The 9 Best Leadership Books of 2020
Our favorite books will help you become a better leader
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Alexander the Great once said that he wasn’t afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep. He was afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion. So how do you achieve lion status?
Even those born with great, innate leadership skills might gain something from refining them. Some people who have mastered the art of good leadership have shared their thoughts in these books. Whether you want to hone your skills or you’re facing your first leadership role, there’s something here for everyone, from novice to CEO.
Best Overall: Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead and Win
You might not be planning to lead your team into a warzone, but you could probably do so successfully after reading this 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 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 New Release: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Daniel Pink took the financial world by storm with his No. 1 New York Times bestseller, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. He dared to suggest that becoming a good leader begins with throwing incentives out the window. Don’t dangle carrots in front of your team to inspire them to feats of greatness. Provide them with skills and a sense of purpose, then turn them loose to sink or swim on their own.
Pink tends to be on the cutting edge of new ways of thinking — he also wrote the New York Times bestseller A Whole New Mind. Readers give Drive a high rating and the Financial Times said that Pink is “rapidly acquiring international guru status.” That’s some high praise.
Best for Women: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
This offering from Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, has become a motivational bible for women entrepreneurs. Lean In focuses on what women can do rather than what they’re not supposed to be able to do well — including leading others. Her position is that leadership might not be something you’re inherently good at, but you can become great at it if you dig in and persevere…and if you care more about succeeding than being well-liked.
Lean In was Amazon’s Best Book of the Month in March 2013 and it hasn’t lost any of its punch. Sandberg is funny in places and will make you grit your teeth in others. Her advice is definitely something you’ll think about the next time you walk into your workplace or the boardroom.
Best for Teamwork: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
Patrick Lencioni proposes that it’s the success of a team as a whole, not just of the leader, that effectuates results. But every team needs a good leader, and this starts with getting the most out of every team member. Lencioni says this begins with productive conflict and, above all, trust. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is literally a fable about situations which a leader has encountered and how those situations were dealt with, complete with morals to each story segment.
Lencioni has some impressive experience to draw from. He’s a successful businessman whose work has appeared in Harvard Business Review, Fortune and the Wall Street Journal.
One of the neatest things about this book is the quiz section that follows each chapter, allowing you to grade yourself and your team to help chart paths toward improvement. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is the third book in a trilogy.
Best About Power: The 48 Laws of Power
First published in 2000, this New York Times bestseller has been around for a while, but it’s full of some great advice. The 48 Laws of Power was Greene’s first book. He literally sets out a series of laws covering 3,000 years of history, all of them designed to help you achieve the perfect dynamic between yourself and your team.
The book isn’t just about achieving and holding on to power. It offers a little in the way of preventative maintenance advice as well — how to defend yourself against others’ aggressive power tactics. Publishers Weekly has said that “gentler souls will find this book frightening,” and People Magazine calls it “beguiling.” Dig in if you dare.
Best About Millennials: Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together....
This is a new offering from Simon Senek, who has described himself as a bright-eyed optimist. His mission in life is to inspire others and to teach them how to do the same. These “others” have included foreign ambassadors and U.S. politicians.
Yes, this is the same Senek who penned the bestseller Start With Why. In Leaders Eat Last, he puts forth his belief that a great leader will and should sacrifice his own creature comforts when necessary for the benefit of those who follow him. The paperback edition of Leaders Eat Last was released in 2017 and it includes an expanded chapter that specifically focuses on the art of leading millennials. So if you find that you’re a little mystified as you endeavor to lead a workforce that’s years younger than you, this might be the perfect book.
Best Two-for-One Reading Experience: Man’s Search for Meaning
Viktor Frankl knows a thing or two about motivating others and yourself as well. An Auschwitz survivor and Austrian psychiatrist, he reflects upon his life and captivity in four Nazi concentration camps in Man’s Search for Meaning. This isn’t just a memoir. Frankl digs deep into his observations about how attitude is the driving force behind survival.
This is genuinely a two-for-one deal: Man’s Search for Meaning includes a book about Frankl’s survival in the camps from the unique perspective of a psychiatrist, as well as one that focuses on his theory of logotherapy — the premise that the most driving motivator in life is the need for a sense of meaning. This section is what makes it an ideal book for those who want to perfect their leadership skills. A 1991 Library of Congress reader survey named Man’s Search for Meaning as one of the 10 most influential books in America. It has sold more than 10 million copies in 24 languages.
Best Approach to Leadership: The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change....
A well-known keynote speaker and coaching expert, Stanier has made a career of teaching leadership skills to more than 10,000 managers worldwide. The Coaching Habit focuses on these skills as Stanier applies them to seven questions, each aimed at eliciting a certain response from your team or addressing stumbling blocks.
The questions range from “The Kickstart Question” to “The Focus Question” and “The Strategic Question.” Daniel H. Pink, the author of Drive, calls them “core questions” and says that they’ll not only guide you to effective support of your team but help you to become your own best coach as well. The Coaching Habit is no dry recital. It’s laced with the author’s unique sense of humor to make it a really enjoyable read.
Best Book About Leading by Example: #Girlboss
Sophie Amoruso leads by example and she champions that approach in her 2015 release #Girlboss. She’s the founder of the hugely popular retail chain Nasty Gal, but she sprang from some pretty ignominious beginnings. Amoruso unapologetically admits to lying, stealing and eating from a dumpster or two before she achieved success, and she motivated a whole lot of others to hang in there with her as she made the transition.
Amoruso takes the position that when you play to your own strengths, others will want to follow you. The Washington Post has called #Girlboss “the Lean In for misfits.” The book spent 18 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and Netflix has based a scripted comedy series on Amoruso’s concept of what it means to be the boss.