Best Books for Leadership Training-Top 25 Leadership Books of All Time

Doug Staneart  |  April 3, 2022
last updated

Best Books for Leadership Training Top 25 Leadership Books of All Time We have had a couple of new leadership consultants start at our company recently. One of them is an avid reader. Prior to coming on board with us, he had read hundreds of the best books for leadership.

Interestingly, in his first week, we were in our corporate library at the office. I began to pull a few of my favorite leadership books off the library shelves. “Have you read this one?” I asked. He shook his head no. “This one?” Another no. I found it interesting that he had read hundreds of books but almost none of my absolute favorites.

He suggested that I make a list of a few of my very favorite leadership training books along with a quick synopsis of each. I hope you like the list!

Best Books for Leadership Training: The Top 25 Leadership Books of All Time

Start Reading Positive Leadership Development Books Early in Your Career.

When I was in college, a business partner of my dad’s recommended that I read How to Win Friends and Influence People (above.) At the time, I hadn’t read an entire book from cover to cover in years. In fact, I kind of hated reading. This businessman, though, was very successful. I figured that if he was recommending it, there was a good reason.

I read the book in less than a week, and a whole new world opened up to me. The book was unlike the boring textbooks I had read in college. The tips were practical advice. The stories and case studies in the book were fun and funny. At the time, I got angry. In High School, teachers required me to read books like Wuthering Heights and Of Mice and Men. They were pretty entertaining books, but not very practical. Why on Earth had my teachers not introduced me to books like the ones above?

Once I finished the first book, I couldn’t get enough. I began reading EVERYTHING. In many months, I would read three to five books. Then, I found audiobooks, and I was able to increase the number of leadership books read even more. Many of the best business books that I read during this time are listed below. I truly believe that the avid reading that I did early in my career was what allowed me to make my first million dollars in my 30s. Perhaps you will get a similar positive result.

FYI… Not all of the books I read were a good influence. I have listed a few BAD leadership books at the bottom of the list. So as you read, make sure to verify the validity of the advice before making big changes. Enjoy!

Top Leadership Books for Leadership Skills and Becoming a Center of Influence.

If you are just starting to read self-help books or leadership books, start with these. Each of these books is easy to read and full of practical advice. These are the kinds of books that you can read over and over and get new incites out of them each time!

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

How to Win Friends and Influence People Leadership Training BookThis was the first leadership book that I ever read (except for parts of the Bible.) Carnegie sets the stage for all other leadership books when he created this masterpiece. He captures your attention in the first few pages by giving the reader a front-row seat to a deadly shootout between a mobster and the New York City police. (Yup, not what you would expect from a leadership book, huh?)

The book contains chapters that each focus on a single leadership development principle. And instead of lecturing the reader, he just gives example after example of real-life stories of ordinary people developing leadership characteristics. This is one of the most well-written and entertaining textbooks on human behavior ever written.

If you are looking for a book to get someone hooked on learning, start here! Purchase How to Win Friends and Influence People through Amazon.

28 Ways to Influence People by Doug Staneart.

28 Ways to Influence People Book on LeadershipWhen I created the High Impact Leaders leadership development course, I needed a textbook. I loved the way that Carnegie created principles to live by. However, his book, although practical, was really hard to implement. I needed something simpler for my students.

So, when I wrote this book, I organized leadership development into four simple steps. Step one is to build trust. Next, you have to reduce conflicts. Then, you want to gain enthusiastic cooperation from your team. Then finally, you will be able to develop the next generation of leaders.

28 Ways to Influence People is the step-by-step process we use to help build successful leaders within companies. Each of these four stages has a very simple, daily principle to focus on. So, in week one when your goal is to build trust, the book outlines seven simple principles to apply. (One for each day of the week.) By the end of the fourth week, you will have practiced every one of the 28 principles. Very easy to implement! Order 28 Ways to Influence People through Amazon,

Skill with People by Les Giblin.

Skill with People Book about Leadership SkillsAnother good “starter” leadership book is Skill with People by Les Giblin. When I first started devouring leadership development books, this was one of my favorites. (The main reason is that it takes less than an hour to finish the entire book.)

Just like in the first two books, Giblin identifies a series of leadership principles. However, instead of explaining each principle with case studies and examples, he just lists each with simple explanations. This is a good book to read over and over for a quick refresher on dealing more effectively with others.

By the way, if you manage a team who are not avid readers, this is a good book to give the entire group. You can organize team meetings to discuss the principles and share best practices. Order Skill with People through Amazon.

Endless Referrals by Bob Burg.

Endless Referrals Networking and Influence BookEndless Referrals is the absolute best book on networking and how to become a sphere of influence. (Sorry, Harvey Mackay.)

I had the privilege of hearing Bob Burg speak on stage over two decades ago. Years later, when I became a professional speaker and trainer, he called me out of the blue. He didn’t want anything from me. He just wanted to compliment me on the growth of my company. I was shocked. Then, I sheepishly shared with him that he was the main reason for my success.

After hearing him speak on stage, I bought his book. One of Burg’s suggestions was to send a hand-written card to everyone that you meet in the business world. At the time, I was just starting out in my career and I was looking for any advantage I could get. I happen to meet a young woman who owned a leadership development company. It was a casual meeting but afterward, I did as Burg suggested and sent out a handwritten note.

Two years later, when I decided that I wanted to become a trainer myself, I went to her office to ask for a job. After I asked, she walked over to a filing cabinet. Next, she pulled out a folder that had my name on it. She opened it and pulled out the card that I had sent her. In the 20 years that she had been coaching people, I was the first and only person to ever send her something like that. So, she hired me on the spot and became my mentor in the business. (Thanks, Bob!)

Order Endless Referrals through Amazon.

Dig Your Well Before You are Thirsty by Harvey Mackay.

Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty Book on Networking and RelationshipsHarvey Mackay built a huge, multimillion-dollar business before ever becoming a speaker and author. In fact, he made his fortune selling envelopes. Yup, envelopes. How do you make millions selling envelopes, you say? Easy, his minimum order size was… one million dollars.

When he wrote his first book, he took it to a New York publisher. The publisher said that the book would never sell. Mackay countered that not only would it sell, but that it would be a New York Times bestseller. Then he showed the publisher his list of 100,000 friends and contacts. He mentioned that each and every person on his list owed him a favor and would happily buy a copy of the book. The publisher agreed to publish the book and it remained on the best-seller list for over a year.

In Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty, MacKay explains how he developed this fantastic network of raving business associates.

Order Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty through Amazon.

Best Books for Leadership about Mindset and Thinking Like a Leader.

The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz.

The Magic of Thinking Big Leadership Training BookNo doubt about it. Leaders think big. This book is a blueprint for thinking differently so that you accomplish more. Dr. Schartz leads the reader through a progression to first think big. Then, you can dream big. Finally, you will achieve big.

This is one of my favorite leadership thinking books. It gives advice on how to be happier in your marriage, happier at work, and how to achieve fantastic goals. If you want to improve your success as a leader, re-read this book once every couple of years. Here is a favorite quote from the book.

“The size of your success is determined by the size of your belief. Think little goals and expect little achievements. Think big goals and win big success. Remember this, too! Big ideas and big plans are often easier — certainly no more difficult – than small ideas and small plans.” — Dr. David Schwartz.

To order The Magic of Thinking Big through Amazon, click here.

Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

Think and Grow Rich Book on Developing a Leadership MindsetThis book was first published in 1937 during the Great Depression. Napoleon Hill interviewed and studied the most successful people and business leaders of that time. He identified 13 principles that they all shared.

Just like with the Magic of Thinking Big, this book identifies how wealthy people think. What is it that a wealthy person does that a person living paycheck to paycheck doesn’t do? The secrets are right in this book for everyone to see. I have to admit, this book was a major influence on my early business success. If I hadn’t changed the way that I think, I’d probably still be in overwhelming credit card debt complaining about how my boss still wasn’t paying me what I was worth.

Less than six years from the time I read this book for the first time, I made my first million dollars.

Order Think and Grow Rich through Amazon.

Start with Why by Simon Sinek.

Start with Why-One of the Best Leadership BooksSimon Sinak first published this book in 2009. However, the book really took off after Sinak became a TED Talk sensation. His TED Talk is the third most-watched video in the entire series. The book and speech are centered around a very simple premise. If you understand the Why, then the how is pretty easy.

Over 25 years ago, I figured out the power of why. I began my career by asking over 100 people why they thought leadership development was important. The answers they gave me helped me design the first High Impact Leaders training course. Then as the years went by, I and my instructors always started each consulting call out with the question, “So, why do you want to take a leadership class?” Over the years, the answers to those questions changed. As they did, we were able to adapt and update our training to what was most beneficial to our customers.

Without finding out “the why,” I and my team would have been left behind by our competitors a long time ago.

Order the Start with Why on Amazon.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Leadership BookStephen Covey came up with a new way of thinking about becoming a great leader. He identified that the habits that we develop determine our level of success. For instance, people who sleep in, show up late, and give a minimal amount of effort are doomed to live a mediocre life. However, when you change your daily habits, you change your success almost immediately.

This is one of the best-selling leadership books of all time because Covey did something very unique for the time. Carnegie and Giblin identified leadership skills as people skills. Schwartz and Hill identified leadership skills as being a different mindset. However, Covey realized that what really makes people successful is the way that they do things every single day. The habits are what make the leader.

Order the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People from Amazon.

Atomic Habits by James Clear.

Atomic Habits-Minor Changes Lead to Huge SuccessesI have to be honest here. Most of the most recent leadership books that I have read tend to be just a rehash of ideas that have been around forever. It isn’t often that I am both surprised and impressed by a new author. However, James Clear and his book Atomic Habits shattered that perception for me.

His concept is really, really simple. It is really difficult to improve by 100%. However, it is much easier to improve by just 1%. Small changes lead to big results. Improve by that 1% every week, and in 100 weeks, you have your 100% improvement. He calls the changes atomic because when we look at them by themselves, they seem so small.

The real brilliance of his book comes next though. These minor changes become habits. Then the habits become who we are. This book on leadership is one of the best roadmaps for improving your success that I have seen in my career. Make sure to buy a printed copy to dogear and highlight.

Order Atomic Habits on Amazon.

Leadership and Management Books about Increasing Efficiency.

These next few books are some of my favorite management skill books. In addition to building great relationships with your team and thinking bigger, good leaders are also able to direct and organize their team as well. The books in this series offer simple how-to guides in managing the people that you lead.

The One-Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard & Spencer Johnson.

The One Minute Manager Management SkillsI mentioned earlier that How to Win Friends and Influence People is a great book to start with for leadership skills. The One-Minute Manager is a great management book to start with as well.

Blanchard and Johnson tell a story about a new manager learning to lead people by interviewing other managers in his company. As he talks to each expert, they offer advice on a single management skill. Each of these skills takes 60-seconds or less to deliver. So, the book is an easy and fast read. And the tips are very easy to implement.

The book outlines ways to help your team members set goals, shows you how to praise your team, and also how to reprimand them. This is a great starter book for a new manager or leader.

Order the One-Minute Manager on Amazon.

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell.

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership Book by John MaxwellJohn Maxwell is the undisputed king of management skills. He has written dozens of books on the subject. So, picking my favorite was very tough.

Maxwell began his career as a pastor in California and built up a huge church. Because he was such a captivating speaker, groups began hiring him to motivate their troops at business conventions and annual meetings. However, when he began writing books his career really soared. This favorite leadership book gives 21 laws or principles that will help you develop your skills as a better leader and manager.

An example of one of Maxwell’s laws is his Law of Influence. Maxwell says, “The true measure of leadership is influence — nothing more, nothing less.​” As he explains this principle of leadership, he gives tips on how to be more influential to the people that you are managing. Obviously, we can order or tell our team to do something. But great leaders are those who can influence their team to accomplish more — even when the leader is not around!

This is one of the best books on leadership that gives the technical “how to: manage others.

Order The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership through Amazon.

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.

David and Goliath Leadership Book for Small Business OwnersDavid and Goliath was another one of the great recent surprises in the best books about leadership training. If you are a small business owner or if you manage an agile team, this book is for you!

Gladwell gives tips and stories from a long list of “underdogs and misfits” who came out on top against big competitors. One of the most notable was Vivek Ranadivé. This man was an immigrant from India who worked for a software company in Silicon Valley. His young daughter loved basketball. So, to spend more time with her, he volunteered to coach her basketball team. Mr. Ranadivé had never played basketball and had very little experience with the game.

He decided to take a different approach. Ranadivé read the rulebook. After watching other teams of young girls play, he noticed something odd. Most teams would score and then run back to their end of the court to play defense. That was the traditional way to play the game. However, if your half-court defense was lacking (which was very common for a young team,) the team was at a disadvantage.

He had his team institute a full-court press on every play. The opposing team only had five seconds to inbound the ball. Then, if they successfully inbounded the ball, they only had 1o seconds to cross halfcourt. His daughter’s team created turnover after turnover and ended up playing in the national championship for the league. David slays Goliath in a very unusual way.

Gladwell has realized that in this new world of technology, a company’s ability to adapt and change is more important than its size. If you are looking for an uplifting leadership book that praises the underdog, try this one out.

Order David and Goliath from Amazon.

Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman.

Traction Get a Grip on Your Business Leadership Book CoverIn the same light, Traction is a fantastic book for small business owners. Unlike the other books in this series that are about thinking differently, this one focuses on techniques to run a business effectively. One of the instructors for my company recommended this leadership book to me back in 2019. She knew that I had set a huge goal for growth for my company.

About halfway through the book, I realized that the things that allowed my company to grow to its current point would not propel us to new growth. We would have to do something different. Wickman suggested going back to my corporate values. My executives and I took decided to independently rate each of our team members (and ourselves as well) based on our values. We rated everyone in two ways. First, we rated each person based on our current score in each value. We used a simple High School grade for each value. Next, we scored everyone on their potential. During the process, the few people who tended to have challenges within our culture had the lowest scores.

We knew that if we wanted to grow, we needed to make a few changes. A couple of months later, the Covid pandemic hit. This analysis was critical in allowing us to survive and eventually grow during this challenging time. In the last year, we began hiring based on our values, and the growth has been phenomenal.

Order Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business from Amazon.

Best Books for Leadership about Understanding Others and Building the Best Teams.

One of the most fascinating studies in the area of leadership is the study of different personalities. Have you ever had a conversation with someone and felt frustrated? Or maybe the opposite happened. You met someone and felt an instant rapport with him or her. The books in this section are some of the best leadership books that explain these feelings.

Personality Plus by Florence Littauer.

Personality Plus Book with Simple Explanation of Personality TemperamentsI first read this book over 20 years ago. Since then, I have encountered dozens and dozens of personality temperament books and systems. Between you and I, most of these systems are terrible. This is why I absolutely loved Personality Plus. Littauer explains very simply the theory behind the four major personalities.

The concept of personality temperaments is pretty simple. Every single person that has ever lived is a unique individual. No two people are identical — not even identical twins. However, different people see the world in different ways. We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses. In addition, we all communicate in unique ways. This great leadership book explains how to communicate and deal effectively with people who see the world differently than you do.

The great thing about this book is that no one has to take a personality test. There are no profiles. It is a very simple explanation that shows how to communicate with others better. Very simple!

Order Personality Plus through Amazon.

Instant Rapport by Michael Brooks.

Instant Rapport Leadership Book about NLPInstant Rapport is the backbone of many sales books, leadership books, and communication books. The book introduced a concept called Neurolinguistic Programing (NLP.) Later motivational speakers like Anthony Robbins used the ideas in this book to create motivational empires. Most recently, a TV show called Lie to Me depicted a “deception expert” who used these techniques to solve crimes.

You could spend years trying to master these techniques, by the way. There are a few major concepts, though, that are easy to understand. Similar to the personality temperaments described above, Brooks says that, in general, some people are visual, some auditory, and some kinesthetic. For example, I’m a visual person. My wife, though, is very auditory. So, when I hear her say something like, “You are not listening to me,” I have to realize that I have fallen out of rapport with her. Most likely, I am communicating with her the way I like to communicate and discounting the way she prefers.

This leadership book is a fascinating study of communication and relationships.

Order Instant Rapport from Amazon.

The Best Leadership Books about Selling Skills and Persuasion.

One of the most important leadership skills is the ability to persuade others. In some instances, this requires actual selling skills. In others, we just have to be able to win people to our way of thinking. This series of books on leadership are my favorites on selling and persuading others!

The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino.

The Greatest Salesman in the World Leadership BookJust as in the other sections, I wanted to start the sales and persuasion section with an easy and fun book. The Greatest Salesman in the World is a story or parable set in Biblical times. A young man falls in love with a girl from a wealthy family. Without money to support her, he seeks out the best salesman in the world and asks for advice.

The merchant offers advice and leadership principles that, over time, change the life of to poor young person into a wealthy businessman. The principles that Og Mandino teaches in this parable are life lessons to become a better businessperson. However, the teaching is very subtle. The story captivates the reader and carries us off into another time and place. It is a very fun way to learn solid leadership and persuasion skills.

In addition, in Og Mandino fashion, there is a surprising twist at the end that will catch you off guard.

Order The Greatest Salesman in the World through Amazon.

How I raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling by Frank Bettger.

How I raised Myself from Failure to Success in SellingThis may be the absolute best sales guide of all time. Out of all the books listed, this one is by far my favorite. Yes, it is really dated. (It was first printed in the 1950s.) So, some of the advice doesn’t apply as much in this digital world. However, the brilliance that is printed in this book can help you increase your income exponentially.

This is often the first book I encourage our professional consultants to read. Frank Bettger will get you hooked in the introduction when he tells you his story. He was a professional baseball player. He showed up first on his first day of practice unsure of exactly what to do. So, he just watched the old players on the team and did what they did. After a week, the manager of the team fired him for being lazy. In despair, he got a job playing for a small-time Bush league.

He decided, though, that no one would ever accuse him of being lazy again. He went to his first practice with his new team with a ton of enthusiasm and pep. A short time later, the St. Louis Cardinals called him up and he was playing in the Major League. The only thing that changed was his attitude and enthusiasm. So, when his playing days were over, he used the same enthusiasm to become the top life insurance salesman in the world.

Order How I raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling on Amazon.

The Psychology of Selling by Brian Tracy.

Brian Tracy is a very elegant motivational speaker who specializes in selling skills. He has written a number of books, but this one has a lot of great tips and is easy to implement. You can easily read a chapter and pull out a number of nuggets of wisdom to implement a little at a time.

One of my favorite things about Tracy’s teaching style is how he mixes in funny anecdotes and analogies to make the training stick. This book is full of great tips. It is also the kind of book that you can pick up, gather a quick simple tip, and put the tip into practice right away. If you string a few of these tips together, you should see your ability to win more customers increasing.

The book has eight chapters ranging from setting sales goals to closing more deals. There is also an introduction that helps new salespeople get their minds right about what selling really is. Then, he wraps up the book with 10 keys to increasing your sales.

Order The Psychology of Selling on Amazon.

The Sales Bible by Jeffery Gitomer.

The Sales Bible-The Ultimate Sales BookThe Og Mandino book contains a few sales principles and a lot of story. Tracy’s book has a series of great tips with a few stories mixed in. This book, though, is literally what it claims to be. It is an encyclopedia of anything you would ever want to know about sales, persuasion, and leadership.

I have to be honest, though. I was never able to read this entire book cover to cover like I did every other prior book listed. However, in my early days as a business owner and the main salesperson for my company, I referred to this book a lot. It can be effectively used as a resource book or workbook.

For instance, when I first started my company, I had no customers. So I turned to the section on prospecting and finding new customers. Once I developed a few good clients, I turned to the section on building relationships. Gitomer describes this book as a catalog. I’d agree. This is a great guidebook to teach yourself the skills of great leaders.

Order The Sales Bible from Amazon.

Fearless Presentations by Doug Staneart.

Fearless Presentations Leadership Communication Skills BookLet’s face it. Most public speaking books are… well… boring. And most of them cover everything under the sun so they were impractical. This simple book disects effective presentations down to just a few simple steps.

Public speaking is a leadership role that very few leaders focus on, but it is a critical skill for business executives to develop. It provides easy answers to get presenters out of difficult situations. For instance, the book starts with 10 simple ways to reduce nervousness. It also shows you how to design an entire presentation in minutes versus days. The book is also an easy read. You can read it cover to cover in less than a couple of hours!

Influential leaders communicate with confidence. This book will help you be one of them!

Order Fearless Presentations from Amazon.

How to Sell Anything to Anybody by Joe Girardi.

How to Sell Anything to Anybody Sales BookIf you are looking for a sales book with unconventional ideas, this book is really fun to read. The Guinness Book of World records lists Joe Girardi as the greatest salesman of all time. (No offense intended Og Mandino.) He was a car salesman for decades. And he used people skills and a lot of creativity to stay on top.

One of the major keys to his success was his follow-up system. Every month, each and every one of his over 5000 customers got a personal note or card from him. If a car he sold ever needed service, his customers came to him, not the service department. He organized the work, handled warranty issues, and handled insurance issues on their behalf. Often, he even became their ride to work while their cars were in the shop.

Granted, some of his techniques were unconventional. For instance, he used to drop boxes of business cards into the crowds at ballgames. He figured that at least one of those people who one of his cards landed on would need a car, right? But if you want your sales team to think outside of the box, so to speak, give them a copy of this sales book.

Order How to Sale Anything to Anybody from Amazon.

Best Books for Leadership about Marketing and Written Communication.

It does no good to be a great business leader if no one knows that your company exists. These are a couple of the best leadership books related to marketing and business writing. Great leaders not only speak well, but they also write well. And their words must be compelling to others.

Permission Marketing by Seth Godin.

Permission Marketing Leadership through Communication BookSeth Godin made a career out of changing the way that companies market to prospective customers. He wrote Permission Marketing in 1999. That was back before social media. Before smartphones. The book was written when email was still in its infancy. (I think Godin might actually be a profit.)

The premise of the book is really simple. Most marketers (most communicators) interrupt the communication process by pushing a view on an unwanted recipient. Godin’s idea was quite different. He suggested that companies give value to potential customers and help them solve problems. Allow these prospective customers to give you permission to market to them. Then, when they are ready to buy, they will buy from you because of the relationship you have built.

When he first wrote the book, the idea was to build email lists to offer value to customers. Now, though, great marketers use the same concept when building social media followers, podcast subscribers, and YouTube subscribers.

Order Permission Marketing from Amazon.

Triggers by Joseph Sugarman.

Triggers by Joseph SugarmanJust like with Godin’s book, what’s old is new again. The book Triggers was also originally published in 1999. Just like with Godin’s book, the original purpose for writing the book is totally different than what leaders use the book for today.

Sugarman made millions in the last century by creating direct sale ad copy for newspapers and commercials for television. For 30 years he used “triggers” (words and specific ad copy) to get people to buy products. By the late 90s, newspapers were dying. Families no longer sat around TVs in the evening. So, Sugarman decided to catalog his knowledge in this book. He wrote it to teach people how to write ad copy for commercials and print ads.

Little did he know how important that knowledge was going to be when people, two decades later needed help writing blog posts… And Facebook ads… And podcast titles. Unfortunately, the book appears to be out of print because paperback copies are going for over $50 each. But, the book is well worth the investment!

Order Triggers on Amazon.

The Single Best of the Best Leadership Books of All Time.

The Bible by God,

The Absolute Best Leadership Book Ever Written-The Bible Most of the principles from some of the great leadership books listed above like How to Win Friends and Influence People, 28 Ways to Influence People, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (and many others) contain principles that were originally published in The Bible. (Especially, David and Goliath, LOL.)

Now, I am not a theologian. But if you are not familiar with the Bible, here is a quick overview. The Bible is divided into two parts — The Old Testament and the New Testament. However, that division is a little confusing. Men (the people who print Bibles) make this division to show the difference between the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible. However, the real division occurs in the book (chapter) of Acts. Prior to Acts, the entire Bible is primarily a guide for God’s people, Israel. Many of the books after Acts are a guide for Christian believers — specifically Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.

So, if you want to be a great leader and gain wisdom for daily life in today’s world, start by reading these books. Then, for context, go back and read the books of John and Acts. (Plus, as a bonus, you get eternal life!) Finally, the book of Proverbs is a fantastic place to gain daily wisdom for being a great leader. Keep in mind that the entire Bible is “God Breathed” and valuable for all. So, use these suggestions as a starting point.

Order a Bible from Amazon.

Really Bad Leadership Books. Just Because Something Is Written in a Best-Selling Book Doesn’t Mean It Will Work in Real Life.

After reading everything I could get my hands on for almost a decade, I hit a wall. I had a series of missteps that caused me to question the value of leadership books. In reality, though, anyone can write a book. Today, with digital printing, people who have never accomplished anything in their lives — never led anyone — can digitally print a book and become a published author.

So, I guess what I am saying is that there is a lot of crap out there. My suggestion is that, before you buy a book, research the author. Has the author ever done anything besides write a book? If not, take everything in the book with a grain of salt.

With that being said, even accomplished people can create theories of leadership that can fail mightily. Here are a few books that sounded very good until you try to implement the ideas. Then, you may find significant challenges and think something is wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with you. The theories in the book never panned out.

Good to Great by Jim Collins.

Every ten years or so, a business guru will write a book analyzing the big companies of the day. He (or she) will tell you that if you just do the things that these companies are doing, you too can be successful. In the 80s, a book called In Search of Excellence was written. The leadership book mentioned great companies like Kodak and Atari.

Collins did the same thing with his book. I believed every word until I lost a bundle of money on Circuit City stock.

First Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Gallup Press.

Buckingham analyzed thousands of Gallup Polls to determine what makes great leaders and what makes people successful. Fortunately, I didn’t make the same mistake this time because I knew reading the book that the ideas were flawed. Keep in mind that Buckingham never led anything. He received all his data for this book from the same place that gives us election polls every four years.

The tale-tell sign for me was when he was explaining the difference between a skill and a talent. He claims that a skill is something you can learn and talent is something you are born with. (Actually, no real disagreement yet.) He gave two sports examples. One was that people who were under six feet tall weren’t born with a talent for basketball. So, no matter how much skill they develop, they will never make it in the NBA. (I guess Gallup never polled 5’9″ Isaiah Thomas, 5’6″ Spud Webb, or 5’3″ Mugsy Bogues.)

The next sports example was that Tiger Woods was lucky in that he was born with a talent for playing golf. My jaw dropped when I read that. Did Tiger come out of the womb holding a golf club? I think his success id more related to the 3000 golf balls a day that he was hitting — every day — when he was at the top of his game.

The real conclusion that really hacked me off was that public speaking was a talent and not a skill. That is flat-out BS. Anyone can be a great presenter if they just take time to develop that skill. No one is born a great speaker.

Stay away from this book. There is more wrong here than is right.

Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

I really feel bad about putting this book on my bad leadership list because I absolutely love these guys. They are true American heroes and fantastic leaders. (Please don’t send me hate mail.) In fact, many of the ideas in the book are solid.

The big problem, though, is that they are using management techniques that they recognized while leading Navy Seals. This group is the most elite of the most elite military leaders. Out of each 1000 applicants to become a Navy Seal, only 200 – 250 make it. The training to become a Seal takes over a year and a half. Then, once a person is selected as a Seal, they have another year of training before seeing combat.

My point is that if you can put your new hires through a year and a half of training and make 80% of them quit, the techniques in this book might be helpful to lead those that remain.

Don’t get me wrong. I love this book. The stories a fantastic and it has great leadership techniques. However, you probably don’t want to use these techniques as your leadership guide.

Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman.

I’m going to let you all in on a secret. Don’t tell anyone… Emotional Intelligence is a made-up phrase that describes people skills. Read How to Win Friends and Influence People instead. (Carnegie wasn’t trying to BS you with fancy wording to make you think you were less educated than him.)

Any Leadership Book Written by a Politician.

For the most part, politicians are HORRIBLE leaders. The books that they write will, most likely, not help you lead anyone or run your business better. For the most part, these leadership books are written as a way to generate large amounts of political cash without violating campaign laws.

author Doug Staneart
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Doug Staneart is president of The Leader's Institute ®. He is based in the Dallas, Texas Region. He is a specialist in corporate team building activities and custom presentation skills seminars.
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