Although everyone has their favorites, the editors at AskTheManager.com chose the following tomes as The Best Leadership Books of All Time:
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; by Stephen R. Covey – It’s hard not to put Dale Carnegie at Number 1, but Covey’s 7 Habits is simply the best leadership development book of all time. No matter what management level you hold – you don’t even need to be a manager to learn from this book – by following the 7 Habits you will improve every relationship in your work and private life; you’ll gain the respect of your peers, subordinates and superiors; and you’ll actually begin to accomplish a few things. Not a bad way to run your life, is it?
- How to Win Friends & Influence People; by Dale Carnegie – It’s hard to believe that this “people-skills” book was written more than 70 years ago, but its staying power proves one thing: business is about people. Interestingly, so is leadership. The most important asset of any successful business is their people, and Carnegie’s classic has helped millions worldwide improve their business relationships and grow as leaders. The lessons are almost common knowledge, but as TheManager knows, common knowledge always seems uncommon in business.
- The One Minute Manager; by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson – This best-selling leadership tale has stood the test of time – not to the extent of Carnegie’s great work, but TheManager doesn’t doubt that The One Minute Manager will still be as relevant in 2081 as it is today (and as it was in 1981). Full of great advice on how to manage a small team and presented in a concise story format, the lessons in One Minute can be applied across all levels of leadership.
- Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done; by Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan, and Charles Burck – Once you know how to deal with and lead people, the next step is actually getting these groups to accomplish something. For business leaders today, it seems we spend more time admiring our problems than we do solving them. Execution does a great job of driving leaders into action. Interpersonal relationships, innovation and strategy are all critical leadership skill sets, but without Execution these abilities mean nothing to the success or failure of a business.
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable; by Patrick M. Lencioni – A great fictional tale that gets to heart of why most teams fail to execute: teamwork. Your group may understand the terrific vision and direction you provide, but without teamwork your processes will grind to a halt. Regardless of the number of “truly dedicated” individuals you have in a group, The Five Dysfunctions demonstrates how to move that group away from personalities and into a cohesive state characterized by results.
- What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful; by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter – Sometimes misclassified as just a self-help book for leaders, What Got You Here is actually a great leadership development read for both those who need to smooth out some rough edges in their approach or personality, and those who want to build a constructive company culture that takes the organization to the next level. TheManager especially recommends this book for leaders who consider themselves successful, but also believe they might be perfect. (Chances are, you’re not, and what got you here won’t get you there.)
- First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently; by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman – Focused on performance, among other things, Break All The Rules should be required reading for all managers. The concepts discussed fly in the face of conventional wisdom and may leave you scratching your head at first. Throughout Break All The Rules, commonly held beliefs are exposed as ineffective or destructive – not by the authors, but by the hyper-successful managers they interviewed.
- Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t; by Jim Collins – Although many of the companies Collins identifies as having made the leap from good to great back when this book was first published (2001) have since fallen on hard times (Fannie Mae comes to mind right away), it does not diminish Good to Great’s standing as one of the ten best leadership books of all time. What originally moved Collins’ eleven highlighted companies to the top is what matters, and the principles exposed in his book are still the best roadmap we have for improving entire organizations.
- The Art of War; by Sun Tzu – Even today, business is war, and the teachings of Sun Tzu are still applicable more than 2,500 years after they were first written. While it would be great if we could all sit in a circle wearing just our underwear, hold hands and sing Kumbaya, the hard truth is that not every interaction is going to be fair and not everyone we deal with is going to deal fairly. The Art of War teaches you how to plan, negotiate, and build important interpersonal skills – it is an understatement to say that this work has stood the test of time. (TheManager’s note: make certain you acquire the complete version and not an abbreviated version of this work – you will not be satisfied by the 70-page paperback that is available on some websites.)
- Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life; by Spencer Johnson with Kenneth Blanchard (foreword) – The only authors to have two books on our list, Messrs. Johnson and Blanchard always take a unique approach to teaching the mundane. In Who Moved My Cheese you’ll discover a very quick and entertaining read that helps people and organizations cope with change. Probably the most argued book on this list (our editors were split 50/50 on whether or not to include it), Cheese was included primarily because of the current economic climate we face. Businesses are either changing or closing, and Who Move My Cheese helps you, your leaders and your employees cope with and adapt to it.
Now’s your chance. Where did we go wrong? Which book do you think deserves to be on the list? Make your case by leaving comments. (We promise to post all comments except those that contain profanity or make fun of us, or both.)