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. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen

Why did I love 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. 

By Jacques Pépin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this captivating memoir, the man whom Julia Child has called “the best chef in America” tells the story of his rise from a frightened apprentice in an exacting Old World kitchen to an Emmy Award–winning superstar who taught millions of Americans how to cook and shaped the nation’s tastes in the bargain.

We see young Jacques as a homesick six-year-old boy in war-ravaged France, working on a farm in exchange for food, dodging bombs, and bearing witness as German soldiers capture his father, a fighter in the Resistance. Soon Jacques is caught up in the hurly-burly action of his…

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

Why did I love 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 Michael Lewis,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Undoing Project as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Michael Lewis could spin gold out of any topic he chose ... his best work ... vivid, original and hard to forget' Tim Harford, Financial Times

'Gripping ... There is war, heroism, genius, love, loss, discovery, enduring loyalty and friendship. It is epic stuff ... Michael Lewis is one of the best non-fiction writers of our time' Irish Times

From Michael Lewis, No.1 bestselling author of The Big Short and Flash Boys, this is the extraordinary story of the two men whose ideas changed the world.

Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky met in war-torn 1960s Israel. Both were gifted young…


By Marcus Aurelius, Maxwell Staniforth (translator),

Book cover of Meditations

Why did I love 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.”

By Marcus Aurelius, Maxwell Staniforth (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A Penguin Great Ideas edition of Stoic philosophy in wise and practical aphorisms that have inspired Bill Clinton, Ryan Holiday, Anna Kendrick and many more.

Few ancient works have been as influential as the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, philosopher and emperor of Rome (A.D. 161-180). A series of spiritual exercises filled with wisdom, practical guidance, and profound understanding of human behavior, it remains one of the greatest works of spiritual and ethical reflection ever written. Marcus's insights and advice-on everything from living in the world to coping with adversity and interacting with others-have made the Meditations required reading for statesmen…

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

Why did I love 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. 

By David McCullough,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

As part of the Treaty of Paris, in which Great Britain recognized the new United States of America, Britain ceded the land that comprised the immense Northwest Territory, a wilderness empire northwest of the Ohio River containing the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. A Massachusetts minister named Manasseh Cutler was instrumental in opening this vast territory to veterans of the Revolutionary War and their families for settlement. Included in the Northwest Ordinance were three remarkable conditions: freedom of religion, free universal education, and most importantly, the prohibition of slavery. In 1788 the first band of pioneers…

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies

By Alexander McCall Smith,

Book cover of In the Company of Cheerful Ladies

Why did I love 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. 

By Alexander McCall Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Company of Cheerful Ladies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


The one where Mma Makutsi finds a dancing partner . . .

Although Mma Ramotswe and Mr J. L. B. Matekoni have finally settled down, at the shared premises of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and Speedy Motors the staff are not mixing in a perfectly peaceful manner.

But in the course of investigating her latest case, Mma Ramotswe's tiny white van comes into contact with a man on a bicycle who might be able to restore harmony.

And Mma Makutsi at last seems to have found…

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