The Best Books on Leadership

If there’s one thing to be learned from these titles, it’s that anyone can be a leader.
by Rob Eades / 2021-08-20

What do you picture when you think of a leader? 

Is it military tactician George Washington bashing down the barricades? Is it NBA star LeBron James pushing his team to victory? Or is it Emmeline Pankhurst striving towards a better, more equal world for women?

There’s no one size fits all perfect picture of a leader, as we all lead - and prefer to be led - in different ways. Some prefer the typical charismatic, rip-roaring leader, while others prefer to be led by example, not words. 

So if you’re looking to improve your leadership skills, then it’s key to remember that not everyone leads in the same way. Luckily for you, we’ve got some of the best recommendations on how to guide and influence others, provided by the best of the best. So sit tight and get ready to be inspired. 

Leaders Eat Last - Simon Sinek

On Uptime

In this bestselling book (the follow-up to his runaway success, Start with Why) Simon Sinek takes us back to the great examples of historical leadership, and gives us a few consequences of what happens to poor leaders. Its key ideas cover everything from the following:

1. Safety = Progress

As a leader, it's your job to make your team feel safe. Safe to experiment, safe to try out a new idea, safe to make mistakes... and this kind of behavior is exactly how your team will go out and make real, exciting change. Otherwise, you're doomed to a life of BAU, where everyone is too scared to try anything different. This type of atmosphere is the one that often sees the most progress and breakthroughs. 

2. Treat your team with kindness

Remember, no matter how stressed you are, or how important the work you’re doing is, your team is full of human beings. If they're over-stressed, over-worked, or unhappy, they won't be able to live up to their full potential.

Make your employees’ wellness a priority. Ensure that they are happy in their roles and surrounded by a positive work environment. Take some time to get to know them and spark a few non-work related conversations. A happy team is a cohesive team. 

3. Get pleasure from challenging yourself 

Nowadays, everyone from teens to pensioners looks to social media to get their daily dopamine hit. But whilst social media can be a useful tool, it shouldn’t govern your life. If you’re starting to feel drained, put down your phone and go out into the world and find something to do that will mentally stimulate and challenge you. This can be anything from learning about a new subject, a physical activity, or even trying out ways to make better use of your free time - the options are endless.

As a leader, you have to rule by example. Build yourself healthy, productive habits and surround yourself with things that will inspire you. (You could start a communal bookshelf at the office, for example.) By doing this yourself, your team will feel encouraged to do the same.

Feel inspired by these ideas? To learn how to properly put them into action, you can have a look at our Leaders Eat Last book summary on Uptime.

Good to Great - James C. Collins

On Uptime

If you're an ambitious leader that wants to achieve more than just 'good' results, James C. Collins might just be the author for you. He wrote this book specifically to outline why some companies achieve great results, while others just fall short of the mark - as well as teaching you how to help your own team live up to their true potential.

1. Learn how to be a hedgehog

Yep, you heard that right. James C. Collins believes hedgehogs make for the perfect business model because they always know exactly what to do in a time of crisis: they curl up into a defensively solid ball of spikes, and they come out on top. 

So, now you need to figure out what your own “hedgehog” strategy is. Identify a strategy that you can successfully always go back to in times of crisis, and even repeat over and over, as long as it brings you out on top. 

2. The bandwagon isn’t always the right wagon

Just because another company, product, modus operandi, or trend is enjoying a surge of popularity doesn’t mean that you have to automatically follow suit. Only jump on board with trends if you’re certain that it can help you improve your concept (and make sure you’ve got a solid plan before you get started). No matter how innovative a new trend or concept, you have unique knowledge about your team, your company, capabilities, etc. Pick and choose which strategies to adopt according to what you believe will work for you.

3. Uncomfortable truths are still truths

Sometimes, things will not go to plan. That’s perfectly ok (and should even be expected). The key is how you deal with these bumps in the road. 

First of all, don't bury your head in the sand and hope things will sort themselves out. Once again, to lead your team to the best of their abilities, make sure you lead by example. Rather than avoiding problems or dwelling on negativity, tackle any speed-bumps head-on. Try to build the optimism and confidence necessary to understand that, no matter the problem, you and your team can recover (and come back stronger).

So, how exactly do you build your own hedgehog strategy? Our actionable summary of Good to Great will show you just how.

Leadership Strategy & Tactics - Jocko Willink

On Uptime

Ex-Navy SEAL leader Jocko Willink teaches us all of the leadership tips and tricks he learnt throughout his time in the military.

1. Step back before you move forward

If you’re feeling like you have too much on your plate, and you can’t see the best way forward, take a second to step away from it all. Giving yourself a new perspective, both figuratively and literally, can give you time and space to reassess. It also lets you release any built-up tension or emotions that may be clouding your judgment. 

2. Lead by example

No matter how high up the ladder you are, never be afraid to get stuck in with the grunt work. 

Helping your team out with the more menial tasks improves unity among your team and shows them that you don’t consider yourself above them. As they say: many hands make light work. 

3. Communication is key

As a leader, it’s important to learn how to communicate new information clearly and effectively. There should be no room for confusion when you’re communicating, as that’s when mistakes are bound to happen. You can't get angry at your team for not following through on instructions if you haven't communicated what you want from them very well in the first place.

When you’re delegating responsibilities, explain what you want and expect from each person in the clearest terms possible. You should also always allow room for questions, and make sure everyone knows there's no such thing as a stupid question either. Even if taking this extra time to communicate and explain to your team means it takes longer to get started, it will still save you more time in the long run.

If your curiosity has been sparked by these ideas, then why not have a look at how to turn them into action with our Leadership Strategy and Tactics summary on Uptime?

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership - John C. Maxwell

On Uptime

Author/leadership guru John C. Maxwell has 21 laws to teach about leading a team here, but the most important one is this: respect from your team is something to be earned; you shouldn't expect it automatically. Even more importantly, you have to keep earning it, day in and day out.

1. Trust is true

Trust is the most important quality in a leader. If you have the charisma and the people skills to make people trust you, you can easily build a loyal following. 

If you’re in a management position, make sure you treat your employees with respect. Managers who show respect will in turn gain respect and trust. 

2. Respect is earned daily

When your team trusts and respects you, they will follow you. It’s as simple as that. 

But respect isn’t something that is earned once and kept forever; it’s something that you need to constantly earn. Just because you’ve won someone over doesn’t mean that you have influence over them forever. You have to keep finding small ways to earn it. 

3. Hate to lose

People often lament “bad losers”. Why? Having a competitive edge isn’t a bad thing. If you’re a good loser, it must mean you’ve had plenty of practice. 

As a leader, you should always keep your eye on the prize and not let any losses get you down. For more tips on how to earn respect from your team, check out our The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary on Uptime.

If you’re suffering from imposter syndrome, and don’t feel ‘ready’ or ‘right’ for leadership, remember that there is truly no one-size-fits-all fit for what a leader ‘should’ look like.

Equally, what seems impossible today could be commonplace tomorrow. For example, it was only in 1972 that we saw the first female Fortune 500 Chief Executive Officer - before that, it never seemed possible. So whether your leadership skills are still in development, or you feel you’re ripe and ready - you should never stop learning how to be better.

For other works to help you find your inner leader (such as Lean In, Principles, or Radical Candor) check out our selection of leadership titles on Uptime.


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