November 21, 2022

The books I recommend most frequently to leaders

If you could adopt just one habit to ensure leadership success, what should it be?


That’s according to many leaders, perhaps most notably Warren Buffett, whose singular personal goal as a leader is to go to bed each day just a little bit smarter than he was when he woke up. He advocates a rather ambitious 500 pages of reading per day, but as someone who reads voraciously but significantly less, I can assure you that you will still benefit from a lower page count.

I love to read, and I know that books can help me be smarter in hundreds of different ways, depending on what I choose. But since I’m always looking for resources to help people thrive, my selections are frequently tied to my work, and I often find myself recommending books to clients. This post describes those I recommend most often.

The best books for leaders

This isn’t your typical leadership reading list, and yet I see many of these as essential reading because they contain critical insight to enhance leadership. That’s because to lead effectively and manage the many priorities and tasks of leadership, you must really know yourself. And you must be able to turn to a toolbox of habits and systems that enable you to get work done.

In this list, you’ll find wisdom to help you better understand yourself and those around you as well as how to work more effectively with them. You’ll also find tools to get more done and inspiration for expanding your life beyond work. All of them will make you better as a professional and a leader.

I also want to share a shout-out here to my colleagues in the leadership team for the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine® and the Executive Leadership in Healthcare programs – their suggestions helped me build on my original list, and I want to give them credit, though this list is not “endorsed” by ELAM/ELH.

Let’s jump in, and please reach out or share a comment with your own favorite reads for leaders.

Career Strategies

The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at all Levels, by Michael Watkins

Beyond Collaboration Overload: How to Work Smarter, Get Ahead and Restore Your Well-Being, by Rob Cross

Effective Leadership

Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, by Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Influence, New and Expanded: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini, PhD

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts, by Brene’ Brown

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, by Brene’ Brown

No-Fail Meetings: 5 Steps to Orchestrate Productive Meetings (and Avoid all the Rest), by Michael Hyatt

Death by Meeting: A Leadership Parable. . . About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business, by Patrick Lencioni and Fabio Gosher

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni

Productivity systems that work

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen

Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less, by Michael Hyatt

Your World-Class Assistant: Hiring, Training and Leveraging an Executive Assistant, by Michael Hyatt

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, by James Clear

The Stack Method: Manage Your Email Better, Forever — OK this isn’t a book, and it really isn’t a gift. But I slid it into this list because it’s a series of free videos introduces you to a method for managing email that I find highly useful. When I am on my game with this method, I really am able to manage high numbers of incoming emails and remain productive.

More effective negotiations

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Without Giving In, by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton

Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation – And Positive Strategies for Change, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever

And the follow-up, Ask for It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever

Effective relationships and communication

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler

It’s All Politics: Winning in a World Where Hard Work and Talent Aren’t Enough, by Kathleen Kelley Reardon

Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ, by Daniel Goleman

Knowing Yourself

Composing a Life, by Mary Catherine Bateson

A Woman’s Book of Life: The Biology, Psychology and Spirituality of the Feminine Life Cycle, by Joan Borysenko, PhD


Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity, by Saundra Dalton-Smith

The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron

What’s on your list?

These books have been so educational and enlightening for me and my clients, but there are many others out there that would also be a great fit. What books do you consider must-reads?

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