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Being a leader is tough work. At times, it can be hard enough to keep yourself motivated, let alone those around you.
But luckily, some of the greatest leaders who came before you have put down into words just what it takes to lead humbly, fearlessly, and effectively.
From John Wooden to Marcus Aurelius, discover what some of history’s greatest leaders have to say about what it takes to become a better leader.
The Best Leadership Books
Below are 12 of the best books on leadership, written by individuals who have blazed their own trails. Discuss them with your team and share these 31 quotes about leadership to get everyone feeling pumped and ready for success.
1. Wooden on Leadership by John Wooden
John Wooden was more than a record-setting basketball coach. His name has become synonymous with success and strong leadership, with his Pyramid of Success and 12 Lessons in Leadership continuing to inspire rising leaders every day.
Wooden on Leadership explains how the legend succeeded for 41 years at getting maximum effort and peak performance from each of his players. The book outlines the physical, mental, and emotional qualities that make a winning team, and explains how you can build the skills and confidence to lead.
2. Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
Former Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin explain what they learned about leadership when their unit was tasked with liberating the city of Ramadi in Iraq, a mission that seemed impossible.
While your leadership mission might not be life-threatening, you’ll see how the principles taught by Willink and Babin can be applied to any business or team for the best results by mixing a compelling narrative with powerful instruction and direct application.
3. Humble Leadership by Edgar and Peter Schein
Humility is perhaps one of the most important qualities a successful and effective leader can have, but it’s all too often one that is lacking. This book explains why static hierarchical structures are becoming increasingly outdated and ineffective.
Authors Edgar Schein and Peter Schein emphasize that greater humility is the key to achieving the creativity, adaptiveness, and agility that organizations need to survive and grow, and they’ll explain their vision of leadership that incorporates relationship building and diverse workforces.
4. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius may have led an empire nearly 2,000 years ago, but his struggles and triumphs remain relevant to this day.
Upon his ascension to the throne in A.D. 161, the Roman empire was plagued by natural disasters and war, but Marcus Aurelius rose to the occasion while documenting his private reflections and outlining his philosophy of putting virtue before pleasure and tranquility before happiness.
Meditations offers readers an inspirational guide to overcoming the challenges of everyday life and will help leaders come to the right decisions while staying calm and focused.
5. The Prince by Machiavelli
We may have come a long way from 16th century Europe and absolute leaders, but there’s a reason that presidents today still read (or claim to read) The Prince.
While the book no doubt advocates some questionable morals, the book is important for its discussion of leadership and its insight to human nature. Machiavelli also raises important questions about what it takes to lead well and is sure to get contemporary leaders to consider the value of ethics in leadership.
6. Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio
Billionaire investor Ray Dalio founded his first firm out of his 2-bedroom apartment in New York. Learn the secrets to his enormous success in Principles, as Dalio reflects on the culture he helped to develop at Bridgewater Associates based on meritocracy and meaningful relationships.
Ideal for forward-thinking leaders, this book can also inspire individuals of all ranks with its clear, straightforward approach to decision-making.
7. Drive by Daniel H. Pink
In Drive, Daniel H. Pink argues against the carrot-and-stick approach to motivation, asserting instead that the secret behind high performance is the human need to direct our own lives and do better by ourselves and our world.
Pink explains how you can take the three elements of motivation—autonomy, mastery, and purpose—and apply them to your own goals to help lead a more fulfilling and more successful life.
8. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
Based on 12 years of research, Brené Brown challenges the myth that vulnerability is a weakness and argues that it is instead our most accurate measure of courage.
Brown explains the importance of putting yourself “out there”—whether it be in your personal or professional life—even if that means leaving yourself vulnerable. It is by doing this, she argues, that we can perform at our best and reach our fullest potential.
9. Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, shares the lessons he has learned on the way to creating a billion-dollar business that values its employees and their happiness.
Learn how Hsieh built an extremely successful business without compromising the happiness of his employees, but in fact helping them to grow personally and professionally while focusing on company culture and customer service.
10. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
In Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg combines personal anecdotes with data and research to demonstrate just how much women can achieve with the right negotiation techniques and mentorship while building a satisfying career.
This inspiring call to action provides a blueprint for individual growth that will help women reach their full potential, while also demonstrating how everyone benefits when women are given the chance to do so.
11. Limitless: Leadership That Endures by Ajaz Ahmed
Limitless celebrates some of the most influential entrepreneurs in modern history and explains what they did differently to leave their mark on the world.
From Coco Chanel to Steve Jobs, discover what some fo the greatest leaders have done to pave the way for a better future while inspiring those around them to do the same.
12. The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
In The Fifth Risk, Michael Lewis explores how the dedication of middle-level employees still manage to deliver for their customers, even in spite of absentee leadership.
Though the book uses the case of federal government employees who were left in the dark following the 2016 election, the ideas presented here raise important issues for future leaders to ponder.
Books by Leaders, for Leaders
If you want to be an effective leader, you may want to start by following in the footsteps of some of history’s finest.
Discover the meaning of strong leadership for these icons in their own words by checking out one of these 12 books on leadership.
What do you think it takes to be a great leader? Share your thoughts in the comments below!