The best books about advancing to—and succeeding at—the executive level

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve spent many years as a management consultant to a range of big, global corporations, smaller companies, and not-for-profits. I also headed up succession planning and management development at two major companies. I decided to go into this field based on a strong conviction, a conviction that continues today: that leadership counts. Strong leaders benefit people in their organizations and, ultimately, society itself. Having worked with many senior leaders and led organizations myself, I know the range of pressures executives face and how easy it is to fail. Companies need a supply of capable, well-equipped senior leaders, and those who aspire to top-level positions need guideposts about achieving their career aspirations. 

I wrote...

The Unwritten Rules: The Six Skills You Need to Get Promoted to the Executive Level

By John Beeson,

Book cover of The Unwritten Rules: The Six Skills You Need to Get Promoted to the Executive Level

What is my book about?

In the course of my career, I’ve witnessed a disturbing disconnect between companies that bemoan a lack of future leadership talent and talented managers confused and frustrated about what it takes to advance to senior levels. I wrote The Unwritten Rules to de-code the often poorly-articulated factors that companies use to decide who gets promoted and whose careers become stalled. In the process, I describe the non-negotiables, the “table stakes” required to be a candidate, as well as the deselection factors that prevent you from being seriously considered. My goal is to better equip you to fulfill your career ambitions. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Leadership Presence

John Beeson Why did I love this book?

In the course of researching my book, I spoke to a number of people responsible for selecting senior leaders in their organizations and asked what they looked for. A strong majority mentioned executive or leadership presence—although few could define or describe it with any degree of specificity. But an “I’ll know it if I see it” approach doesn’t cut it for people who want to reach the executive level.

This book is a compilation of highly practical articles that, taken together, not only define leadership presence but suggest tangible steps to develop and project it. 

By Harvard Business Review, John Beeson, Amy J.C. Cuddy , Deborah Tannen , Amy Jen Su

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Lead with charisma and confidence.

Many leaders consider "executive presence" a make-or-break factor in high-powered promotions. But what is this elusive quality, and how do you develop it?

This book explains how to build the charisma, confidence, and decisiveness that top leaders project. Whether you're delivering a critical presentation or managing a hectic meeting, you'll be inspired to approach the situation with new strength.

This volume includes the work of:

Deborah Tannen Amy J. C. Cuddy Amy Jen Su

This collection of articles includes "Deconstructing Executive Presence," by John Beeson; "How New Managers Can Send the Right Leadership Signals," by…

Book cover of Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done

John Beeson Why did I love this book?

As they move up, executives become more and more responsible for strategy and building the capacity of the organization. But one thing never changes: they are still responsible for making sure that strategic plans get implemented.

Their dilemma, given all the other responsibilities they take on, is how to manage execution without getting bogged down at too low a level of detail. Bossidy is a retired CEO and Charan is a well-respected consultant. They lay out a roadmap for ensuring implementation and simultaneously building organization capacity.

By Ram Charan, Larry Bossidy,

Why should I read it?

3 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…

Book cover of Working With Emotional Intelligence

John Beeson Why did I love this book?

This book has more than stood the test of time.

Goleman played a key role in popularizing the notion of emotional intelligence. It’s a key skill for any executive but one I find is often misunderstood. Goleman makes a strong case that one’s emotional intelligence is rooted firmly in self-control and self-mastery. That is, you can’t really tune into others in a deep way unless you are in control of yourself and your emotions. I use this book often in my coaching, and it’s a revelation to many senior leaders and aspiring executives. 

By Daniel Goleman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Working With Emotional Intelligence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Do you want to be more successful at work? Do you want to improve your chances of promotion? Do you want to get on better with your colleagues? Daniel Goleman draws on unparalleled access to business leaders around the world and the thorough research that is his trademark. He demonstrates that emotional intelligence at work matters twice as much as cognitive abilities such as IQ or technical expertise in this inspiring sequel.

Book cover of Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls

John Beeson Why did I love this book?

Bennis and Tichy are giants in the development of management thought and practice. Their book makes a fundamental point. You can have all the skills and experience in the world, but if you can’t display sound judgment on the big decisions, you ultimately won’t succeed.

What I find most useful about this book is the way they encourage the senior leader to start by framing an issue or decision and then using that framing to create the best decision-making process as well as bring in the right people to contribute.

By Noel M Tichy, Warren Bennis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“With good judgment, little else matters. Without it, nothing else matters.”

Whether we’re talking about United States presidents, CEOs, Major League coaches, or wartime generals, leaders are remembered for their best and worst judgment calls. In the face of ambiguity, uncertainty, and conflicting demands, the quality of a leader’s judgment determines the fate of the entire organization. That’s why judgment is the essence of leadership.

Yet despite its importance, judgment has always been a fairly murky concept. The leadership literature has been conspicuously quiet on what, exactly, defines it. Does judgment differ from common sense or gut instinct? Is it…

Book cover of Borrowing Brilliance: The Six Steps to Business Innovation by Building on the Ideas of Others

John Beeson Why did I love this book?

One of the success factors I highlight in my book is leading innovation and change.

Simply maintaining or marginally improving the status quo isn’t enough in most organizations. Many aspiring executives find the requirement to lead innovation intimidating, since by definition it means finding solutions that are different from what they are most familiar with.

Murray illustrates that the vast majority of innovations are not “bolts out of the blue.” Rather, they are often the result of taking a new idea out of one context (for example, a different field or industry) and then building on it.

The implication for me is that the successful executive needs to adopt an external perspective, i.e., looking outside his or her own organization, and find ways to identify new ideas—even if the practical application is not immediately apparent. 

By David Kord Murray,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Most of us think that outstanding success derives only from groundbreaking innovation. But we're wrong. In fact, many of the most successful business ideas of our time have come about when someone has borrowed and adapted an idea from somewhere else.

In Borrowing Brilliance, David Kord Murray explains exactly how you can do the same. He demonstrates conclusively that new business ideas are simply combinations of existing ideas, and then sets out to show how you can solve current problems and create new opportunities by learning where to look for ideas and answers. In the process, he takes you through…

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The Boldly Inclusive Leader: Transform Your Workplace (and the World) by Valuing the Differences Within

By Minette Norman,

Book cover of The Boldly Inclusive Leader: Transform Your Workplace (and the World) by Valuing the Differences Within

Minette Norman Author Of The Boldly Inclusive Leader: Transform Your Workplace (and the World) by Valuing the Differences Within

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I spent 20 years leading global teams in Silicon Valley, and I had few role models for empathetic, human, and inclusive leadership. I was committed to being the leader I wished I’d had all those years. I had a lot of success, a big VP-level job, and I loved my work. Then, I got a new manager who bullied, undermined, and silenced me. I decided I wanted to help leaders do better. I became an author, speaker, and consultant focused on inspiring leaders to create an environment where everyone is heard, seen, and respected.

Minette's book list on amazing leader, listener, and human being

What is my book about?

To create innovative, collaborative, and high-performing organizations, we need a new leadership model.

Speaker, consultant, and former Silicon Valley executive Minette Norman is committed to inspiring leaders by sharing some of the most important things she learned over the decades she spent in the corporate world, such as: every human being needs to feel they belong; teams thrive when everyone can share their unique ideas and experiences; innovation is a group activity; empathy and compassion are leadership superpowers; and, leaders set the tone by what they say, do, reward, and tolerate.

This is not a book about quick fixes or…

The Boldly Inclusive Leader: Transform Your Workplace (and the World) by Valuing the Differences Within

By Minette Norman,

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5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in emotional intelligence, leadership, and execution?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about emotional intelligence, leadership, and execution.

Emotional Intelligence Explore 23 books about emotional intelligence
Leadership Explore 373 books about leadership
Execution Explore 17 books about execution