The best leadership books

18 authors have picked their favorite books about leadership and why they recommend each book.

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The Leadership Challenge

By Barry Z. Posner, James M. Kouzes,

Book cover of The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations

Once again, I love books based on solid research—all the better if based on several decades of solid research, as is the case with this book. The authors, both consultants and university professors, have collected data and lectured worldwide on how leaders communicate to make things happen in both large organizations and in smaller entrepreneurial ventures.
Once again, they have real-life stories “right from the front lines” of ordinary people who learned to use their communication skills and influence to do important things—in many cases, without title or position.

Kouzes is a Fellow of the Doerr Institute for New Leaders at Rice University. Posner is an endowed Professor of Leadership and Chair of the Management & Entrepreneurial Department, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University.


Who am I?

Dianna Booher is the bestselling author of 49 books (Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, McGraw-Hill), in 62 foreign editions, with nearly 4 million copies sold. More than two dozen of her books focus on communication, and she’s facilitated workshops on the topic for 4 decades. She helps leaders shape their own message in book form at Booher Book Camps.


I wrote...

Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done

By Dianna Booher,

Book cover of Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done

What is my book about?

People often get promoted to leadership positions without knowing how to communicate an inspiring strategic vision to the people who report to them. So they focus on what they know: tactics, not strategy. As a result, they become stuck in micromanagement mode. Dianna Booher wants to prevent micromanagement before it happens by providing you with the right leadership communication skills. Grounded in extensive research, this book offers practical guidelines to help professionals think, coach, converse, speak, write, meet, and negotiate strategically to deliver results. In thirty-six brief chapters, Booher shows you how to communicate effectively to audiences up and down the organization so you can fulfill your most essential responsibilities as a leader.

Leading with Noble Purpose

By Lisa Earle McLeod,

Book cover of Leading with Noble Purpose: How to Create a Tribe of True Believers

All too often, managers try to motivate their employees with money and outrageous perks. If that stuff worked, these companies would have a fully engaged workforce. Leadership expert Lisa Earle McLeod tackles the employee engagement crisis by showing leaders how to put workplace meaning front and center. Lisa’s book includes plenty of examples of how to put her words into action. It’s an easy read, with a very important message.


Who am I?

I’m one of the world’s leading experts on the maximization of talent, who is the author of six books on leadership and talent. I’m also a LinkedIn Top Voice in Leadership and Workplace, and one of the few people who was a guest on The O’Reilly Factor, with Bill O’Reilly, who left the show unscathed.


I wrote...

Can We Talk?: Seven Principles for Managing Difficult Conversations at Work

By Roberta Chinsky Matuson,

Book cover of Can We Talk?: Seven Principles for Managing Difficult Conversations at Work

What is my book about?

Having difficult conversations at work is a necessary discomfort. Instead of avoiding these conversations with our boss, colleagues, or direct reports, you need a strategy that won't leave you feeling like you were being talked at or ignored.

The key to solving this problem starts and ends with changing the conversation. Recognizing that it takes two people to engage in meaningful conversation, Can We Talk? outlines what each contributor needs to do to achieve the best possible result. Illustrated with scenarios from everyday work situations, the author offers guidance on how to create the right conditions for a meaningful discussion as well as defining the seven key principles (confidence, clarity, compassion, curiosity, compromise, credibility, and courage) that enable both parties to gain a deeper understanding of what the other person may be thinking and establish their point of view more clearly.

The Tao of Leadership

By John Heider,

Book cover of The Tao of Leadership: Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching Adapted for a New Age

John Heider’s book takes the wisdom of Tao into the world of leadership, offering timeless wisdom and practical advice for leaders. Readers will learn about the power of presence in relationships, as well as how to pay attention, trust the process, and stay centered in the midst of challenge and conflict to become more effective and inspiring leaders.


Who am I?

Diane Dreher is the author of The Tao of Inner Peace, The Tao of Personal Leadership, and The Tao of Womanhood. She has been fascinated by Eastern philosophy since her childhood in the Philippine Islands. In addition to her doctoral degree in English from UCLA and master’s in counseling from Santa Clara University, she has studied Taoism, trained in aikido, and become a reiki master. She enjoys applying the lessons of Tao in her teaching, consulting, and international coaching practice.


I wrote...

The Tao of Inner Peace

By Diane Dreher,

Book cover of The Tao of Inner Peace

What is my book about?

Drawing upon the vital lessons of the Tao Te Ching, The Tao of Inner Peace shows readers how to create greater peace in their lives by honoring their own inner rhythms, part of the overarching rhythms of nature. They will learn to see beyond current conditions, recognize the Tao’s dynamic balance of yin and yang, resolve conflict within and around them, discover new possibilities, and create greater harmony in their world.

Delivering Happiness

By Tony Hsieh,

Book cover of Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

It was a tough decision, and I definitely still want you to read Seth Godin’s books, but I settled on the late Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness since great company culture is the foundation to an admired brand. I strongly believe in that and spreading how Tony created the phenomenon that is the Zappos culture, you will realize that paying your top employees hard cash to quit is actually one of the many ways to set your company on the path of becoming an admired brand.


Who am I?

I am a Creative Director turned Brand Strategist who loves creating clarity for brand transformations. I do so for small companies and Fortune 500s alike, but the thrill is the same. At the end of the day that hands-on (actually more of a ‘brain on’) work coupled with my books on branding and my podcast Hitting The Mark (where I talk with some of today’s most mesmerizing founders about the intersection of brand clarity and startup success) is doing my part in creating more admired brands in this world. I hope the books on this list will inspire and enable you to do the same for your own company.


I wrote...

Bigger Than This: How to turn any venture into an admired brand

By Fabian Geyrhalter,

Book cover of Bigger Than This: How to turn any venture into an admired brand

What is my book about?

A quick read about the deceptively difficult task of turning your venture into an admired brand.

Inspired by a new wave of commodity brands that are winning hearts, using one (or more) of the eight traits and their commandments in this book will guide you to your specific path to turning your venture, may that be a commodity product or a hot startup, into a better, more beloved brand.

Team of Teams

By Tantum Collins, David Silverman, Stanley McChrystal

Book cover of Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World

An outstanding analysis of complex systems and the necessity of trust and collaboration on high performing teams. McChrystal uses SEAL teams as his model for a great team. McChrystal and his team point out that the primary purpose of SEAL training is not to develop super fit warriors as much as it is to develop the interdependence and trust needed to function collaboratively as an elite team in an ambiguous, volatile, complex and uncertain world.


Who are we?

Jim Tamm was a Senior Administrative Law Judge for the State of California with jurisdiction over workplace disputes. In that role, he mediated more school district labor strikes than any other person in the United States. Ron Luyet is a licensed psychotherapist who has worked with group dynamics pioneers such as Carl Rogers and Will Schutz.  He has advised Fortune 500 companies for over forty years specializing in building high-performance teams. Together they wrote Radical Collaboration and are excited to share this list with you today.


We wrote...

Radical Collaboration: Five Essential Skills to Overcome Defensiveness and Build Successful Relationships

By James Tamm, Ronald Luyet,

Book cover of Radical Collaboration: Five Essential Skills to Overcome Defensiveness and Build Successful Relationships

What is our book about?

Collaborative skills have never been more important to a company's success and these skills are essential for every worker today. Radical Collaboration is a how-to-manual for creating trusting, cooperative environments, and transforming groups into motivated and empowered teams. James W. Tamm and Ronald J. Luyet provide tools that will help you increase your ability to work successfully with others, learn to be more aware of colleagues, and better problem-solve and negotiate.

Radical Collaboration is an eye-opener for leaders, managers, HR professionals, agents, trainers, and consultants who are seeking constructive ways of getting the results they want.

Good to Great

By Jim Collins,

Book cover of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't

This classic book focuses on the core issue of how great companies achieve long-term sustained performance. It is a sequel to the author’s earlier book, Built to Last. Good to Great is based on research that compares a defined set of ‘great companies” (including Coca-Cola, Intel, General Electric, and Merck) with a comparison set of so-called “good companies” companies that failed to make the leap to greatness. Although General Electric subsequently fell from grace and now is in revitalization, the analysis and sample of companies selected as examples of greatness are reasonable and the overall analysis generally valid.

The book makes a contribution by identifying some of the “dos” and “don’t’s” for companies desiring to achieve greatness or what we have termed “business champions.” The book also provides some constructs (including some from Built to Last) to assist the journey from good to great, including the notion of…


Who am I?

I'm Professor Emeritus at UCLA and have also been on the faculty of Columbia University and The University of Michigan, where I received my PhD degree. I founded Management Systems Consulting, which works with entrepreneurial firms in the US and globally to scale up, in 1978. I've served on the board of a firm (99 Cents Only Stores) that scaled up and was a NYSE listed firm. I've advised CEOs who have created global champion firms and been recognized as leaders in their space. I've authored or co-authored several books including Creating Family Business Champions; Corporate Culture: The Ultimate Strategic Advantage; Changing the Game; and Leading Strategic Change.


I wrote...

Growing Pains: Building Sustainably Successful Organizations

By Eric G. Flamholtz, Yvonne Randle,

Book cover of Growing Pains: Building Sustainably Successful Organizations

What is my book about?

This book is about managing the stages of growth successfully from a start-up to a sustainably successful organization and/or even becoming a global champion or recognized leader in your space like Starbucks, which was one of the author’s clients during its early years from 1994-97. The book provides a framework and template to create a road map for organizational development and a set of methodologies to help scale up and become a sustainably successful organization and/or even become a global champion. It presents a framework of the key stages of organizational growth and identifies the set of variables that must be managed as well as their relative importance at each stage. The book provides advice for the CEO and founder of entrepreneurial companies undergoing the process of scaling up.

Leadership Is an Art

By Max DePree,

Book cover of Leadership Is an Art

This classic by Max De Pree (the former CEO of Herman Miller) looks at leadership as a kind of stewardship, stressing the importance of building relationships, initiating ideas, and creating a lasting value system within an organization. Rather than focusing on the “how” of corporate life, he stresses that leaders need to explain the “why.” He writes that the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality and the last is to say thank you. De Pree offers dozens of memorable leadership anecdotes that will have you wishing you’d worked for him at some point in your career! A wonderful gem of a book, it’s lessons will resonate with any leader who is trying to build a winning culture. 


Who am I?

After a career as an HR and learning & development executive at PepsiCo, AOL, and Capital One, I founded Arneson Leadership Consulting to provide coaching, talent management, and leadership development solutions to corporations and non-profit organizations.  I have a passion for helping leaders develop to their full potential and believe all leaders have the capacity to learn and grow. But development doesn’t just magically happen – you have to be willing to work at it. Whether it’s taking a course, gathering 360 feedback, or reading a best-selling book, the best leaders know they must never stop learning.


I wrote...

What Your Boss Really Wants from You: 15 Insights to Improve Your Relationship

By Steve Arneson,

Book cover of What Your Boss Really Wants from You: 15 Insights to Improve Your Relationship

What is my book about?

The most important work relationship you have is with your boss; no one else has as much power to make or break your career. You need this relationship to be positive, but sometimes the boss can be difficult or hard to read. In this pragmatic and accessible guide, top executive coach Steve Arneson shows how to find the answer to fifteen essential questions that will help you understand your boss’s leadership style and motivation. Vivid real-world examples demonstrate Arneson’s advice in action and show clearly how this process can be used to gain a more meaningful, productive, and enjoyable work life. 

The Extraordinary Leader.

By John Zenger, Joseph Folkman,

Book cover of The Extraordinary Leader.:Turning Good Managers Into Great Leaders

The Extraordinary Leader is a remarkable combination of expert insight and extensive research. The authors analyzed more than 200,000 assessments describing 20,000 managers—by far the most expansive research ever conducted for a leadership book. This book will take you inside the process of becoming a successful leader, as the authors detail the various skills needed to earn the respect of the people you lead. This is a must read for aspiring and experienced leaders alike and is one of my go-to manuals on how to develop leaders. One of the few books I’ve read cover-to-cover more than once, I’m confident you’ll come away with data-driven insights that you can begin to implement in your leadership role.


Who am I?

After a career as an HR and learning & development executive at PepsiCo, AOL, and Capital One, I founded Arneson Leadership Consulting to provide coaching, talent management, and leadership development solutions to corporations and non-profit organizations.  I have a passion for helping leaders develop to their full potential and believe all leaders have the capacity to learn and grow. But development doesn’t just magically happen – you have to be willing to work at it. Whether it’s taking a course, gathering 360 feedback, or reading a best-selling book, the best leaders know they must never stop learning.


I wrote...

What Your Boss Really Wants from You: 15 Insights to Improve Your Relationship

By Steve Arneson,

Book cover of What Your Boss Really Wants from You: 15 Insights to Improve Your Relationship

What is my book about?

The most important work relationship you have is with your boss; no one else has as much power to make or break your career. You need this relationship to be positive, but sometimes the boss can be difficult or hard to read. In this pragmatic and accessible guide, top executive coach Steve Arneson shows how to find the answer to fifteen essential questions that will help you understand your boss’s leadership style and motivation. Vivid real-world examples demonstrate Arneson’s advice in action and show clearly how this process can be used to gain a more meaningful, productive, and enjoyable work life. 

Scaling Leadership

By Robert J. Anderson, William A. Adams,

Book cover of Scaling Leadership: Building Organizational Capability and Capacity to Create Outcomes That Matter Most

This book posits that the most important function of an organizational leader is to create other leaders throughout the organization. That’s right…not problem-solving, not clever strategy, not vision but leadership development. That’s because those other aspects are “table stakes” for the game of leadership in today’s complex business world. What I like about this book is that it is based on a huge pool of data about what makes leaders effective in the 21st-century and many of the insights are drawn from leaders themselves….from the feedback they give when they evaluate other leaders using the Leadership Circle Profile 360° assessment. It’s a nice marriage of relatable info “from the horse’s mouth” and decades of leadership theory borne out by insights from the assessment of hundreds of thousands of leaders. If you want to very specifically know what it takes to be a 21st-century leader, this book is a…


Who am I?

For over a decade I helped people develop their skills and expand their leaderful-ness in Agile Coaching and I kept hearing the same blocker: “This is great and all, but my leaders don’t get it. They are the impediment.” After working with many thousands of Agilists I decided to go into the “belly of the beast” and personally coach leadership teams. What I found were not beasts or even garden variety egomaniacs. Instead, I found well-meaning people who are genuinely confounded by the complexity of today’s business landscape and who struggle with performance-killing team dynamics. Good news: the human technology to “solve” these issues is widely available. We know how.


I narrated...

Lead Together: The Bold, Brave, Intentional Path to Scaling Your Business

By Brent Lowe, Susan Basterfield, Travis Marsh

Book cover of Lead Together: The Bold, Brave, Intentional Path to Scaling Your Business

What is the book about?

Despite the advent of disruptive technologies that have upended the business landscape, the structure of most companies remains largely unchanged, with traditional top-down leadership still the norm. Couldn’t there be a better way to organize work that reflects our modern world - one with nimble, invested leaders rather than disengaged, disinterested employees? The answer is yes!

In Lead Together, authors Brent Lowe, Susan Basterfield, and Travis Marsh offer founders, CEOs, and other leaders a radical new way of working and scaling a business. The audiobook is narrated by Lyssa Adkins, an internationally recognized thought leader in Agile, a coach and guide to leadership teams, and a leader herself.

Start With Why

By Simon Sinek,

Book cover of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

When preparing for a keynote with a corporation I will ask their executive team who was their speaker last year? More times than not the answer is Simon Sinek. 

So often when I speak with companies, they can easily articulate what they do and how they plan to execute their goals. But as Simon Sinek points out in Start with Why, many companies overlook the why. Sinek showcases a multitude of examples to highlight, not only why it’s important to know and understand your purpose but, to begin with your purpose. Today’s most successful and influential companies are not marketing their products, but their purpose. This is a concept I revisit daily in my own business; goal setting and project planning always begin with our Why.


Who am I?

I’ve been in the digital space for 30 years and my breakthrough book was Socialnomics. In this book, I encouraged individuals and organizations to lean into social media and digital, both personally and professionally; emphasizing that this shift wasn’t just for teenagers, that it would change the world more than anything in our lifetime. That it would become a powerful force around business, politics, gaming, and beyond. And, unfortunately, it did. It was even more powerful than I could have imagined. What I didn’t comprehend was that we would lean in too much. I realized I needed to give the anti-venom to Socialnomics. We needed as a society to return to focusing on what matters most.


I wrote...

The Focus Project: The Not So Simple Art of Doing Less

By Erik Qualman,

Book cover of The Focus Project: The Not So Simple Art of Doing Less

What is my book about?

Whether you’re a programmer, mother, executive, teacher, or entrepreneur, this book is for you if… 1. You feel like you need 5 more hours in your day. 2. You are being pulled in a million directions with no end in sight. 3. Your life is busy instead of big.

Welcome to The Focus Project, a book designed to provide answers and solutions to the challenges of focusing in an unfocused world. Combining street science and institutional research alongside his own personal focus project, Qualman delivers practical advice on thinking big versus busy. The following is a guide to doing less, better. This enables us to achieve more–both personally and professionally.

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