One of the things that separates great leaders from underperforming leaders is the drive to constantly improve. The best leaders use every means of self-improvement at their disposal to up their game. However, there’s one tool that many tend to forget about—reading a good book.
Reading a good business book has numerous benefits; not the least of which is getting insight into leadership skills and styles from someone else’s perspective. In fact, studies cited by Psychology Today have found that “reading books, writing, and participating in brain-stimulating activities at any age may preserve memory. Neuroscientists discovered that reading a novel can improve brain function on a variety of levels.”
So, for leaders looking to sharpen their brains and build their skills, here are a few must-read leadership books for 2018!
The Trusted Advisor—David Maister, Charles H. Green, and Robert M. Galford
Building trust is a core competency for successful leaders. In this book, David Maister, Charles Green, and Robert Galford collaboratively break down the trust equation (a combination of credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-orientation) so leaders can sharpen their own trust-building skills.
While geared towards client services, many leaders may find these lessons useful for internal team interactions.
This is a revised and updated version of John C. Maxwell’s best-selling book. Considering how many millions of copies the original version sold, odds are that you might already have a copy of this book. However, even if you have the original, it’s probably worthwhile to get a copy of the revised edition.
Because, as Maxwell says, “It’s been ten years since I wrote The 21 Laws of Leadership. I’ve grown a lot since then. I’ve taught these laws in dozens of countries around the world. This new edition gives me the opportunity to share what I’ve learned.”
Winning the Long Game: How Strategic Leaders Shape the Future—Steven Krupp and Paul Schoemaker
Many leaders focus so much on short-term goals that long-term objectives may suffer. This is one of the dangers that Steven Krupp and Paul Schoemaker highlight in Winning the Long Game. Throughout the book, they reference both positive and negative examples of leadership, contrasting successful leaders who used strategic thinking to position their businesses and brands for success against those who may have focused a little too much on delivering immediate results for short-term goals.
Heads: Business Lessons from an Executive Search Pioneer—Russell S. Reynolds & Carol E. Curtis
Russell S. Reynolds, the founder of RSR Partners (whom OnPoint Consulting works with), wrote this autobiographical book detailing his journey from his early life in Greenwich, Connecticut during the Great Depression to the present.
What’s really interesting for leaders is the story of how Reynolds turned an investment of just $10,000 dollars into Russell Reynolds Associates, a company with nearly $100 million in revenues and a solid international reputation. Throughout the book are lessons for structuring and operating executive search firms—which can provide valuable insight into how to manage the recruitment process.
Another New York Times bestselling book by Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last provides insights into what separates top-performing workplaces where trust and commitment abound from those that “are driven by cynicism, paranoia, and self-interest.”
In the book, Sinek details a revelation he had during a conversation with a General in the Marine Corps—the fact that great leaders eat last and “sacrifice their own comfort” for the sake of others. This provides a positive example and demonstrates to employees that the leader isn’t in it for their own personal gain, but for the good of everyone they lead.
The book contains many examples of how this philosophy is applied not just in the military, but in businesses as well.
It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy—Cpt. D. Michael Abrashoff
One of the marks of a great leader isn’t just that they have great people working for them—it’s that they make the most out of the people they have on their teams. As D. Michael Abrashoff, a former Navy Captain who took an underperforming ship and turned it into an exemplary model of effectiveness says in It’s Your Ship, “The timeless challenge in the real world is to help less-talented people transcend their limitations.”
Former Cpt. Abrashoff works in personal anecdotes from his time in the Navy alongside statistics and stories from the business world to demonstrate the effect that leaders can have on their subordinates. Or, in his words: “Realize your influence, and use it wisely.” This book details Abrashoff’s strategies for making the most of the personnel you have and guiding them into becoming the best versions of themselves.
Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck—Why Some Thrive Despite Them All—Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen
From the author of the seminal leadership classic Good to Great, this book is based on more than nine years of research by Jim Collins and his colleague Morten Hansen. Throughout the years, businesses the world over have faced numerous disruptions—from stock & housing market crashes, terrorist attacks and war, and the introduction of countless disruptive technologies. While some businesses have managed to thrive, others have failed.
This book seeks to study what it is that separates the successful companies from the failures. In the book, the authors state that, “From an initial list of 20,400 companies, we sifted through 11 layers of cuts to identify cases that met all our tests… Only seven did.”
By finding what separates the truly successful companies in this book from the failures, leaders can glean some important advice for their own future success.
In The Four Mindsets, Anna-Lucia Mackay details four crucial ways of thinking that have an enormous impact on the ability to lead high-performance teams:
- The Emotional Intelligence Mindset;
- The Connection Mindset;
- The Growth Mindset; and
- The Performance Mindset.
Throughout the book, Mackay details the importance of each mindset, how to achieve them, and how to use them to meet specific goals for a high-performance team, such as inspiring employees and gaining trust with the emotional intelligence mindset, or building team member confidence and personal growth with the growth mindset.
Morten T. Hansen, a former co-author of renowned business guru Jim Collins, based this book on a five year-long research study of 5,000 managers and employees—collecting data from multiple perspectives to create a vision of what effective performance looks like for both leadership and non-leadership roles.
The book made The Washington Post's Top Leadership Books to Read in 2018 list, and for good reason. As noted by WP: “The leaders he profiles have more compelling stories than the typical chief executive: a principal who turned around a failing high school, a sushi chef in Tokyo who received three Michelin stars and the first explorer to reach the South Pole in 1911.”
While they aren’t all traditional business leader examples, the variety of examples in the book gives the reader a broader perspective on how to apply leadership skills in different situations.
Leaders need to be skilled presenters, whether they’re addressing a single employee or a group of thousands. Effective communication is the most fundamental tool that leaders use to earn the trust of their employees and influence others.
In this book, David Bartlett, the senior vice president of Levick Strategic Communications, provides strategies to help almost anyone improve their ability to communicate with others, such as devising goals for every interview, meeting, or speech beforehand to keep conversations from meandering.
These are some of the best books for leaders to read for the new year. Of course, these aren’t the only books you could read. Another book that leaders might find useful is Flexible Leadership: Creating Value by Balancing Multiple Challenges and Choices, written by Gary Yukl and myself. I might be biased, but I think that many leaders could benefit from the lessons in the book, which integrate findings from different disciplines over half a century’s worth of research.