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It is very rare for someone to be born a full-fledged Abraham Lincoln or Nelson Mandela. But you don’t have to be a natural-born politician or even in a major position of power to want to learn how to lead better. Whether you are in charge of a small startup, the captain of your soccer team or the manager at a local bar, your leadership journey is always a work in progress.
Ideally, you’ve had great teachers, coaches and other leaders whose examples you could follow. If not, you’re still in luck because leadership mentors can also be found in the pages of books. The eight books listed here can help you become the leader you’ve always wanted to be.
The U.S. Navy SEALs might as well be a factory for exceptional leaders, so it’s no surprise that a book authored by former SEAL platoon commander Alden Mills tops my list. I can’t say I’ve ever hunted a Bosnian war criminal, but as the leader of a fast-growing startup, I soon learned the wisdom of Mills’s core leadership principle: “You must care.” When you care about your team members, and they care about the work, your team really will become unstoppable.
Julie Zhou knows what it’s like to find yourself in a leadership position that you always wanted and to suddenly start questioning whether you’re even capable of doing the job. In my experience, the best leaders inspire confidence without attempting to appear invulnerable. Zhou can teach you how to strike this delicate balance.
Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall
Many of the so-called keys to professional success that we accept as facts today are anything but true. In this book, Buckingham and Goodall dismantle nine pervasive workplace myths and reveal what you should really aim for if you want to become an outstanding leader. I know they challenged my thinking on everything from company culture to giving feedback. This is an especially eye-opening read for anyone who has spent decades climbing the corporate ladder.
Vision to Results: Leadership in Action by Jim Fischetti
You can’t be everywhere all the time as a leader, which means a big part of your team’s success (and yours) depends on things that aren’t necessarily in your control. Fischetti identifies weak points that exist within every organization and explains why a strong vision is a vital part of ensuring your team can overcome these problem areas. I found Vision to Results to be essential reading for leaders who feel like their team is beginning to stagnate and are seeking a solution.
At some point in your career, you’ll probably be thrust into a position where your responsibilities seem to outweigh your capabilities. As a startup founder, I’ve sure been there. You may question whether you’re the right person for the job or even feel like an outright imposter. We’ve all heard the phrase “fake it till you make it,” and many would-be leaders swear by it. Anna Crowe disagrees and presents compelling evidence for why authenticity is critical to effective leadership.
Brave New Work: Are You Ready to Reinvent Your Organization? by Aaron Dignan
If you knew one (much-hated) meeting was costing your company $3 million a year, what would you do? If you’re Aaron Dignan, you’d cancel it. In Brave New Work, Dignan shows leaders how to slay the sacred cows that are keeping their people from doing their best work. As someone who’s had to contend with my share of bureaucracy, I highly recommend Dignan’s guide to cutting the red tape so you can get started delivering value.
As cofounder and CEO of Lessonly, the training software platform, Max Yoder knows a bit about enabling people to make progress at work. In this book, Yoder provides strategies that can help you achieve both personal and professional growth and explains why the two can never be mutually exclusive. I consider this a great read for leaders who have found themselves wondering whether they’re really doing work that matters.
Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps: How to Thrive in Complexity by Jennifer Garvey Berger
Jennifer Berger has worked with a wide range of leaders, each of whom faced the same fundamental challenge: making the right decision when the future isn’t and can’t be known. Hey, I can identify—I decided to launch a new company at the dawn of the Great Recession! Berger shows how to let go of thoughts about things that don’t really matter so you can focus your energy on what does. This short book is bound to have a lasting impact on the way you work and live.