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What does it take to be an effective leader in complex times? Perhaps this question has come to mind when you faced challenges as a leader. Or maybe you’re starting a new role that requires you to hone effective leadership skills. In moments like this, leadership books can be incredibly helpful. They can help you see through uncertainty and use challenges as chances to grow. However, with tens of thousands of leadership books in the market, finding useful ones can feel like a non-stop rollercoaster ride.

Being a book summary service that has explored numerous leadership books available, we’ll help save you time by directing you to only the best leadership books. Our range includes everything from strategic to inspirational reads, each book providing valuable insights into effective leadership.

Let’s get straight into it!

Overview of the Challenges facing Leaders Today

Navigating leadership roles in today’s unpredictable times can be overwhelming. Leaders must guide their organizations through economic challenges, drive ongoing innovation, and adapt to rapid changes. And then there’s the ever-so-important part – managing teams effectively. With so many challenges posed to modern leaders, including the need for adaptability and the ability to change leadership styles based on the environment, you might feel uncertain about your capabilities to effectively lead under various circumstances. Thankfully, research consistently shows that anyone can become a great leader as long as they show a willingness to learn the skills necessary to thrive in the role. Developing the right skills will help you with the necessary flexibility, adaptability, and authority to lead in an uncertain world. It will help you win over your team. Plus, employers seek these skills because they know they empower individuals and drive long-term growth.

What Leadership skills do you need?

No matter the environment, there are a set number of skills that will help you navigate the complexities and challenges leaders face today.
Essential Leadership Skills that every leader needs

Effective communication

Good communication is key to success. It can mean the difference between getting what you want and missing out. Leaders need to be able to speak, listen, and connect to inspire and influence the people around them. Think about it – having the ability to direct your thoughts and needs directly enables your points to get across firmly. Showing charisma is a quality that makes people gravitate towards you. Being able to use effective listening skills and empathy can build rapport and even trust. While, honing your ability to communicate in difficult situations can promote a toxic-free working environment.
For books targeted at helping you improve your communication skills, check out our article The 7 Best Books on Communication for Meaningful Interactions at Work

Persuasion and Influencing skills

Whether you’re aiming to persuade clients to sign a contract, gain backing for a proposal, or secure new business in competitive bids, the ability to persuade effectively is the key to achieving your objectives. Improving your persuasion skills involves establishing mutual respect with others and understanding their interests and needs. It also involves actively listening to others’ ideas to tailor your approaches and solutions more effectively. For more ideas on improving your persuasion skills and for our best pick for informative persuasion books check out our recommendations for 6 Best Influence Books to Become More Persuasive

Managing change

Adapting to and leading through change is a clear sign of strong leadership. Those who understand the need for organizational change often become more committed to the company’s success and the transition process. They can face new challenges confidently and build self-assurance. Furthermore, it’s crucial to handle resistance to change carefully to avoid adverse effects like employee frustration, stress, and lower productivity. For more on managing change check out our book summary for Our Iceberg is Melting by John Kotter. This book utilizes easy-to-remember and visually salient methods to discuss navigating change under any circumstance.

People Management Skills

Effective leaders benefit greatly from strong people management skills. These skills help you build unified and motivated teams, fostering a positive workplace atmosphere. By being a good communicator, empathetic, and skilled at resolving conflicts, you establish trust and connection with your team members. You can understand each person’s strengths and weaknesses, which allows you to delegate tasks well, increase employee engagement, and encourage teamwork and creativity. Strong people management skills also lead to happier employees, lower turnover rates, and better overall performance for the organization.

Strategic Thinking Skills

Strategic thinking helps you define goals and predict threats or vulnerabilities that may cause problems. In addition to helping you anticipate changes, strategic thinking enables you to prioritize and utilize resources intelligently. Take, for example, a project manager who employs strategic thinking to focus on crucial tasks, thereby ensuring project success. Moreover, strategic thinking enables you to identify opportunities. For instance, an entrepreneur might utilize strategic thinking to find new trends and launch products ahead of competitors.

For a deeper understanding of how strategic thinking can enhance leadership, we recommend reading our book summary for The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni. This book is a renowned resource in the field of leadership and strategic thinking, offering valuable insights into creating a cohesive organizational vision and using strategic thinking to ensure organizational health.

Planning and Execution

Planning and execution skills are crucial for aspiring leaders. A great leader must plan carefully, anticipating challenges and setting realistic goals. But planning is only half the battle, leaders also need to execute their plans effectively. This involves making decisions, delegating tasks, and overcoming obstacles. By mastering both planning and execution, leaders can inspire confidence in their team and achieve meaningful results.

Other skills beneficial to leaders are:

  • Courage
  • Empathy
  • Problem-solving ability
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Adaptability
  • Integrity
  • Resilience

Below we share the best leadership books that teach one or more of the skills critical to becoming an effective leader. Coming from a book summary service that’s sifted through and carefully read each book, we can assure you that they offer valuable insights and practical strategies.

Recommendations for the Best Leadership Books

Here are our top picks of the best leadership books.

7 Best Leadership Books to hone your leadership skills

Dare to Lead by Brene Brown

1-sentence summary 

Dare to Lead presents 4 courage-building skill sets that make brave leaders and courageous cultures. 

What it teaches you 

Brene Brown teaches you how vulnerability can be a strength, encouraging leaders to confront their fears, engage in tough conversations, and make decisions with transparency and integrity.

Key takeaways 

You’ll learn to embrace vulnerability, live into your values, build trust, and rise from failures. These courage-building skills will equip you with the tools to tackle challenging situations and lead with empathy and resilience.

Best For:

Dare to Lead is best suited for current and aspiring leaders across all levels and industries who seek to transform their approach to leadership.

Favorite Quote 

“Courage is a collection of four skill sets that can be taught, observed, and measured.”

Book Review

Based on 2 decades of research and real-life experience, Brené Brown details the antidote to fear and shame: brave leaders who are willing and able to face uncertainty and vulnerability head-on and teach their teams to do the same. Brown gives us a glimpse into her findings through many personal anecdotes and stories. She invites readers to put her recommendations into practice by downloading her free workbook and tools. 

You can read the Dare to Lead summary here.

Overcoming The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

1-sentence summary 

In this book, Lencioni defines five areas critical to team performance and outlines how their lack can handicap teams and overall organizational results.

What it teaches you 

You’ll learn the 5 elements that often cripple teams and how you can convert them into 5 factors of success.

Key takeaways 

Key takeaways from the book include actionable steps to transform any team into a cohesive, productive unit. Lencioni emphasizes the importance of vulnerability-based trust, engaging in unfiltered conflict around ideas, achieving commitment through clarity and buy-in, enhancing accountability through peer-to-peer relationships, and focusing on achieving collective results. 

Best For:

This book is ideal for team leaders, managers, and members at all levels looking to overcome common barriers to team success.

Favorite Quote 

“Teamwork remains the one sustainable competitive advantage that has been largely untapped.”

Book Review

Written as a business fable, the book examines the typical dysfunctions that impede teams’ performance. The author does this by explaining the manifestations of these dysfunctions through a fictitious story and offering doable solutions. The five dysfunctions discussed in the book are lack of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoiding accountability, and inattention to results. 

You can read the Overcoming The Five Dysfunctions of a Team summary here.

Start With Why by Simon Sinek

1-sentence summary 

Simon Sinek suggests creating a loyal following and inspire others to take action begins with defining purpose. 

What it teaches you 

You’ll learn to articulate your reasons or purpose clearly, follow the discipline of doing the right thing, and stay consistent with your statements.

Key takeaways 

Sinek illustrates how starting with ‘Why’ can profoundly influence every aspect of decision-making and communication, leading to more authentic and resonant interactions. Readers learn to apply this principle to inspire leadership, build a cohesive team culture, and craft marketing messages that resonate deeply with their audience.

Best For:

Start with Why is best suited for entrepreneurs, leaders, marketers, and individuals seeking to understand the essence of inspirational leadership and communication.

Favorite Quote 

“Those who are able to inspire will create a following of people – supporters, voters, customers, workers – who act for the good of the whole not because they have to, but because they want to.”

You can get the Start with Why summary here.

Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie Mckee

1-sentence summary 

In this book, the authors explain emotional intelligence competencies and leadership styles and ways to use them to create a positive emotional climate that fosters creativity, innovation, strong teams, and excellent performance.

What it teaches you 

Primal Leadership teaches you why emotional intelligence is powerful, how to develop resilient leaders, and how to build emotionally intelligent organizations.

Key takeaways 

The book’s key takeaways center on the six leadership styles: visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting, and commanding – and how each can be effectively applied, depending on the context.

Best For:

Primal Leadership is best suited for leaders at all levels who wish to enhance their effectiveness through emotional intelligence. This includes executives, managers, team leaders, and aspiring leaders across various sectors and organizations. 

Favorite Quote 

“The fundamental task of leaders…is to prime good feelings in those we lead.”

Book Review

Primal Leadership delves into emotional intelligence in leadership, emphasizing its critical role in fostering effective teams and organizations. The book includes research, stories, and anecdotes to explain how you can build up your emotional intelligence to positively impact others. The insights and strategies provided can benefit those seeking to foster positive organizational change, enhance team performance, and create an engaging work environment.

You can read the Primal Leadership summary here.

Radical Candor by Kim Scott

1-sentence summary 

This book outlines how you can become an outstanding boss, build sound relationships, achieve results, and create a better workplace

What it teaches you 

Radical Candor offers a framework for leaders and managers to build better relationships with their teams through honest and direct communication

Key takeaways 

Building good relationships that keep people happy and challenged sets great bosses apart from bad ones. Based on this notion,  Scott outlines strategies for developing genuine relationships, delivering clear and kind feedback, and encouraging open dialogue.

Best For:

Radical Candor is best for managers, team leaders, and anyone in a supervisory role who wants to improve their communication style and build stronger team relationships.

Favorite Quote 

“Guidance, team, and results: these are the responsibilities of any boss.”

Book Review

Radical Candor discusses combining the two dimensions of challenge and care to become the ideal boss. The author uses engaging, sometimes funny stories from her own experiences to make for a detailed yet memorable exploration of tips on the philosophy and techniques of applying Radical Candor.  If you care about being a great boss, then this is a must-read.

You can get the Radical Candor summary here.


The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell

1-sentence summary 

John Maxwell provides insights based on more than 40 years of leadership experience and observations of leaders in various fields. These insights are meant to help leaders become more powerful and effective.

What it teaches you 

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell comprehensively explores 21 principles that define effective leadership.

Key takeaways 

An understanding of how leadership works and how it can be cultivated and leveraged at all levels of an organization.

You’ll learn that leadership is not just a matter of position but influence. Furthermore, you’ll explore that effective leadership involves ongoing development, building trust and respect, and aligning a group’s actions toward a common goal. 

Best For:

Current and aspiring leaders.

Favorite Quote 

“Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”

Book Review

The book first came out in 1998, and for the 10th Anniversary Edition, Maxwell refreshed the 21 laws with new insights gained from watching leaders put them into action. He shares many leadership stories, including his own and those of famous people like athletes, business leaders, US presidents, and activists. You’ll find stories about well-known figures like Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as successful people from the business world like Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s

You can read The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership summary here.

Good to Great by Jim Collins

1-sentence summary 

In Good to Great, Collin and his research team examine the performance of thousands of sound companies over 40 years to identify the 6 ingredients that make an organization turn from good to great.

What it teaches you 

The book identifies several vital concepts that distinguish great companies and shows you how to create them in your own organization.

Key takeaways 

The book teaches leaders how to focus on their core competencies, set up a culture that promotes discipline, and pursue a clear and well-understood concept of what their company can be the best at.

Best For:

Business leaders, managers, and entrepreneurs seeking to elevate their organizations from mediocrity to excellence.

Favorite Quote 

“Greatness is not a function of circumstance.  Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice.”

Book Review

The book explores why some businesses succeed where others stagnate or even fail. For those into research methodology and details, Collins outlines the journey to his findings, including how companies were chosen and analyses of CEOs and business strategies. He lists what the top companies did well, including their key business metrics and use of technology. This book contains some of the most priceless and timeless principles that the ReadinGraphics team has reviewed. 

You can read the Good to Great summary here.

Bonus Leadership Books to Explore

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

Greene examines the dynamics of power and practical methods for using it. The author examines historical people and events to derive 48 laws that can be used to seize and hold onto power in various circumstances. 

This book will provide you with insightful knowledge about how people behave. You can learn more about power dynamics in particular and human psychology and behavior in general by using its historical examples. In addition, it will provide you with helpful guidance on handling challenging social and professional circumstances.

You can read The 48 Laws of Power summary here.

Drive by Daniel H. Pink

The book’s primary goal is to help readers understand the motivations behind their actions. The author delves into the psychology of motivation and makes the case that conventional techniques, such as rewards and punishment, don’t always yield the best results from individuals. Instead, he presents the alternative of purpose, autonomy, and mastery as essential sources of motivation. 

The book will alter your perspective on motivation. It will not only help improve your self-awareness but also help you learn how to motivate others. If you would love to learn about motivation as a leader for yourself or your team, this book will be a good choice.

You can get Drive Summary here.

The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier

The book offers tips on improving as a coach in both private and public contexts. The author stresses the importance of posing the appropriate questions to start meaningful discussions and promote change. Through actionable guidance and real-world examples, the book shows readers how to adopt a coaching attitude and acquire fundamental coaching abilities to empower others and get better results.

Reading the book will teach you to ask questions that elicit insights and spur action. You will also learn what it means to listen intently and sympathetically, among many other things, which will assist you in strengthening your connections and enhancing your communication abilities as a leader.

You can get The Coaching Habit summary here.

The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner

This leadership book explains the essential ideas of successful leadership. The authors identify five fundamental strategies distinguished leaders utilize to stimulate and encourage their teams. These include modeling the way, inspiring a shared vision, challenging the process, enabling others to act, and encouraging the heart. Also, it offers insightful lessons about how people can improve their leadership abilities and benefit their organizations.

This book will help you thoroughly understand what it takes to be a good leader. It will also teach you useful tactics that you may use in various leadership situations. Along with many other benefits, it will motivate you to pursue greater standards of leadership excellence and provide you with the knowledge you need to overcome challenges as a leader.

You can read about The Leadership Challenge  here. 

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What to do if you don’t have time to read?

It’s no secret that being a leader often means no shortage of work. It could be hard to spare time to get deep into a good read. What do you do then? 

Here are a few ways to extract knowledge from our favorite leadership books in a fraction of the time. 

AI Tools

AI tools like ChatGPT can help you read books faster by providing summaries and key insights so you don’t have to go through every page. They can highlight the main ideas, characters, and plot points or explain complex concepts in simpler terms. Their limitation is that they do not have access to the content of the books themselves. Instead, they rely on information on the Internet, which can lead to inaccuracies or information gaps. 

Book Summary Services 

Book summary services help you read books faster by condensing a book’s main points, themes, and critical insights into a shorter format. Instead of reading every page, you can get the gist of the book’s content in just a few minutes. These summaries highlight the most crucial information, allowing you to learn the core ideas and messages without spending hours reading. On top of that, book summaries promote information retention, especially when created in formats that cater to various learning styles. For example, ReadinGraphics offers text, audio, and infographic summaries that synthesize information and are guaranteed to provide you with more effective learning. 

Why not try out book summaries and see their benefits for yourself? ReadinGraphics offers 2 pre-selected summary samples to help you improve your business and personal development-related skills.

Final Words

Effective leadership is, in fact, crucial in today’s world, which is why you should consider reading our picks of best leadership books to enhance your leadership skills. The books offer perceptions and tactics to help leaders deal with today’s challenges. They also provide timeless wisdom, new perspectives, and practical guidance to motivate and advance your leadership journey—whether you’re an experienced executive or an aspiring leader. Remember that great leaders are made through constant learning and self-improvement as you set out on the path to your own professional and personal development.

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