The ability to lead is a critical skill to possess in today’s world. Thankfully, it’s an ability that can always be strengthened and improved upon, whether you’re a college student or a seasoned professional in your field. Here we share the best leadership books for leaders and aspiring leaders of all types. Unlike some book lists that focus on one domain — like leadership in the business world — our list features books with wide applicability. We’ve also included books from a diverse array of voices and backgrounds because leadership is a skill we can all cultivate.
How We Picked the Best Leadership Books
To create our list of the best leadership books, we scoured the New York Times bestseller list and other online “best of” lists and we put out a call to leaders across the country for their recommendations. The result was a collection of over 129 books dedicated to the topic. We then narrowed the books down to this list of 20, basing our research on overall popularity and online materials like reviews and common recommendations. Important criteria included a wide intended audience and a general consensus on the book’s utility. Additionally, because many popular leadership books came up in multiple categories we researched for our “best” lists (such as business and psychology), we’ve done our best to prevent duplicate recommendations across our lists on Intelligent.com.
The 19 Best Leadership Books
Leadership books are a genre of nonfiction. Subgenres of leadership books include self-help, business, communications, and psychology. Leadership books are typically motivational and often provide readers with tools and exercises to improve their leadership skills. These books can be helpful for anyone looking to improve how they interact with others, especially in a business or organizational setting. If you’re interested in the genre, you’re going to love our list of the 20 best leadership books.
Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon SinekBuy Now
Our top pick in leadership books is the acclaimed Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by New York Times bestselling author Simon Sinek. It was inspired by a conversation Sinek had with a Marine Corps general who told him that in the chow hall, “Officers eat last.” Sinek expands on this leadership philosophy in the book and makes it applicable to organizations and interactions outside the military world. Chad Price, CEO of Chad Price, recommends the title, stating, “Every business or organization needs to know their ‘why’ to create a thriving business. This book helps leaders learn how to do better and be better so they can succeed.” This book will appeal to anyone looking for common sense and winning, established approaches to leadership.
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You by John C. MaxwellBuy Now
Timeless leadership principles combined with real-world examples are the hallmarks of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You – a bestselling book in the leadership genre. The book has sold millions of copies and is so popular a hardcover 25th anniversary edition was released in 2022. Author John C. Maxwell is a New York Times bestselling author, leadership coach, and recipient of the Horatio Alger Award. If you’re looking for stories about successful leaders from a wide range of industries -— including business, sports, religion, and politics — this book is an excellent choice.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. PinkBuy Now
Author Daniel H. Pink takes readers on a deep dive into the topic of motivation in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. This book is particularly useful for business owners and managers as it dispels the notion that money is the main motivator of employees. Pink uses science and research to assert that internal fulfillment is what drives people in the workplace and beyond. This book would be especially valuable to students and those unfulfilled in their current careers and who are searching for more personal and professional satisfaction.
Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard E. Boyatzis, and Annie McKeeBuy Now
When it was first released in 2013, Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence was considered groundbreaking. The book by bestselling authors Daniel Goleman, Richard E. Boyatzis, and Annie McKee is credited with making “emotional intelligence” part of business vocabulary and practice. It continues to be widely used as required reading in universities, business and medical schools, and professional training programs. Additionally, it will appeal to anyone interested in learning more about how to lead with empathy and heart.
Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts by Brené BrownBuy Now
In Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts, author Brené Brown shows readers what daring leadership is and why it matters. She does this via research, stories, and answers to questions like, “How do you cultivate braver, more daring leaders?” The book was named to Bloomberg‘s Best Books of 2018 list and is relevant for anyone looking to step up into a brave leadership role. In addition to being a bestselling author, Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston and the subject of the HBO Max docuseries Brené Brown: Atlas of the Heart!
This title was recommended by Mia Cloud, Founder of Cloud Law Firm. “Brene Brown’s book is for leaders, team members, and potential entrepreneurs who could use advice on interacting with others, including the importance of vulnerability.”
Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif BabinBuy Now
U.S. military veterans Jocko Willink and Leif Babin unite to deliver Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, a powerful book detailing the resilient mindset leaders should possess. The authors use their own gripping stories as leaders of SEAL Team Three, Task Unit Bruiser in Iraq to show that leadership is the most important factor in determining whether a team succeeds or fails. The book is particularly appealing to anyone who is part of a formal team — be it in sports, business, the military, or law enforcement.
On Becoming a Leader by Warren G. BennisBuy Now
Leaders are not born, they are made – this is the premise of the classic leadership book On Becoming a Leader by Warren G. Bennis. Bennis, who died in 2014, was a professor and pioneer in leadership studies. He advised presidents and business executives on how to become successful leaders. This book offers his wisdom to the masses and is intended for anyone aspiring to be a leader, especially those in business. Bennis authored over 30 books on leadership, but many scholars consider this to be his most important one.
Emotional Intelligence: Discover why it can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel GolemanBuy Now
Emotional intelligence is key to strong leadership, which is why Daniel Goleman examines it in detail in his book Emotional Intelligence: Discover why it can Matter More Than IQ. Goleman redefines what it means to be smart, and he shares groundbreaking brain and behavioral research to show that emotional intelligence can be strengthened throughout adulthood. This book is for anyone with an interest in growing their emotional intelligence to become a better leader.
Harvard Business School professor John P. Kotter’s book Leading Change offers a practical approach to leadership. It details Kotter’s eight-step process for managing change with positive results and is regarded as both a leadership guide and a toolkit. Kotter has written 20 books on leadership, but Leading Change is considered his seminal work. It was selected by Time magazine in 2011 as one of the 25 most influential business management books ever written.
The Art of War by Sun TzuBuy Now
One of the oldest books on leadership, The Art of War by Sun Tzu is still relevant today. Tzu was a Chinese general who wrote this wisdom more than 2,500 years ago. Although it was originally written for soldiers, business people have embraced it for its timeless advice on how to lead while encountering obstacles. It features 13 chapters, each focused on a different aspect of war. Fans of the HBO hit show “The Sopranos” may remember the book as one often quoted by the show’s main character, mafia boss Tony Soprano (played by James Gandolfini).
This timeless classic comes recommended by Chris Lewandowski, president of Princess Dental Staffing. “Still used as a guidebook by many modern-day business leaders, this 2,500-year-old book offers strategic advice and highlights the importance of planning.”
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick M. LencioniBuy Now
If you learn best through vivid storytelling, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick M. Lencioni will appeal to you. This unique book teaches leadership lessons through the use of fables, which are short fictitious tales. It’s also an excellent read for anyone who is looking to strengthen the cohesivity of a group. Lencioni is an author and businessman who has written 10 books about leadership and business.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There are no Easy Answers by Ben HorowitzBuy Now
Using rap lyrics, humor, and blunt language, blogger and successful entrepreneur Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There are no Easy Answers is an avante-garde book on leadership. Filled with practical wisdom, this book is perfect for seasoned and aspiring entrepreneurs alike who want straight talk on how to succeed in the start-up world. It was named to Business Insider’s Best Business Books list of 2014.
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel KahnemanBuy Now
A powerful read by a powerhouse author, Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow has wide appeal for anyone interested in how the mind works. Kahneman was awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences and is considered one of the most influential economists in the world. This essential leadership book examines the systems that drive the way we think and, ultimately, lead. It was the winner of the National Academy of Sciences Best Book Award in 2012.
Recommended by Lukee Li, co-founder and project manager at Neutypechic: “This book can greatly benefit you when you’re making a tough decision or negotiating with others.”
Tribes: We Need you to Lead Us by Seth Godin
Tribes: We Need you to Lead Us is a book for those who think leadership is for other people. Through true stories about surprising leaders, Seth Godin shows readers that anyone can be a leader. The book also features three concrete steps to help you build a tribe of like-minded followers in any domain — from business to publishing. Godin is a bestselling author, blogger, founder of Squidoo.com (which was acquired by HubPages), and inductee to the Marketing Hall of Fame.
Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony HsiehBuy Now
If you’re looking for honest leadership advice from someone with a proven track record in business, Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose will speak to you. Hsieh is the CEO of Zappos, an online shoe retailer that grosses over 1 billion dollars a year. In this practical and compelling book, Hsieh shares personal experiences and different leadership lessons he has learned in business and life. It has been both a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller.
Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram CharanBuy Now
Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by businessmen Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan is a deep dive into a part of business culture known as execution culture: the linking of people, strategy, and operation planning. For those interested in learning how to be a leader not just in title but in execution, this comprehensive book is an excellent resource. It’s also an excellent read for any individual looking to improve their productivity in any area.
If I Could Tell you Just one Thing by Richard ReedBuy Now
If I Could Tell you Just one Thing by Richard Reed is an entertaining read about leadership through the words of remarkable people. Those who share their wisdom include former President Bill Clinton, Annie Lennox, Simon Cowell, and Caitlyn Jenner. Reed is a successful entrepreneur who founded the popular European chain Innocent Drinks. If you are motivated by inspirational quotes and stories, If I Could Tell You Just One Thing is well-suited for you.
Lead from the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change by Stacey AbramsBuy Now
Political powerhouse Stacey Abrams shares her leadership wisdom with the masses in Lead from the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change. Abrams was the first Black woman to become the gubernatorial nominee for a major party in the United States. Her inspiring book is intended for aspiring leaders from marginalized communities and backgrounds. By sharing her own experiences and tangible exercises, Abrams shows readers that differences in race, gender, and class are surmountable when it comes to leadership.
Meditations by Marcus AureliusBuy Now
Those looking for a philosophical foundation on leadership will want to add this classic book on leadership to their reading list. Meditations was written by Marcus Aurelius more than 2,000 years ago, but his words remain relevant today. The writing is derived from Aurelius’ diary and focuses on how to lead with personal integrity and spiritual well-being. This version of Meditations is translated by Gregory Hays and includes an introduction outlining Aurelius’ fascinating life and career.