Business cultures are exploring new, more inclusive leadership territory, and industrial-organizational (I/O) psychology has taken a front seat on that journey with accessible books to help new leaders meet these challenges.
A focus on group-centered leadership has yielded some fantastic results in terms of productivity and retention of valued employees at every level. When one digs into why, the answers are often easy to understand. Developing positive, inclusive leadership that draws on the skill sets of individuals and harnesses their talents to achieve group goals is essential to the future of corporate success.
What’s more, recognizing that leadership can come from anyone is essential to fostering positive growth in an organization. Just because someone doesn’t have a fancy title behind their name doesn’t mean that they don’t have the ability to lead, inspire, and help move people forward.
This collection of books offers many different tools, insights, and perspectives for you to build your leadership skills. It isn’t an exhaustive list of all the excellent leadership books out there, but it’s a good start.
Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, by Simon Sinek
If there’s one book that anyone taking on leadership responsibilities for the first time should pick up, it’s Leaders Eat Last.
For many years, Sinek noticed that some corporate teams developed strong bonds of trust and cooperation, pulling together to achieve amazing results. Others, on the other hand, were characterized by vicious competition, mistrust, and ultimately unstable or lackluster achievements.
When he began to investigate the reasons for these disparities, the rationale was not immediately clear. But in speaking to a General in the United States Marine Corps, he had a flash of insight: “Officers eat last.” It isn’t just a saying, but one of the core means of building loyalty among a hierarchical group.
The idea that the leaders come last runs counter to the traditional ethos of many corporate cultures, which often parallel authoritarian regimes, leading through fear and competition at any cost. But as Sinek’s book so beautifully explains, putting one’s employees first will create a working environment in which people work together as a team, are inspired to incredible things, and follow your lead as a trusted leader.
Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman, Ph.D.; Richard Boyatzis; and Annie McKee
Emotional Intelligence (EI) is now recognized as more important than traditional intellectual values, such as IQ. In fact, the term “emotional intelligence” is used in the business world due in large part to this book.
Primal Leadership explores the weight of emotions, how they are rooted in both human individuals and cultural value systems, and how they can be leveraged to achieve goals in the corporate sphere. Rather than manipulation and coercion, this approach espoused in this text encourages leaders to tap into the potential of their team members by fostering positive emotional responses, building trust, and supporting the individuals who are working for or with them.
As the authors explain so well, leaders that are aware of their own emotions while also being empathic to the emotions and emotional intelligences of their employees, are much more capable of motivating their employees to do well in the workplace. Not only that, but leaders that take emotional intelligence into account are well-prepared for fostering a collaborative work environment in which a team atmosphere helps ensure improved job satisfaction and an improved ability to meet company goals.
Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, by Simon Sinek
In the TED Talk, based on the book of the same name, Sinek said, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”
As discussed in Start With Why, the central idea that helps to build an effective team in any business is that true leaders attract people who believe as they believe, who will bring the best they have to offer to the table because they are working for those core values. Otherwise, they’re just doing it for the paycheck.
Leaders who inspire and support their teams, who draw on the skill sets and talents of those who respond to their “why,” will always achieve their goals. In many cases, they will consistently exceed their expectations. It’s this way of positive thinking that binds great leaders together. As Sinek points out, people like Martin Luther King, Jr., the Wright Brothers, and Steve Jobs have little in common – except that they began their ventures by asking why.
Sinek also proposes that great leaders utilize something called The Golden Circle that includes the “what,” “how,” and “why” of organizations. For example, all organizations know the “what” – the products or services they sell. Only some organizations understand the “how” – the things that make them special and set them apart from every other organization. And still fewer organizations actually know the “why” – the purpose behind what they do.
In this text, Sinek walks the reader through examples of how the most successful businesspeople have built a framework for success, which creates a roadmap for readers who aspire to inspire their employees.
Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The Real Secret to Success, by David Livermore
As noted earlier, emotional intelligence has taken the business world by storm, revolutionizing the core ethos of leadership strategies. But in today’s multicultural marketplace, even this revolutionary shift may not be quite enough to lead and engage effectively.
Instead, if business leaders want to expand their efforts into the international marketplace, they’ll need cultural intelligence (CQ). Leading with Cultural Intelligence is a book that offers a four-step model for doing just that in the most streamlined and profitable way possible:
- Drive – You need to be driven to interact with other cultures and have the motivation and confidence to do so.
- Knowledge – You should have the understanding of the relevance of religious, value-based, linguistic, and cultural differences between and among groups. What’s more, you need to understand how cultural norms differ from one group to the next.
- Strategy – Be sure you have a plan for situations in which you’re in unfamiliar cultural territory.
- Action – To be successful, you must adapt your behavior to each situation in the organization.
It’s important to note that to be successful in business, you don’t have to completely immerse yourself in other cultures. For example, if you work with vendors in Thailand, it isn’t necessary to become an expert on Taiwanese culture.
However, it is necessary for you to seek out new knowledge that helps you build your cultural intelligence. After all, the more sensitive you are to other cultures, the better equipped you will be to be an organizational leader at home and abroad.
The Leader Habit: Master Skills You Need in Just Minutes a Day, by Martin Lanik
The Leader Habit provides 22 useful behaviors that any new leader can integrate into their business life. What makes this text so valuable is that it breaks down each behavior into small, easily learned behaviors that quickly and easily become a part of your daily routine.
But why make small changes? It’s easy – simple changes generally take root and spread benefits into other areas! In other words, to become a more effective leader, you need to get into the habit of being a good leader.
By reading this book, you’ll get insights on how to:
- Empower others
- Delegate tasks
- Build strategic relationships
- Negotiate effectively
- Be an active listener
And that’s just the start…
Each step in the process is reinforced by five-minute exercises that can be applied and practiced at any time of day until that behavior becomes second nature. These routines were developed by studying hundreds of recognized leaders from around the world. Using what they’ve done as an example, you can develop each of the 22 essential leadership qualities and apply them in your working life.
Leading the Unleadable: How to Manage Mavericks, Cynics, Divas, and Other Difficult People, by Alan Willett
Part of what makes a great leader is the ability to lead anyone, including employees that might be difficult for one reason or another.
In Leading the Unleadable, Alan Willett shares methods and strategies that will help you turn difficult team members into productive employees.
This is done using a straightforward process that begins by understanding a very simple tenet: most people desire to contribute positively to the team. Likewise, most people aren’t out to stir things up or cause people headaches.
The beauty of this approach is that all it takes to begin is to reset how you frame an employee’s behavior. Once you’ve changed your mindset, the potential for change in an employee’s behavior instantly increases.
In addition to learning how to change your mindset, you’ll learn how to provide short, yet valuable feedback to employees. You’ll also learn how to coach other members of the organizational team to change their mindset and adopt a more positive attitude about the ability of employees and coworkers to make positive contributions toward meeting company goals.
Leading With Emotional Courage: How to Have Hard Conversations, Create Accountability, And Inspire Action On Your Most Important Work, by Peter Bregman
Having emotional intelligence is only part of the equation. You also need emotional courage.
As Peter Bregman writes, being a great leader is difficult to do. And that difficulty stems not from theoretical origins, but it is usually a matter of practicality. Meaning, being an effective leader is less about knowing what to do or say and more about being willing to do or say those things. Therein lies the need for emotional courage.
Leading With Emotional Courage is broken down into simple, easy-to-read chapters, each of which includes an emotional workout that tests you on handling difficult situations. The goal is to help you build the courage you need to be a good leader now and in the future.
Leading with emotional courage includes:
- Being willing to step up, speak out, and lead when others won’t
- Responding in a positive and productive manner to opposition
- Being grounded when uncertainty arises
- Having the ability to endure other people’s angers or frustrations without getting defensive
When you think about it, the difference between theory and practice is actually quite big. You can know how to do something, but actually doing it is a different animal. Emotional courage is what can help you bridge the gulf between theory and practice.
Everyday People, Extraordinary Leadership: How to Make a Difference Regardless of Your Title, Role, or Authority, by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
In Everyday People, Extraordinary Leadership, you’ll learn how you can improve your leadership skills and take on challenging tasks regardless of where you’re at in the organizational food chain.
To do so, you’ll focus on several key subjects to get you on the path to great leadership:
- Differences between being in a position of authority and being a leader
- The importance of growth and self-development as it pertains to leadership
- Strategies for making a difference and being a leader no matter the setting or situation
In other words, this book will show you that leadership is about how you behave, how you think, and what you do – not what the title is after your name.
To inspire you, you’ll explore case studies, examples of everyday people becoming effective leaders, and you’ll get practical advice on what you need to do to develop top-notch leadership skills. If you have the desire to be a leader, this book will give you the roadmap for becoming one.
Becoming an Effective Leader Starts Now
Being an effective leader isn’t an innate ability as much as it’s a learned skill. More appropriately, it’s an outlook that is built on experience and multiple skill sets, and it requires a significant dedication to the wellbeing of others.
The good news for new leaders is that these things can be acquired at any point in the life journey. What’s important is that you’re committed to improving your leadership skills and that you take that first step toward becoming the leader you’re capable of being.
The books listed here can certainly help you jump start your journey to improving your leadership skills. But there are a number of other excellent books that explore the suite of skills and attributes that make the best leaders and help build the most dedicated teams. Select books from this list, other lists, or do your own research on leadership topics, and use the expertise of others to gain insight whenever it’s needed.
B.A. Social Studies Education | University of Wyoming
M.S. Counseling | University of Wyoming
B.S. Information Technology | University of Massachusetts
Updated September 2021