LEADERSHIP

My 21 best books that every leader must read

Niels den Daas, Chief Ninja

25 November 2018

“Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Don’t wish it were easier; wish you were better.”

Personally, I hold this quote by Jim Rohn very close while becoming a better leader & person. Only difference is that you should not wish that you were better, you should work for it. Every. Damn. Day.

A lot of people were asking me about the books I read and which resources I use, so I decided to make this list of my all time favourite books that I believe every leader should read. There is something for every level of leadership, so don’t shy away if you are not there yet. We are all constantly growing.

Read my top 21 books on how to lead for success.

On the train, during your workout… or on the couch like me.

Can’t wait to start reading?

If so, I’ve simplified this list of my top 21 personal development books for leaders into a handy table. You’ll find more detailed description per book in this post below.

1. Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win

2. Mindset: The New Psychology

3. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

4. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

5. Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems And Test New Ideas in Just Five Days

6. How to Lead: The Definitive Guide to Effective Leadership

7. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

8. Principles: Life and Work

9. High growth Handbook

10. The Servant Leader: How to Build a Creative Team, Develop Great Morale, and Improve Bottom-Line Performance

11. The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science

12. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… And Others Don’t

13. Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results

14. Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders 

15. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How successful People Become Even More Successful!

16. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

17. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t

18. How to Win Friends and Influence People

19. It’s Not About the Coffee: Lessons on Putting People First From a Life at Starbucks

20. Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire everyone to take action

21. Permission to Screw Up

1. Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win

Author: Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
Date: 2015

Summary: A compelling narrative with powerful instruction and direct application, Extreme Ownership revolutionises business management and challenges leaders everywhere to fulfil their ultimate purpose: lead and win.

Each chapter focuses on a specific topic such as Cover and Move, Decentralised Command, and Leading Up the Chain, explaining what they are, why they are important, and how to implement them in any leadership environment.

Click here for more information about Extreme Ownership

2. Mindset: The New Psychology

Author: Carol Dweck
Date: 2006

Summary: An absolute life-changer!  Dweck explains why it’s not just our abilities and talent that bring us success—but whether we approach them with a fixed or growth mindset. She makes clear why praising intelligence and ability doesn’t foster self-esteem and lead to accomplishment, but may actually jeopardise success.

Click here for more information about Mindset

3. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Author: Angela Duckworth
Date: 2016

Summary: In this instant New York Times bestseller, pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth shows anyone striving to succeed—be it parents, students, educators, athletes, or business people—that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls “grit”.

Click here for more information about Grit

4. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Author: Daniel Pink
Date: 2009

Summary: Drawing on four decades of scientific research on human motivation, Pink exposes the mismatch between what science knows and what business does—and how that affects every aspect of our lives. He demonstrates that while the old-fashioned carrot-and-stick approach worked successfully in the 20th century, it’s precisely the wrong way to motivate people for today’s challenges. In Drive, he reveals the three elements of true motivation

  • Autonomy: the desire to direct our own lives
  • Mastery: the urge to get better and better at something that matters
  • Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves

Click here for more information about Drive

5. Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems And Test New Ideas in Just Five Days

Author: Jake Knapp
Date: 2009

Summary: Who doesn’t want to learn about the Google Design Sprint?Entrepreneurs and leaders face big questions every day: What’s the most important place to focus your effort, and how do you start? What will your idea look like in real life? How many meetings and discussions does it take before you can be sure you have the right solution?

Now there’s a surefire way to answer these important questions: the sprint. Designer Jake Knapp created the five-day process at Google, where sprints were used on everything from Google Search to Google X. He joined Braden Kowitz and John Zeratsky at Google Ventures, and together they have completed more than a hundred sprints with companies in mobile, e-commerce, healthcare, finance, and more.

Click here for more information about Sprint

6. How to Lead: The Definitive Guide to Effective Leadership

Author: Jo Owen
Date: 2015

Summary: There’s no doubt about it – leadership skills are a very powerful career advantage. Every organisation is looking for emerging leaders, and for those who stand out, there’s a bright future ahead. The good news is that everybody can develop and show leadership skills, wherever you are in your career. It’s never too early, or too late. Put simply, leadership is about what you do and how you behave, so that’s what this book is about. Based on actual research, it sets out the practical skills and behaviours that distinguish effective from less effective leaders, and shows you how to develop and deliver these vital assets. It doesn’t absolutely guarantee success, but it loads the dice in your favour.

Click here for more information about How to Lead

7. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Author: Stephen R. Covey
Date: 1989

Summary: One of the most inspiring and impactful books ever written, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has captivated readers for 25 years. It has transformed the lives of Presidents and CEOs, educators and parents— in short, millions of people of all ages and occupations.

It is written on Covey’s belief that the way we see the world is entirely based on our own perceptions. In order to change a given situation, we must change ourselves, and in order to change ourselves, we must be able to change our perceptions. 

Click here for more information about The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

8. Principles: Life and Work

Author: Ray Dalio
Date: 2017

Summary: Ray Dalio, one of the world’s most successful investors and entrepreneurs, shares the unconventional principles that helped him create unique results in life and business—and which any person or organisation can adopt to better achieve their goals. Dalio’s original Principles has been downloaded over three million times, and this expanded and revised edition is the first version available in print. Believe me, it’s simply brilliant!

Click here for more information about Principles

9. High growth Handbook

Author: Elad Gil
Date: 2018

Summary: Well known technology executive and angel investor Elad Gil has worked with high growth tech companies like Airbnb, Twitter, Google etc, as they’ve grown from small companies into global brands. Across all of these break-out companies, a set of common patterns has evolved into a repeatable playbook that Gil has codified in High Growth Handbook. Covering key topics including the role of the CEO, managing your board, recruiting and managing an executive team, M&A, IPOs and late stage funding rounds.

High Growth Handbook presents crystal clear guidance for navigating the most complex challenges that confront leaders and operators in high-growth startups. In what Reid Hoffman, cofounder of LinkedIn and co-author of the #1 NYT bestsellers The Alliance and The Startup of You calls “a trenchant guide,” High Growth Handbook is the playbook for turning a startup into a unicorn.

Click here for more information about High Growth Handbook

10. The Servant Leader: How to Build a Creative Team, Develop Great Morale, and Improve Bottom-Line Performance

Author: James Autry
Date: 2004

Summary: A Practical Guide to Using the Principles of Servant Leadership. Best-selling author and former Fortune 500 executive James Autry reveals the servant leader’s tools, a set of skills and ideals that transform the way business is done. The result is a more productive, successful, and happier organization, and a more meaningful life for the leader.

Click here for more information about The Servant Leader

11. The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science

Author: Norman Doidge, M.D.
Date: 2007

Summary: An astonishing new science called “neuroplasticity” is overthrowing the centuries-old notion that the human brain is immutable. In this revolutionary look at the brain, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Norman Doidge, M.D., provides an introduction to both the brilliant scientists championing neuroplasticity and the people whose lives they’ve transformed. From stroke patients learning to speak again to the remarkable case of a woman born with half a brain that rewired itself to work as a whole, The Brain That Changes Itself will permanently alter the way we look at our brains, human nature, and human potential.

Click here for more information about The Brain That Changes Itself

12. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… And Others Don’t

Author: Jim Collins
Date: 2001

Summary: This seminal classic should be in everyone’s book case. Collins once admitted that his staff objected to the idea of calling his book by a servant leadership title, so he went with Good to Great. Regardless, his “Level 5 Leadership” framework as a means for advancing companies from good to great highlight the very best principles of servant leadership in action

Click here for more information about Good to Great

13. Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results

Authors: Various (edited by Ken Blanchard and Renee Broadwell)
Date: 2018

Summary: Legendary business author and lifelong servant leader Ken Blanchard and his longtime editor Renee Broadwell edited this recent release, which is the most comprehensive and wide-ranging servant leadership guide ever published. The collection features 44 renowned servant leadership experts and practitioners who offer advice and tools for implementing the servant leadership model.

Click here for more information about Servant Leadership in Action

14. Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders

Author: John Coleman, Daniel Gulati, W. Oliver Segovia
Date: 2012

Summary: Globalization. Sustainability. Technology. Diversity. Learning. Convergence of the public and private sectors. These are the big issues on the minds of young leaders today—the challenges they most want to, and must, pursue.

In Passion and Purpose, dozens of recent Harvard Business School MBAs share personal stories on assuming the mantle of leadership in ways unlike any previous generation. In candid accounts of their successes and setbacks—from launching start-ups to taking on the family business to helping kids in the Arabian Gulf to harnessing new technology and developing clean energy—they reveal how the next generation of ideas, aspirations, and practices are shaping business and redefining leadership around the world.

Click here for more information about Passion & Purpose

15. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How successful People Become Even More Successful!

Author: Marshall Goldmith
Date: 2007

Summary: Marshall Goldsmith is an expert at helping global leaders overcome their sometimes unconscious annoying habits and attain a higher level of success.

The corporate world is filled with men and women who have worked hard to reach upper level management. They’re intelligent, skilled, and even charismatic. But only a handful of them will ever reach the pinnacle — and as executive coach Marshall Goldsmith shows in this book, subtle nuances make all the difference. These are small transactional flaws performed by one person against another that, using Goldsmith’s straightforward, jargonfree advice, are easy behaviors to change.

Click here for more information about What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

16. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

Author: John C. Maxwell
Date: 1998

Summary: John Maxwell’s “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” is a book that is both helpful in measuring your own personal growth in leadership abilities, as well as in finding the areas where you might struggle or need to grow.

The premise of this book is not to say there are only 21 principles concerning leadership. That idea is clearly false, proven by the number of leadership books, articles, blogs, and podcasts available today. Rather, accord to Maxwell, there are 21 “laws” to leadership that are universally true no matter where one may lead in any culture or area of society

Click here for more information about The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

17. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t

Author: Simon Sinek
Date: 2014

Summary: The author of the wildly popular book Start With Why offers insights on how to build a workplace around trust and avoid the infighting and silos that doom unsuccessful cultures. Note: Sinek’s latest paperback version, published in 2017, includes an expanded index on leading Millennials.

Click here for more information about Leaders Eat Last

18. How to Win Friends and Influence People

Author: Dale Carnegie
Date: 1936

Summary: A must read classic. Twelve Things This Book Will Do For You. Get you out of a mental rut, give you new thoughts, new visions, new ambitions. Enable you to make friends quickly and easily. Increase your popularity. Help you to win people to your way of thinking. Increase your influence, your prestige, your ability to get things done.

Click here for more information about How to Win Friends and Influence People

19. It’s Not About the Coffee: Lessons on Putting People First From a Life at Starbucks

Author: Howard Behar
Date: 2009

Summary: During his many years as a senior executive at Starbucks, Howard Behar helped establish the Starbucks culture, which stresses people over profits. He coached hundreds of leaders at every level and helped the company grow into a world-renowned brand. Now he reveals the ten principles that guided his leadership-and not one of them is about coffee. Behar shows that if you think of your staff as people (not labor costs) they will achieve amazing results. He discusses the importance of building trust, telling hard truths, thinking independently, and more.

Click here for more information about It’s Not About the Coffee

20. Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire everyone to take action

Author: Simon Sinek
Date: 2009

Summary: In studying the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world, Simon Sinek discovered that they all think, act, and communicate in the exact same way — and it’s the complete opposite of what everyone else does. Sinek calls this powerful idea The Golden Circle, and it provides a framework upon which organisations can be built, movements can be lead, and people can be inspired. And it all starts with WHY.

Click here for more information about Start With Why

21. Permission to Screw Up

Author: Kristen Hadeed
Date: 2017

Summary: Hadeed built Student Maid, a cleaning company, while attending college 10 years ago. It is now widely recognised for its industry-leading retention rate and its culture of trust and accountability. But that’s far from how it started. Hadeed shares through a brutally honest (and hilarious, at times) account how she went from totally inept leader to making Student Maid a place her people couldn’t imagine leaving.

Click here for more information about Permission to Screw Up

Niels is co-founder of Ninjafy, neuroscientist, AI and chatbot enthusiast… and who loves a good physical or mental challenge. Connect with him on LinkedIn

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