You won’t find my favorite leadership books in the leadership aisle


Several people asked me to recommend a book on leadership and I didn’t have a good answer.  If you search for ‘leadership’ books on, it will return over 100,000 titles.  So why didn’t I have a good answer?  I think it is because leadership is such a broad topic.  I’m not convinced one book can really do it justice.  With that in mind, here are five of my favorite leadership books.  If you give them a chance, they will shift how you lead and live your life.

The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working by Tony Schwartz and Jean Gomes

This book provides an alternative to the overwhelmed condition that describes many lives today.  The underlying theme is how to work at your best.  This is very different than working as hard as you can.  The former is sustainable and allows for greater value generation and personal satisfaction.

The way we’re working isn’t working for us, for our employers, or for our families. It’s not the number of hours we work that determines how much value we create. Rather it’s the quantity and quality of energy we bring to whatever hours we work.

Is the life you’re leading worth the price you’re paying to live it?

Multitasking sends an unmistakable message: “You’re not worth 100 percent of my attention.”

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by Seth Godin

This is a powerful little book.  If you are wondering if you are in the right job, this is a book for you.  Seth describes the importance of either staying the course or quitting, and when to do so.  There is no point in sticking in a dead end scenario.  Quitting something because it is hard might also be a very bad decision.  The Dip is the long hard slog after the thrill of starting has worn off and journey ahead reveals itself.

Quit the wrong stuff. Stick with the right stuff. Have the guts to do one or the other.

The Dip is the long stretch between beginner’s luck and real accomplishment.

In a competitive world, adversity is your ally. The harder it gets, the better chance you have of insulating yourself from the competition. If that adversity also causes you to quit, though, it’s all for nothing.

If you want to be a superstar, then you need to find a field with a steep Dip— a barrier between those who try and those who succeed.

Marketing: A Love Story: How to Matter to Your Customers by Bernadette Jiwa

Much of our success is dependent upon the value we generate.  Bernadette describes marketing as the skill of identifying what our customers really care about and figuring out how to give it to them.  And we all have customers.  Learning how to see and create more value is critical and is not the same as working harder.  It is all about working smarter and being more focused.

THE QUESTION YOUR CUSTOMERS ARE REALLY ASKING And the one you must spend a great deal of your time answering: Why should I care?

As an innovator or bringer of ideas to the world, you need to make things that add meaning to peoples’ lives. Things that change how people feel first, which in turn changes what they do and what they come to expect and embrace.

Marketing is a transfer of emotion. We buy with our hearts and justify decisions with our heads.

Listen twice as much as you talk.

Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy by Amy Edmondson

A critical aspect of leadership is engaging others to commit to your vision and take action to achieve it.  We do this by forming teams, except many teams are dysfunctional.  Amy describes the essential practices of teaming.  What is required for team members to work together effectively.  Are you working on a team, or are you working as a team?

Teaming is a verb. It is a dynamic activity, not a bounded, static entity. It is largely determined by the mindset and practices of teamwork, not by the design and structures of effective teams. Teaming is teamwork on the fly.

In our dynamic environment, successful organizations need to be managed as complex adaptive systems rather than as intricate controlled machines.

Teaming requires awareness, communication, trust, cooperation, and a willingness to reflect. These are seemingly simple attributes, but ones that are too often thwarted by natural human characteristics.

Simply put, psychological safety makes it possible to give tough feedback and have difficult conversations without the need to tiptoe around the truth. In psychologically safe environments, people believe that if they make a mistake others will not penalize or think less of them for it. They also believe that others will not resent or humiliate them when they ask for help or information.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull

Unlike the books above, this is one person’s story of how to lead.  What worked and what didn’t over their highly successful career.  I don’t think Ed set out to be an exceptional leader.  Instead, he had a dream and figured out what he needed to do to make it a reality.  He describes this in a very humble and engaging way.

Only when we admit what we don’t know can we ever hope to learn it.

Find, develop, and support good people, and they in turn will find, develop, and own good ideas.

You cannot address the obstacles to candor until people feel free to say that they exist

Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil. They aren’t evil at all. They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new (and, as such, should be seen as valuable; without them, we’d have no originality).

Measure what you can, evaluate what you measure, and appreciate that you cannot measure the vast majority of what you do. And at least every once in a while, make time to take a step back and think about what you are doing.

Looking back on the list above, I realize my favorite leadership books aren’t on leadership at all.  They are all about how to see the world and how to encourage others to join us to create remarkable things.