Books every leader should read

One of my favourite questions for the people I meet is ‘What are you reading?’ I ask it because I love reading and am always on the lookout for something new. I also ask it because every great leader I have known has matched effective activity with deep reflection and extensive reading. So I was interested when I came across this list of books that every young leader should read by John Coleman in a blog at Harvard Business Review which you can find here

His 11 ‘must reads’ are:

Marcus Aurelius, The Emperor’s Handbook. Emperor of Rome from 161 to 180 A.D., Marcus Aurelius is considered one of history’s “philosopher kings,” and his Meditations were perhaps his most lasting legacy.

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning. Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who survived life in the Nazi concentration camps. Man’s Search for Meaning is really two books — one dedicated to recounting his frightening ordeal in the camps (interpreted through his eyes as a psychiatrist) and the other a treatise on his theory, logotherapy.

Tom Wolfe, A Man in Full. A Man in Full is about race, status, business, and a number of other topics in modern Atlanta. It was Wolfe’s attempt, as Michael Lewis noted, at “stuffing of the whole of contemporary America into a single, great, sprawling comic work of art.” It’s sure to inspire reflection in burgeoning leaders.

Michael Lewis, Liar’s Poker. Liar’s Poker is both a fascinating history of Wall Street (and the broader financial world) in the 1980s and a cautionary tale to ambitious young business leaders about the temptations, challenges, and disappointments (not to mention colorful characters) they may face in their careers.

Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t. What does it take to make a great company, and what traits will young businesspeople need to lead them?

Robert Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Persuasion is at the heart of business, where leaders must reach clients, customers, suppliers, and employees. Cialdini’s classic on the core principals of persuasion is a sterling example of the cross application of psychological principles to business life.

Richard Tedlow, Giants of Enterprise: Seven Business Innovators and the Empires They Built. It’s a brief introduction to the figures and companies who built modern business for the young business leader seeking to shape the future.

Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World.The Ascent of Money traces the evolution of money and financial markets from the ancient world to the modern era. It’s an essential primer on the history and current state of finance.

Clayton M. Christensen, The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. This is perhaps the most foundational  work for any young leader wondering how to drive business innovation and fight competitors constantly threatening to disrupt his or her business model with new technology.

Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey’s book represents the best in self-help. His advice — about prioritization, empathy, self-renewal, and other topics — is both insightful and practical.

Bill George, True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership. A hallmark of next-generation business leaders is a focus on authenticity. This offers advice for young leaders on knowing themselves and translating that knowledge into a personal set of principles for leadership.

For those wondering where to start I can heartily recommend Jim Collins on business strategy and approach and Stephen Covey on personal leadership and management. Niall Ferguson is a fascinating read and Tom Wolfe is enjoyable, disturbing and thought provoking.

The list also got me wondering what a similar list for Christian leaders would be like.

Here is a few from me to start us off:

Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels.  Probably the best, succinct guide to Christian leadership around

Is that really you Lord? by Loren Cunningham. The story of how the YWAM founder started out. Leaves you not just impressed with him but inspired for how God might lead you.

The making of a leaderby Robert Clinton. Great insight into how God forms leaders and how we might cooperate with him

Leadership and the one minute manager by Kenneth Blanchard. Classic short book on leadership. Probably the one I refer to most

The New Leaders by Daniel Goleman. The author of Emotional Intelligence applies his thinking to leadership

Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf. The classic book by a truly innovative thinker on servant leadership.

The Tools of Leadership by Max Landsberg. One of my favourite books on leadership as Landsberg provides a clear and fast introduction to the major theories and approaches through an entertaining parable

So, here is the challenge: What is the one book that you would recommend as essential reading for Christian leaders?

One Comment

on “Books every leader should read
One Comment on “Books every leader should read
  1. Some recommendations from readers:

    Sam Moore: I’m cheating and suggesting two:
    Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni and In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen.
    I keep coming back to and rereading both.

    Dave K: Not necessarily a “leadership” book – but has really helped me see the world as others see it and therefore helped me to understand other folks life perspectives is “Windows of the Soul” by Ken Gire

    Sarah: Crazy Love by Francis Chan – not directly a leadership book, but hugely challenging and inspiring on being led by Jesus which is vital for those in Christian leadership.

    David Westlake: One from Mandy Marshall: Kate Coleman – 7 Deadly Sins of Women in Leadership is a place to start.
    And one from Matt Valler: “Also, in the vein of Niall Fergusson’s economic history, I would add ‘A History of God’ by Karen Armstrong. It’s not always comfortable reading for an evangelical leader but it gives a perspective on the development of Jewish and then Christian faith which I have found invaluable in thinking about the future.”

    Jen: I’m reading the new book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer by whatshisname Mataxis…
    I like it not for his summary of Bonhoeffer’s theology, but because it actually traces Bonhoeffer’s life, showing how learnèd he was at the same time as how gripped by his relationship with God and the conviction to follow God at all cost!
    I’ve not finished it yet, but I nearly stood up and applauded Bonhoeffer’s radical stance on living in deprived communities to better reach the young people of those communities! That’s my heart, and whilst not uncommon to us today, such radical service reminds me to think outside the box and to not just accept the status quo because someone says to! It’s that kick up the arse to sort out what I believe, why I believe it and then to follow through radically!
    Anyway, rant over…I’m enjoying it! Full of Bonhoeffer’s own words too!