In a constantly changing world of marketing, communication, corporate take-overs, and infinite technological advances, it’s not enough to just be a good leader.

You must also be a clear communicator, an excellent strategist, and an extraordinary coach with your finger on the pulse of your team’s motivation.

The following are some of the best books on leadership, which are ones to keep close at hand if you’re ready to hone your skills, reinvigorate your team, and learn how to rise to any challenge.

How We Chose These Books

There are plenty of books about leadership out there and Top Ten lists are almost as numerous. Our list, however, contains not just what’s a best-seller this year, but books whose advice has stood the test of time. After all, they wouldn’t make it to the list of best books on leadership if they had not proven it otherwise.

That’s why you’ll find books written 1,500 — or fifteen — years ago on this list alongside books written this year.

A stack of books

Author Charles Duhigg is a Pulitzer Prize-winning non-fiction author who puts his exemplary story-telling skills into the anecdotes and parables he uses to illustrate his management techniques in Smarter, Faster, Better.

Inside, you’ll find eight core concepts that will help fire up productivity, initiate goal-setting and decision-making, and lessen your struggle for success.

Using real-world examples, Duhigg guides readers on a journey through leadership techniques that combine psychology, neuroscience, economics, and good old-fashioned know-how and ingenuity.

He paints a tapestry of motivational methods, weaving common-sense among the threads pulled by new technologies and emerging sciences.

Any manager or team leader who wants to improve their leadership skills, motivate their team, or make progress toward a coherent goal needs to read — and heed — this book.

Daniel H. Pink broke new ground with his New York Times bestseller A Whole New Mind when he suggested the future of business was squarely in the hands of the right-brained population.

Now he takes us deep inside the motivational guts of teams with Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. His breakthrough advice is not for the weak-willed.

He suggests getting rid of employee incentives altogether and instead, providing employees or team members what they really need for success — purpose and skills.

Armed with these two magic bullets, your team should be set free to rise or fall on their own merits, because incentives like money and status only motivate for the short term.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
  • Daniel H. Pink
  • Riverhead Books
  • Kindle Edition

That’s scary stuff for most managers, who can’t help but micro-manage out of fear.

In Drive, however, Pink gives readers the proof that this unconventional strategy produces real, quantifiable results. That should set managerial hearts at ease and enable more leaders to incorporate these groundbreaking tactics into their business strategy.

Author Morten Hansen, a professor of Management at the University of California, Berkeley, designed an exhaustive, ground-breaking study to uncover what separates achievers from their less-apt cohorts.

In Great at Work, Hansen breaks the 5,000-member, five-year study down into easily-digestible pieces embellished with real-life testimonies from the some of the participants.

In his Seven Work Smarter Practices, readers can find ways to increase performance and limit time-wasting efforts.

He breaks his book down into three parts, each of which hits upon a major pillar of management mastery.

The first, Mastering Your Own Work, outlines why you need to strive for “built-in” excellence. That is, if you practice something for long enough, it becomes hard-wired, in-grained, and automatic.

Next, Mastering Working with Others details the importance of being someone others want to work with in order to inspire loyalty and enhance creativity among your teammates.

Finally, in Mastering Your Work-Life Hansen stresses the importance of balancing your work with the truly important things in life — your loved ones and the things you love to do.

Loaded with self-quizzes, tips, and questionnaires that give you access to your individual strengths, weaknesses, plus ways to analyze your performance, this book is a must-have to help you work less while achieving more.

Old advice can be the best advice. The Art of War, written by brilliant Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, was written nearly 1,500 years ago — yet his advice rings true as surely today as it did then.

The book is divided neatly into 13 chapters, each of which deal with a specific aspect of military strategy. These strategies have been applied to corporate politics, internal business theory, law practice, sports, and other stratagems since the first English translation of the book in 1910.

Its lessons transfer neatly to other disciplines because the Tzu’s “war” is really a metaphor for any kind of conflict.

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The Art of War
  • Basic Books AZ
  • Sun Tzu
  • Publisher: Basic Books

Whether it’s between a boss and employer, co-workers, or one business versus another, conflict remains the paramount concept that must be mastered in order to maintain control.

In his handbook, Sun Tzu gives practical tactical advice that is easily applied to any aspect of your life — business or otherwise — where conflict is present. His simple explanations and forthright analysis allows readers to follow his reasoning with ease.

Author Jim Collins was curious as to why some companies move on to greatness, while others languish on the sidelines.

To find out, he studied some of the greatest companies in the world — like Walgreens, Merck, and Coca-Cola — to discover what set of characteristics separated them from less successful businesses.

Turns out that greatness is largely a matter of choice.

Collins’ 21-person team researched 1,435 companies and sifted through thousands of pages of data, interviews, and articles to distill the formula for success down to actionable findings.

He breaks down the most successful strategies into disciplined people, disciplined thought, and disciplined actions.

Within these three segments are his other concepts: Level 5 Leadership, First Who Then What, Confront the Brutal Facts, The Hedgehog Concept, Culture of Discipline, and Technology Accelerators.

Delivered with plenty of stories and examples to illustrate his philosophy, Good to Great is a roadmap for corporate success.

What does a shoe salesman know about leadership?

Plenty, apparently. Tony Hsieh, the CEO of billion-dollar shoe retailer Zappos has figured out how to make a company successful — and it all depends upon employee and customer happiness.

Tony’s no stranger to business. He’s owned a lemonade stand, a worm farm, and a pizzeria as well as an internet business, LinkExchange, that he sold for $265 million in 1999.

Along the way, he’s learned the simple recipe for keeping workers and customers satisfied, and he shares it in this easy-to-digest book about crafting the perfect corporate culture for success.

He points out that one of the simplest things to do is to hire the correct people. Even if someone is extremely qualified, if he’s a pain to work with he won’t be an asset to your business.

And if he’s unhappy because he’s a bad fit, he won’t be able to give your customers the attention and service they deserve.

Tony also encourages businesses to pick one thing and be the best at it, rather than trying to be good at everything. Invest everything you have in that one core skill and before you know it, even marketing will be taken care of.

Why? Because word of mouth is powerful.

The better you are at that one thing, the more your customers will sing your praises. The more your customers sing your praises, the more the rest of the world will want to know about your business.

Forbes Magazine has called Warren Bennis “the Dean of Leadership,” and with good reason. Bennis, a business administration professor at Southern California University, has long taken a dim view of leadership practices in modern business.

To help leaders of the future tap into the skills necessary to produce successful businesses across industries, Bennis takes lessons learned by skilled leaders throughout industry — Norman Lear, Gloria Steinem, Herb Alpert, and more — and combines them to distill a unified message from each.

On Becoming a Leader
  • Warren Bennis
  • Basic Books
  • Kindle Edition

He touches on why certain people are driven to lead and how they lead effectively.

Leaders are curious, innovative, and above all, can clearly communicate their needs and wants to gain the support and cooperation of the people who work for them.

Even though this book was first published in 1989, its messages are just as applicable now.

Bennis’ timeless composite of the characteristics of a model leader is one that anyone interested in fine-tuning their own leadership qualities should study.  

Author Steven J. Stein is an expert in the field of Emotional Intelligence and runs a company that provides scientifically validated assessments — so he knows how people think.

In The EQ Leader, Stein gives readers clear examples of good leadership and concrete steps to take to turn their businesses into successful operations.

He’s taken his own research and from it formulated four pillars of leadership — coaching, innovation, authenticity, and insight — that are a roadmap for outstanding executive performance.

According to his definitions, Authenticity equates to being an appropriate role model, Insight means communicating with meaning, Coaching means supporting team members’ needs, and Innovation is using imagination to spur ingenuity.

Stein gives copious and well-illustrated examples so that readers can improve their skills and executive functions.

Problem solving skills

He outlines how modern leaders are forward-thinking — driven more by opportunity than ego and by success rather than opinion — and encourages more people to embrace this characteristic.  

More than just a leadership manual, Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss is a book that can change your life, making it undoubtedly one of the best books on leadership.

The idea for this book came about when the author suffered a year in which many of his good friends passed away and he began questioning his goals.

Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World
  • Timothy Ferriss
  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Kindle Edition

Turning to the most extraordinary people of all time ranging from youthful 20-year-olds to octogenerians, Ferris gathered a tribe of high-performing individuals that were willing to share their secrets to approaching challenges, getting unstuck, dealing with adversity, and reinventing themselves.

What is remarkable is that so many of these individuals have overlapping habits.

Many of the most successful kept journals for years and meditate on a daily basis. Others use exercise, whether a walk in the park or a workout at the gym, to put them in a good frame of mind and generate new ideas.

What do Southwest, Apple, and Starbucks have in common? They all learned how to succeed by changing their stripes.

Author Leonard Sherman looks at the nuts and bolts of competitive strategy and offers readers a surprisingly simple — yet effective — way to survive in business.

One of the first principles he tears down is the “maximize shareholder value” mantra that is often chanted around the executive water cooler.

Instead of rehashing old and tired maxims, Sherman gives leaders-in-training real ways to renew competitive advantage and take your business to the next level of profit and success.

If You're in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!: Strategies for Long-Term...
  • Leonard Sherman
  • Columbia University Press
  • Kindle Edition

Illustrated with case studies and detailed action items, Become A Cat is a framework of management strategies that will help you define your business’ core mission and build a program of innovation that can set your business apart from the others.

When the going gets tough, the tough learn to pivot!

Become A Cat is your primer on how to help your business keep up with the ever-changing technologies, marketing strategies, and consumer expectations that define success in the 21st century.

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