The best transformational leadership books that will help you to practice it

Why am I passionate about this?

One remarkable leader I've studied, Bob Davids, said that the greatest scarcity in the world is not oil or food but leadership. For two decades, I've been on a quest to uncover the essence of a transformational leader, someone who cultivates an environment where employees' needs are so well-addressed that they are eager to show up and give their best every day. This journey led me to study hundreds of leaders and books, all serving as the foundation for my thoughts and writings. I trust that these books will kickstart your own journey. Mine has guided me to play a pivotal role in the corporate liberation movement, involving hundreds of leaders who have transformed their organizations.

I wrote...

Freedom Inc.: How Corporate Liberation Unleashes Employee Potential and Business Performance

By Brian M. Carney, Isaac Getz,

Book cover of Freedom Inc.: How Corporate Liberation Unleashes Employee Potential and Business Performance

What is my book about?

How can leaders transform an organization based on the subordination and control of employees into one based on trust and self-direction? How can they transform a work environment that infantilizes most employees to one that treats them as adults and really liberates their potential and initiative?

Several books by remarkable leaders have recounted the transformational journeys they guided in their companies. There are also books by ex-leaders about the tenets of transformational leadership. However, business readers missed a book that showcased a diversity of leaders and the transformations they guided and extracted the universal principles of leadership that any leader could apply to transform their own unique organization. This book has appeared in 15 countries and has been a sensation that catalyzed the corporate liberation movement.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Up the Organization: How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits

Isaac Getz Why did I love this book?

This is the most impertinent yet constructive book on leadership I’ve ever read (and I've read many with one of these qualities, but none with both).

It’s written by the former CEO of AVIS, who led a radical transformation of its organizational culture, resulting in unmatched performance. First published in 1970, it quickly became the NY Times N°1 bestseller. Its commemorative 2007 edition is adorned with even more gems, including a nine-page segment that earns you a PhD in Leadership.

It starts with, “To hell with centralized strategic planning. If you don’t have a good leader, it’s all nothing; just a bunch of papers flying around.” Enjoy!

By Robert C. Townsend, Warren Bennis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Although it was first published more than thirty-five years ago, Up the Organization continues to top the lists of best business books by groups as diverse as the American Management Association, Strategy + Business (Booz Allen Hamilton), and The Wharton Center for Leadership and Change Management. 1-800-CEO-READ ranks Townsend's bestseller first among eighty books that "every manager must read."

This commemorative edition offers a new generation the benefit of Robert Townsend's timeless wisdom as well as reflections on his work and life by those who knew and worked with him. This groundbreaking book continues to remind us not to get…

Book cover of Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace

Isaac Getz Why did I love this book?

This is the freshest account I’ve read by a leader of his company’s transformational journey: Ricardo Semler became CEO of his father’s company, SEMCO, at the age of 21, and wrote the book in his early thirties, not to forget the transformative journey he just led.

But even more than the narrative itself, I loved Semler’s philosophical reflections, densely packed throughout the book. Example: “We simply don’t believe our employees have an interest in coming in late and doing as little as possible. After all, the same people raise children and elect mayors and presidents. They are adults. In SEMCO, we treat them as adults.”

Semler, twice chosen as Brazil’s businessperson of the year, proves how a leader, driven by authentic beliefs, can lead a transformation that makes people and—consequently—the company thrive.

Book cover of The Essential Wooden: A Lifetime of Lessons on Leaders and Leadership

Isaac Getz Why did I love this book?

I love basketball and was thrilled that John Wooden, ESPN's best 20th-century coach, wrote on leadership. What intrigued me even more is that the book contains few basketball stories. Its theme is universal: How a leader builds a value-and vision-based organizational culture, resulting in perennial success.

Everyone knows that Wooden’s UCLA team won 10 NCAA championships in a span of 12 years, but I was surprised to learn that it took Wooden 15 years to transform UCLA and win the first title.

I admire Wooden’s key to leadership: “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming.” As a byproduct of this success, UCLA won 10 titles. Now, I understand why my team—the Knicks—is not getting there.

By John Wooden, Steve Jamison,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The acclaimed guide to leadership excellence and competitive success from one of America's greatest coaches: John Wooden
"Talent to spare, or spare on talent," Wooden writes, "a leader's goal remains the same, namely, getting the very best out of the people in your organization." In The Essential Wooden he tells readers how to do this and achieve championship results, whether you lead a small team or run a corporation.
When it came to managing a group of individuals and achieving world-class results, no one did it better than Coach John Wooden. This landmark leadership manual presents Wooden's own hand-picked directives…

Book cover of Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness

Isaac Getz Why did I love this book?

I instinctively resonate with Robert Greenleaf’s servant leadership philosophy, as do numerous business writers and, more importantly, leaders.

Greenleaf had a dream job at AT&T: read, think, and write about management. I admire how his book draws not only from management authors but also from philosophers, political thinkers, poets, and novelists. I fully agree with his diagnosis that organizations "have the resources to do so much better than the [current] mediocre level because so much leadership is poor." He also devised a solution to this challenge: leaders who serve others by tending to their needs and aspirations.

I appreciate Greenleaf's benevolence but also expectation towards those in charge. He observes that "many guilty people are walking around with an air of innocence" because they have not embraced servant leadership when they had the freedom to do so.

By Robert K. Greenleaf,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Revolution Has Only Just Begun

Twenty-five years ago Robert Greenleaf published these prophetic essays on what he coined servant leadership, a practical philosophy that replaces traditional autocratic leadership with a holistic, ethical approach. This highly influential book has been embraced by cutting edge management everywhere. Yet in these days of Enron and what VISA CEO Dee Hock calls our "era of massive institutional failure," Greenleaf's seminal work must reach the mainstream now more than ever.
Servant Leadership-
* helps leaders find their true power and moral authority to lead.
* helps those served become healthier, wiser, freer, and more…

Book cover of Tao Te Ching

Isaac Getz Why did I love this book?

I admire this first-ever book stating the principles of authentic leadership. Written by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu in the 6th century BCE, it comprises a collection of paradoxical, enigmatic, and profound teachings that laid the foundation of Taoism.

I love all of them, but here is one regarding leadership: “Why do the hundred rivers turn and rush toward the sea? / Because it naturally stays below them / He who wishes to rule over the people must speak as if below them.”

While delving into this book, I find myself astounded by the universality and timelessness of the truths it unveils about authentic servant leadership. This modest volume—which adorns my bedroom as a wooden scroll—has proven to be a revelation, offering continuous inspiration to me.

By Lao Tzu, Sam Torode (translator), Dwight Goddard (translator)

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Tao Te Ching as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Path to Peace

The Tao Te Ching is a series of meditations on the mysterious nature of the Tao—the Way, the Light, the very Source of all existence. According to Lao Tzu (a name meaning "the old master"), the Tao is found where we would least expect it—not in the strong but in the weak; not in speech but in silence; not in doing but in "not-doing."

Compiled in China around 2,500 years ago, the Tao Te Ching is beloved by seekers all the world over. This edition is rendered in poetic language by Sam Torode, based on the…

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Book cover of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

Ethan Chorin Author Of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Story-lover Middle East expert Curious Iconoclast Optimist

Ethan's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Benghazi: A New History is a look back at the enigmatic 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, its long-tail causes, and devastating (and largely unexamined) consequences for US domestic politics and foreign policy. It contains information not found elsewhere, and is backed up by 40 pages of citations and interviews with more than 250 key protagonists, experts, and witnesses.

So far, the book is the main -- and only -- antidote to a slew of early partisan “Benghazi” polemics, and the first to put the attack in its longer term historical, political, and social context. If you want to understand some of the events that have shaped present-day America, from political polarization and the election of Donald Trump, to January 6, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russian expansionism, and the current Israel-Hamas war, I argue, you need to understand some of the twists and turns of America's most infamous "non-scandal, scandal.”

I was in Benghazi well before, during, and after the attack as a US diplomat and co-director of a medical NGO. I have written three books, and have been a contributor to The NYT, Foreign Affairs, Forbes, Salon, The Financial Times, Newsweek, and others.

By Ethan Chorin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On September 11, 2012, Al Qaeda proxies attacked and set fire to the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, killing a US Ambassador and three other Americans.  The attack launched one of the longest and most consequential 'scandals' in US history, only to disappear from public view once its political value was spent. 

Written in a highly engaging narrative style by one of a few Western experts on Libya, and decidely non-partisan, Benghazi!: A New History is the first to provide the full context for an event that divided, incited, and baffled most of America for more than three years, while silently reshaping…

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