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21 Inspirational books on leadership

If you are looking for inspiration on how to lead your team or organization to New Ways of Working, this list is for you. Below, I have picked 21 books that inspired me and will hopefully inspire you.

The top 3 are personal picks that made an impression on me for various reasons. The remaining 18 books had to live up to the following criteria:

  • Only books I have read and would rebuy if I lost my copy
  • 100+ ratings with a minimum average score of 3.98 of 5 on Goodreads (wisdom of the crowds)
  • Only one book per author on the list

The books from 4th to 21st are ranked by their Goodreads rating as of 31st May 2022. I have commented on why I like the books in the Top 10. You can find descriptions of the remaining 11 books on Goodreads by clicking the title.

# RATING REVIEWS TITLE AUTHOR(-S)
1 4.19 5,135 Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness Frederic Laloux
When Reinventing Organizations came out in 2014, it was a breath of fresh air for me and many others. It led me down the path to Spiral Dynamics and Integral theory, which I didn’t know at the time. Frederic Laloux’s accounts of how you can run organizations of all sizes without traditional hierarchies gave glims of a different future – a different way of working. Since it was published, Reinventing Organizations has been an inspiration for many authors, including my friend Erik Korsvik Østergaard, who builds on Laloux’s work in his book Teal Dots in an Orange World. If you haven’t read Reinventing Organizations yet, I highly recommend reading it.
2 4.22 887 Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change Don Edward Beck & Christopher C. Cowan
Spiral Dynamics (SD) is a model of the evolutionary development of individuals, organizations, and societies. Don Edward Beck and Christopher Cowan developed Spiral Dynamics based on the emergent cyclical theory of Clare W. Graves. Spiral Dynamics is the theory behind Reinventing Organization and Teal. This book is an excellent resource for understanding how value systems and worldviews emerge from interacting “life conditions” and the mind’s capacities.
3 4.23 40 Running with Purpose: How Brooks Outpaced Goliath Competitors to Lead the Pack James Weber
Running with Purpose, Brooks CEO, James Weber, was published a month ago and only made it onto the list as a personal favorite, but wait another month or two, and I am sure it will have the 100+ ratings and a score that would qualify. The book is a leadership memoir with insights, inspirational stories, and tangible takeaways for any leaders and entrepreneurs. You don’t have to be a runner like me to enjoy it, but it doesn’t hurt.
4 4,28 21,481 The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups Daniel Coyle
The Culture Code is the highest-rated book on my list, with more than 21,000 ratings and 1,745 reviews. In this book, Coyle discusses how organizations can develop a healthy group culture that promotes interconnection, teamwork, and consistency by focusing on three foundational concepts: safety, vulnerability, and purpose. My biggest takeaway was how you could cultivate safety by using behaviors and actions known as belonging cues.
5 4,23 13,596 Turn The Ship Around!: How to Create Leadership at Every Level L. David Marquet
“Leadership is about giving control rather than taking control and creating leaders rather than forging followers.” By introducing Intent-based Leadership at every level, David Marquet takes one of the worst-performing submarines in the U.S. Navy and turns it into an example to follow. I have never had a strong interest in stories about the military, but having the story play out on a nuclear-powered submarine with no margin does add to the excitement.
6 4,21 80,628 Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration Ed Catmull & Amy Wallace
I often gift this book to students in my Professional Agile Leadership classes. It is one of my personal all-time favorite leadership books! In Creativity, Inc, Ed Catmull, co-founder and president Ed Catmull of Pixar, tells stories about blockbuster animation movies like Toy Story (the trilogy), Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo. Still, more importantly, Catmull presents a blueprint for running a modern organization on practical experience-based principles.
7 4,19 17,438 Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman Yvon Chouinard
Let My People Go Surfing is another leadership memoir. Chouinard is not your traditional business person, which he highlights in the book with the following quote: “I’ve been a businessman for almost fifty years. It’s as difficult for me to say those words as it is for someone to admit to being an alcoholic or a lawyer.” Nevertheless, Chouinard has managed to grow Patagonia into one of the most respected brands in the outdoor clothing industry. The book is more an anecdotal account of Chouinard’s life and the creation of Patagonia than a leadership “handbook”, but it is still well worth a read.
8 4,17 275 Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results Bob Anderson & William A. Adams
Mastering Leadership was a challenging read due to the amount of knowledge crammed into the 374 pages. In this book, Anderson carefully explains the research behind the Leadership Circle Profile (LCP) and why creative leadership is more effective than reactive leadership. I read the book as I prepared for my LCP Practitioner certification back in 2015. I plan to re-read it soon as I suspect it to be one of those books where you gain new insights every time you read it.
9 4,16 11,944 Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success Phil Jackson & Hugh Delehanty
Growing up as a Chicago Bulls fan, I was curious to learn about Phil Jackson’s leadership style and why he has earned the nickname the Zen Master. In Eleven Rings, Jackson shares his beliefs in the power of mindfulness, team chemistry, freedom, authenticity, and selfless teamwork in the world of hypercompetitive professional sports. Jackson also shares how he worked with superstars like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant and players labeled uncoachable by others to form championship-winning teams in Chicago and Los Angeles Lakers.
10 4,16 10,182 Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World Stanley McChrystal
I was a bit hesitant to read another military leadership book. Are the ideas and leadership styles of the military really applicable to traditional organizations? In the case of Team of Teams, I was pleasantly surprised. The story’s backdrop was the U.S. Military’s war on Al Qaeda in 2004. According to McChrystal, Al Qaeda had seen the future: a decentralized network that could move quickly and strike ruthlessly, and they were winning despite America’s vastly superior resources and technology. In this book, McChrystal shows how the military transformed into a network that combined robust centralized communication with decentralized managerial authority and how similar shifts are possible in all organizations.
11 4,15 549 Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them Gary Hamel & Michele Zanini
12 4,15 1,001 Brave New Work: Are You Ready to Reinvent Your Organization? Aaron Dignan
13 4,1 779 Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family Bob Chapman & Raj Sisodia
14 4,09 1,802 Organizational Culture and Leadership Edgar H. Schein
15 4,08 97,291 The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable Patrick Lencioni
16 4,08 10,467 Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long David Rock
17 4,07 119,774 Mindset: The New Psychology of Success Carol S. Dweck
18 4,01 148 Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change Bill Joiner & Stephen Josephs
19 4,00 1,964 The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth Amy C. Edmondson
20 3,98 8,845 Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization Dave Logan, John King & Halee Fischer-Wright
21 3,98 7,769 The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership James C. Hunter

What books are missing?

I am always looking for new inspiration and haven’t yet decided what books to bring on this year’s summer vacation to Spain. I would therefore love to hear your perspective on my list. What books would have made your top 21 and why? Please use the comments below and inspire me and others.

Thanks in advance, and happy reading!

/Martin

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