Request a demo
Back to Blog

Best leadership books: 21 of the most impactful reads

September 27, 2022 - 23 min read

leadership-books

Jump to section

Best leadership books for personal development

Best leadership books for people managers

Best leadership books for organizational leaders

Whether you’re a new leader or a veteran entrepreneur, a commitment to learning will help you become as effective as you can be — and there’s certainly no shortage of great leadership and management books to help you do just that.

The problem is that if you search "leadership books" on Amazon, you'll see over 50,000 titles. So how do you know where to begin? We’re here to make it simple for you with this list of the best leadership books of all time.

"Self-awareness and self-love matter. Who we are is how we lead"

Brené Brown

 

Best leadership books for personal development

If you want to become a good leader, it starts with working on yourself. Why? Effective leadership requires you to be able to manage yourself as well as others.

When you have a foundation of psychological strength, emotional intelligence, and self-awareness, it will naturally impact and improve your leadership skills. 

Below are the best leadership and self-help books for anyone who wants to work on their mindset, emotional regulation, and beyond. 

imperfection book cover for leadership book

1. The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brené Brown

The Gifts of Imperfection is about practicing self-compassion and self-love. It asks us to embrace our own imperfections as we would anyone else’s and to accept our talents and gifts less as gifts for ourselves, and more as a gift to give to others. Once we know who we are and love who we are, we can engage others at that same level.

the art of possibility book cover for leadership book

2. The Art of Possibility, by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander

The Art of Possibility teaches readers how to think divergently about the possibilities in front of them. The 12 practices for this pursuit can then open new avenues of thought and self-image. As a result, you can become a more insightful, better leader.

the seven habits of highly effective people book cover for leadership book

3. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey

“If I really want to improve my situation, I can work on the one thing over which I have control: myself.” ― Stephen Covey

So many of us are outwardly successful, but still find ourselves wrestling with our inner habits. Enter bestselling author Covey’s seven habits to help you become more productive, build stronger relationships, and focus on priorities.

 

the untethered soul book cover for leadership book

4. The Untethered Soul, by Michael Singer

The Untethered Soul is one of the most philosophical and spiritual leadership books available. It can help you pursue your inward journey by observing your ego self more objectively and dispassionately. By untethering yourself from the automatic thoughts and emotions that limit your conscious awareness, you can open the door to growth

immunity to change book cover for leadership book

5. Immunity to Change, by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey

This book offers an approach to change that can help you get unstuck from patterns that no longer serve you. By understanding your goals and what behaviors get in the way, you can release them and find the path forward.

lean in book cover for leadership book

6. Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg

In Lean In, former Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg shares practical tips to help women succeed at home and in the workplace. The book is a compelling read backed by hard data and research, inspiring many women to take more risks and boldly pursue their goals.

man's search for meaning book cover for leadership book

7. Man’s Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.” 

This quote from the author, who survived Nazi concentration camps, sums up the essence of this book quite nicely. 

go put your strengths to work book cover for leadership book

8. GO: Put Your Strengths To Work, by Marcus Buckingham

Buckingham proposes that our strengths are those things that energize us (and make us stronger) and weaknesses are those things that drain our energy. Through that lens, we can look past our learned skills to our authentic talents.

the five thieves of happiness book cover for leadership book

9. The Five Thieves of Happiness, by John Izzo

Izzo’s main premise is that our natural state is happiness, yet there are forces at work to steal it from us. He names the five thieves as control, conceit, coveting, consumption, and comfort. Understanding the thieves lays a path back to happiness, or at least contentedness.

the power of meaning book cover for leadership book

10. The Power of Meaning, by Emily Esfahani Smith

In The Power of Meaning, Smith teaches that ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ are not synonymous. Instead, purpose is but one of four pillars of meaning. The other three are belonging, storytelling, and transcendence. Each of us has a unique mix of these pillars that creates meaning in our lives. 

Knowing that allows us to apply ourselves more consciously to increase our sense of meaning, and thus increase engagement in our work. As leaders, we may also try to understand what gives our team members meaning.

11_how to win friends and influence people book cover for leadership book
11. How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie

"Success in dealing with people depends on a sympathetic grasp of the other person’s viewpoint." - Dale Carnegie

Every successful leader knows that empathy is crucial to team collaboration. If you can’t connect on a deeper level with your employees, you’ll struggle to get results from them. Carnegie’s book is a roadmap to building that skill.

drive book cover for leadership book

12. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel H. Pink 

The biggest leadership challenge for many is motivating their team — and themselves. Pink’s highly-rated book breaks down the three key elements that makeup motivation (autonomy, mastery, and purpose) and how to leverage them to get results at work, at school, and at home.

The best leadership books for people managers 

Once you know how to manage yourself and your career, you’re ready to become an effective leader and manager. This is tricky, though, because leading people is about more than practical communication skills. 

You’ll need to work on leadership traits like accountability and trustworthiness, as well as concrete things like managing poor performance and holding productive meetings

To help you learn both, here are the best leadership and business books for anyone in charge of managing a team.

laws of leadership book cover for leadership book

13. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, by John C. Maxwell

“True leadership cannot be awarded, appointed, or assigned. It comes only from influence, and that cannot be mandated. It must be earned.” - John C. Maxwell

Maxwell is a widely respected author and speaker with over 30 years of leadership experience. In this foundational book, he shares the core, timeless laws of leadership that you’ll be sure to reference many times over the course of your career. 

extreme ownership book cover for leadership book

14. Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, by Leif Babin and Jocko Willink 

In this bestselling leadership book, U.S. Navy Seal Officers Willink and Babin share lessons learned on the battlefield. Using their experience as leaders of the most highly decorated special forces unit in the Iraq war, they teach readers powerful strategies to succeed in life and at work. 

discover your true north book cover for leadership book

15. True North, by Bill George

True North is about the art of leading others. According to George, True North is “the internal compass that guides you successfully through life. It represents who you are as a human being at your deepest level. It is your orientation point that helps you stay on track as a leader.” In short, this is a guidebook for authenticity in leadership.

dare to lead book cover for leadership book

16. Dare to Lead, by Brené Brown 

In this book, prolific author Brené Brown works to answer the question that early-stage startups, Fortune 500 companies, and everyone in between is asking: “How do you cultivate braver, more daring leaders, and how do you embed the value of courage in your culture?” The insights gained from her research will be sure to help you become a better, bolder, and more empathetic leader for your team.

primal leadership book cover for leadership book

17. Primal Leadership, by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee

Primal Leadership is all about the importance of emotionally intelligent leadership. In addition to offering practical advice, the authors address why great leaders need self-awareness and empathy in our increasingly technologically complex and oft-uncertain world. 

beyond the wall of resistance book cover for leadership book

18. Beyond the Wall of Resistance, by Rick Maurer

Maurer is a change management advisor who understands that you have to overcome inevitable resistance in order for change to happen. He provides a compelling description of three levels of resistance: “I don’t understand it” (a knowledge gap); “I don’t like it” (an emotional gap); and “I don’t like you” (a trust gap). Then he explores strategies to make successful changes more often.

five dysfunctions of a team book cover for leadership book

19. Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni

“Remember, teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” -Patrick Lencioni

This book is important for teams looking to overcome the five common “dysfunctions”: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. When leaders carry a clear understanding of these five behaviors and how to remedy them, they are more likely to identify and correct them.

eleven laws of likability book cover for leadership book

20. The 11 Laws of Likability, by Michelle Lederman 

This book explores the 11 laws that contribute to how likable someone is, and the success they will have networking and building relationships. The power in the laws comes from finding the ones most authentic to us and using them to tailor our engagement with others. 

The best books for organizational leaders 

The most senior business leaders in an organization are responsible for defining the company’s mission, values, culture, and strategy. The following books address many of these topics, for organizational leaders and those who want to become them.

conscious business book cover for leadership book

21. Conscious Business, by Fred Kofman 

"Consciousness is the main source of organizational greatness." - Fred Kofman

This bestseller describes conscious business as transferring our conscious values as individuals into our work, and even better, into company values. It explores expressing values, understanding boundaries, communicating constructively, effective negotiations, and more.

good to great book cover for leadership book

22. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap, by Jim Collins

"Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice." - Jim Collins

Good to Great is a classic, must-read leadership book. In it, Collins outlines the research-based principles that separate consistent market segment outperformers from other companies with equal opportunity to do the same. 

It also provides insights into what makes a successful leadership team, how to build a culture of discipline, and how technology and analytics can make a difference in an organization's growth – when used correctly.

start with why book cover for leadership book

23. Start with Why, by Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek is an inspirational speaker and author best known for Start with Why. In the book, Sinek outlines his leadership theory, which is called the Golden Circle theory. Basically, he argues companies need to go beyond the practical benefits of what they offer. Instead of focusing on the “what,” they should turn their attention to “why?” This is because as Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

leaders eat last book cover for leadership book

24. Leaders Eat Last, by Simon Sinek

After the success of Start with Why, Sinek continued his work with the New York Times bestseller Leaders Eat Last. Using true stories from Sinek’s work with the military, big business, and beyond, the book unpacks the idea that the best leaders sacrifice for their teams. Instead of operating solely from self-interest, they foster cooperation, trust, and safety.

dealing with darwin book cover for leadership book

25. Dealing with Darwin, by Geoffrey Moore

The core of this book is about understanding what gives organizations market power, and why it is difficult to find the resources to exploit those traits. The “core vs. context” framework of this book is brilliant in its ability to define the true power of your company, how to release resources for pursuing that advantage, and the implications for managing the strengths of your organizational talent pool.

how to be an anti-racist book cover for leadership book

26. How to Be an Anti-Racist, by Ibram Kendi 

When social injustices exist at the levels they do today, simply not being racist isn’t enough — one must be anti-racist. Kendi has a great knack for reducing this charged topic to a set of definitions and dimensions surrounding racism. 

This allows for more rational, and less emotional, discussions about dealing with racist policies and ideas rather than racists. The book contains a blueprint for organizations that want to re-examine their approach to inclusion and unconscious bias.

moneyball book cover for leadership book

27. Moneyball, by Michael Lewis

Moneyball is a book about market disruption and competitive strategy. It chronicles the low-budget 2002 Oakland Athletics team and how they disrupted their industry with new approaches that gave them a distinct competitive advantage. That is until the industry changed.

Disruption sounds harsh, and it can be, both to your competitors and to your team who may be stuck in “old ways.” That said, good change management creates an opportunity for added market power.

the hard thing about hard things book cover for leadership book

28. The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz

“That’s the hard thing about hard things—there is no formula for dealing with them.” - Ben Horowitz

Ben Horowitz is a successful Silicon Valley founder and investor. His book is one of the best guidebooks out there for entrepreneurs, whether they’re just starting out or raising their final round of funding. Even if you’re not building a company from scratch, Horowitz provides great insights on mindset, business strategy, and old-fashioned hard work. 

Moving forward

Whether it’s audiobooks, e-books, or hard copies, consuming leadership books is one of the best ways to grow your skills — and your business. The most important thing is to take the time to prioritize learning from the many amazing business leaders who came before you.

New call-to-action

Published September 27, 2022

Ian Munro

BetterUp Fellow Coach, PCC

Read Next

Employee Experience
5 min read | September 2, 2019

Shift 2018: reimagining work and bringing more meaning to the employee experience

One January 23rd, we brought together some of the most innovative leaders and thinkers in HR and people development to discuss how to infuse greater meaning into the employee... Read More
Coaching
15 min read | February 16, 2021

What it means to be a great team leader and how to become one

A great team leader can be the difference between a high-performing team, and an ineffective one. Explore how you might become a better leader. Read More
Coaching
19 min read | September 1, 2021

How leadership coaching helps leaders get (and keep) an edge

Are leaders born or made? We think they’re developed. Learn what leadership coaching is, what a program should include, and what leaders might gain from it. Read More
Research & Insights
5 min read | October 13, 2021

Data shows since pandemic team performance hinges on this leader skill

Good leaders who lead successful teams have many skills, from influence to humility. Our data shows what is most important to employees and bottom line. Read More
Leadership & Management
12 min read | November 8, 2021

The key mindsets sales leaders need to unlock success: Q&A with Brad McCracken, Global VP of Sales at BetterUp

Global sales leader Brad McCracken on the mindsets and behaviors sales leaders need to help their teams succeed at every stage and why coaching makes a difference. Read More
Professional Development
8 min read | August 5, 2022

5 top companies share their best leadership development practices

Learn how 5 successful organizations developed their leadership development programs to grow their junior leaders into fantastic managers. Read More

Stay connected with BetterUp

Get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research.