Best Books On Leadership

I am an avid reader. From quantum physics, via business, to sport psychology – and beyond, if I get my grasp on a book, I’m on it. And the further I go, the more often I’m disappointed. It’s actually hard to find a good book nowadays. And truly groundbreaking vaults of knowledge are extremely rare. With that in mind, I would like to share my top three books on leadership with you. While you mind find this selection trivial, they helped me reshape myself to provide a better service and better value to those that I work with.

“Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek

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If you’re even remotely interested in leadership, you must’ve seen Simon on stage during his seemingly countless TED talks and interviews. It’s his second book, following spectacular success of “Start With Why” (which I also recommend, though for building a business). While you may argue it’s entry level, that’s one of it’s advantages. It’s deceptively easy to get so entangled in complex processes and models, that basics fade out from our view. Also, I love how Simon phrases his ideas – in an easy to follow and understand way. I envy this skill, as – clearly – I don’t possess it. Altogether, a great book covering the most crucial aspects of leadership, without all the corporate mumbo-jumbo.

“Turn The Ship Around!” by David Marquet

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An intriguing story of one nuclear submarine captain, who was almost forced to become humble and drop his know-it-all mindset. We all know these managers. It’s just impossible for team to convince them they’re wrong. Well, David was used to know every possible detail of warships he commanded. One day, just days before setting sails, he was stricken off balance by his superiors. He was to take over a different submarine – also, of other type. Having no chance to learn everything by heart, he caught himself failing several times – and making an unorthodox (and possibly illegal) decision to empower his crew. Within months, his submarine became the most efficient of US Navy vessels. The story, with all the findings and conclusions, makes one wonder – if it’s possible to achieve that on a military warship loaded with nuclear missiles, how hard could it be in corporate environment?

Yes, very. Unless you learn how to improvise, adapt, and overcome the obstacles. David’s book will give you a hand.

“Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink

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While previous two are light reads, this book is quite hardcore. Jocko was one of the commanding officers of US Navy SEAL team during heavy fighting in battle of Ramadi. His story goes far beyond what they teach you at business school. From brutal training, through dusty streets of Iraqi cities, to ruthless corporate environment, we learn what it takes to truly lead our men. It’s a story of extremely hard work, honest accountability, and discipline. I love three things about Jocko’s story. First, there’s no sugarcoating included. Leading is a hard work and this book is one of the very few places where it’s stated openly and repeatedly. Second, it’s truly practical, with examples that most of readers will relate to with ease. Third, the book gave us one of the most popular episodes of Tim Ferriss podcast (which I highly recommend) and extensive podcast series by Jocko Willink himself.

These three may not resonate with you the way they did for me, though they will expand your horizons and give you great tools to work on your business, your team, and yourself.

For unorthodox books on Agile, see this post.

Non-Obvious Books on Agile Philosophy

In recent months, I ran dozen trainings on Agile aimed at (mostly) non-IT crew of a very large and old company. It was extremely challenging to my comfort zone, especially as it meant the whole course to be rebuilt from scratch. I had to stay as far as possible from IT-related terminology, examples, and practical applications of the philosophy I shared. While the whole experience gave me a lot of thinking – and while you’ll be able to see quite a lot of it in upcoming posts – let’s focus on one area that almost every group asked me about.

What books could you recommend?

It really troubled me at first. Not only I wanted to stay outside boundaries of geeky world of deliveries, releases, and features. I wanted to convey philosophy, not specific methods – especially given most of these people, in their workplace, are unlikely to drastically change the processes they are involved in. That unique challenge resulted in following list of three books that I recommend to everyone.

Coincidentally, two of those three books are those I give away as gifts regularly.

“The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph” by Ryan Holiday

Why? Because to me, almost everything about Agile is to accept reality as it is. Which is contrary to how most old-school approaches seem to operate. We all suck at precise estimations. Agile addresses it in variety of ways. No rock-solid plan ever survives first contact with reality. Likewise, there’s something Agile could do about it. Transparency and understanding of what’s really important is crucial to every business successful operation. Again, plenty of mechanisms and approaches are spread across things called Agile.

Make no mistake, Ryan Holiday’s book makes no reference to the new black of IT. It’s all about seeing the world the way ancient stoics did – as it is – and making smarter choices, instead of habitual ones.

Does that ring a bell to all you Agile aficionados?

I buy this book in bulks to give to people who could benefit from it.

“Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl

It is, indisputably, the single best book I have ever read. I doubt it could ever be moved from the first place. Written in 1946, it chronicles Frankl’s experience as a concentration camp inmate in WW2 Germany. Being already a renowned psychologist, he observed how sense of meaning and freedom of choice (present despite nightmarish reality) affected longevity of prisoners.

Book is, at one time, extremely sad and uplifting. First time I read it, it watered my eyes, yet left me with positive outlook on life. It turned out, that even when things go inhumanly wrong – we can always do something about it.

When read in combination with the first book, it prioritizes our problems properly. In essence, it makes most of them not worth our while.

When putting Agile philosophy into practice, it’s good to know what’s truly important and remember that we always have a choice.

Heck, it’s good to know these two to live a good life.

“The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future” by Chris Guillebeau

Compared to the two first choices, this one seems odd. It’s neither philosophical, nor life changing. Why is it on the list then? Because most employees worldwide have negligible to none experience as business owners. And bringing operations closer to business is one of the cornerstones of Agile as a whole.

This book bridges that gap. In simple words, with great examples, and practical recommendations, it explains basics of entrepreneurship, from mindset to practice. Entertaining and worthwhile read.

A word of advice

Each of these books can make you want to quit your job. Whether it’s good idea or not – that depends. It’s always worth consideration and analysis though.