Do Leadership Books Really Help Advance Your Life and Career?

A man scratching his head in a confused fashion.


There’s a sea of poor advice to wade through looking for those leadership pearls of wisdom, especially with the popularity of blogging and the ease of self-publishing. Even if you manage to find what appears to be solid leadership advice, does it actually help you advance your career and become a better leader?

Absolutely, but there is one caveat…

You need to be absorbing and applying what you read; it won’t help you if it goes in one ear and out the other. Leadership books aren’t a magic cure-all that turns you into a great leader overnight. They do, however, provide a blueprint for becoming a better leader. Don’t just take my word for it, Mike Vardy is a believer in leadership books as well. If you read, absorb, and apply the advice in these best leadership books, they will help you.


49 Top Leadership Books


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There was a time when the selection of leadership books was limited. In today’s world of self-publishing and online content there are countless books available, and a lot of them have solid, actionable advice. Looking for the leadership competencies and behaviors to get you to the next level?

To help you on your journey through leadership literature, here are the 49 “best of the best” leadership books.

The cover of

Two leaders of SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser offer leadership advice pulled from their harrowing experiences in Iraq.

The cover of Daniel H. Pink's

Daniel H. Pink takes a unique approach, tapping into the human desire to direct our own lives while learning and creating.
Ken Melrose, the head of the Toro lawn care company, shares his journey of corporate loss, gains, and knowledge learned along the way.
This book offers an insightful look at servant leadership, and asks the reader to look inside and reflect on their own character.

Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, invites women to stop reflecting on what they can’t do, and start discovering and proving what they can do: anything.

Daniel H. Pink uses science, analytics, and life experience to help you squeeze the most out of your day and make every moment the perfect time.


7. Why Leadership Sucks® Volume 1: Servant Leadership Fundamentals and Level 5 Leadership

Miles Anthony Smith's leadership book,

In, “Why Leadership Sucks: Volume 1,” I lay out the fundamentals of servant leadership, how to put theory into practice, and how to make leadership fun again. (I had to include my book!)

Jim Collins’ book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t,” pulls from a study covering 28 companies to offer advice on which leadership strategies and business practices work, and which don’t.

Patrick Lencioni's leadership and team book,

Patrick Lencioni, author of “The Five Temptations of a CEO” and “The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive,” tells the story of a team struggling to stay afloat due to five core team dysfunctions in, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable.”

Patty McCord's leadership book,

Patty McCord draws from her experience at Netflix as the chief talent officer and shares how leaders at companies are failing to hire properly in her book, “Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility.”
Robert Greene and Joost Elffers draw from thousands of years of ancient philosophers to bring you the, “48 Laws of Power,” and how they can be used to obtain, defend, or maintain power in leadership.

The cover of Robert K. Greenleaf's,

Robert K. Greenleaf’s, “Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power & Greatness,” provides a blueprint for securing and maintaining proper, respectable leadership.

The leadership book,

Author Simon Sinek pulls from the leadership methods used by military generals to pull teams together in his book, “Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t.”
Jack Canfield, the creator of the successful “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series, shares advice on achieving your goals and becoming the person you want to be – all pulled from his 40 years of experience.
Author Napoleon Hill shares the secrets to growing rich, both financially and in life, inspired by the advice of Andrew Carnegie.
Max DePree, the former CEO of Herman Miller, Inc., shares the secrets to how executives and managers can become the leaders their company needs.
Psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor, Viktor E. Frankl, shares his observations on life’s meaning in his memoir, “Man’s Search for Meaning.”
James C. Hunter provides a straightforward, three-step plan to achieving personal, organizational, and societal betterment in his servant leadership book, “The World’s Most Powerful Leadership Principle: How to Become a Servant Leader.”
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale draws from faith and inspiration to help readers put their faith into action and discover self-betterment in, “The Power of Positive Thinking.”
Michael Bungay Stanier’s, “The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever,” asks seven essential questions that will help you say less, ask more, and become a stronger leader.
Malcolm Gladwell, writer of the bestseller, “The Tipping Point,” returns to analyze what the best, brightest, most successful minds all have in common.
James A. Autry, former Fortune 500 exec and bestselling author, shares the secrets to being an effective servant leader in, “The Servant Leader: How to Build a Creative Team, Develop Great Morale, and Improve Bottom-Line Performance.”



Sophia Amoruso's bestseller,
Prominent cultural icon, founder of Nasty Gal, and author Sophia Amoruso shares her own life experiences from her path to the top in, “#GIRLBOSS.”
Hacking Leadership delivers a proven approach to identifying your blind spots and closing leadership gaps. This book helps you gain a sharper perspective on your performance as a leader; learn to challenge your presuppositions about leadership and who you are as a leader; gain deep insights into your perceptual biases and self-imposed limitations; and totally re-frame your thinking about what it means to be a leader.
The heroic tale of the leadership and bravery behind the epic journey of Ernest Shackleton comes to life in Alfred Lansing’s, “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage.”
Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras debunk numerous business myths and examine successful startups to unlock the secrets to success in, “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.”
In, “Why Leadership Sucks: Volume 2,” I delve further into the leadership pain, pitfalls, and challenges of leadership and encourages perseverance with practical, action steps based on his real-world, in-the-trenches leadership experience.
Considered the “Bible of business productivity,” David Allen’s, “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity,” tackles how to be a stronger leader, businessperson, and more organized in your daily life.
Author Kent M. Keith argues the practicality and ethical aspects of servant leadership in this introductory book, “The Case for Servant Leadership.”

Each of the 7 Disciplines is valuable on its own, but together they add up to more than a sum of their parts, and work synergistically to propel leaders to higher and higher effectiveness and companies to better and better business.

Howard Behar draws from his experience as a senior executive at Starbucks to discuss the people over profits mentality of the company in, “It’s Not About the Coffee: Lessons on Putting People First from a Life at Starbucks.”
Authors Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee use their decades of business and leadership experience to discuss the importance of connecting through emotional intelligence in, “Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence.”
“The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal,” the modern self-betterment book from Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, embraces modern society and tech to help people balance their energy expenditure with renewal.
“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” the bestseller from Dr. Stephen R. Covey, will help you tap into the very habits the most successful leaders and businesspeople around the world utilize.
Authors James W. Sipe and Don M. Frick bring a skills-oriented approach the servant leadership in, “Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership: Practicing the Wisdom of Leading by Serving.”
The classic bestseller from Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends & Influence People,” teaches numerous time-tested methods to win over others, sell your line of thinking, and change people without causing resentment.
“The Art of War,” by Sun Tzu, is a timeless manual on how to strategically navigate both combat and life in the most honorable way.
Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, discusses his company’s dedication to a better world and working environment in his book, “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose.”
“The 4-Hour Workweek,” the book that made Tim Ferriss famous, offers tips and tricks on streamlining your career and escaping late retirement by embracing the digital age and online world.
Dr. John C. Maxwell offers advice on developing leadership traits and defining management vs. leadership in his faith-based book, “Developing the Leader Within You.”
Authors Kenneth R. Jennings and John Stahl-Wert use a fictional story to drive home the importance of standing behind your team in, “The Serving Leader: Five Powerful Actions to Transform Your Team, Business, and Community.”
Gary Vaynerchuk’s, “Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion,” shares his own journey from growing his parent’s wine business and what he learned along the way.
Seasoned coach John Wooden and author Steve Jamison take the tactics of coaching and apply them to leadership and life in, “Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization.”
Kristen Hadeed, founder of Student Maid, argues that leaders and organizations should stop trying to be perfect and start being agents of action in, “Permission to Screw Up: How I Learned to Lead by Doing (Almost) Everything Wrong.”


45. Let Go

Pat Flynn's,
Pat Flynn, once a downtrodden architect, shares his journey to success and happiness in, “Let Go,” a book on finding one’s purpose in their life and career.
Paulo Coelho’s, “The Alchemist,” tells the story of a young shepherd on the personal journey a lifetime, teaching valuable leadership and personal lessons along the way.
Seth Godin’s classic, “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us,” lays out a three-step plan to building a tribe and successfully leading it by playing into the human need to be lead and fit in.


48. It’s Good To Be King: A Leadership Fable for Everyday Leaders

Seth Godin's,
Written by award winning Inc. magazine columnist and strategy guru James Kerr, the messages presented in the book are so “relateable,” that they will resonate with all kinds of leaders, including those that lead in the classroom, at the ball field, within civic groups, places of worship and, of course, at work.
While forgiveness often sucks in the moment, it is a necessity for true happiness and the greatest expression of love.


Becoming a Stellar Leader with Personal Development Books

 A bad leader, leading their team off the deep end.

While all of the leadership and personal development books in the world won’t make you a better leader, they can certainly help spark some ideas. Then it’s up to you to practice these new concepts in order to become a more proficient leader.

Start with the above list and pick a book or two or twelve that interests you or meshes well with your personality. Give it a read (or listen if you are into audiobooks) and glean the ideas you could reasonably put into practice in your daily life. It might be overwhelming to think about reading 43 books. They key is to start somewhere…

All leadership books are not created equally, and it’s entirely possible some books simply aren’t for you. An author’s message and way of leading needs to click with who you are for it to be effective. And most of all, you need to be excited about putting what you learn into practice.

Leadership can be messy, even on a good day. If you or your organization is in need of some leadership coaching, check out my books on servant leadership or contact me for and let’s chat about how get your leadership and/or team on track for skyrocketing success.

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Hi, I’m Miles Anthony Smith, founder of Why Stuff Sucks™, a lead generation/nurturing focused digital marketing agency.

I live for the business results we get for our clients, and love coaching others to level up their digital marketing and leadership skills. Cheers!