The best books on leadership that don’t have “leadership” in the title

George J. Siedel Author Of Seven Essentials for Business Success
By George J. Siedel

Who am I?

When I headed the Executive Education Center at the University of Michigan I had the opportunity to meet with many great leaders and observe them in action. I also enjoy interacting with faculty colleagues who conduct state-of-the-art research on leadership. Because of this experience, I believe that leaders are made, not born, and that reading biographies, psychological studies, philosophical commentary, histories, and fiction like the books on my list is one of the best ways to gain insight into what you need to become a great leader. 

I wrote...

Seven Essentials for Business Success

By George J. Siedel,

Book cover of Seven Essentials for Business Success

What is my book about?

This book shows how legendary business school professors teach seven areas that successful leaders and entrepreneurs should understand. Through their teaching at leading business schools, these professors are models of leadership. By adopting the best practices the professors have developed, leaders can share their knowledge and develop their associates to achieve organizational success. The book includes many examples of the authenticity that plays an important role in the success of these award-winning teachers. 

The books I picked & why

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The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen

By Jacques Pépin,

Book cover of The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen

Why this book?

This is the heartwarming and inspiring story of the journey a great chef took from serving as a lowly apprentice to becoming a leader in establishing new food traditions in America. I especially enjoyed the many funny stories about Pepin and his family. Warning: the book includes many of his favorite recipes that will cause hunger pangs as you read the book. 

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds

By Michael Lewis,

Book cover of The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds

Why this book?

Great leaders need to understand the psychological aspects of decision making. This book tells the story of two giants in the field of decision making: Amos Tversky and Danny Kahneman. The book includes their dramatic personal stories and the deep friendship that led to Nobel-prize-winning discoveries.  An added bonus is that the book includes easy-to-understand descriptions of their studies that provide readers with insights into the field of behavioral economics. 


By Marcus Aurelius, Maxwell Staniforth (translator),

Book cover of Meditations

Why this book?

Leaders should develop a philosophy of life—a north star that will guide them through difficult times. This timeless classic by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius provides a combination of wisdom and practical advice that serves as a reference both for those in a leadership position and for individuals seeking a deeper understanding of their daily lives. Here is a sample: “The longest-lived and those who will die soonest lose the same thing. The present is all that they can give up, since that is all you have, and what you do not have, you cannot lose.”

The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West

By David McCullough,

Book cover of The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West

Why this book?

One of the best ways to learn about leadership is to study history. A good starting point is anything written by Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian David McCullough. In this book he recounts an important period of American history—the settling of the Northwest Territory. The pioneers exhibited incredible leadership and bravery in the face of primitive and dangerous living conditions. One takeaway from the book is that you will learn about the importance of this territory in the fight to eliminate slavery. 

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies

By Alexander McCall Smith,

Book cover of In the Company of Cheerful Ladies

Why this book?

Fiction is an excellent source of inspiration for leaders. This book is a prime example. The book is part of a series of books on the “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” in Botswana. The proprietor, Precious Ramotswe, uses a combination of wisdom, intelligence, and humor to solve crimes. Like leaders and entrepreneurs everywhere, she must handle a variety of challenges using limited resources. A special treat in reading these books is learning about daily life in Botswana. 

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