The best books about actually being a leader

Who am I?

I have spent the last 32 years of my life working with women leaders and aspiring women leaders all over the world and helping organizations to create more inclusive cultures. As a result, I’ve been exposed to extraordinary leaders and to terrible leaders and have seen up close the impact they have on people’s lives. This has inspired me to write 7 books and thousands of articles exploring different aspects of the leader’s journey and to deliver leadership workshops in 32 countries. What do I love? Sharing the stories that inspire me.


I wrote...

Book cover of How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job

What is my book about?

How Women Rise is about the habits and behaviors most likely to get in the way of successful women as they seek to move to the next level and assume roles with more authority and scope. These are habits that often serve women well at the early or middle stages of their careers but can undermine them as they move into leadership roles. Habits include: Reluctance to Claim Your Achievements, Expecting Others to Notice and Value Your Contributions, Building Rather Than Leveraging Relationships, Putting Your Job Before Your Career, The Perfection Trap, The Disease to Please, and Ruminating.

The books I picked & why

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My Life in Leadership: The Journey and Lessons Learned Along the Way

By Frances Hesselbein,

Book cover of My Life in Leadership: The Journey and Lessons Learned Along the Way

Why this book?

Peter Drucker, the great 20th-century leadership thinker, called Frances “perhaps the finest leader I have ever known.” Although Frances led a non-profit for girls, the Girl Scouts USA, she influenced corporate giants along with public sector and military leaders around the world with her philosophy, her wisdom, and her clarity about mission and values. She was also a pioneer when it came to valuing diversity and living those values. She wrote many books, but My Life in Leadership is my favorite, telling the highly detailed story of how a young girl from Johnson PA developed into a force that would subtly influence how excellence in leadership is defined.

My Life in Leadership: The Journey and Lessons Learned Along the Way

By Frances Hesselbein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Life in Leadership as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In a clear and compelling voice, Frances Hesselbein delivers key leadership lessons. Tracing her own development as a leader, she narrates the critical moments that shaped her personally and professionally: from her childhood in Pennsylvania, to moving up from Girl Scout troop leader to Girl Scout CEO, to founding and leading the Leader to Leader Institute, to her friendships and experiences with some of the greatest leaders and thinkers of our time. Each chapter includes an inspirational story, a key lesson and how to apply it to daily life.


The Heart of Business: Leadership Principles for the Next Era of Capitalism

By Hubert Joly,

Book cover of The Heart of Business: Leadership Principles for the Next Era of Capitalism

Why this book?

Joly is a French executive and former McKinsey numbers whiz who improbably engineered the resurgence of a struggling Best Buy by putting his faith in what he calls “human magic.” CEOs often talk about “putting people first” but Joly details precisely how he did this and shows why it is essential to what he calls “the next era of capitalism.” He is especially poignant in linking his own early experience working a series of soul-destroying low-wage jobs and his determination to create a working environment in which people felt- and were- valued. Joly is especially clear on the link between an engaged workforce and engaging work. This is an unusually thoughtful and reflective book by a CEO.

The Heart of Business: Leadership Principles for the Next Era of Capitalism

By Hubert Joly,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Heart of Business as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Wall Street Journal Bestseller

Named a Financial Times top title

How to unleash "human magic" and achieve improbable results.

Hubert Joly, former CEO of Best Buy and orchestrator of the retailer's spectacular turnaround, unveils his personal playbook for achieving extraordinary outcomes by putting people and purpose at the heart of business.

Back in 2012, "Everyone thought we were going to die," says Joly. Eight years later, Best Buy was transformed as Joly and his team rebuilt the company into one of the nation's favorite employers, vastly increased customer satisfaction, and dramatically grew Best Buy's stock price. Joly and his…


Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters

By Vice Admiral Sandra Stosz,

Book cover of Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters

Why this book?

Vice Admiral Stosz’s extraordinary career as a US Coast Guard leader culminated in her being the first (and so far only) woman to head a major service academy. I came away from her memoir hugely inspired by her honesty and courage. I also loved her vivid descriptions of long stints on the icebreakers that ply Arctic and Antarctic waters in order to prepare the way for scientific teams, often as the only woman. Her grace and goodwill in those adventure-filled situations come shining through– and sea narratives by women are very rare.

Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters

By Vice Admiral Sandra Stosz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A prime resource for any leader's library."

-James Mattis, General, US Marines (ret), and 26th Secretary of Defense


Today, our nation is like a ship being tossed in tumultuous seas. The winds and waves of change have divided and distanced our society, threatening to wash away the very principles our nation was founded upon. Now more than ever, our nation needs leaders with the moral courage to stand strong and steady-leaders capable of uniting people in support of a shared purpose by building the trust and respect necessary for organizations and their people to thrive.

In Breaking Ice and Breaking…


The Captain Class: A New Theory of Leadership

By Sam Walker,

Book cover of The Captain Class: A New Theory of Leadership

Why this book?

The Captain Class examines what it takes to build a dominant and dynastic sports team: the 1949-1953 New York Yankees; the 1956-1969 Boston Celtics; the 2011-2015 New Zealand All Blacks, the Cuban Women’s volleyball team 1991-2000, Barcelona’s professional soccer team 2008-2011, Australian Women’s Field Hockey in the 1990s, The San Antonio Spurs 1997-2016. The answer may surprise those who believe the presence of an undeniable GOAT (greatest of all time, or superstar) is the key ingredient of superb and sustained success– or those who attribute sustained success to great management, overwhelming talent, or unlimited money. Rather, Walker examines the impact of exceptional player-leaders who carry the team’s culture in their bones and inspire teammates to make outsized effort through their fierce dedication and strategic intelligence.

The Captain Class: A New Theory of Leadership

By Sam Walker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The secret to winning is not what you think it is.
It's not the coach. It's not the star.
It's not money. It's not a strategy.
It's something else entirely.

The founding editor of The Wall Street Journal's sports section profiles the greatest teams in history and identifies the counterintuitive leadership qualities of the unconventional men and women who drove them to succeed. Fuelled by a lifetime of sports spectating, twenty years of reporting, and a decade of painstaking research, The Captain Class is not just a book on sports; it is the key to how successful teams are built…


True North: A Memoir

By Jill Ker Conway,

Book cover of True North: A Memoir

Why this book?

Conway’s journey from a childhood spent on a remote Australian sheep ranch to the first female president of Smith College is remarkable and searingly honest written memoir is more than a chronicle of success. With humor and insight, Conway renders the loneliness of being the only woman in the room, the costs (in her case, early struggles with depression and substance abuse), and the sources of support and resilience that kept her going. So many leadership books identify desirable leadership traits without describing the actual experiences that go into developing as a leader. This beautifully written book vividly shows what leading looks and feels like.

True North: A Memoir

By Jill Ker Conway,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked True North as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Conway's The Road from Coorain presents a vivid memoir of coming of age in Australia. In 1960, however, she had reached the limits of that provincial--and irredeemably sexist--society and set off for America. True North--the testament of an extraordinary woman living in an extraordinary time--te lls the profound story of the challenges that confronted Conway, as she sought to establish her public self.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in leadership, management, and business leaders?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about leadership, management, and business leaders.

Leadership Explore 81 books about leadership
Management Explore 92 books about management
Business Leaders Explore 43 books about business leaders

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Ways of Seeing, Emotional, and I Love It Here if you like this list.