11 Leadership Classics to Read Now

UPDATED: March 11, 2021
PUBLISHED: July 6, 2014
11 Leadership Classics to Read Now

Whether you’re a CEO, solopreneur or cubicle dweller, you’ll find these books instructive and inspiring.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1936/1981)

First published in 1936 and revised with updated anecdotes in 1981, How to Win Friends and Influence People has sold some 15 million copies worldwide. The book offers commonsense insights and tips on winning people to your way of thinking without making them feel mowed down, as well as increasing your influence and ability to get things done, handling complaints, becoming a better speaker, and inspiring enthusiasm among associates. “When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity,” Carnegie writes.

Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization by John Wooden and Steve Jamison (2005)

Wooden on Leadership focuses on getting maximum effort and peak performance from each team member in accomplishing a common goal. The legendary UCLA basketball coach, who led teams to 10 national titles, outlines mental, emotional and physical qualities essential to building a winning organization, and includes his Pyramid of Success for leadership, which can be applied to all aspects of life. Without emphasizing winning, Wooden stresses the importance of preparation, following processes and doing your best at every moment. “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming,” he writes.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

An ancient Chinese military treatise, The Art of War has influenced Eastern and Western military thinking, business tactics and legal strategies. Military leaders ranging from Mao Zedong to Gen. Douglas MacArthur have cited the work, which has been attributed to Sun Tzu, a high-ranking general, strategist and tactician. First translated into French in 1772 by a Jesuit missionary and into English in 1910, the book contains 13 sections pertaining to different aspects of battle strategy. But you don’t have to wage war to find valuable insights and quotes. “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh (2010)

Delivering Happiness chronicles his early life and influences, entrepreneurship and personal growth. Hsieh writes about the importance of a company’s culture and how to nurture it as a means of empowering employees and providing them with a sense of purpose and fulfillment, which ultimately translates into a commitment to service (i.e., happy employees equal happy customers). Details about how Zappos developed its core values—incorporating input from employees—are helpful to anyone seeking to build an effective, team-oriented organization.

Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul by Howard Schultz, with Joanne Gordon (2011)

Onward details the tumultuous period starting in 2008 when Schultz returned to his position as CEO, after stepping away from daily oversight to serve as president and chairman. Schultz describes the challenges of returning the company to profitability and its core values, which included closing stores permanently and shuttering the entire business for a day for retraining, while consistently communicating with employees to engage them in the effort.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t by Jim Collins (2001)

Good to Great concluded an exhaustive five-year research project on all Fortune 500 companies and identifying only 11 that achieved long-term great results. Collins and a team of researchers identified common characteristics necessary to make the leap from good to great. Some findings were surprising; for instance, the most effective leaders were humble and strong-willed rather than outgoing. “Greatness is not a function of circumstance,” Collins writes. “Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice.”

The One Minute Manager, by Kenneth Blanchard, Ph.D., and Spencer Johnson, M.D., (William Morrow & Co., 2003)

The One Minute Manager has sold some 13 million copies worldwide since it was first published in 1981, and offers basics in organizational management. The book focuses on three techniques used by the effective manager: one-minute goal-setting to clearly articulate what’s expected of employees, one-minute praisings to compliment employees on what they’re doing right, and one-minute reprimands to promptly point out mistakes and specifically explain what was done wrong.

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You, by John C. Maxwell (Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007)

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership provides insights learned from his decades of successes and mistakes, and includes observations related to business, politics, sports, religion and military conflict.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, by Patrick Lencioni (Jossey-Bass, 2002)

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team reveals how a lack of teamwork often causes the best teams to fail, regardless of the dedication of their individual members. The best-seller provides strategies for identifying the root causes of politics and dysfunction and ways to overcome them to create a cohesive, results-focused unit.

Developing the Leader Within You, by John C. Maxwell (Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2000)

Developing the Leader Within You illustrates how to develop the vision, values, influence and motivation required of successful leaders, and examines the differences between leadership styles. Maxwell’s passion for developing exceptional leaders is evident in this international best-seller.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, by Stephen R. Covey (Simon & Schuster, 2013)

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, and offers insights on achieving personal and professional success, and on living with integrity, honesty and dignity. Covey’s groundbreaking book has influenced presidents, CEOs, educators and others.


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