The best books on what you really need to know about leadership

Who am I?

It is shocking how many leaders suffer from imposter syndrome, and how little practical advice is out there about how to help. It’s been my mission to identify not only precisely what leaders need to be able to do well, but also how can they learn these things in the most efficient and durable way. Leadersmithing sets out a practical path to mastery and provides the toolkit leaders will really need. After I wrote it, I took on some senior leadership roles of my own. Even before Covid I had stress-tested the wisdom of this book, and post-covid I am even more confident that this leadership book really helps.


I wrote...

Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership

By Eve Poole,

Book cover of Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership

What is my book about?

Leadersmithing is a book of practical advice based on the experience of the thousands of senior leaders the author met during her career teaching at Ashridge Business School. Most leaders learn their trade the hard way, through bitter experience, but the latest in neurobiological research shows that there is an easier way. The book explains how to acquire the templates leaders need to lead with ease, and under pressure, and teaches leaders the tricks of the trade they need for mastery. It explores the 17 Critical Incidents of leadership and accelerated ways to become job-ready now. It introduces 52 leadership practices that map to these 17, so that aspiring leaders can curate their over development journey to develop the muscle memory they need for success.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Prince

By Niccolò Machiavelli, Tim Parks (translator),

Book cover of The Prince

Why this book?

I first read The Prince on my MBA and it is a brilliant wake-up call for leaders. He was vilified for writing it, because he skipped the customary hand-wringing about virtue and morality to focus on what really works. Some of it sounds brutal to the modern ear, but the key leadership lesson it taught me is that, for leaders, perception is more influential than reality. The more people you lead, the less they will be able to get close enough to you to understand your every thought and intention. So most followers guess, based on the distant messages they pick up though the grapevine and through any visible signals your behavior provides. Machiavelli would not be surprised by fake news: control perception, and you control reality.

The Prince

By Niccolò Machiavelli, Tim Parks (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Here is the world's most famous master plan for seizing and holding power.  Astonishing in its candor The Prince even today remains a disturbingly realistic and prophetic work on what it takes to be a prince . . . a king . . . a president.  When, in 1512, Machiavelli was removed from his post in his beloved Florence, he resolved to set down a treatise on leadership that was practical, not idealistic.  In The Prince he envisioned would be unencumbered by ordinary ethical and moral values; his prince would be man and beast, fox and lion.  Today, this small…


Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ

By Daniel Goleman,

Book cover of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ

Why this book?

A necessary corrective to Machiavelli is Goleman’s classic on Emotional Intelligence. Leadership is always a balance between being right and being liked, but you can be both if you have excellent EQ. Goleman sets out the theory, before introducing a practical approach to increasing your emotional competence. The model he developed, which is at the heart of the EQ psychometrics he inspired, starts with self-awareness and your ability to read others, then considers your ability to manage yourself, and your ability to manage others in relationship. It is this last set of competencies that is so vital for delivering through others as a leader, as excellence in this sphere correlates with better organizational performance through increased discretionary effort and enhanced motivation.    

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ

By Daniel Goleman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The groundbreaking bestseller that redefines intelligence and success Does IQ define our destiny? Daniel Goleman argues that our view of human intelligence is far too narrow, and that our emotions play major role in thought, decision making and individual success. Self-awareness, impulse control, persistence, motivation, empathy and social deftness are all qualities that mark people who excel: whose relationships flourish, who are stars in the workplace. With new insights into the brain architecture underlying emotion and rationality, Goleman shows precisely how emotional intelligence can be nurtured and strengthened in all of us.


Who Really Matters: The Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege, and Success

By Art Kleiner,

Book cover of Who Really Matters: The Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege, and Success

Why this book?

Kleiner’s Core Group Theory was an aha moment for me, because it teaches senior leaders how to use their power well. The theory explains how top leaders act on their organisations like a magnet on iron filings: the slightest clue or cue they give ripples out, and is amplified and copied by everyone that follows them. This makes it crucial that leaders are careful about even the smallest behavioral choice they make: their priorities, who they pay attention to, the jokes they make – all of these will be seen as role model behaviors and replicated by those trying to impress. There is no such thing as off-stage for a leader.

Who Really Matters: The Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege, and Success

By Art Kleiner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When corporate leaders announce, with seeming sincerity that they make their decisions on behalf of their shareholders, their words are taken at face value. But as recent news stories prove, this imperative is routinely violated.

In Who Really Matters Art Kleiner argues that the dissonance between a declared mission and actual operation can be seen in both large and small organistions. All organisations have one motive in common: everything they do - choosing which projects to back, who to promote, where to spend the money is affected by the perceived wants and needs of a core group of key people.…


Enchiridion

By George Long, Epictetus,

Book cover of Enchiridion

Why this book?

Epictetus is the Stoic who inspired the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Stoicism is the intellectual origin of cognitive behavioral therapy and a way for leaders to train themselves to focus on the things they can change, rather than breaking their hearts over things over which they have no control. The Enchiridion has the virtue of being much shorter than Aurelius’ Meditations, and contains pithy observations and advice like ‘it is not events that disturb people, it is their judgment concerning them,’ and ‘don’t hope that events will turn out the way you want, welcome events in whichever way they happen: this is the path to peace.’ Leaders need to be good at detachment, and Stoicism can provide valuable tools to help.

Enchiridion

By George Long, Epictetus,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Although he was born into slavery and endured a permanent physical disability, Epictetus (ca. 50–ca. 130 CE) maintained that all people are free to control their lives and live in harmony with nature. We will always be happy, he argued, if we learn to desire that things should be exactly as they are. After attaining his freedom, Epictetus spent his career teaching philosophy and advising a daily regimen of self-examination. His pupil Arrian later collected and published the master's lecture notes; the Enchiridion, or Manual, is a distillation of Epictetus's teachings and an instruction manual for a tranquil life. Full…


Mr. Happy

By Roger Hargreaves,

Book cover of Mr. Happy

Why this book?

The leader’s most important job is to set the right culture for their organization. People will copy what you do, not what you say. This simple little book shows you the truth of that: When Mr Miserable comes to stay, Mr Happy doesn’t give him pep talks. He just keeps on being happy until Mr Miserable is too. As a leader, you need to relentlessly role model the behavior you want, until it finally catches on.

Mr. Happy

By Roger Hargreaves,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The bestselling children's books series for over 50 years!

Mr Happy is from Happyland where everyone is happy! When he meets Mr Miserable, the most miserable person in the world, Mr Happy has an idea about how to make him happy too.

The Mr Men and Little Miss have been delighting children for generations with their charming and funny antics. Bold illustrations and funny stories make Mr Men and Little Miss the perfect story time experience for children aged two up. Have you met them all?


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in life satisfaction, emotional intelligence, and organizational behavior?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about life satisfaction, emotional intelligence, and organizational behavior.

Life Satisfaction Explore 134 books about life satisfaction
Emotional Intelligence Explore 14 books about emotional intelligence
Organizational Behavior Explore 23 books about organizational behavior

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Talking to Strangers, Letters from a Stoic, and Thinking, Fast and Slow if you like this list.