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Top 20 Books on Leadership and Management

Top 20 Books on Leadership and Management

Putting together a list of excellent books on any subject is always a highly subjective exercise. Nonetheless it is often useful to try to sort through the clutter and at least try to assemble some worthy nominations based on a book’s quality or popular appeal (and all the books on this list have regularly topped the best selling and popular lists internationally). The list of Top 20 of the best books on leadership and Management below includes only those written in the last 5 years (2007-2012).

The list also excludes several excellent books that are in their 3rd, 4th and even 5th printing in this time frame such as Good to Great (Jim Collins), The Leadership Challenge (Kouzes and Posner) On being a Leader (Warren Bennis), Leading Change (John Kotter) or even the relatively recent First, Break all the Rules(Marcus Buckingham). All these were originally written 10 or more years ago and even though they may have been updated they cannot be regarded as recent books. Despite missing these notable authors, the top 20 list still contains several veteran authors who have written many books on leadership matters in the past.

These include Howard Gardner, Ram Charan, Robin Sharma, John Maxwell, John Adair, Steve Farber, and Marshall Goldsmith. The top twenty list below is rendered in reverse date order. A short description of the book is provided but much more information can be obtained by clicking on the book image.

The Top 20:

1. Leadership Development, by John Mitchell, Natalie Mitchell and Bogdan Gudzenko, 2012
  • Includes many theories and practices developed through global leadership development work with corporates such as Microsoft, professional firms such as Allen & Overy and banks such as UBS and ABN AMRO. Development concepts include the process of individual and organizational transformation from Level 1 of Leadership (passive, closed, past-oriented) through Level 2 (active, open, future-oriented) to Level 3 (creative and strategic while focused on the “now”).
2. Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership, by Howard E. Gardner and Emma Laskin, 2011
  • Harvard education professor Gardner defines a leader as one who successfully imparts a central message or story to a receptive audience. The authors see leaders as visionaries who create new stories. Other leaders on whom they focus are Eleanor Roosevelt, Gandhi, George Marshall, Margaret Mead, Martin Luther King Jr., J. Robert Oppenheimer, Margaret Thatcher, Pope John XXIII, former General Motors president Alfred P. Sloan Jr. and educator Robert Hutchins.
3. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel H. Pink, 2011.
  • Most people believe that the best way to motivate is with rewards like money–the carrot-and-stick approach. That’s a mistake, says Daniel H. Pink in Drive. He asserts that the secret to high performance and satisfaction–at work, at school, and at home–is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world. Pink examines the three elements of true motivation–autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
4. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, by Simon Sinek, 2011
  • Why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others? Why do some command greater loyalty? In studying the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world, Simon Sinek discovered that they all think, act, and communicate in the exact same way-and it’s the complete opposite of what everyone else does. People like Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers might have little in common, but they all started with why.
5. The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company, by Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel, 2011
  • This book shows organizations how to undo the knots and clogs in their in-house “leadership pipeline” so they can constantly groom the best people at every level to move up to the next rung of leadership. The authors identify the six transition phases, or “turns,” of the pipeline–from self-manager (individual worker), first-line manager, and managers’ manager to function manager, business manager, group manager and enterprise manager. With each, they point out the new skills and values one must acquire before making a move, and how to measure whether someone has them before moving them along.
6. The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential, by John C. Maxwell, 2011
  • True leadership isn’t a matter of having a certain job or title. In fact, being chosen for a position is only the first of the five levels every effective leader achieves. To become more than “the boss” people have to master the ability to invest in people and inspire them and help them to develop their skills to become leaders in their own right. The 5 Levels of Leadership are: 1. Position, 2. Permission, 3. Production 4. People Development and 5. Pinnacle.
7. People Follow You: The Real Secret to What Matters Most in Leadership, by Jeb Blount, 2011
  • Managers don’t get paid for what they do but rather for the performance of their people; therefore, a manager’s most important job is coaching behaviors in order to improve performance. In People Follow You managers are given five “levers” deemed to be critical to influencing the performance of the people they lead. Ultimately, people follow people that they like, trust, and believe in.
8. The Little Book of Leadership Development: 50 Ways to Bring Out the Leader in Every Employee by Scott J. Allen, Mitchell Kusy and Peter Vaill, 2011
  • This small book focuses on what works to get people motivated, working effectively, and acting as leaders themselves. The book offers instructions on modeling behaviors, sharing information, building accountability, stretching teams, providing feedback, and 45 other strategies. The authors suggest that managers with the ability to self-reflect and with a willingness to implement these ideas will see improvements in communication, efficiency, morale, and every other measure that points to a committed team of emerging leaders
9. The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) Handbook of Leadership Development by Ellen Van Velsor, Cynthia D. McCauley and Marian N. Ruderman, 2010
  • The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) is the world’s largest institution devoted exclusively to leadership research and education. Although this is a third edition, it is heavily updated from the previous editions and includes a wealth of recent practical knowledge that CCL has gained from this experience. It explores the essence of leadership development, reveals how individuals can effectively enhance their leadership skills, and demonstrates what organizations can do to help build leaders and leadership capacity. The book also includes an ancillary Web site with additional tools and resources:
10. The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People and Teams That Win Consistently by Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell and Nathan Whitaker, 2010
  • US NFL coach Tony Dungy (much like John Wooden in Basketball) developed a very successful leadership style when coaching his teams. In this book he shares his leadership philosophy and describes what propelled him to the top of his profession and shows how this can be applied to virtually any area of your life. He describes why mentor leadership brings out the best in people; how a mentor leader recovers from mistakes and handles team discipline; and the secret to getting people to follow you and do their best for you without using any intimidation tactics.
11. The Leader Who Had No Title: A Modern Fable on Real Success in Business and in Life, by Robin Sharma, 2010
  • Sharma draws on his advisory and consulting experience to offer ideas on getting the best from employees in changing and uncertain times. His focus is on: How to work with and influence people, regardless of position, Recognizing and then seizing opportunities in times of deep change, The secrets of intense innovation, Building a great team to “wow” customers, Tactics to become mentally strong and physically tough and finally Ways to defeat stress, build an unbeatable mind-set, unleash energy, and balance work and personal life
12. How to Grow Leaders: The Seven Key Principles of Effective Development by John Adair, 2009
  • In this book, UK leadership guru Adair offers a prescription for leadership development. John Adair transformed the world’s understanding of how leadership works. The author states that excellence of leadership needs to occur in strategic, operational and team levels. Beginning with an exploration of leadership and moving on to his seven steps to growing leaders. The contents include: The manager as leader; How people become leaders; Training team leaders; How to manage leadership training; and Learning to be a top strategic leader.
13. Strengths-Based Leadership, by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, 2009
  • Gallup interviewed 20,000 followers to ask what they admired in the most important leader in their life. The results of that research are described Strengths-Based Leadership. The authors identify three keys to being an effective leader and use firsthand accounts from highly successful leaders to show how each person’s unique talents can drive their success. This book has lots of research, stories, and actionable ideas, and seeks to offer a roadmap to readers for leading people.
14. The Radical Leap: A Personal Lesson in Extreme Leadership, by Steve Farber, 2009
  • In this business parable, explores a leadership model in which leaders aren’t afraid to take risks, make mistakes in front of employees, or actively solicit employee feedback. In The Radical Leap, we therefore meet Steve, a leadership consultant who is intrigued and challenged by an enigmatic man named Edg, from whom he learns the concept of L.E.A.P. Steve is then asked to help a friend, Janice, overcome conflicts at the biotech company where she works and bring back the company’s inspiring former CEO. The company is revitalized, having undergone a radical and successful transformation.
15. The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything, by Stephen M.R. Covey and Rebecca R. Merrill, 2008
  • Covey Jnr. suggests that Trust is so integral to our relationships that we often take it for granted, yet in an era marked by business scandals and a desire for accountability we should nurture trust in our professional and personal lives. Drawing on anecdotes and business cases from his years as CEO of the Covey Leadership Center the author reminds us that there’s plenty of room for improvement on this virtue. Covey outlines 13 behaviors of trust-inspiring leaders, such as demonstrating respect, creating transparency, righting wrongs, delivering results and practicing accountability.
16. Leadership from the Inside Out: Becoming a Leader for Life, by Kevin Cashman, 2008
  • Based on extensive research Cashman’s updated book based on his earlier title has new case studies, new tools and much more coaching advice. This book offers an integrated coaching experience that helps leaders understand how to harness their value-creating influence and elevate their impact as individuals, in teams, and in organizations. Cashman describes a “whole-person” approach as being essential to sustained success in today’s talent-starved marketplace and provides a measurable return on investment.
17. Remarkable Leadership: Unleashing Your Leadership Potential One Skill at a Time by Kevin Eikenberry, 2007
  • Predicated on the notion that leaders are not born, but are made and remade and made over again, author and consultant Eikenberry provides a guide to honing leadership skills that’s succinct demonstrating that leading is as much about listening, asking questions and empowering others as it is about charisma and vision. Thirteen chapters enumerate what remarkable leaders do-“learn continually,” “communicate powerfully,” “influence with impact,” “think and act innovatively,” etc.-and how they do it.
18. Leadership Matters…The CEO Survival Manual: What it Takes to Reach the C-Suite and Stay There, by Mike Myatt, 2007
  • Mike Myatt is a widely known Executive Coach in then US and in this book he offers a road map which incorporates everything that it takes to become a great CEO (whether this is an aspiring chief executive or an existing one). Myatt points out that effective leadership is about making the organization successful in the context of your community. A good leader therefore looks beyond the immediate horizon of personal improvement and sets the table for continued growth of the organization in the future.
19. Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work, by David Rock, 2007
  • Rock states that a leader’s job “should be to help people make their own connections,” Rock, details his six steps: “Think About Thinking” “Listen for Potential”; “Speak with Intent”; “Dance Toward Insight”; “CREATE New Thinking”; and, finally, “Follow Up” to ensure ongoing improved performance. Rock also explains how to apply the steps to problem solving, decision making and giving feedback.
20. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter, 2007
  • Goldsmith, an executive coach to many CEO’s of large companies, describes 20 bad habits that stifle already successful careers as well as personal goals. His steps in coaching for success are simple: gather feedback from appropriate colleagues and cohorts, determine which behaviors to change, apologize, advertise, listen, thank, follow up, and practice feed-forward. Goldsmith suggests that subtle small and subtle changes make all the difference. He states that these are small “transactional flaws” which lead to negative perceptions that can hold any executive back, but are readily addressed.


As we said at the outset, this Top 20 list is a subjective one. However, it does offer considerable diversity of reading material (from the highly academic to the heavily anecdotal and even story or fable based) and therefore offers great insight into the critical subject of Leadership and Management theory and practice-perhaps more needed in the modern world than ever.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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  1. JanelleNovember 13, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Dr. Warner, what a fantastic list you’ve compiled! It’s definitely time I update my collection!

    • Dr. Jon WarnerNovember 29, 2012 at 8:22 pmAuthor

      Many thanks Janelle.

  2. Mattie B.June 3, 2014 at 11:28 pm

    Have you read The Executive Checklist (Palgrave 2014). It synthesizes many of today’s leading management concepts and prescribes a method (through the use of checklists) for how to set direction and manage change in an easy to reference and consumable way. Filled with many thoughtful anecdotes and stories from industry. It should be at the top of every leader’s “to do” list.

About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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