You may have heard that leaders take responsibility for their own growth, but with thousands of leadership and management books to choose from, where do you begin? You want resources that help you today, that you can immediately apply, and that build a strong foundation for your future leadership development.
To help you get started, I’ve put together a list of the 12 most consequential books for a new leader:
1. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High
The book in the #1 slot doesn’t even have leadership in the title? No, but it does feature a skill so rare and yet so vitally critical to effective leadership that it fully deserves to be at the top of the list. Effective leaders are able to build relationships while discussing the most difficult subjects and Crucial Conversations by Patterson, et al helps you do exactly that.
2. The Leadership Challenge
Kouzes and Posner make the case that leadership is influence and that effective leadership relies on your credibility. What sets The Leadership Challenge apart is its focus on five leadership practices through which you grow your influence and credibility. These five practices are easily understood and can be learned by anyone willing to do the work.
3. The World’s Most Important Leadership Principle
What core are we leading from and what do we hope to accomplish? For James Hunter, the answer to both these questions is simple: people. He contends that effective leaders care about people and develop influence-based authority because of their service to others. There are many lines in this book that will haunt you and call you back to authentic leadership when you get off balance. One of my favorites is what Hunter calls the Ultimate Test: “Are your people better off when they leave than when they arrived?”
4. Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Pat Lencioni provides leaders a framework for building healthy, productive teams. This book, paired with the tools in Crucial Conversations, gives teams an incredibly powerful set of tools to consistently produce results. Lencioni is not suggesting we build foo-foo, hold-hands-and-sing-songs teams. His framework builds teams featuring healthy relationships and a strong commitment to meaningful results.
5. Death by Meeting
First, let’s dispense with meeting-hatred. In reality, we don’t hate all meetings – we hate bad meetings, those poorly run, soul-sucking, endless, vampiric drags on motivation and productivity. The good news is that meetings don’t have to be that way. Lencioni provides a few key principles to make meetings energizing, mission-focused, and intensely valuable for everyone in attendance.
6. Strengths Based Leadership
To paraphrase Peter Drucker: only strengths are useful for building – nothing is built on weakness. Emerging leaders often do not recognize their own strengths and spend tons of emotional energy trying to be something they’re not. In the process, they lose credibility – much like the middle age father that tries to throw around teenage slang with his kids’ friends. Rath and Concie’s book will help you discover your own leadership strengths so you can begin building on an authentic foundation.
7. Influencer: The Power to Change Anything
Patterson and company did not write a schmaltzy self-help, “think positive”, or manipulate-your-way-to-success, type of book. The title makes some big claims (the power to change anything) and so can easily be misunderstood. Change requires both motivation and ability. (Or will and skill). Both motivation and ability each have three centers: personal, social, and structural. That’s a total of six different categories of influence for you to work with. The more you use, the more effective you will be.
8. The Oz Principle
It’s about responsibility and accountability. I appreciate this book for its laser-sharp focus on helping individuals and organizations recognize that they are responsible for their own reactions, decisions, behaviors, and ultimately, results. The Oz Principle’s greatest strength is the methodology it gives the reader for assessing a situation and determining what action they can take to produce the results they want to see.
9. How to Choose the Right Person for the Job Every Time
Whether you are a business leader hiring a team-member or a volunteer leader assembling a team, people are your most important asset. Having the right people doing the right things is vital to any team’s effectiveness. How do you find those people? Davila and Kursmark provide an effective set of skills to help you choose the right people.
10. Leadership and the One Minute Manager
Ken Blanchard shares a basic premise about leadership and management: an individual requires different things from their leader or manager in different situations. Effective leaders and managers help team members grow by using varied strategies depending on the team member’s demonstrated abilities, recent performance, and goals. Blanchard helps you identify those circumstances and the most relevant leadership strategy.
11. One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership
This is the newest book in the list, but I’ve included it because Mike Figliuolo provides a concise way for you to identify your own leadership motivations and values, and to develop maxims that will provide clarity for you and your team. I particularly appreciate his emphasis on simplicity and power. No buzzwords here! If you do the work, you will build your leadership philosophy on one sheet of paper which you will come back to repeatedly over your lifetime.
12. The Effective Executive
Wait, I thought this post was for new leaders? Don’t worry – it is. Peter Drucker provides a great selection of practical guidance on where effective leaders put their energy and time, how they interact with people at every level of the organization, and how they perform their critical responsibilities. In fact, there are so many valuable bits of advice that it is impossible to incorporate all of them after one reading. This is a book that growing leaders and managers can return to at least once a year.
Each of these books has proven valuable to me in my own leadership growth. I believe they can do the same for you.
In closing, what would you add to this list of consequential books for new leaders? Please share in the comments below!
– David M. Dye has over twenty years’ experience teaching, coaching, leading, and management, including working in youth services, education advocacy, city planning, and faith-based nonprofits as well as held elected municipal office. He enjoys helping others discover and realize their own potential. He currently serves as Chief Operating Officer for Colorado UpLift, a nonprofit youth service organization with replicated affiliates in Oregon, Florida, New York, and Arizona.