My 10 favourite leadership books

I’m often asked by clients and students about books to read that will help them understand more about leadership. So, I thought I’d share the love and give you my list of trusted books that help current or aspiring leaders think more deeply about their values, organisational journey and personal impact.

Some of the books are weighty tomes, others are short and a bit more in the ‘fun learning’ category. They all have something to offer.

In no particular order:

our-iceberg-is-melting_prh-cropped-455x6881.Our iceberg is melting by John Kotter & Holger Rathgeber – This book acts as a companion to the better known Leading Change by Kotter. Our Iceberg is a simplified way of bringing Kotter’s eight steps of leading change to life. I gave Our Iceberg to delegates on my previous organisation’s leadership programme. They all loved it and more importantly, each took something away from the book.

getting-to-yes2.Getting to yes: Negotiating an agreement without giving in by Roger Fisher & William Ury – I still come across far too many situations which are win/lose, winner takes all or even worse, win at all costs. Fisher & Ury strip negotiating back to its very roots and help the reader understand the a real win is a win/win – where all parties come out with something. These guys know their onions, they’ve brokered peace deals in war-torn countries!

eq3.Working with emotional intelligence by Daniel Goleman – note that this is slightly different from Goleman’s original text, Emotional Intelligence. Working with emotional intelligence focuses more on how to develop and apply your EQ in an organisational context. The book has lots of case studies and exercises to help you apply each of the elements of EQ. This is one I come back to time and time again. It’s a very well-thumbed copy!

5-most-important-qs4.The five most important questions you will ever ask your organization by Peter Drucker et al – A good one for your commute! Don’t let the small size fool you, this book packs a punch – asking you to think deeply about what your organisation stands for, where it’s going and customer value. This is one I advise to new and more experienced leaders alike.

goffee-jones5.Why should anyone be led by you? What it takes to be an authentic leader by Rob Goffee & Gareth Jones – this book is excellent and another one that I’ve given to delegates on leadership programmes or lent to coaching clients. Goffee & Jones interviewed some of the best leaders in the world about authenticity. This book will get you thinking about your own style and if you don’t question yourself and ask, “am I being true to who I really am?” then you’ve missed the point of the book.

george-true-north-authentic6.True North: Discover your authentic leadership by Bill George – one of the first books about authentic leadership. If you are truly committed to developing and improving your leadership style you need to read this. A collection of anecdotes and stories from thousands of interviews, this shows that failure is not something to be afraid of and that the humble leader is powerful. George has some really helpful exercises on his website to accompany the book. Check it out here

goodtogreat7.Good to Great by Jim Collins – whilst this book is focused on the private sector and multi-national organisations, there are still lessons for public and charity sector organisations. The main take-away is that those organisations able to make the leap from good to great do so because they are laser focused on their core business. So for leaders of organisations who perhaps are doing things they shouldn’t, this is the book for you.

fish8.Fish! A remarkable way to boost morale and improve results by Stephen C Lundin, Harry Paul & John Christensen – I love this book! You could read this in an hour or so. Essentially, it takes the lessons learned from the Pike Place Fish Company, in Seattle’s fish market. This demonstrates the importance of giving staff freedom to make decisions and that it’s okay to have fun at work. I’ve used this book and its accompanying materials to help transform an HR service in a large public sector organisation, with stunning results.

schein9.Organizational culture and leadership by Edgar H Schein – admittedly this falls in to the more academic category and it’s a text that I advise students to read on the Masters I lecture on. However, if you are a leader who wants to understand more deeply about the impact you and your board have on your organisation’s culture then this book is for you. There’s a really helpful model, as well as a 10-step process to help you and your HR/OD Director map out how to create the organisational culture you want.

the_7_habits_of_highly_effective_people10.The seven habits of highly effective people by Stephen Covey – I’ve read this book many times. It just has that kind of effect. There is a reason it has sold millions of copies. Ultimately, your behaviour as a leader will have a ripple effect across your organisation so it makes sense for you to work on yourself, doesn’t it? Some of the habits will resonate more than others. The one that I have to work the hardest on? ‘Understand to be understood’, in other words see things from others’ perspectives if you want to influence them.

And what have I got on my ever-growing pile of books by the side of my bed? In the coming months, I’ll be reading A mind for business by Andy Gibson, Focus by Daniel Goleman and Emotional agility by Susan David.

What are you reading (or have read) to improve your leadership? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section. Thanks and happy reading!

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