Top 10 Leadership Books for Entrepreneurs

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If there is one aspect of entrepreneurship people want to get right, it is leadership. Because with the right leadership you can get your workforce to reach heights they didn’t think they could. And to be a good leader you have to make learning a priority.

As John F. Kennedy put it, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” And one of the best ways to learn on how to be a good leader is by reading books about leadership.

At some point, virtually all successful leaders have published books on leadership. Whether it is a CEO, a General, Seal Team member, or a teacher their experience provides invaluable lessons for anyone looking to improve how they lead.

If you are looking to improve your leadership abilities our list of the Top 10 Leadership Books will give you the best insights to make it happen.

      If you’re too busy to read a full book right now, check out the Best Places to Find Book Summaries.             

1. How to Win Friends & Influence People

by Dale Carnegie

Dale Carnegie gives common-sense advice on how to influence people without offending or arousing resentment. This includes six ways to make people like you, the twelve ways to win people to your way of thinking, and the nine ways to change people without arousing resentment.

It also advises on the need to monitor the progress that we make each week. Ask ourselves what mistakes we have made, what progress we have made, and what lessons we have learned. It has three tenants in this regard: don’t criticize, condemn, or complain; give honest and sincere appreciation; arouse in the other person an eager want. The success of Carnegie’s book literally spawned a new genre of books, ‘Self Help’ books.

Struggling with motivating and persuading people on your team or maybe you’re looking for a subtle selling system that doesn’t feel like you’re pushing customers into a sale? This is essential for people in business, marketing, management, or just someone looking to get the edge on influencing your coworkers and peers. How to win Friends & Influence People is a classic first step for those on the leadership track. Carnegie’s advice on how to connect with people is timeless. Take on a chapter each week and practice the lessons in real life. You’ll be amazed at the transformations you experience.

2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: 30th Anniversary Edition

by Stephen R. Covey

This book can be applied to not just for work but for home as well. Whether your goal is to improve relationships with colleagues, managers, or have more fruitful social relationships. Covey’s lessons have withstood the test of time and remain relevant as a solid foundation in interpersonal communication. Rather than focus on eliminating bad habits the author advises building up good ones. To really succeed the book counsels the need to first master certain basic habits before moving on to bigger and brighter things. Considered among the best leadership books, the advice it offers is more invaluable than ever.

Now in its 30th year of publication and updated with “behind the scenes” anecdotes and experiences. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is focused on inside-out, principle-centered thinking and guides you through a life planning journey that will transform your business and personal life. This continues to be a must-read for anyone who is committed to living a principled-centered life.

3. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

by Daniel Pink

Throughout his book, the author breaks down motivation into different versions. Motivation 1.0 is our basic need for survival. It’s the simplest level of motivation and there isn’t much time spent on this topic. Motivation 2.0 is referred to as the ‘carrot and sticks’ model. Considered as an outdated model it is used to encourage or reinforce positive behaviors and to curb behaviors we want to eliminate. Rather Pink believes we need to move to Motivation 3.0. This is where we are inspired by internal drivers rather than external factors to transition from good to great.

If you’re a business owner looking to motivate their workforce beyond monetary incentives, you’ll find a lot of ideas in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. A key step in becoming a great leader is recognizing that your team is yearning for meaning in their work — even if it’s mundane.  Drive highlights the three elements of true motivation—autonomy, mastery, and purpose and shows you how to bring those principles into your business. This is an ideal read for consultants and business owners. 

4. Emotional Intelligence 2.0

by Travis Bradberry, Jean Greaves, Patrick Lencioni

The authors pack this book with actionable tips. Of the four, two are focused on the self and two are more focused on your interactions with other people. The book provides between 15-17 short strategies you can employ to increase your skill level. It tells us that emotional intelligence is just as important as our intellect (IQ). Together, they help determine how well we do in business, life and career. This leadership book tells us Emotional Intelligence is a learned skill and it can also be unlearned.

Want to be a beloved leader who inspires? Up your emotional intelligence quotient, learn self-awareness, social awareness and relationship management skills for the new economy. We have been conditioned to focus on our weaknesses. But this strategy isn’t as effective as you might think.  In fact, your best strategy is to identify your strengths and double down. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 is a leadership book that won’t just help you become a better leader, it will help you manage your team and even help you expand your marketing message. Don’t just read it, take it on as a commitment and practice the principles daily. 

5. Stewardship: Choosing Service over Self-Interest

by Peter Block

The author calls for a rethink on how organizations view their core form of governance. It says true service is clouded by self-interest and that many institutions never reach their full potential. It calls for a shift on how they distribute power, privilege, and control. It also offers insights on how to foster ownership and accountability in organizations. Authentic service, the book points, comes only when a balance of power is achieved. Furthermore, it calls for a commitment to the greater good, buy-in in organizational purpose, and a fair and balanced reward system.

A candidate among the list of best leadership books, this book is broken down into three parts and provides an easy explanation on how your business can go from good to great. ‘Trading Your Kingdom for a Horse’ which explains the concepts of stewardship and restrictions on leaders. ‘The Redistribution of Power, Purpose and Wealth’ focuses on the leadership model in greater detail. And ‘The Triumph of Hope Over Experience’ offers practical applications and discusses how to implement the model.

We’ve got leadership backward. Instead of top-down leadership, the idea of Stewardship is to keep something in trust for another. In other words, a long-term view of accountability that is more focused on long-term success than immediate gratification. Stewardship: Choosing Service over Self-Interest is a hidden gem for leaders looking for ways to touch, move and inspire others. Written more than 20 years ago, with a second edition published in 2013 it is more relevant than ever as more employees work remotely. 

6. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

by Simon Sinek

This leadership book bases its theories by studying the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world. In it, it discovered that leaders typically think, act, and communicate in the exact same way. It describes this idea through The Golden Circle, and provides a framework upon which organizations can be built, movements can be led, and people can be inspired. Answering the fundamental question ‘WHY’ the author helps in taking us back to the basics.

Customers don’t buy your “what”, they buy the “why”.  If you’re running a business because you see a market or opportunity, you’ll need a “why” beyond that. If you’ve been trying to connect with employees and customers in a deeper way, this book will help put the big picture together. Inspired by Sinek’s TED talk, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action expands on the short talk.  Some find the book repetitive, but if you’re stuck on incorporating your “why” into your business, you’ll appreciate it. No matter what you’re passionate about “Start with Why” will help you uncover the hidden “why” in your business.  The author uses a lot of well-known examples, but always remember, all of those companies started from an idea like yours. 

7. The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future

by John Gerzema, Michael D’Antonio

The author offers a refreshing perspective on the balance of power. Away from the winner-takes-all, masculine approach to getting things done. By drawing from interviews at innovative organizations in eighteen countries and at Fortune 500 boardrooms, the book reveals how men and women alike are recognizing significant value in traits commonly associated with women. Using real-life examples, it hinges its insight for readers.

Among 64,000 people surveyed in thirteen nations, two-thirds feel the world would be a better place if men thought more like women.  Our economy has transformed from a “physical economy” where physical strength and top-down thinking were necessary, to a virtual, relationship-driven economy that requires the innate strengths of women; relationship building, nurturing, and communication. The research shared in The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future will transform how you lead in today’s environment.  

8. Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence

by Daniel Goldman, Richard Boyatzis, Annie McKee

This is the book that stresses emotional intelligence from the business perspective and offers sound advice to improve skills for leaders. Over the years organizations have accepted and incorporated the importance of emotionally intelligent leadership.

This bestseller recognizes that the global workplace has evolved. This change necessitates the need by leaders to be even more self-aware. It argues that emotionally intelligent leadership can help drive resonance and ultimately, performance. The book is based on robust research including interviews as well as real-life examples and anecdotes.

Emotional Intelligence is now a well-known term in management circles. And Primal Leadership, Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence is the book that started it all. Today’s increasingly complex organizations make emotional intelligence a requirement for any leader (and team member). The principles of emotional intelligence include self-awareness, social awareness, self-management and relationship management. Seems obvious, but if your default “Do what I say” management style hasn’t been as effective as you’d like, this is worth the read. 

Radical Candor

by Kim Scott

Radical candor points to the fact that great bosses have strong relationships with their employees. It prescribes three simple principles for building better relationships with your employees: make it personal, get the job done, and understand why it matters. The book is based on years of the author’s experience and distilled clearly by giving actionable lessons to the reader. It is considered a how-to tool for managers to be successful while retaining their humanity. It helps them finding meaning in their job, and creates an environment where people both love their work and their colleagues

If you’re going to have tough conversations, you might as well, make them shift your business for the better.  Radical Candor: How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean offers dozens of examples of difficult conversations from big organizations, small ones, top-down driven leaders as well as servant leaders. With more and more working relationships shifting to remote teams, creating a structure for authentic and clear communication is more important than ever. Read it for the tips about how to phrase feedback. 

10. The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life

by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan

This book offers great insights on how to rally all of the organizations’ employees around a new vision and ideas for making the vision stick. It helps managers pinpoint where problems arise and which part of the problem to tackle first. This book is touted to have helped hundreds of companies and individuals change and improve. This includes where to spend time and money as well as adjusting the systems in which people operate rather than targeting people and their performance directly. The authors show that it’s, in fact, possible to change everything at once–with a focus on making such transformations permanent and repeatable.

Once leaders recognize that people’s actions correlate to how situations occur to them they can begin to transform their organization and bring a sense of enrollment, empowerment and renewed accountability. These “laws” go beyond the usual tips and advice to a shift in thinking about how we create our future with others. Because The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life addresses ways to break unproductive patterns in oneself and others and create unfamiliar ways of being and interacting.

Read our review of The Three Laws of Performance

Fine Tune Your Leadership Skills

This list of top leadership books offers a varied selection of ideas on leadership. These books will help readers grasp concepts with true and tried methods backed with research and real-world applications. Books for leadership offer great insights on how to fine-tune your own leadership skills and recognize the potential in your organization.

The key is to find a book or books as well as authors you can relate to so you can apply it to your personal or business life. And more importantly, don’t stop learning.

Visit our Leadership Books category to find more.

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Ivana Taylor Ivana Taylor is the Book Editor for Small Business Trends. She is responsible for directing the site’s book review program and manages the team of professional book reviewers. She also spearheads the annual Small Business Book Awards. Ivana publishes DIYMarketers, where she shares daily do-it-yourself marketing tips, and is co-author of "Excel for Marketing Managers."