Search on Amazon for leadership and management books and hundreds of thousands of titles come up. Even assuming you love reading, which we do, its hard to plough through this many.
Luckily as business, leadership and management book addicts, (and we confess, some of us have created books like these in our past), we have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the bookshelves.
We’ve done the work for you
We’d like to share our secrets of the ones that have lasting value, the ones we have kept in their dead tree form on our bookshelves, because we still go back and flick through them from time to time.
This is quite a personal and eclectic list, which perhaps includes some titles you won’t find listed in the usual run-downs. We would love to hear your thoughts! Do you have a favourite that isn’t on this list? Please leave a comment or get in touch.
Eleven Rings by Phil Jackson
The legendary NBA coach shares his secrets of building successful basketball teams from diverse, often raw young talent. This isn’t a classic business or management book but its deeply insightful on how people tick. For the most successful sports coach of all time, Phil is profoundly humble. The revelations he shares of personal and team challenges are relevant to any business environment and leadership challenge. The section about leaving behind one chapter of his life and moving on to a new challenge is incredibly moving. Phil is a person of great intelligence and this book is about seeking meaning in work and in life. Ultimately, that is the point for all of us.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
This book is written in the form of a fable, making it an easy and engaging read. Lencioni tells of a woman who takes over as CEO of a struggling Silicon Valley firm. Her team are demonstrating the classic signs of dysfunction, including absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results. No matter where you are in your leadership journey, you will definitely have encountered the personality types outlined here, and the book details specifics on how to successfully build them into a harmonious and high performing unit.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey
We loved this book so much that we used it to train over 50 new managers. Its the most effective approach we know of to organising life. Its self-evident that in order to be happy, we need to decide what we want to achieve, then have the tools to do it. Life is difficult, complicated, messy and unpredictable. Without focussing our efforts, we can drift and waste our precious time on this earth. This book will help you develop the mind set and techniques that will become unconscious habits in time. The human species is designed to need challenge and stress in order to feel mastery, from overcoming difficulties we derive satisfaction and happiness. This book will help you achieve way more than you thought you ever could. Almost every day, we remind ourselves to “start with the end in mind”.
Influence: The Power of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
At some point in life you realise that in order to be successful everything is about influencing. Amazingly, all of us think that we are immune to the power of advertising. Its incredible that we would think this when highly successful businesses spend billions of dollars trying to get a share of our wallets. Sadly, all of us are wired in the same way, and are influenced in broadly similar ways. (If you still aren’t convinced, just read the chapter about social proof) If you want to know the secrets of getting people to do the things you want them to do, this book is essential. It breaks down influencing techniques into categories and explains how to become skilful in all of them.
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
Possibly the most controversial book on the list but we are putting it out there…we love it and have given it to our daughters and our sons. If like us you hate those books with pink covers and titles like “Bad Girl Bosses” that are targeted at “women leaders” you will find Sandberg’s book refreshing. She is open and honest about the challenges of being a woman in a senior role. She doesn’t pretend that it’s easy, nor does she profess to have all the answers. She also doesn’t fall into the “act like a man” or “whatever you do, don’t act like a man” advice trap. After all, life is much more nuanced than that, thank goodness. Women are not men, and women do face different challenges. Life isn’t ideal, the world isn’t fully equal, and it doesn’t help to pretend that it is. This book is for men and women leaders, who are living in a world that is made of up of people who are leaders, some of whom happen to be women.
Getting Things Done by David Allen
This book has been around for a while but its become more relevant as our lives become more complex. Distraction beckons at every turn in the modern workplace, and so called productivity tools can hinder rather than help. This book offers a framework for approaching chunks of time and work. If followed, it can be applied to any project, challenge, both in and out of the workplace. Although it may appear deceptively simple and based on common sense, like the most powerful techniques, it can cut through complexity. Give this book to your new recruits who struggle with time management.
Predictable Revenue by by Aaron Ross and Marylou Tyler
This is the bible of B2B and enterprise selling from one of the brains behind the exponential growth of Salesforce.com itself. It contains powerful nuggets of wisdom and provides a structure and a framework for selling anything in the age of LinkedIn, email marketing and social media. Essential reading for any business needing to build a sales pipeline at scale either at go to market or in a growth phase.
Power by Jeffrey Pfeffer
Think that power is something you only get when you have already made it? Think again. You can create and take your own power, which will enable you to do all kinds of stuff you didn’t think you could. This book will show you how. There are many books that purport to do this, but this book actually works. We have tried it and got results! Pfeffer writes with a warm and engaging tone and this is a fun read with some serious takeaways. Its the book that has helped more than any other book with the challenges we face being bold and confident in new situations where we honestly are not sure what we are doing but need to look as though we do.
First Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham
This book is the defining work on strengths based leadership. The basic concept is simple, figure out what people are good at and build on that, instead of trying to “fix” their “weaknesses”. This book will redefine how you manage people and drive high performance. When you’ve read it, use the follow up book “Now discover your strengths” to understand the strengths of you and your team.
The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
What we love about this book is it doesn’t sugar coat the awful truth that real entrepreneurs know. Starting a business is really, really hard. It is painful, expensive, risky, terrifying, lonely and humbling. While much is written about “following your dream” and the like, there isn’t much about the reality of when things don’t go to plan. We love this book for the anecdotes and stories of the early days of Horowitz’s enterprises often with fellow tech guru Marc Andreessen. Sometimes Horowitz can come across as believing his own hype, but mostly, this is real advice from the trenches when he faced the inevitable “WFIO” moment.
The Lean StartUp
More than any book, this has defined the process of entrepreneuring in today’s economy. It is heavily focussed on technology, but the mindset is applicable to all businesses. It reminds us that most new businesses fail. But most of those failures are preventable, and the lean approach can help start ups adapt and adjust before its too late. Thinking Lean is about learning what your customers really want, testing, not making assumptions and investing in expensive product development before going to market. Its enabling more and more businesses to get into the market quickly, and it gives you the tools to use lean strategy techniques yourself.
The One Minute Manager
This book is a quick and easy read, but its simplicity belies its effectiveness. Its actually based on the latest findings in neuroscience and how the brain works, and recent research has re-validated this. People need and crave continuous feedback and recognition. Now that businesses all over the world are revamping their performance management systems to focus more on in the moment and continuous feedback, with outstanding results, this book is more relevant than ever.
Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson
We chose only one biography and this is it. Isaacson distills this almost mythic figure into a human being. A little like the Horowitz book, this is perhaps exposing some uncomfortable truths about the reality of a personality like Jobs. Many have read this book and protested that Jobs comes across as a jerk. And argued that you can be nice and also successful. But most of us will recognise at least some of these characteristics in the most creative – and successful people we know. If you are interested in the early evolution of the technology and the industry that has revolutionised our lives for the better, this is essential reading.
Thundercloud – Managing Reward in a Digital Age by Daniel Hibbert
This is a new addition to the list and we believe it will become a classic. In the war for talent that is consuming growth organisations today, organisations are scrambling to understand the secrets of motivation and engagement. If they don’t, their most valuable assets will rapidly walk out of the door. Thundercloud uncovers the neuroscience behind motivation and engagement. As leaders, most of us have have got it all wrong. Hibbert goes back to our evolutionary roots as a species to explain how we are hard wired to behave in the face of threats and potential rewards. We fear threat and loss of something we had or thought we stood to gain, more than getting a reward itself. Removing fear and creating a culture of psychological safety will enable you to build a high performing and highly engaged workforce. We think this is the best we’ve seen on this topic in over 25 years in business.
Independent People by Halldor Laxness
We are certain that you will never have seen this book on a list of business reading before. And it is by no means an easy read, nor is it about business. Its a saga of an Icelandic sheep farmer, overcoming brutal poverty, deprivation and harsh conditions of the landscape he lives in. Why do we recommend it? Described as being like “poetry with muddy boots on” this book is above all else a tale of the human spirit and a search for freedom. The hero of the book Bjartur prizes his independence above all else, and will go to startling lengths to preserve it. He is the very embodiment of an entrepreneur, who has to make sacrifices and suffer losses to live. Sometimes it is good to remind ourselves of how our desire to start a business and build something is rooted in an instinct that goes beyond making money. Its also a wonderful read full of rich imagery of Iceland’s stunning beautiful landscape.
Find more of our curated ideas for great resources to help you develop as a leader. They’re based on our own experience and have helped us build businesses and develop others. Prefer videos? Check out our list of the best TED talks we’ve found.