There is no doubt that the events of 2020 & 2021 (so far) have brought a lot of new perspectives and voices to the table within our society. With that in mind and a desire to provoke learning & growth we posed this question to our coaching collective:

“What 1-3 books do you think are critical for leaders to read — classic or new?”

Before we share the books & authors shared by our team in response to this question. Lets first ask another question:

“WHY is reading critical for leaders, business or otherwise?”

A quick internet search leads straight to this insightful article published in Harvard Business Review back in 2012: For Those Who Want to Lead, Read by John Coleman

In particular, these statements stand out to us:

”The leadership benefits of reading are wide-ranging. Evidence suggests reading can improve intelligence and lead to innovation and insight.” 

“Reading can also make you more effective in leading others. Reading increases verbal intelligence, making a leader a more adept and articulate communicator.”

As we dig a little deeper, you’ll find other articles that provide lists of ways that reading benefits leadership. 

Check out Michael Hyatt’s 5 Ways Reading Makes You A Better Leader from last year. He suggests that reading makes us better thinkers, improves people skills, helps us master communication, relax, and stay young. 

So will any old book do? Yes and no.  

Yes, if you’re looking to improve your vocabulary or be entertained. No, if you’re looking for valuable insight, coaching, or personal growth. For this, you need to read more specific material — books and articles that share technique, perspective, and experience that we may expand our own knowledge and understanding.

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Top Leadership Books to Add to Your Reading List

So back to the original question. To answer it, we’ve curated the list from our coaches to share the top picks and what makes them stand out:

Conscious Business by Fred Kofman 

Indispensable. A snippet from the inside cover/flap: “Consciousness is the main source of organizational greatness. “Conscious business,” explains Fred Kofman, means finding your passion and expressing your essential values through your work. 

A conscious business seeks to promote the intelligent pursuit of happiness in all its stakeholders. It produces sustainable, exceptional performance through the solidarity of its community and the dignity of each member….” 

Leadership Unchained by Sara Canaday

A crowd favorite here at Coaching 4 Good. The author offers a new and solid approach that challenges many traditional ideas about leadership success.

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos) 

This is a great read that explores the development of Zappos as a business but more importantly creating cultures based on values to grow a business where the core is customer & employee happiness.

Good to Great– Jim Collins

The Hedgehog Concept is developed in the book Good to Great. A simple, crystalline concept that flows from deep understanding about the intersection of three circles: (1) what you are deeply passionate about, (2) what you can be the best in the world at, and (3) what best drives your economic or resource engine. 

Transformations from good to great come about by a series of good decisions made consistently with a Hedgehog Concept, supremely well-executed, accumulating one upon another, over a long period of time.

Scaling Leadership by Bob Anderson & William Adams

A complex book exploring a complex issue in the subject of business leadership.  Essentially it discusses the need to adapt leadership models & tactics continuously to meet the ever-changing and complex world we operate in.  Leadership needs to become more creative and less reactive leadership needs to be more human.

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

“Brené Brown has taught us what it means to dare greatly, rise strong, and brave the wilderness. Now, based on new research conducted with leaders, change-makers, and culture shifters, she’s showing us how to put those ideas into practice so we can step up and lead.” We’re also proud to offer certified Dare to Lead training, so check that out for you or your organization.

Triple Crown Leadership by Gregg & Bob Vanourek

A thought-provoking leadership book that considers building a successful organization needs to incorporate not just excellence but also ethics and endurance. It outlines a step-by-step model for achieving such success through leadership.

Learning Leadership by Kouze and Posner

This book is described as a self-coaching guide to help people take charge of their own leadership development and become the best leaders they can be. It speaks to the fact that one of the most important skills of an exemplary leader is the ability to learn. A highly beneficial read for emerging leaders, as well as coaches, trainers, and other human resource professionals or leadership developers.

Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

A #1 New York Bestseller, this is eye-opening in terms of both perspective and experience. The tales of Navy SEAL operatives translate into tangible lessons in business and life.  Not the first time the landscape of combat has provided valuable learning in the business of business.

Radical Candor by Kim Scott

Scott has gained fame in recent times with her vital new approach to effective management, the ‘radical candour’ method. Radical candor is described in a Goodreads review as “the sweet spot between managers who are obnoxiously aggressive on one side and ruinously empathetic on the other.” This book is a guide to being a kickass boss without losing your humanity.

Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski

This is a worthy read for every female leader and teaches valuable lessons on the costs of the stress response to the body as well as providing some useful practices in completing the stress response cycle and freeing the mind and body from chronic stress. 

Calm Clarity by Due Quach

This one isn’t specifically about leadership, but Coaching 4 Good Coach and Chief People Officer Sharanya Rao shares, “I think it’s important for leaders to read this book because it focuses on how we can create solutions from a more creative perspective, particularly in the social justice arena.”

Helping People Change by Richard E. Boyatzis, Melvin Smith, and Ellen Van Oosten

This book dives into how there’s a better way to help others. Emotional intelligence expert Richard Boyatzis and Weatherhead School of Management colleagues Melvin Smith and Ellen Van Oosten present a clear and hopeful message that the way to help someone learn and change cannot be focused primarily on fixing problems, but instead must connect to that person’s positive vision of themselves or an inspiring dream or goal they’ve long held. 

These are two bonus books shared with us by Corporate Marketing & Communications Consultant Becky Frost to ensure you’re building skills as a diversity-focused, inclusive leader: 

The Pink Elephant: A Practical Guide to Creating an Anti-Racist Organization by Janice Gassam

Moving Diversity Forward: How to Go From Well-Meaning to Well-Doing by Verna Myers

The above list of books is by no means an exhaustive one, but it’s a great place to start!

What will you add to your reading list this year? Do you have any recommendations for critical leadership reading? We encourage you to share your favorites on LinkedIn or Twitter and tag us.

If you’re ready to take your leadership development at your organization to the next level, check out our programs available to build leadership at your company through coaching here.


leadership books, 15 ‘Must-Read’ Leadership Books From Expert Coaches

Michelle Poole

Michelle Poole is a dynamic certified executive coach and co-owner of Coaching 4 Good. She is passionate about re-invigorating the hearts and minds of those she works with to help increase their personal and organizational impact. Get started today by scheduling your free consultation!

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