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Leadership Books: Recommended Reading for Leaders

Great leadership books give you new ways for looking at the world and solving problems. They don’t just help you understand new concepts, they help you understand the world.

For leaders looking to grow their skills, books provide the abstract tools we need to better understand our environment and the resources we can use to be successful for our teams.

Note: If you are interested in buying any of these books, the links I have included are affiliates and will provide me with a small commission. This helps me offset the cost of running the site. All reviews are unbiased and based on my personal opinion and purchasing through the links results in no additional cost for you.

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work

By: Chip and Dan Heath

I love the work of the Chip and Dan Heath. They are entertaining reads and they always give me great reference points in conversation. They are the types of books you find yourself referencing for years to come because you find examples of their ideas everywhere.

Decisive is particularly striking in that regard because we all make decisions. Leaders especially are judged by their decision making ability.Decisive gives you a framework to think about how you make decisions. It helps you name the processes you go through as you think, and hopefully provides you some cognitive tools to overcome biases that cloud your decision making. Most importantly, it helps you understand the role of good system in making good decisions, something that all leaders should use to help keep perspective.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

By: Chip and Dan Heath

Another great work by the Heath brothers is quickly becoming a classic of business literature. Made to Stick is all about making ideas more durable. This is important for leaders, as they need to sell their ideas both to their teams, and to external audiences. By having ideas that stay in the mind of the audience, it’s easier to maintain consistency in teams.

Made to Stick is also a great reference for general communication. It’s much easier to persuade when your ideas are memorable. The entire structure of a memorable idea is explained in Made to Stick, and like all their books, it uses very memorable case studies that are both entertaining and effective.

One of the things I like most about Made to Stick is that the Chip and Dan follow their own advice in this book (and their subsequent works Decisive and Switch). Reading Made to Stick first lets you follow how the strategies of the book throughout their work, which can further reinforce its lessons.

Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

By: Patrick Lencioni

Allegedly, Phil Jackson (famed coach of the LA Lakers and Chicago Bulls) had his teams read this book to help bolster collaboration and teamwork. I can see why. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is an excellent parable for troubled teams. It gives you a vocabulary to look at your issues, and offers some comfort in recognizing how universal they can be.

As a resource in a workshop, I think it’s an effective tool. It can get people talking, and hopefully provide perspective. It’s important when reading the book, however, that you don’t pigeonhole or stereotype people into the roles provided in the allegory.

Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

By: Peter Sims

Agile is great for project teams. And it is an effective tool for learning more while still being productive and doing. Little Bets is aimed at people who can learn more from doing, while still managing risks and avoiding what comes from shortsighted inaction.

I think one of the best lines in this leadership book is “Why should we try to guess, when we can do it and -know for sure.”

Little bets is a short read, but it does an excellent job in making the case for small bets, while showing how they can be taken in a way that is most likely to yield results.

Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World

By: Donald Sull and Kathleen M. Eisenhardt

Leaders are confronted with a complex world. The challenges we face are hard to articulate, much less resolve. This ever-more-complicated set of challenges are usually met with more complex answers and bureaucracy. But what if the better answer is to approach them with more simplicity?

That’s exactly what Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt argue in Simple Rules. The goal of the book is to advocate for execution and consistency, two things that are better achieved with simple rules. An outgrowth of an excellent HBR article from over 10 years ago, Simple Rules makes an excellent argument for keeping things clear and consistent. Most importantly, I think leaders will find their ability to move teams forward much enhanced with mastery of simple rules to share. A practical leadership book for a complicated age.

Flash Foresight: How to See the Invisible and Do the Impossible

By: Daniel Burrus

What could you achieve if you could predict the future?

Most of us can’t, but you can learn to work with the trends that will impact your team. Daniel Burrus has been successful predicting many major trends in industry and technology over the last decade, and he believes it is not a matter of genius or luck: it’s a question of being able to identify hard trends and adapt to them early. Because the environment is changing so quickly, leaders need to be able to adjust their organizations to stay relevant. It isn’t enough to adapt quickly, Burrus argues. We need to be able to anticipate changes before they occur.

The system Burrus outlines in Flash Foresight will help you anticipate important changes that will impact your team (hopefully before it is too late).

The Innovator's Way: Essential Practices for Successful Innovation

By: Peter J. Denning, and Robert Dunham

In this detailed book, Denning and Dunham offer a very practical and specific overview of how innovation happens. This isn’t a book filled with anecdotal and inspirational stories, but a very sober and realistic approach to how organizations can build innovation into their work. While it doesn’t read like the usual innovation book which is more motivation than instruction, I think it inspires in that it shows just how simple and repeatable innovating is.

The Innovator’s Way breaks the process down into a system that is easy to discuss. This is a leadership book in that it is great read for groups that need to develop new approaches to solving problems or new offers for the market.

More to Come

I’m always reading new books that I think might help in leading or just in generally being a better thinker. Check back regularly for new ones with links to reviews. If you have any you’d like to suggest, let me know in the contacts page.