Book Recommendations

Michael’s Top 10 Leadership Books

If I could go back to the beginning of my career, one of the things I would do is give myself these books to read as I prepared to lead others. As I have discovered these books throughout my career, they have become essential aids for me personally, and have also helped me coach business leaders and front-line managers on how to better lead others. The following books form much of the basis of Avail Leadership’s approach to training leaders how to achieve their individual and organizational potential.


The 8th Habit. Stephen Covey is best known for his popular book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. While the 7 Habits focus primarily on self-improvement, its sequel, The 8th Habit, focusses on the essence of leadership, showing readers how to find their voice and help others find theirs. The 8th Habit is a truly inspiring book on leadership. It is packed with brilliant insights and leaves the reader feeling like they can make a huge impact on this world for good.


What To Ask The Person In The Mirror.  Robert Kaplan is a Harvard Business School professor and former Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs, which means he understands both leadership theory and the real-world application of it.  His book, What to Ask the Person in the Mirror is a reflection of his firm grasp on both.  It reads like a handbook on how to become an outstanding CEO.  In it, Kaplan provides a thorough review of the most important aspects of leadership, making it one of the most practical books on leadership I have ever read.


Drive.  While there are many important aspects of leadership, the most important is a leader’s ability to motivate those they lead.  Author Daniel Pink offers convincing evidence that what we have been conditioned to believe about what motivates people is dead wrong.  His engaging writing style makes this book not only an essential read for managers, but an entertaining one as well.  Drive should be a required read for anyone who leads others, which includes business leaders, educators, and even parents.


First, Break All The Rules.  The Gallup Organization commissioned Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman to write this book based on the findings of the largest study of its kind.  Over 80,000 managers in over 400 companies were interviewed to find out what the best managers do differently.  In a nutshell, the key finding is that the best managers focus on people’s strengths, not their weaknesses.  This may not seem like an earth-shattering finding, but it is quite the opposite approach from that which most organizations take in their talent-management processes such as recruiting, performance management, training and development, and succession planning.  I consider it such an important distinction in the way leaders should approach their job, that the premise of First, Break All The Rules is a cornerstone of Avail Leadership’s methodology.


What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.  Author Marshall Goldsmith is widely recognized as the world’s #1 executive coach.  His book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, reviews case after case of individuals who plateaued in their career not because of a lack of technical skill, but because of their own annoying habits.  In many cases the personality characteristic that is responsible for many people’s success is also the thing that is holding them back in other ways.  Based on his extensive executive coaching experience, Goldsmith makes his own Top 20 list of annoying habits that people are generally unaware that they have.  These annoying habits hurt their relationships with others and ultimately prevent them from achieving the next level of success that presently eludes them.


Good Boss, Bad Boss.  Author Robert Sutton is professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University and a management consultant.  Good Boss, Bad Boss is the follow-up to Sutton’s popular book The No Asshole Rule, which chronicles the misdeeds of workplace villains.  Reader response to that book overwhelmingly identified most workplace villains as their boss.  In response, Sutton wrote Good Boss, Bad Boss which is about what the best and worst bosses do.  Sutton backs up just about every one of his assertions with an academic study and provides many illustrative cases along the way.


Execution.  Execution is written by Larry Bossidy, former business titan at GE and Honeywell, and Ram Charan, a leadership coach and author.  The focus of the book is on developing a strategy and then making it a reality.  It puts to rest the question of whether the leader must be the visionary or the manager – they must be both.  It is written in a tag-team style, clearly identifying which author is writing which section.  This book provides a nuts and bolts approach on how to get big things accomplished through other people.


The 5th Discipline.  Author Peter Senge writes this book to teach readers how to transform their organization into what he calls a learning organization.  In The 5th Discipline, Senge popularized the term “Systems Thinker” which describes the process of identifying causes and effects that are separated by time and space.  Senge argues that being a Systems Thinker is the foundation of a learning organization, which is the only true competitive advantage for a business.  While not a traditional ‘leadership book’, understanding the principles outlined in The 5th Discipline essentially ‘flicks a switch’ to a part of the brain that leaders need to turn on in order to know how to effectively improve themselves and their organization.


The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell.  This is an enjoyable read about one of the most respected figures in American public life and arguably one of its most effective leaders.   Author Oren Harari is a professor of management at the McLaren Graduate School of Business and a business consultant.  After reading Powell’s autobiography, Harari identified 18 principles that formed the basis of Powell’s leadership philosophy, which he called “Powell gems”.  These 18 Powell gems each comprise a chapter of the book and are complimented with stories and anecdotes from Powell’s life. The book examines the principles that motivated Colin Powell and provides key insights to his approach on leadership that made him successful in some of the most challenging situations.


Leadership Blindspots.  Author Robert Shaw defines a leadership blindspot as an unrecognized weakness or threat that has the potential to undermine a leader’s success.  These blindspots are not confined to how leaders view themselves, but also includes blindspots leaders commonly have about their team, their company, and their company’s markets.  Leadership Blindspots evaluates 20 of the most common habits that leaders are unaware of which are undermining their efforts.  It is a compelling read for leaders who are serious about improving themselves and their organization.