Last updated: 10 August 2018
Here’s the most effective, simplest leadership hack: Never stop learning.
Seriously, if you want to become a great leader (and we’re assuming you do), the best way to seriously up your leadership game is to stay curious about (and devote time to) learning.
And one of the easiest and cost-effective ways to do this is of course by reading books. More specifically, taking the time to devour the best leadership books.
Yep, we know, this isn’t exactly rocket science, or some secret hack reserved for the elite few.
But continual learning and self-improvement is really what makes a good leader an exceptional leader (and person).
So to help save you precious time when deciding what you should focus your attention on, we’ve shortlisted the best leadership books of 2016 (24 of them in fact), and broken them down into the following categories:
- Leading Teams To Excellence
- Leadership Qualities
- Entrepreneurship & Startups
- Professional Development
- Women in Leadership
Leading Teams To Excellence: How To Inspire, Nurture And Grow Others
1. Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent, by Sydney Finklestein
Many have the preconceived notion that a good leader or boss is someone who hits established targets. But this view forgets the most important part of leadership… the actual “leading” bit, which is where so many “leaders” get it wrong. This is why being a superboss places you in a different field – as it requires you to cultivate, nurture and purposely lead the next wave of leaders.
It’s all about how you find, develop, lead, and sometimes even let go of talent that makes the difference. In this groundbreaking book, Finklestein reveals his fascinating research that spans over 10 years, sharing case studies of the“superbosses” he studied (including the likes of Ralph Lauren) to see what makes them so exceptional.
2. Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family, by Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia
“Everyone wants to do better. Trust them. Leaders are everywhere. Find them. People achieve good things, big and small, every day. Celebrate them. Some people wish things were different. Listen to them. Everybody matters. Show them.”
It’s in the examples of how this plays out in practical ways at a real company that the real learning takes place, and why this book must be on your reading list for this year. When you do it well, your company will experience morale, loyalty, and performance that are truly off the charts.
3. You Win in the Locker Room First: The 7 C’s to Build a Winning Team in Business, Sports, and Life, by Jon Gordon and Mike Smith
Together they tackle 7 principles that they think are at the core of all team success, whether in sports, business, or any organizational setting. If revitalizing a team or organization is on your agenda, don’t pass up this book.
4. Red Team: How to Succeed By Thinking Like the Enemy, by Micah Zenko
Red teaming. You know what it means to play devil’s advocate, right? It can be a really useful method for making sure you’ve covered as many angles of a situation or problem or potential solution as possible.
In business this is now called red teaming, meaning assembling a group of people to play the role of relentless, outspoken skeptics. They help companies more fully explore the downsides, the weaknesses and vulnerabilities in any business process, product, or idea. But they must also be managed in just the right way or they can easily end up doing more harm than good. If you want to learn how to engage red teaming in a way that works, add this book to your reading list.
Leadership Qualities & Psychology: How To Improve Your Inner Game
5. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth
We’ve all heard it before – if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. We know in our heads that failure is inevitable on the road to success, and some of us have even started learning how to move through failure to keep moving forward instead of getting stuck. It’s called perseverance.
What Duckworth is doing is adding passion to perseverance and calling the result grit. Others might call it determination, but grit feels more novel. She thinks of it as a focused persistence. As with many of the books on this list, the real learning happens in hearing the stories of real people whose grit led them to success.
6. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport
Newport specifically calls it deep work, and what he means by that is the ability to focus without distraction on a challenging cognitive task.
Everyone wants more results faster, and focus is really the only surefire way to get there, which means this particular book needs to find its way to the top of your reading list.
7. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, by Adam Grant (with a foreword by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg)
Making a true mark on a world in need of so much improvement, according to Adams, is perhaps most likely to be achieved when you’re highly original. Specifically, championing novel concepts that fly in the face of tired traditions and conventional wisdom, and then having the courage and risk-taking chutzpah to see your ideas through.
But often in order to do this, real skills are needed, such as learning to identify good ideas, knowing how to speak out without being silenced, building coalitions, precise timing of actions, dealing with fear and doubt, and so on. This books explains how, and reveals some fantastic stories of real people who have gone onto become successful “non-conformists.”
8. The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness, by Todd Rose
It seems like throughout our entire lives we are compared against averages, whether it’s grades or on-the-job performance – are you above or below average? We’re so used to it we don’t even question it.
But what if all that’s wrong? Rose thinks it is, and proves it mathematically. He argues it’s about time to give up on the myth of the average person and start treating people as the unique individuals they are. Only then can you really identify great talent and make the most of it.
9. Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results, by Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams
Everyone knows how important it is for companies to clearly establish and maintain a sustainable competitive advantage, and there are all kinds of aspects that can go into that. But for how many companies is its leadership a significant source of competitive advantage?
It definitely is for some, whether they know it or not. And the converse is also true, meaning that for many companies, leadership not only fails to be a source of competitive advantage, it’s actually doing more harm than good. Anderson and Adams believe they’ve come up with the first Universal Model of Leadership, which they think integrates the best from theories of the past 50 years. They view leadership as a process that evolves through stages over time, and they help you diagnose where you’re at in your evolution and how to move it along at a faster pace.
10. Contagious Culture: Show Up, Set the Tone, and Intentionally Create an Organization that Thrives, by Anese Cavanaugh
You know how contagious viruses and bacteria can be, but so is laughter and positivity, right? Never before has workplace culture been as important as it is today. Workplaces and leadership have entered into a new era which demands increased collaboration, energy, innovation, connectedness and meaning. So why not take advantage of the power of positivity by showing up each day and setting an inspiring example.
Once you do, you’ll be amazed by how you can transform everything from team morale to results.
11. What You Really Need to Lead: The Power of Thinking and Acting Like an Owner, by Robert Steven Kaplan
Kaplan (Harvard Business School) believes that there are 3 core things that great leaders must do: think like an owner; have a willingness to act on your beliefs; and possess a relentless focus to add value to others. Doing those things requires hard work, and open mind, and asking lots of questions. Learn how to do it yourself with this book.
Entrepreneurship & Startups: Sprint To Success
12. Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days, by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, and Braden Kowitz
If you’re looking at a big problem, opportunity, or idea and need fast answers, the only way to get there is to sprint. This books shows you how.
13. From Impossible To Inevitable: How Hyper-Growth Companies Create Predictable Revenue, by Aaron Ross and Jason Lemkin
How do companies like Zenefits grow from $1 million to $100 million in just two years? Is it luck? Is it working more hours? No. They were simply brave enough to dream the impossible and then make “hypergrowth” a priority.
If looking to seriously up your business’s game too, this book reveals the key questions to ask, as well as the 7 ingredients that go into hyper-growth, breaking each one down into concrete steps so you can make them happen.
14. Talk Like Ted: The Nine Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds, by Carmine Gallo
TED Talks are the new gold standard in terms of what makes for a good presentation, so it makes sense to take a few pointers from the most successful TED speakers, and their presentations do share some common features you can incorporate – the author calls them the 9 secrets – and they’ll help you be as successful a speaker as they are.
15. Organize Tomorrow Today: 8 Ways to Retrain Your Mind to Optimize Performance at Work and in Life, by Jason Selk and Tom Bartow
Drawing from Selk’s experiences as the mental training director for St. Louis Cardinals (the team that won the 2011 World Series) and Bartow’s business coach experience, these co-authors outline 8 best practices that will get you organized and keep your organized, which is half the battle when it comes to boosting productivity.
16. Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work, by Whitney Johnson
What makes something disruptive? Any company or idea considered disruptive is one that’s doing something truly different. What Johnson does is take the framework of disruptive innovation and shows you how it applies to you, wherever you’re at in your career.
The pace of innovation and disruption and change continues to quicken, what you most need to know is how to manage what she calls the S-curve of learning and mastery so you can dare to innovate and disrupt yourself.
17. Level Up Your Life: How to Unlock Adventure and Happiness by Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story, by Steve Kamb
This has allowed him to accomplish some pretty amazing things, including starting www.nerdfitness.com, an online rebel community of nearly 30,000 people turning their lives away from bad habits and towards healthy, adventurous, life-loving happiness. He shows you how turn yourself into your very own superhero. A must-read for those who are always looking to grow.
Empowering Women In Leadership
18. What Works: Gender Equality by Design, by Iris Bonhet
Gender equality is a dream that seems to remain elusive in so many respects. Gender bias, even largely unconscious gender bias, continues to exert an enormous amount of influence on people and organizations.
De-biasing individuals is rife with challenges and perils, so much so that this author argues in favor of shifting the focus to de-biasing organizations instead.
The impacts are much bigger that way, and many will be surprised at how much of what works is both affordable and relatively easy to implement.
19. Women and Transition: Reinventing Work and Life, by Linda Rossetti
This empowering book introduces women to a new way of thinking when it comes to the events that shape their life – such as losing a job or dealing with empty nest syndrome – and how to navigate these challenging transitions.
20. Fast Forward: How Women Can Achieve Power and Purpose, by Melanne Verveer and Kim K. Azzarelli (with a foreword by Hillary Clinton)
The economic power of women around the globe continues to grow, albeit at varying rates to be sure. In the developed nations of the world, women struggle to gain more seats at the leadership tables in both the corporate world and government.
In lesser-developed nations, the situation is often much bleaker, but that’s where a little bit of socioeconomic empowerment for women goes a long ways to improving communities.
In this book, discover how and why the fate of the world is largely resting in the hands of women, who should claim it, own it, and use their power to improve it and their own lives.
And Lastly, Yet To Be Released (Must-Read) Leadership Books To Look Out For
21. Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do, by Chris Guillebeau
If you’re too busy to even think about whether you’ve found the vocation that makes you happy, you’ll want to read this book. Firstly, it will make you stop and think about whether or not you really are happy. Second, if you decide you’re not, the book lays out an effective method for actually finding your perfect job – what you were “born to do.”
It’s about finding work nestled in that elusive nexus of joy, money, and flow. Given that most people spend the majority of their lives working for pay, this might just be the most practical guide to happiness you’ll ever read.
Release date: April 5, 2016
22. The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues, by Patrick Lencioni
Lencioni made a name for himself with The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, in which he described the kinds of behaviors that wreck teamwork and what to do about. Now he takes it a step further by fully examining what makes for a an ideal team player so that you can shape your recruitment, hiring, and development efforts to making sure you’ve got the people who fit the bill.
Release date: April 26, 2016
23. The Outward Mindset: Seeing Beyond Ourselves, by the Arbinger Institute
Changing mindsets can be a key catalyst for both personal and professional development. The latest research effort from the organization that brought you Leadership and Self-Deception offers a new way to shift your own mindset from an inward focus to an outward focus. It also entails how to scale your mindset across an entire organization for dramatic, transformative effects on innovation, collaboration, engagement, and fulfillment.
Release date: June 13, 2016
24. The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, by Kevin Kelly
This book offers a great analysis of what’s to come, in addition to the trends that are already here and growing, including flowing, screening, accessing, sharing, filtering, remixing, tracking, and questioning. It also discusses how they will continue to evolve and combine in ways that will utterly transform how we work, buy, learn, and communicate. Embrace them with this book.
Release date: June 7, 2016
Finding The Time To Read
I know what you’re probably thinking at this point: Who has time to read one, yet alone 24 of the best leadership books when you’re busy building a small business, corporation or small empire!
Or even just coping with the day-to-day demands of your job. Trust us, we hear you on that score.
But the answer is: You do.
Simply decide which leadership books resonate the most with you, and then make it a priority to spend at least 30 minutes a day improving and nurturing your leadership qualities and skills by getting down to some old fashioned reading.
That’s just 1/48 out of your day. Which when you break it down like that, is absolutely nothing.
Prioritize what’s important to you, and what’s not. And then get busy!
Even just this small investment of time will teach you what makes a good leader, and how you can successfully transform into the leader you want to become.
Which really should be the goal for any leader, aspiring leader, manager or CEO, shouldn’t it?
But if dedicating 1/48 of your day to learning still seems like a challenge, here are some time-busting tips:
- Use Goodreads – The goodreads website is a great place to help you narrow down what is all too often a very long list of books you think you might want to read (like this one). Lots of serious, intelligent readers provide their opinions about all kinds of books, and it can definitely serve as a guide for what’s good, and what’s not. In short, this is one surefire way to pin-point the best leadership books you should be devoting your precious time too.
- Kindle – You have to hand it to Amazon for being on its game when it comes to the Kindle. Not only does Amazon publish the lion’s share of eBooks, you can conveniently whip out your Kindle while commuting, traveling for work or waiting in line at the grocery store. Because it’s super light, there’s no reason it can’t permanently live in your work bag.
- Synch your devices – Between your smartphone, tablet, and other devices, make sure they all have a reading app that syncs across devices so you can always pick up on your reading whenever you have a few minutes to spare and wherever you are.
- Go Audio – Get the audio versions of the best leadership books you want to read. You can listen while driving, exercising, or during other activities where reading a physical book doesn’t work as a complementary task.
Curious to see which leadership books made our list in 2015 and 2017? Check out the articles below:
– Part 1: 2015 – The Top 20 Must-Read Leadership Books That’ll Help You Gain A Die Hard Following That Respects You – Part 1
– Part 2: 2017 – The Best Leadership Books – Part 3: Don’t Pick Up Another Leadership Book Until You’ve Checked Out These