I use the term “leader” loosely here, because while each of these books offers valuable information for those leading a team, a company, or a charity, they are equally as useful to those who are simply leading their own lives. The principles and ideas they lay out are just as applicable in life’s personal sphere as they are in the professional sphere. After all, people are people, whether they are colleagues or family members, and the way we relate to them can alienate and anger or edify and inspire. Below I have outlined four books every leader should read, each offering a range of ideas, insights, and tools and capture some of the best practices about getting the most out of your life – all of it. Enjoy!
4 Books Every Leader Should Read:
1. Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time
Susan Scott, 2004
This book transformed the way I looked at communication in my personal and professional life. Although the title’s reference to “fierce conversations” brings to mind only those conversations dealing with confrontation, Scott uses the term “fierce” to mean clear, rich, courageous, and enriching conversation. She provides tools that are accessible and immediately useful to anyone who wants to learn to communicate in ways that improve relationships, increase clarity, and produce great results. After teaching this material to a number of employee groups, I have repeatedly heard from participants that what they learned from this book literally changed their lives, both at work and at home.
2. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
Simon Sinek, 2009
Sinek provides insight into the similarities in the way highly successful leaders (Martin Luther King, Jr., Herb Kelleher, Howard Schultz, for example) think and act. Although the leaders he profiles have little in common, they all had this in common: they started with “why.” No one – external or internal customers (employees) – will buy into a concept, product, or mission until they understand the WHY behind it. Where the “why” is made clear at every level, you’ll find people and organizations are more respected, influential, innovative, and – in the for-profit world – more profitable than others. The principles Sinek lays out around authenticity, clarity of mission, and focus are applicable for leaders of any business, nonprofit, or organization and are useful from both the macro (running a huge corporation) or micro (dealing with individual relationships) perspectives, thus one of my selections of books every leader should read.
3. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
Charles Duhigg, 2014
One of my very favorite “personal and professional life crossover books,” this work is based on newly emerging science involving how neural pathways are built and how habits are built – and can be disrupted. In it, Duhigg explores case studies that describe how organizations as disparate as the U.S. military and mass marketers like Target have used the power of habit to change behavior. It is a fascinating treatise, offering insight into personal growth (weight loss, regular exercise, learning new skills) while also providing a road map to helping create habits in an organization that increase productivity, improve safety and bolster employee satisfaction.
4. How to Win Friends and Influence People
Dale Carnegie, 1936, updated 1981
My high school offered a course on skills for living. We learned basic things like how to interview for a job, how to balance a checkbook (I never got the hang of that one), and how to communicate effectively with the people in our lives. This book was required reading and at the time, I wondered how a book this old would be of any help to me – so I was surprised to find that it immediately provided me with insights about how to form great relationships and how to communicate in ways that enrich both parties. Because of this, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie rounds out my selections of books every leader should read.
There are principles in this book that I still use, several decades later, in my evaluation of various situations and as a guide in how I might respond to difficulty. Carnegie believed that success is due in large part to “the ability to express ideas, to assume leadership, and to arouse enthusiasm among people.” His book provides simple strategies that help build these abilities and increase the reader’s ability to enjoy the benefits of building positive relationships and taking a calm, measured view of any circumstance. It’s a classic, and even if you also had the good fortune of reading it years ago, I recommend a “booster shot” of it every once in a while.