Becoming an active reader of all types of books and periodicals is a differentiator for anyone who wants to lead effectively. We offer up the following books as strong recommendations, but we also encourage reading of any type – history, biography, science, and yes, great novels. There is evidence that great literature helps us understand the human condition, and this helps us develop our emotional intelligence and ability to make connections. So don’t forget to pick up that dusty copy of Melville, Dickens, or Dostoevsky.
The connection between one’s reading habits and one’s ability to influence and lead others is well established. Be a reader – soak in as much as you can – and you’ll find that the reading you’ve done will come to the surface quickly when you’re interactive with others, teaching, or engaging in creative problem solving and strategizing.
We humbly offer our book, Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face. One reviewer called it “the most comprehensive, accessible, and practical guide to leadership I know” — with multiple layers of learning and practice for emerging and established leaders as well.
And, of course, many other books have had a major impact on our thinking and our own development as leaders. They figure heavily in the development of the Path Forward Leadership Workshop. Among those we highly recommend:
- The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer by Jeffrey Liker
Not an easy read, but if you really want your business to operate more smoothly and make more money, these principles from Toyota are powerful.
- Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
This is really a basic library item for any reader now – it’s a great concept that will shape much of the way you communicate with and connect with your organization.
- Leading Self-Directed Work Teams: A Guide to Developing New Team Leadership Skills by Kimball Fisher
The 21st Century is leading us towards more and more “independent” teams and this book offers some valuable insights on how to create that.
- The Innovative Team: Unleashing Creative Potential for Breakthrough Results by Chris Grivas and Gerard Puccio
Again, another terrific book on how to put effective teams together and unleash their potential. Co-authored by Path Forward Licensed Facilitator, Chris Grivas.
- Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
We can’t put everything Allen suggests into practice, and you probably can’t either, but this will definitely raise anyone’s bar for personal organization and productivity.
- The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything by Stephen M. R. Covey
A compelling look at how organizations are slower, stupider, and more vulnerable when there are trust problems that haven’t been addressed.
- Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen
Lots of books out there about how to give feedback – this is one of the best about how to responsibly on the other end of that conversation. Important reading.
- Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail by Caitlin Kelly
Not a book about business but about the struggles of living hand to mouth in a service job. It’s a tough read but we think every business person could have their consciousness raised by understanding just how challenging life can be for low wage employees.
- The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads by Timothy Wu
We see this book as part of a broader education, not just in business but in being an aware human being. The book is about the way our attention is sold on the internet, and how we are not the buyer but the product when we are out there.
- The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Case
Somewhat controversial but we think an important read. It’s about the changes in the human brain that result from interaction with modern technology.
- My Years with General Motors by Alfred P. Sloan Jr.
The thought of reading a book with this title almost scared us off but we ended up enjoying it immensely. Not only is it an interesting history lesson in the development of an industrial powerhouse, but Sloan is extraordinarily concise and conversational in walking the reader through all the many problems that needed to be solved in order to put together a massive conglomerate. This is one of Bill Gates’ favorite books, by the way. This is not an ego trip for Sloan, but rather a thoughtful telling of a uniquely American story.
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl
Read it, just read it. Absolutely compelling and a path to understanding what makes human beings survive and flourish.
- Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
A great way to learn about the single most important quality a leader can possess—emotional intelligence. Based on Goleman’s ground-breaking Emotional Intelligence and Working with Emotional Intelligence (which were written for a more general audience).
- Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy by Amy Edmondson of the Harvard Business School
A convincing, compelling book on how the last 50 years has seen a sea change from the power of individual contributions to the absolute necessity of teamwork to get anything important done.
- Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness by Frederic Laloux
An important book on organizational structure, dynamics, and possibilities. It turns the notion of top-down organizational hierarchies on its head and lays out an inspiring, real-life-example-filled vision of the future of organizations. Grounded in integral theory and methodology, but very practical.
- B.S. Incorporated by Jennifer Rock and Michael Voss
For light reading – a hilarious, fictional but devastatingly insightful glimpse into the real-life dynamics of corporate life. Almost everyone will recognize the things that fail, and the people that make things fail, in this delightful page-turner.
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
While we tend to be suspicious of new theoretical leadership models, the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team pyramid model offers an elegant, practical and logical way to diagnose what isn’t working in a team and organizational relationships and effectiveness. At the bottom of it all, unsurprisingly, is trust. The vehicle for the exploration of the model is a fictional story of a corporate executive team whose travails are laid out by the author in a crisp narrative style that deeply draws a set of believable characters.
- Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project
Describes three layers of any difficult conversation: (1) What happened and what does it mean? (2) the Feelings underlying the conversation, and (3) the identities that underlie the feelings. Half the book is dedicated to the practicalities of creating a learning conversation (instead of a “message delivery” conversation), given the context of the three layers. Highly insightful.
- On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis
Warren Bennis writes in a highly approachable and personal way about the lives leaders choose. I love his concept that “leadership is a form of self-expression.”
- First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
Presents important research in a very readable way. The authors’ conclusions are so solid and so resonant that I think they’ve hit a home run. This book speaks to the critical importance of the supervisor/employee relationship.
- The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization by Peter Senge
The introduction to “systems thinking.” This is a challenging book, not only because it has so much substance but because it challenges us to think differently about the world. If I were the dean of a university, it would be required reading for all students—not just business students.
- Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time by Susan Scott
Powerfully teaches the importance of being real and courageous in our interactions.
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
One of the best books on leadership, period. The primary messages are around personal accountability and the critical importance of win-win relationships.
- The Great Game of Business by Jack Stack
A real-life story about how Stack made a success of an old-line rust belt business, in large part by involving all of his employees in the “game” of business. A must-read for anyone looking to get employees at all levels connected and motivated.
- Leadership Without Easy Answers by Ronald Heifetz
A challenging but extremely worthwhile read. Heifetz talks about the importance of leading dialogue and fostering collective intelligence in their organizations.
- The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund and Ben Zander
This uplifting book, written by a husband-wife team (she’s a psychotherapist and he’s a symphony conductor), will instill optimism in the dourest curmudgeon. Written in a tone that celebrates what it means to be human, The Art of Possibility addresses the “way of being” of the leader in inspiring ways. Includes practices for embodying an enlightened leadership style.
- Learning to Lead: The Art of Transforming Managers into Leaders by Jay Conger
In this book, Jay Conger carefully researched various leadership development seminars and training programs in order to determine what’s most effective. His findings are critical to understanding how leaders learn and grow.
- Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations and Society, by Peter Senge et al
A paradigm-exploding exploration into how people and organizations change. Suggests that 21st Century leadership must employ an organic, deep-learning process, informed by lessons from nature and quantum physics. Leaders must learn by letting go and tapping into “the future that wants to emerge.” Although written by, among others, MIT professors, it may be considered too “New Age” by some. But it is a new age…
- Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn
The definitive treatise on motivation—exhaustively researched, yet a fun, compelling, and easy read. Kohn will shift your thinking about how to motivate. He reviews a half-century of research on motivation to prove convincingly that only intrinsic motivation—the kind that lives inside the employee—is sustainably effective in improving performance.
- Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box by the Arbinger Institute
Gives a whole new meaning to “thinking outside the box.” The “box” is one’s own insecurity-driven ego needs—and most of us live in the box, like it or not. Through the vehicle of a novel narrated by the author, this book makes a compelling case for learning to step out of your own needs and prejudices to a more enlightened way of being as a leader.
- Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury
The classic primer on negotiation—practical and concise. Its focus on people rather than the problem, and interests rather than positions, apply not just to mediated conflicts, but to any situation in which perspectives differ in the context of decision-making.
- In general—We like most of the books by John Maxwell (e.g. Developing the Leader Within You, especially for beginners to leadership and management. Ken Blanchard books are also worth reading (One Minute Manager, Who Moved my Cheese, etc.), although his tendency to oversimplify can be irritating. Anything by Peter Drucker is good—although on the dry side. Also, Built to Last and Good to Great by James C. Collins are valuable for those in a more senior position with some strategic influence.
Harvard Business Review
The mostly highly-regarded leadership periodical. It demands a disciplined and committed reader (over 100 pages without ads and about $17 per month at the newsstand – although a subscription cuts this almost in half). It’s worth it. A number of famous books (like Emotional Intelligence) started out as articles in this magazine.
If you don’t like to read, find audiobooks, which are widely available. It’s an important part of your growth. If you read, digest, and fully engage with every book on the above list, you’ll find yourself well ahead of where you are today.