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The 25 Best Leadership Books of All-Time

The 25 Best Leadership Books of All-Time

In case you don’t know, Soundview identifies, selects, and summarizes the best business books that are published every year. And, since we’ve been doing this for the past 41 years, we’ve seen A LOT of leadership books filter through our offices. Literally thousands …

Most are good, some are great, and others go on to be business classics – the books that every aspiring manager or leader needs to read. These are the books that offer ideas and strategies that change the way people think and disrupt the way business is conducted.

That being the case, we decided to put pen to paper and publish our list of the top 25 leadership books of all-time. Without further ado, here is our list (in no particular order):

1. On Becoming a Leader

On Becoming a Leader

On Becoming a Leader
by Warren Bennis

Deemed “the Dean of Leadership Gurus” by Forbes magazine, Warren Bennis has persuasively argued that leaders are not born—they are made. Delving into the qualities that define leadership, the people who exemplify it, and the strategies that anyone can apply to achieve it, his classic work On Becoming a Leader has served as a source of essential insight for countless readers.


2. The Art of War

The Art of War

The Art of War
by Sun Tzu

The Art of War is an ancient Chinese military treatise dating back more than 2,000 years ago. The work, which is attributed to the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, is composed of 13 chapters – each one is devoted to an aspect of warfare and how it applies to military strategy and tactics. The Art of War is one of the most influential strategy texts in East Asian warfare and has influenced military thinking, business tactics, legal strategy and beyond.


3. Wooden on Leadership

Wooden on Leadership

Wooden on Leadership
by John Wooden & Steve Jamison

Focusing on the former UCLA Basketball coach’s legendary 12 Lessons in Leadership and his acclaimed Pyramid of Success, Wooden on Leadership outlines the mental, emotional, and physical qualities essential to building a winning organization. It also shows you how to develop the skill, confidence, and competitive fire to “be at your best when your best is needed” – and teach your organization to do the same.


4. Good to Great

Good to Great

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t
by Jim Collins

Collins, the bestselling author of Built to Last, and his team of researchers identified 11 elite companies that made the leap from simply “good” to “great” performance. By introducing us to the time-tested business ideas of Level 5 Leaders, The Hedgehog Concept, and A Culture of Discipline, Good to Great offers leaders a complete framework for success. If there exists a must-read business book, this is it.


5. Primal Leadership

Primal Leadership

Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence
by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis & Annie McKee

The book that established “emotional intelligence” in the business lexicon. Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they’re so effective, we often speak of strategy, vision, or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal – great leadership works through the emotions. Primal Leadership describes what managers and executives must do to become emotionally intelligent leaders. A must-read for anyone that leads or aspires to lead.


6. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
by Stephen R. Covey

The #1 National Bestseller that offers a holistic, integrated, principle-centered approach for solving personal and professional problems. Originally published in 1989, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People remains consistently relevant even as present-day challenges have become increasingly difficult. Live a life of great and enduring purpose with this business classic.


7. The Leadership Challenge

The Leadership Challenge

The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations
by James Kouzes & Barry Posner

The Leadership Challenge is about how leaders mobilize others in an effort to get extraordinary things done inside companies and organizations. The authors present their Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®, which when executed efficiently, allow leaders to bridge the chasm between just getting things done and actually making great things happen. Read it to stay current, relevant, and effective in the modern workplace.


8. Start with Why

Start with Why

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
by Simon Sinek

From the bestselling author of Leaders Eat Last, Start With Why posits that people won’t truly buy into a product, service, movement, or idea until they understand the WHY behind it. Drawing on a wide range of real-life stories, Sinek weaves together a clear vision of what it truly takes to lead and inspire.


9. First, Break All the Rules

First, Break All the Rules

First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently
by Marcus Buckingham

In this longtime management bestseller, the author presents the remarkable findings of Gallup’s in-depth study of more than 80,000 managers. The data reveals that despite varying backgrounds and styles, great managers share one common trait – they don’t hesitate to break sacred business rules. In First, Break All the Rules, you’ll discover vital performance and career lessons for managers at all levels and discover how to apply them to your specific situation.


10. Execution

Execution

Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done
by Larry Bossidy & Ram Charan

Larry Bossidy, the legendary CEO of Honeywell International, Inc., joins forces with consultant and prolific author Ram Charan to explain how getting things done — not strategy, innovation or anything else — is the most important function of a business leader. In this business bestseller, the authors examine in detail the three key processes of execution — people, strategy and operations — and show how all three are linked. Execution is the smart business leaders guide to getting things done.


11. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ
by Daniel Goleman

A groundbreaking book that redefined what it means to be smart. Everyone knows that high IQ is no guarantee of success, happiness, or virtue, but until Emotional Intelligence, we could only guess why. Goleman’s research from the frontiers of psychology and neuroscience offers startling new insight into our “two minds”—the rational and the emotional—and how together they shape our success in relationships, in work, and even our physical well-being.


12. Drive

Drive

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
by Daniel H. Pink

Most people believe that the best way to motivate is with rewards like money—the carrot-and-stick approach. That’s a mistake, says author Daniel Pink. The new world of work that Pink describes in Drive is built on leaders finding innovative and creative ways to tap into deep-seated desires: the need to be autonomous in our work, to get better at what we like to do and to find greater purpose in life.


13. Leading Change

Leading Change

Leading Change
by John Kotter

Widespread and difficult change in business is no longer the exception – it’s the rule. Leading Change features Kotter’s legendary 8-step process for managing change that has become instrumental to leaders and organizations around the world. A practical resource for leaders and managers charged with making change initiatives work.


14. The Innovator’s Dilemma

The Innovator's Dilemma

The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail
by Clayton Christensen

The Innovator’s Dilemma demonstrates how even the world’s most outstanding companies can do everything right—yet still lose market leadership. Through his compelling multi-industry study, Christensen introduces his seminal theory of disruptive innovation that has changed the way managers and CEOs around the world think about innovation.


15. How to Win Friends & Influence People

How to Win Friends & Influence People

How to Win Friends & Influence People
by Dale Carnegie

First published in 1936, this classic self-help book has sold more than 15 million copies worldwide. Carnegie’s advice about persuasion, career advancement, communication, and influence are as important and relevant today as they were when the book was first published. Achieve your maximum potential with How to Win Friends & Influence People.


16. The Lean Startup

The Lean Startup

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
by Eric Ries

This entrepreneurial masterpiece is a must-read for anyone thinking about going into business for themselves. The Lean Startup introduces a methodology that focuses you on finding out what customers want as quickly as possible and then using scientific experimentation to prove that you’re making progress. Ries recommends launching as early and cheaply as possible, so you don’t waste time and money getting into the marketplace.


17. The Effective Executive

The Effective Executive

The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done
by Peter Drucker

Drucker, the “Father of Modern Management,” originally penned this well-known, frequently-cited classic in 1967. The measure of a truly effective executive is the ability to get the right things done. The Effective Executive outlines the five practices that are essential to business management.


18. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You
by John C. Maxwell

Maxwell, the world-renowned leadership expert, has authored dozens of books dealing with this topic that have sold millions of copies. In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, each of the laws has its own chapter that when read, understood, and put into practice, help to guide readers toward setting direction, aligning people, motivating, and inspiring – all with the ultimate goal of creating a leader that people want to follow.


19. The First 90 Days

The First 90 Days

The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter
by Michael Watkins

In The First 90 Days, Harvard Business School professor Michael Watkins presents a road map for taking charge in the first 90 days of a new management position. Avoid common new-leader pitfalls, secure critical early wins, and establish yourself in your new role. Named to the “100 Leadership & Success Books to Read in a Lifetime” list by Amazon, this book is the authority on leaders in transition.


20. The One Minute Manager

The One Minute Manager

The One Minute Manager
by Ken Blanchard & Spencer Johnson

For decades, The One Minute Manager has helped millions achieve more successful professional and personal lives. As compelling today as it was when it was originally released more than thirty years ago, this classic parable of a young man looking for an effective manager is as relevant and useful as ever.


21. True North

True North

True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership
by Bill George

Former Medtronic CEO Bill George presents a comprehensive program for leadership success and illustrates how to create your own personal leadership development plan. Based on personal interviews with 125 top leaders including Charles Schwab, Howard Schultz (Starbucks), Anne Mulcahy (Xerox), True North shows how anyone who follows their internal compass can become an authentic leader.


22. Thinking, Fast and Slow

Thinking, Fast and Slow
by Daniel Kahneman

Nobel Prize winner Kahnemann takes us on groundbreaking tour of the mind – examining the two systems that affect the way we think. He describes System 1 (fast, intuitive, emotional) and System 2 (slow, deliberative, logical) and how the interplay between them shape our judgments and decisions. At approximately 500 pages in length, Thinking, Fast and Slow isn’t meant to be a fast read, it’s meant to be savored.


23. Tribes

Tribes

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us
by Seth Godin

While best-selling author Seth Godin has authored more than 15 books (Free Prize Inside, Linchpin, Purple Cow), we consistently refer back to Tribes as our favorite. If you’re a leader looking to mobilize an audience (think employees, customers, investors, readers) around a central idea or want them to take a particular course of action, then this Godin book will provide the blueprint for you.


24. Extreme Ownership

Extreme Ownership

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win
by Jocko Willink & Leif Babin

Willink and Babin, two U.S. Navy SEAL officers that led a highly-decorated special operations unit in Iraq, demonstrate how to apply tested leadership principles from the battlefield to business and life. The authors have taught the lessons from Extreme Ownership to countless leaders and hundreds of companies around the world in an effort to pass along their institutional knowledge about developing high-performance teams and ultimately, teaching individuals to lead and win.


25. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
by Patrick Lencioni

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Lencioni, the master of the business fable, turns his attention to why teams often struggle to perform. His in-depth analysis of the five dysfunctions (absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, inattention to results) helps leaders avoid the pitfalls that teams face as they seek to grow together and prosper.


We hope you enjoyed reading through our list. Leave a comment below and let us know:

  • How many of these 25 books you have already read?
  • Which of these books do you still need to read?
  • Which leadership books did our list miss?
  • Which leadership book is your #1 all-time favorite?

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9 thoughts on “The 25 Best Leadership Books of All-Time

  1. Splendid! A star-studded field, and for me a must-read list.

    However, as a subscription paying customer, I thought I could just type in each title and the summary would be there in my library instead of having to pay again for this selection.

    What do you think?

    1. Olusegun,
      Thanks for the comment. To compile this list, we chose not to restrict ourselves to only books that we have covered in the past. We really wanted this to be an independent, non-biased look at the best leadership books. If you’re a Soundview Professional- or Premier-level subscriber you should have access to summaries/reviews of more than half of this list in your library. Happy Reading!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Bill. Our goal in compiling this list was for it to be an independent, non-biased look at the best leadership books that we’ve seen. What titles do you feel we left off the list?

    1. Thanks for note, Abbey. Links for the books that we have covered in our book summary service are provided in the post. For that books that we didn’t summarize, we have included links out to Amazon for easy access to the full-length books. Enjoy!

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