Best Books on Leadership

Strengths Based Leadership
by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie

This book builds on StrengthsFinder 2.0 and identifies three keys to being a more effective leader: knowing your strengths and investing in others’ strengths, getting people with the right strengths on your team, and understanding and meeting the four basic needs of those who look to you for leadership.

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Living, Leading, and the American Dream
by John Gardner (2003)

This is a collection of John Gardner’s writings about leadership and it represents perhaps the clearest thoughts on leadership available in press. John Gardner was decades ahead in his thinking about leadership and his writing leaves an enduring legacy of valuable thinking and compelling ideas.

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On Leadership
by John Gardner (1993)

Large parts of On Leadership appear in the John Gardner leadership collection Living, Leading, and the American Dream, but On Leadership is still well worth reading for the unique material it contains. Every page of this book rings with the leadership insights and practical advice that made On Leadership a classic text.

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The Truth about Leadership
by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner (2010)

This is a straightforward book about leadership effectiveness by a duo that has been writing and thinking about leadership for decades. The advice they give is immediately implementable, forthright without being preachy, and based on years of combined leadership research and experience.

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The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership
by Steven Sample (2003)

This book couldn’t have a more accurate title. Steven Sample retired in 2010 from the Presidency of USC and this book distills his unorthodox leadership style. Sample’s book is a good compliment to Kouzes and Posner’s work because it is filled with unusual and counterintuitive leadership suggestions, while Kouzes and Posner’s book is contains leadership ideas that make good sense but are not controversial. Between
the two books, the reader can extract plenty of ideas for forging an effective personal leadership style.

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Rules and Tools for Leaders
by Perry Smith (2002)

Perry Smith’s book is filled with practical leadership advice and multiple checklists to improve the reader’s leadership effectiveness. If you are looking for a book full of actions to improve your leadership success, Rules and Tools for Leaders is a great place to start.

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Up the Organization
by Robert Townsend (1970)

This classic book, written by a former CEO of Avis, will have you laughing one minute and taking notes the next. Although written over forty years ago and focused on the best way to run a company, Robert Townsend’s book is filled with leadership guidance, insights, and strategies that can help leaders in almost any environment, from corporations to nonprofits to civic organizations.

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The Bass Handbook of Leadership
by Bernard Bass with Ruth Bass (2008; 4th Edition)

The Bass Handbook is the gold standard for separating leadership opinions from scholarly leadership findings. This is a dense academic handbook, but it is a required reference if you need to determine what the research literature says about virtually anything related to leadership.

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Leadership: Theory and Practice
by Peter Northouse (2009; 5th Edition)

This relatively thin academic textbook does a great job of summarizing the most prominent scientific theories of leadership. Earlier editions are usually available at a steep discount and are more than sufficient as a reference for academic theories of leadership.

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