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. 

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission

The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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.

By Michael Abrashoff,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked It's Your Ship as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The story of Captain D. Michael Abrashoff and his command of USS Benfold has become legendary inside and outside the Navy. Now Abrashoff offers this fascinating tale of top-down change for anyone trying to navigate today's uncertain business seas. When Captain Abrashoff took over as commander of USS Benfold, a ship armed with every cutting-edge system available, it was like a business that had all the latest technology but only some of the productivity. Knowing that responsibility for improving performance rested with him, he realized he had to improve his own leadership skills before he could improve his ship. Within…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Marshall Goldsmith, Mark Reiter,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked What Got You Here Won't Get You There as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Your hard work is paying off. You are doing well in your field. But there is something standing between you and the next level of achievement. That something may just be one of your own annoying habits.Perhaps one small flaw - a behaviour you barely even recognise - is the only thing that's keeping you from where you want to be. It may be that the very characteristic that you believe got you where you are - like the drive to win at all costs - is what's holding you back. As this book explains, people often do well in…

Leadership Is an Art

By Max DePree,

Book cover of Leadership Is an Art

Why did I love 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. 

By Max DePree,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Leadership Is an Art as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In what has become a bible for the business world, the successful former CEO of Herman Miller, Inc., explores how executives and managers can learn the leadership skills that build a better, more profitable organization.

Leadership Is an Art has long been a must-read not only within the business community but also in professions ranging from academia to medical practices, to the political arena. First published in 1989, the book has sold more than 800,000 copies in hardcover and paperback. This revised edition brings Max De Pree’s timeless words and practical philosophy to a new generation of readers.

De Pree…

Book cover of The Extraordinary Leader.:Turning Good Managers Into Great Leaders

Why did I love 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.

By John Zenger, Joseph Folkman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Extraordinary Leader. as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

People can learn how to lead. This was the position John H. Zenger and Joseph R.Folkman took when they wrote their now-classicleadership book The Extraordinary Leader-and it'sa fact they reinforce in this new, completely updatededition of their bestseller.

When it was first published, The ExtraordinaryLeader immediately attracted a wide audience ofaspiring leaders drawn to its unique feature: theextensive use of scientific studies and hard data,which served to demystify the concept of leadershipand get readers thinking about the subject ina pragmatic way.

Now, Zenger and Folkman revisit the subject to addressleaders' most pressing concerns today. Theresult is an up-to-date, essential leadership…

Book cover of Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done

Why did I love 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.

By Ram Charan, Larry Bossidy,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Execution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Larry Bossidy is one of the world's most acclaimed CEOs, with a track record for delivering results that has few peers. Ram Charan is a legendary advisor to senior executives and boards of directors, with unparalleled insight into why some companies are successful and others not. The result is the book people in business need today. One with a highly practical framework for closing the gap between results promised and results delivered. After a long, stellar career with GE, Larry Bossidy became CEO of Allied Signal and transformed it into one of the world's most admired companies. Accomplishments like 31…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in leadership, management, and execution?

9,000+ 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 322 books about leadership
Management Explore 121 books about management
Execution Explore 14 books about execution

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Getting Things Done, Good Strategy Bad Strategy, and Leading with Noble Purpose if you like this list.