Male leader in a flannel reading a leadership book at his desk next to a laptop and pile of books

The art of leadership demands constant growth and refinement. No matter where you are in your career, staying informed is crucial for success. Look no further than these must-read leadership books, which offer invaluable insights on how to lead, inspire, and make an impact.

Our hand-picked list of the top leadership books covers a variety of genres, perspectives, and methodologies. Some tackle the intricacies of human behavior, while others offer a straightforward guide to achieving your goals. Each book on this list provides a unique perspective on leadership. Happy reading and learning!

Start With Why by Simon Sinek

First published in 2009, Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” quickly gained widespread recognition as a must-read for anyone interested in leadership, business strategy, and corporate culture. The book centers around the idea that successful individuals and organizations are those able to clearly articulate the “Why” behind what they do, not just the “How” and “What.” Sinek uses the “Golden Circle” model to explain this concept, with “Why” reprenting the reason a company exists or an individual acts. Sinek argues that when organizations start with a strong “Why,” they succeed by inspiring employees and building customer loyalty. 

Who should read it and why: Anyone in a leadership position or aspiring to be in one will benefit – especially those responsible for shaping corporate culture and values. By learning to articulate your “Why,” you’ll rally people behind a common goal or vision more effectively.

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Originally published in 1937, Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich” remains a classic on personal development. Hill spent 20 years interviewing and observing successful people, focusing primarily on their mental strategies. The book emphasizes the power of the mind and its importance for leadership and success. It introduces the concept of the “Mastermind Group,” a group of individuals who come together to enrich each other’s pursuits. Hill contends that anyone can achieve greatness with a strong desire, faith, and persistence.

Who should read it and why: If you’re an aspiring leader looking for psychological insights into success, this book is for you. It won’t give you a step-by-step guide to leadership, but it will strengthen your mindset. With its timeless advice, this book is as relevant today as it was over 80 years ago.

Art of War by Sun Tzu

The “Art of War” by Sun Tzu is an ancient Chinese military treatise applicable to business and leadership. Dated back to the 5th century BC, the book breaks down military strategy into universally applicable principles such as planning, strategy, and tactics. It emphasizes the importance of knowing your enemy and yourself, stating that the outcome of a battle is determined long before it begins. Principles like flexibility in strategy, tactical withdrawal, and the element of surprise apply to modern leadership philosophies.

Who should read it and why: Long-term planners and strategists will find “Art of War” invaluable. It’s suitable for anyone in a leadership position who needs to make tough decisions and outthink the competition, not just veterans. With its timeless wisdom, this book offers a foundational guide to strategic thinking for any organization.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Published in 1936, Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is another classic. The book is a comprehensive guide for interacting with people, winning them over, and positively influencing their thoughts and actions. It explores the psychology behind human interaction, offering practical tips such as showing genuine interest in others, giving compliments, and understanding the perspective of those you interact with. Carnegie emphasizes the value of making people feel important, making them more likely to be influenced by you.

Who should read it and why: If your role involves managing a team, networking, or negotiating, this book is a must-read. It lays the foundation for effective communication and relationship-building, skills that every leader must possess. Carnegie’s principles can be applied directly when leading a team, obtaining buy-in for ideas, and creating a culture of mutual respect and cooperation.

Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins

David Goggins’s “Can’t Hurt Me” is more than a memoir; it’s a testament to the power of mental toughness and discipline. Goggins, a Navy SEAL and ultramarathon runner, shares his story of hardship and how he used it to triumph over adversity. The book introduces the concept of “taking souls,” meaning one can surpass their limitations and dominate competitors through mental fortitude. It also presents the idea of the “accountability mirror,” urging you to look at yourself critically to identify areas for improvement.

Who should read it and why: This book is for anyone looking to break out of their comfort zone and push their limits. Leaders wanting to instill resilience, grit, and high performance in their organizations will find Goggins’s story inspiring. “Can’t Hurt Me” teaches you how to lead by example, even in adversity.

Grit by Angela Duckworth

Angela Duckworth’s “Grit” examines the psychology of achievement, arguing that perseverance and long-term passion are more important than raw talent for success. Drawing on studies and interviews from West Point cadets to spelling bee champions, the book uncovers what truly sets high-achievers apart. Duckworth introduces the idea of “deliberate practice,” a focused and purposeful way of learning. She also discusses the role of “flow,” or complete immersion in a task, and its contribution to performance and satisfaction.

Who should read it and why: Leaders interested in cultivating long-term commitment and excellence will find “Grit” enlightening. This book is particularly useful for employee development and engagement. It challenges the notion that talent alone leads to success, providing a more nuanced approach to team management and personal growth instead.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

In “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell explores the factors contributing to success. Conventional wisdom attributes success to hard work and innate talent, but Gladwell contends that external factors like culture, upbringing, and even birth dates also matter. The book introduces the concept of the “10,000-Hour Rule,” suggesting that mastery in any field requires at least ten thousand hours of practice. Gladwell also points out that social and cultural factors can influence whether opportunities are available to accumulate those hours.

Who should read it and why: This book is perfect for leaders and decision-makers interested in talent acquisition and development. “Outliers” looks beyond obvious markers like educational background and skills to uncover potential in individuals. It also encourages leaders to create environments where talent can flourish, emphasizing the collective role in individual success.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” presents a principle-based personal and interpersonal effectiveness approach. Covey offers a step-by-step guide to living with fairness, integrity, service, and dignity. The book is divided into three sections—personal victories, public victories, and renewals—guiding the reader from self-mastery to interpersonal effectiveness and finally to continual improvement. Covey’s habits range from being proactive to seeking first to understand, then to be understood, and they provide a holistic approach to being an effective leader.

Who should read it and why: No matter your experience level, this book offers something for everyone. It’s ideal for leaders who want to build long-term, ethical, and excellent organizations. Covey’s leadership habits serve as a timeless guide for effective leadership, team collaboration, and organizational success.

Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Extreme Ownership,” written by former U.S. Navy SEAL officers Willink and Babin, discusses the leadership principles they learned in combat and their application to business and life. The book advocates taking responsibility for your actions and outcomes, whether you’re a leader or a team member. It discusses concepts such as “Leading Up the Chain,” which means taking the initiative to solve problems and present them to your superiors, and “Decentralized Command,” which involves empowering team members to make decisions. These principles aim to create a culture where everyone takes ownership of their work.

Who should read it and why: This book is essential reading for leaders who desire to foster a culture of accountability and empowerment. It can be applied universally to improve management practices and team cohesion. “Extreme Ownership” presents practical tips for leaders looking to take their team’s performance to the next level through responsibility and shared purpose.

Good to Great by Jim Collins

Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” analyzes what differentiates great companies from good ones. Based on a five-year study that looked into 28 companies, the book identifies common characteristics among organizations that excelled. One such principle is having a “Level 5 Leader” who combines humility and professionalism. Another is the “Hedgehog Concept,” which suggests that organizations should focus on what they can be best at, what drives their economy, and what they are passionate about.

Who should read it and why: Anyone in a leadership role, including business owners, CEOs, and managers, should read this book. It provides actionable insights into transforming a good organization into a great one. This book will benefit those in decision-making positions, offering a roadmap for organizational success beyond tactical changes or quick fixes.

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Pete Newsome is the founder of zengig, which he created after more than two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also President of 4 Corner Resources, the Forbes America's Best Staffing and Recruiting Firm he founded in 2005, and is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance. In addition to his passion for staffing, Pete is now committed to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn