The best books for helping leaders develop to their full potential

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

Who am I?

After a career as an HR and learning & development executive at PepsiCo, AOL, and Capital One, I founded Arneson Leadership Consulting to provide coaching, talent management, and leadership development solutions to corporations and non-profit organizations.  I have a passion for helping leaders develop to their full potential and believe all leaders have the capacity to learn and grow. But development doesn’t just magically happen – you have to be willing to work at it. Whether it’s taking a course, gathering 360 feedback, or reading a best-selling book, the best leaders know they must never stop learning.


I wrote...

What Your Boss Really Wants from You: 15 Insights to Improve Your Relationship

By Steve Arneson,

Book cover of What Your Boss Really Wants from You: 15 Insights to Improve Your Relationship

What is my book about?

The most important work relationship you have is with your boss; no one else has as much power to make or break your career. You need this relationship to be positive, but sometimes the boss can be difficult or hard to read. In this pragmatic and accessible guide, top executive coach Steve Arneson shows how to find the answer to fifteen essential questions that will help you understand your boss’s leadership style and motivation. Vivid real-world examples demonstrate Arneson’s advice in action and show clearly how this process can be used to gain a more meaningful, productive, and enjoyable work life. 

The books I picked & why

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

By Michael Abrashoff,

Book cover of 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.


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

By Marshall Goldsmith, Mark Reiter,

Book cover of 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.


Leadership Is an Art

By Max DePree,

Book cover of 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. 


The Extraordinary Leader.:Turning Good Managers Into Great Leaders

By John Zenger, Joseph Folkman,

Book cover of 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.


Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done

By Ram Charan, Larry Bossidy,

Book cover of 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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in leadership, management, and execution?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about leadership, management, and execution.

Leadership Explore 53 books about leadership
Management Explore 64 books about management
Execution Explore 10 books about execution

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide to Creating Customers with Word of Mouth, My Life in Leadership: The Journey and Lessons Learned Along the Way, and The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company if you like this list.