The 9 Best Leadership Books of 2021
Learn the principles of leadership with our picks of the best books in the genre
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Do you have what it takes to be a leader? It’s a toss-up. Eighty-three percent of employers called leadership development an important priority, while 63 percent of millennials said their own leadership skills weren’t being fully developed.
Learn how your brain’s composition might affect your leadership ability (yes, really!), how courage plays into leadership, even the seven habits that effective leaders embrace with our picks for the best books of the genre.
Best for New Leaders: The Making of a Leader
You might not be planning to lead your team into a warzone, but you could probably do so successfully after reading this leadership book. Former SEALS Willink and Babin propose some dynamic, grace-under-fire principles that you can apply to any team. The authors discuss the structure of successful teams and how to achieve success in virtually any scenario, even when lives are not on the line.
Readers give "Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead and Win" an impressive five out of five stars. It was a bestseller when it was first released in 2015 and an updated version became available in November 2017.
Best on Intuition: Thinking, Fast and Slow
“Thinking, Fast and Slow” explores into the human mind and the two systems that power everything—one fast, one slow. Daniel Kahneman’s book argues that these two systems are responsible for everything from overconfidence in the workplace to cognitive bias to how we make decisions. In this pick, learn when to trust your intuitions, when not to, and how to avoid common pitfalls when decision-making, both our personal and professional lives. Kahneman is a psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics.
Best New Title: White Fragility
You’ve probably heard of this New York Times bestseller, and with good reason. Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” explores the idea of racism not being something that exists within primarily bad people. Rather, it’s due to inaction. Behaviors like silence, anger, guilt, and argumentation only further reinstate what the author calls “white equilibrium” and prevents meaningful conversations about race. Is it a leadership book? Not exactly. But it’s one that all leaders should read.
Best for Women: Lead Like a Woman
Fortune 500 executive Deborah Smith Pegues’ “Lead Like a Woman” takes the old rhetoric surrounding women and their leadership abilities and turns it on its head. She argues that the very qualities women have been criticized for (think, being overly emotional) can actually aid them in becoming effective and successful leaders. Pegues focuses on 12 traits that can help propel women’s leadership skills forward, plus 12 to avoid.
Related: The Best Management Books
Best Cerebral Pick: Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People
Mahzarin R. Banaji’s “Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People” will make you question everything you think you know about being a good person. Banaji, a psychologist, unpacks the hidden biases that all people have, due in part to our cultural influences surrounding age, gender, ethnicity, age, sexuality, and more. The book also includes the Implicit Association Test, which reveals readers’ own hidden biases.
Related: The Best Strategy Books
Best Classic Pick: How to Win Friends & Influence People
“How to Win Friends & Influence People” by Dale Carnegie is a time-tested installment within the genre. In it, Carnegie explains six ways to make people like you, 12 ways to win people over to your way of thinking, even nine ways to get others to change, without breeding resentment. This classic pick has sold more than 15 million copies. A writer and lecturer, Carnegie was also one of the pioneers of the modern self-help genre.
Best Chart-Topper: Dare to Lead
New York Times bestseller, “Dare to Lead,” melds author Brené Brown’s signature no-nonsense style and with research into the heart of what makes a good leader. Brown’s basic premise is that daring, successful leadership can very much be taught, based on the tenets of courage, empathy and human connection. Named one of the best books of the year by Bloomberg, this picks combines anecdotes, research, and real-life accounts of leadership to illustrate how courage and leadership go hand-in-hand. A four-time New York Times bestselling author, Brown is also the host of the Dare to Lead and Unlocking Us! Podcasts.
Related: The Best Networking Books
Best Inspirational Pick: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Stephen R. Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” isn’t just a New York Times bestseller; it’s sold more than a 40 million copies and was named as the most influential book of the 20th century. These seven habits, including being proactive, thinking in a win-win mindset, understanding others before conveying your point, is an excellent stepping stone for aspiring or current leaders and sets a vision for successful leadership with integrity and fairness. The 30th anniversary edition features updates on modern life from the author’s son, Sean Covey.
Best Applicable Pick: We Can’t Talk About That at Work
If you’re a leader, chances are, you’re going to be presented with a difficult discussion during your tenure, one you can’t ignore. That’s where Mary-Frances Winters’ “We Can’t Talk About That at Work: How to Talk about Race, Religion, Politics, and Other Polarizing Topics” comes in. Rather than avoiding tricky topics, Winters teaches leaders how to face them, head-on. Winters is the Founder and CEO of The Winters Group, Inc., a global diversity, equity and inclusion consulting firm.
Related: The Best Career Books
Even leaders struggle with getting others to like them or convincing others to see things their way. "How to Win Friends & Influence People" by Dale Carnegie earns the top spot on our list for its tried-and-true approach to winning others over, in life and in business (view at Amazon).
Why Trust The Balance?
Rachel Morgan Cautero has a master's degree in journalism from New York University and more than a decade of journalism experience, most in the personal finance sector. Most recently, she was the managing editor of DailyWorth, a finance-based media destination for women. She’s been published in SmartAsset, The Balance, The Atlantic, Life & Money, Parents, WealthRocket, and Yahoo Finance. These titles were selected based on author credentials, reader reviews, and any relevant awards.