, they provide sound advice that can (and should) become a reality in every part of our lives.
After all, good leadership shouldn’t be left at an office or the coffee shop where you had the compelling conversation with a team member.
That’s because good leadership isn’t a plug-and-play formula. No, good leadership is a matter of the heart – your heart. The principles that engender trust in a staff and spark the “want” in others are the same principles that create a safe environment for family and friends to thrive. Good leadership principles are simply good life principles for how we treat others, how we respond in times of conflict and crisis, and how we view the world around us.
On this list, you’ll find recommendations ranging from timeless business classics to childhood favorites. There’s even a book with one of the best recipes for bread I’ve ever tried to perfect (yes, I did make two loaves a week for nine weeks).
Here are 12 smart – and unexpected – books to help you become a great leader.
“A leader is someone people want to follow, not have to follow.”
In Brave Leadership, Kimberly focuses on developing an environment of trust by becoming a leader unafraid to embrace the humanity of others – and yourself. Her style is that of a trusted friend, and her leadership training resources continue beyond the pages of the book. I’ve attended one of her OnStage workshops, and it’s worth the investment.
“God has a simple standard for measuring success. In His kingdom, success in life is about stewardship and maximizing what we’ve been given. God calls us to be faithful stewards.”
Paul shares his personal story of discovering God’s purpose and calling as a 20-something executive and provides biblically-based insight for others that is both practical and aspirational. Don’t let the subtitle fool you—this book offers sound advice for leaders of all ages.
3. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Some Don’t (or really, anything by Simon Sinek)
“Leaders are the ones who are willing to give up something of their own for us. Their time, their energy, their money, maybe even the food off their plate. When it matters, leaders choose to eat last.”
Simon has a passion for the heart of leadership, and it shows in every book and article he writes. In Leaders Eat Last, he focuses on the key to building loyal and engaged teams: how you as a leader view and invest in your individual team members. The book is filled with stories that bring the principles of leadership to life – and the expanded version features a special section on leading millennials.
4. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. (or really, anything by Brene Brown)
“Daring leaders work to make sure people can be themselves and feel a sense of belonging.”
Brené writes with honesty and sincerity about the thing that trips us up the most – fear. She offers wisdom steeped in humanity, and her latest book on the four skillsets found in brave and daring leadership reads like a genuine conversation over a great cup of coffee.
5. The Truth about Leadership: The No-Fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know by James Kouzes and Barry Posner
“Before you can lead, you have to believe you can have a positive impact on others. Leadership begins when you believe you can make a difference.” (Truth #1)
James and Barry, leadership academics who have co-authored more than a dozen works, set out to research the concerns and issues millennials had when it came to leadership development. They quickly discovered that both the questions about and the realities of leadership remained unchanged, no matter the generation. While the authors say their book isn’t an exhaustive list of everything you need to know about leadership, they do promise that the truths shared are ones you can count on – truths that will guide both your attitudes and actions in a powerful way. Grab a notebook when you sit down with this one and write out your responses to the ten truths shared.
“Authentic: genuine; worthy of trust, reliance or belief.”
Reading Bill George’s words on authenticity seem as fresh today as I bet they did when the book was first published in 2004. Bill focuses on the five essentials of character-based leadership—leadership that is steeped in understanding our greater purpose in wanting to be leaders.
BONUS: Bill is sharing his e-book, Lead True, here!
7. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
“Ever since the spider had befriended him, he had done his best to live up to his reputation. When Charlotte’s web said SOME PIG, Wilbur had tried hard to look like some pig. When Charlotte’s web said TERRIFIC, Wilbur had tried to look terrific. And now that the web said RADIANT, he did everything possible to make himself glow.”
Why include a children’s story about a pig and a spider in this list of 12 leadership books? Charlotte is an excellent example of a purposeful leader. She engenders trust. She inspires. And she elevates those around her – and she does it all while being true to who she is. She models authenticity.
“You’ll be able to spot people who are becoming love because they want to build kingdoms, not castles. They fill their lives with people who don’t look like them or act like them or even believe the same things as them. They treat them with love and respect and are more eager to learn from them than presume they have something to teach.”
In Everybody Always, Bob Goff shares stories of love that overcomes, love that heals, love that transforms. Woven in every story are strong Christ-centered servant leadership principles. It’s a wonderful read for the encouragement. It’s an excellent read for the wisdom.
9. Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans
“Dignified or not, believable or not, ours is a God perpetually on bended knee, doing everything it takes to convince stubborn and petulant children that they are seen and loved. It is no more beneath God to speak to us using poetry, proverb, letters, and legend than it is for a mother to read storybooks to her daughter at bedtime. This is who God is. This is what God does.”
Inspired is a book about scripture, and in it, Rachel Held Evans invites readers to take a fresh look at the how the Bible is written and how it is to be read. It’s a thought-provoking read for anyone who longs to have a greater love of and appreciation for scripture. It’s also an excellent portrait of God as not only Creator and Father, but also as a creative leader who knows how best to equip and encourage those who long to follow Him, even when they don’t fully trust His leadership or their ability. He never absolves power, and yet gives His people breathing room to respond to His love.
“It’s clumsy work, but we are clumsy beings. Knowing ourselves is a profound declaration of trust. Trust not only in our own ability to content with our souls and our bodies but also in God’s willingness to reveal to us ourselves, caught up in the very life of God. Not just once, but over and over.”
Practicing spiritual disciplines while baking bread—it’s likely you’ve not read a book quite like this one. What makes it such a great leadership book? It provides not only great practices that nurture your soul and care for the souls around you, but it offers hands-on training in presence, patience, and persistence.
11. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
“For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”
I can’t help but think that folks like Simon Sinek, Kimberly Davis, and Bill George have read the words of Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl and said, “This man understands what it takes to lead well!” The book is small but weighty and isn’t suited for a quick glance; rather, it takes you into the very depths of suffering to teach you the power that comes from hope, humor, and embracing both the beauty and the brokenness of humanity. It is a book that encourages leaders to be unafraid to guide, no matter the circumstances.
12. Coach Your Champions by Eric Foley
“God does not create great leaders. He makes great servants who become great leaders.”
Coach Your Champions is actually about fundraising and donor development. Eric Foley’s easy-to-read modern fable is pulled from his personal experience training more than 1300 churches and Christian organizations on how to build volunteer and giving programs. And though the storyline may be a fable, the transformational relationship keys shared are real and quite worthy of note for you as a leader.
Richard Bach says, “You are the same today as you’ll be in five years except for two things: the books you read and the people you meet.”
This year, make the commitment to hone your leadership skills by making reading a priority. And share your favorite books and “must-read’ lists in the comments to help others become better lea!ders too