Top Leadership Books and Resources Recommended by Acting CEOs and Founders
Where would leaders be without books?
When Warren Buffett began his career, he would go through 600–1,000 pages on a daily basis.
Or let's take Tony Robbins, the entrepreneur who took a speed-reading challenge – 700 books in seven years.
Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, can read roughly 50 books annually. In fact, the average CEO reads five books a month.
We've rounded up the ten best books on leadership picked by founders and executives who have read them from cover to cover and implemented the tactics from them in their workplaces.
Some of these picks will guide you through the 21st-century leadership journey. Others will draw your attention to the scientific or technical side of leadership. But all of them will help you grow professionally and personally as a manager.
💼 Top 10 leadership books any leader must read
Check the following must-reads chosen for this list by C-suite leaders and founders.
In Great Company: How to Spark Peak Performance By Creating an Emotionally Connected Workplace by Louis Carter
Do you lead a great company? Do your employees feel like they are in a great company?
Louis Carter, founder and CEO of Most Loved Workplace and one of the top 10 organizational culture gurus, will help you figure it out in this book.
He focuses on the five elements that can help you promote a sense of belonging at work and improve employee experiences:
Best for the leaders trying to establish a peak performance culture in their company.
Book review by Stephan Baldwin, Founder of Assisted Living:
"I often recommend In Great Company as one of the best books for managers who want to become emotionally-connected leaders. It's a solid primer on emotional connectedness in the workplace. If you have trouble engaging your employees and enabling peak performance at work, this is a go-to resource.
In the appendix, you'll find a self-assessment test, sample employee pulse survey, and the leader's playbook."
The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Bungay Stanier
Bad news: the book can't turn you into a coach by magic.
Good news: it can help you develop a manager-as-a-coach mentality and a coach-like leadership style.
For that, Michael Bungay Stanier prepared several masterclasses to teach you how to properly ask seven types of questions. Because that's what the art of coaching is about – asking, not answering.
"This book is NOT about turning you into a coach. It's about making you a leader, a manager, a human being who's more coach-like. Which means building this simple but difficult new habit: Stay curious a little longer, rush to action and advice-giving a little more slowly." Michael Bungay Stanier
Book review by Anthony Martin, Founder and CEO at Choice Mutual:
"Right on the first pages of The Coaching Habit, you'll be surprised to find out that you're actually lousy at coaching, no matter how many people you've already coached. The author explains why it is so and instructs you on building a new coaching habit.
As you continue reading, you learn how to perform a courageous act of asking rather than giving a ready-made solution or advice.
Stanier's toolkit helped me make coaching an intrinsic part of my everyday life as a manager."
Why Leaders Fail by David Sullivan, Don Double, and Jonathan Magid
Let's face it – every leader has a crippling fear of failing.
That's absolutely normal.
But not everyone knows where failures come from and how deep their roots lie.
In this book, you'll learn the origin of failure and look at it from a scientific viewpoint.
"The best leaders in the worlds consistently do a few things better than others. The worst leaders in the world also consistently do a few things, bu they do them worse than others. [...] This book is based on years of statistical analysis, executive coaching with thousands of individual leaders, and woek with hundreds of groups in organizations worldwide." Sullivan, Double & Magid
The authors explain the following core principles backed by science:
- The tragic triangle of leadership failure.
- The magic triangle of leadership success.
- The golden triangle of exemplary leadership.
Afterward, they suggest creating a leader's development plan to prepare you for success.
Book review by Jarret Austin, Owner of Bankruptcy Canada Inc.:
"Although it may be the shortest book on leadership you'll ever find (124 pages), it comprises much more than any other leader's guide can offer.
I particularly like that the authors underpin their recommendations to leaders with facts and research. So they literally give you the keys to effective management: practical advice you can try and see that they actually work."
It's the Manager: Moving From Boss to Coach by Jim Harter and Jim Clifton
Did you know that globally only 15% of employees are engaged at work?
What about this: 70% of team engagement variance depends solely on the manager?
These are the statistics shared by Jim Harter, Gallup's Chief Scientist, and Jim Clifton, the Chairman and ex-CEO of Gallup, in It's the Manager, one of the best leadership books.
They joined forces to provide valuable strategies for engaging employees more effectively in the modern era of management and remote leadership in particular.
"Politics and policies won't fix declining economic dynamism and declining productivity. CEOs and CHROs will. [...] The solution lies in aligning the practice of management with the new will of the world's workers. The great American dream has changed. So has the great global dream. What the whole world wants is a good job. This is the new will of the world.
Everything will change when organizations respond to that will." Jim Clifton
Book review by Jerry Han, CMO at PrizeRebel:
"This book is a priceless resource for any manager. It helped me understand how to maximize human potential in the distributed workforce and lead my marketing team more authentically.
It was also a good dive for me into the following aspects: the future of work, the new employer-employee relationship, the gender gap in the workplace, corporate innovation driven by artificial intelligence and predictive analytics, and more."
Organizational Culture and Leadership by Ed Schein
Tons of research materials multiplied by 25 years of personal experience allowed Ed Schein to develop a conceptual model of corporate culture and dig into its "biology," defining all the levels and nuances.
He walks you through the ten steps for estimating cultural dimensions to help you create an outstanding company culture.
The last chapter discusses the culture of learning and the learning leader.
"Culture is an abstraction, yet the forces that are created in social and organizational situations deriving from culture are powerful. If we don't understand the operation of these forces, we become victims to them." Ed Schein
Book review by Max Wühr, co-founder & CGO of FINN:
"If you look at the publication year, you might get skeptical, just like I was before reading: is this book still relevant for today's culture in organizations?
100% yes. To put it even better – you won't find a more detailed and profound work on this topic.
As a leader responsible for a company's holistic growth, this book is a must-read for those who want to rapidly adopt organizational and cultural changes and keep up with the ever-evolving business environment."
The Manager's Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change by Camille Fournier
What does a good manager look like?
Hard to tell just on the spot.
Camille Fournier, a tech lead, who later became a CTO, has prepared a comprehensive answer for you in her book The Manager's Path.
The first step, she says, is understanding yourself and what you actually want.
Then, Fournier explains how to approach the management of:
- individual people;
- one team;
- multiple teams;
- other managers.
She outlines all the essentials that turn managers into true leaders.
"This book is structured to follow the stages of a typical career path for an engineer who ends up becoming a manager. From the first steps as a mentor to the challenges of senior leadership, I have tried to highlight the main themes and lessons that you typically learn at each step along the way." Camille Fournier
Book review by Jeremy Clifford, CEO at RouterCtrl:
"Passing knowledge from one tech manager to another, it's the kind of book you open practically every day and somehow find what you are looking for. It can broaden your scope of understanding about engineering management and its peculiarities.
The Manager's Path noticeably stands out from other books for leaders. It has 'Ask the CTO' sections with the author's answers to real-life situations: from noticing the signals a person wants to quit to mentoring complex teams."
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
"Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It's teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare. [...] If you get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time." Patrick Lencioni
Once upon a time…
Prepare to read an enlightening tale of a 57-year-old Kathryn with no real high-tech experience hired as a Chief Executive Officer at DecisionTech, a company with snowballing disappointments, a ruined performance management system, and deteriorated morale.
Can Kathryn save it? Will she be able to get the team united behind a common purpose?
Formulating the moral of this story, Patrick Lencioni names the five dysfunctional elements of teams. He also teaches you how to build a high-performance team even with challenges punching you in the face.
The five dysfunctions of a team that Lencioni elaborates on are:
- absence of trust;
- fear of conflict;
- lack of commitment;
- avoidance of accountability;
- inattention to results;
Book review by Carson Lang, Co-Founder and COO of Test Prep Insight:
"The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is an instructive read with an interesting and inspiring story to learn from it.
Without exaggeration, it's one of the greatest leadership books you can't miss out on. You might want to encourage your team members to read it as well. Knowing what to do and how to do it together, you'll be able to cope with any troubles or conflicts inside your team."
Leading at the Speed of Growth: Journey from Entrepreneur to CEO by Katherine Catlin and Jana Matthews
What does it take to grow as a leader?
According to the authors, leaders should adapt their leadership style, responsibilities, and habits across specific growth stages:
- Stage 1: Initial growth – doers and decision-makers transform into delegators.
- Stage 2: Rapid growth – managers become planners, coaches, and Communicators who must power up effective communication and collaboration.
- Stage 3: Continuous growth – leaders turn into innovators and change catalysts.
The authors also single out the Classic Entrepreneurial Strengths that provide a strong foundation for leaders, regardless of their company's stage of growth:
- Visionary and pioneering
- Great at seeing possibilities when others don't
- Always searching for new opportunities and challenges
- Passionate and energetic
- Driven to achieve results with high standards of excellence
- Creative and innovative idea generators; thinking "out of the box"
- Always striving to do things better
- Proactive and future-focused
- Smart, capable, and decisive
- Driven by a sense of urgency
- Confident about risk-taking
- Problem solvers who love new challenges and believe nothing is impossible
- Determined to create wealth, for themselves and others, and make a difference
This leadership book will also guide you in nurturing a growth mindset and sharing insights from those who have succeeded.
Book review by Morgan Taylor, Co-Founder of JollySEO:
"It's always wise to listen to successful business founders and leaders so that you can take over the best practices for growing your company and leading your team to success. Hundreds of such voices speak to you through this book.
You will also discover the warning signs that you're losing the right direction in leadership."
The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations by James Kouzes and Barry Posner
Year: 2017 (Sixth edition)
How can you become someone your employees would follow anywhere? How do you mobilize them to tackle obstacles and achieve the best results?
Barry Posner and James Kouzes, who have been studying leaders for over 30 years, draw a clear map for you to drive employee engagement with the ten commitments and five practices of role model leadership:
- Model the way
- Inspire a shared vision
- Challenge the process
- Enable others to act
- Encourage the heart
''The Leadership Challenge is about how leaders mobilize others to want to get extraordinary things done in organizations. It's about the practices leaders use to transform values into actions, visions into realities, obstacles into innovations, separateness into solidarity, and risks into rewards. It's about leadership that makes a positive difference in the workplace and creates the climate in which people turn challenging opportunities into remarkable success." Kouzes & Posner
Book review by Raman Shalupau, Founder and CEO of CryptoJobsList:
"The Leadership Challenge tops my list of books every manager should read at least once.
It tells you exactly what people look for and admire in their managers. The ten "Take action" blocks are really helpful in developing a personal plan of exemplary leadership."
Say Thank You for Everything: The secrets of being a great manager – strategies and tactics that get results by Jim Edwards
Jim Edwards breaks his book into four segments:
- Leadership (from communication to change management)
- Productivity (from The Eisenhower Matrix to employee engagement plan)
- People (from recruitment strategies to firing employees without being a jerk about it)
- Decisions (from strategy to tactics)
"Learning about war stories about bad bosses is entertaining, no doubt. What you really need is some basic common-sense advice on how not to be the worst manager on the planet. [...] The good news is that you don't have to be the best manager in order to be a good one-someone who is effective and who outperforms their peers and competitors." Jim Edwards
Book review by Catherine Schwartz, Content Creator at LoanFolk:
"It's one of the simplest books on management that consists of bite-sized chapters, ten-second cheat sheets, and bulleted points that are easy to read and put into practice.
It will be particularly useful to first-time managers and those who have never had any management training. Every anecdote told by Jim Edwards is a teachable moment that makes you stop and rethink the way you manage teams."
📚 Other great resources for leaders
Grab some extra educational materials for managers:
- Best HR books: from Primed to Perform to The Talent Delusion.
- Real-life HR examples: case studies from such companies as Netflix, Facebook, Google, Zappos, Adobe, Spotify, and more.
- Templates and playbooks: Leadership Competency Model, Leadership Development Plan, etc.
- Manager training: a library of programs to boost leadership performance.
- Leadership micro-lessons: a 3-month program (15 mins a week) for junior, senior, and executive managers.
Whether you're an HR, CEO, or any other type of leader, you definitely need to have the above books on your bookshelf. They will help you become a better leader and lead a more effective and cohesive team.
Additionally, use the above-listed resources prepared by Zavvy for leaders who never stop their personal and professional development.
And if you want to improve your people management practices, do check out what Zavvy can do to drive performance and engagement in your company:
- 🚀 Employee onboarding
- 🔁 360-degree feedback
- 📈 Performance reviews
- 👯 Connection programs
- 👩🎓 Learning management
- 🧭 Career pathing
- 🌱 Employee development
Book a free demo if you'd like to see how it can support you and your people.