The Best Books On Leadership

Steve Arneson Author Of What Your Boss Really Wants from You: 15 Insights to Improve Your Relationship
By Steve Arneson

The Books I Picked & Why

It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy

By Michael Abrashoff

It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy

Why this book?

This is my favorite leadership book. The author, Mike Abrashoff, was just 36 when he was selected to be Commander of the USS Benfold, becoming the most junior commanding officer in the Pacific fleet. The challenges of this underachieving destroyer were staggering, with low morale and the highest turnover rate in the Navy. Yet 12 months later it was ranked #1 in performance -- using the same crew. How did Mike do it? By replacing command and control leadership with commitment and cohesion. By caring about his crew, yet holding a high bar or excellence. You’ll feel like part of Mike’s crew while reading this book, which is full of common-sense leadership lessons that any manager can apply immediately.


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What Got You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful

By Marshall Goldsmith, Mark Reiter

What Got You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful

Why this book?

Marshall Goldsmith is a renowned executive leadership coach. In this book, he lays out the secrets to getting promoted and moving up in an organization. While not a traditional book about leadership, it’s an essential text for figuring out what you need to do to be successful as you climb the corporate ladder. Goldsmith writes about the need to figure out what knowledge and skills to let go of at your current level as you move up to the next level, where different tasks and responsibilities await you (e.g., being a star as an individual contributor does not mean you’ll be great as a manager). This is one of the best books ever written about what it takes to be a successful leader at different levels of an organization.


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Leadership Is an Art

By Max DePree

Leadership Is an Art

Why this book?

This classic by Max De Pree (the former CEO of Herman Miller) looks at leadership as a kind of stewardship, stressing the importance of building relationships, initiating ideas, and creating a lasting value system within an organization. Rather than focusing on the “how” of corporate life, he stresses that leaders need to explain the “why.” He writes that the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality and the last is to say thank you. De Pree offers dozens of memorable leadership anecdotes that will have you wishing you’d worked for him at some point in your career! A wonderful gem of a book, it’s lessons will resonate with any leader who is trying to build a winning culture. 


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The Extraordinary Leader.:Turning Good Managers Into Great Leaders

By John Zenger, Joseph Folkman

The Extraordinary Leader.:Turning Good Managers Into Great Leaders

Why this book?

The Extraordinary Leader is a remarkable combination of expert insight and extensive research. The authors analyzed more than 200,000 assessments describing 20,000 managers—by far the most expansive research ever conducted for a leadership book. This book will take you inside the process of becoming a successful leader, as the authors detail the various skills needed to earn the respect of the people you lead. This is a must read for aspiring and experienced leaders alike and is one of my go-to manuals on how to develop leaders. One of the few books I’ve read cover-to-cover more than once, I’m confident you’ll come away with data-driven insights that you can begin to implement in your leadership role.


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Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done

By Ram Charan, Larry Bossidy

Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done

Why this book?

I had to include one book about how leaders actually get work done. This classic by Bossidy and Charan shows how to link together people, strategy, and operations, the three core processes of every business. Leading these processes is the real job of running a business, not merely formulating a “vision” and leaving the work of carrying it out to others. Execution highlights the importance of being deeply and passionately engaged in an organization and why robust dialogues about people, strategy, and operations result in a business based on intellectual honesty and realism. I love this book for its practical, “how-to” approach that many leaders, including myself, have used as a blueprint for building a highly functioning team, department or organization.


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