12 books every leader should read

These volumes offer avant-garde techniques for guiding your workforce to new successes, regardless of your field or industry.

Are you looking for a good book to give you a fresh perspective on business?

Look no further than the 12 books included below. These 12 books are great additions to any reading list, especially for people seeking inspiration for creative leadership.

1. How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery

Summary: As a technology pioneer at MIT and as the leader of three successful startups, Kevin Ashton experienced firsthand the all-consuming challenge of creating something new. Now, in a tour de force narrative 20 years in the making, Ashton leads us on a journey through humanity’s greatest creations to uncover the surprising truth behind who creates and how they do it.

2. “Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration—Lessons from The Second City

Summary: Executives from The Second City—the world’s premier comedy theater and school of improvisation—reveal improvisational techniques that can help any organization develop innovators, encourage adaptable leaders and build transformational businesses.

3. “No One Understands You and What to Do About It

Summary: Have you ever felt you’re not getting through to the person you’re talking to, or not coming across the way you intend? You’re not alone. That’s the bad news, but there is something we can do about it. Heidi Grant Halvorson, social psychologist and best-selling author, explains why we’re often misunderstood and how we can fix that.

4. “The Road to Character

Summary: With the wisdom, humor, curiosity and sharp insights that have brought millions of readers to his New York Times column and his previous bestsellers, David Brooks has consistently illuminated our daily lives in surprising and original ways. In “The Social Animal,” he explored the neuroscience of human connection and how we can flourish together. Now, in “The Road to Character,” he focuses on the deeper values that should inform our lives.

5. “Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness

Summary: The way we manage organizations seems increasingly out of date. Deep inside, we sense that more is possible. We long for soulful workplaces, for authenticity, community, passion and purpose. In this groundbreaking book, the author shows that whenever humanity has shifted to a new stage of consciousness, it has achieved extraordinary breakthroughs in collaboration. A new shift in consciousness is underway. Could it help us invent a more soulful and purposeful way to run our businesses and nonprofits, schools and hospitals? A few pioneers have already cracked the code, and they show us in practical detail how it can be done. Leaders, founders, coaches and consultants will find this work a joyful handbook, full of insights, examples and inspiring stories.

6. “Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World

Summary: Holacracy is a revolutionary management system that redefines management and turns everyone into a leader. Holacracy distributes authority and decision-making throughout an organization, defining people not by hierarchy and titles but by roles. Holacracy creates organizations that are fast and agile and succeed by pursuing their purpose, not following a dated and artificial plan. This isn’t anarchy; it’s quite the opposite. When you start to follow Holacracy, you learn to create new structures and ways of making decisions that empower the people who know the most about the work you do: your frontline colleagues.

7. “Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love

Summary: Every year, thousands of people come from around the world to visit Menlo Innovations, a small software company in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They make the trek not to learn about technology but to witness a radically different approach to company culture. CEO Rich Sheridan removed the fear and ambiguity that typically make a workplace miserable. With joy as the explicit goal, he and his team changed everything about how the company was run. The results blew away all expectations. Menlo has won numerous growth awards and was named an Inc. magazine “audacious small company.” “Joy, Inc.” offers an inside look at how Menlo created its culture, and shows how any organization can follow their methods for a more passionate team and sustainable, profitable results.

8. “The Moment You Can’t Ignore: When Big Trouble Leads to a Great Future

Summary: In “The Moment You Can’t Ignore,” Malachi O’Connor and Barry Dornfeld tell fascinating “you are there” stories of people and organizations as they encounter and then navigate through and beyond these pivotal moments, showing what we can learn from them. They outline the big questions that executives must ask themselves about their organization’s identity, leadership and the capacity to innovate that an understanding of culture can help answer. The authors deliver powerful insights into recognizing and harnessing hidden assets that point toward a new future.

9. “The Moment of Clarity: Using the Human Sciences to Solve Your Toughest Business Problems

Summary: In “The Moment of Clarity,” Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel Rasmussen examine the business world’s assumptions about human behavior and show how these assumptions can lead businesses off track. Using theories and tools from the human sciences—anthropology, sociology, philosophy, and psychology—”The Moment of Clarity” introduces a practical framework the authors call “sensemaking.” The nonlinear problem-solving approach gives executives a better way to understand business challenges involving shifts in human behavior.

10. “A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas

Summary: “A More Beautiful Question” outlines a practical why/what-if/how system of inquiry that can guide you through the process of innovative questioning—helping you find imaginative, powerful answers to your own beautiful questions.

11. “Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations That Accelerate Change

Summary: Drawing on decades of experience as innovation strategists-and supported by cutting-edge social science research, dozens of real-life examples, and interviews with well over 100 experts, executives and fellow practitioners—they unveil a simple, creative process that leaders and their teams can use to unlock solutions to their most vexing issues. The book also includes a “Starter Kit” full of tools and tips for putting the book’s core principles into practice.

12. “Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask

Summary: Thoroughly revised and updated, “Leading with Questions” will help you encourage participation and teamwork, foster innovative thinking, empower others, build relationships with customers, solve problems and more. Michael Marquardt reveals how to determine which questions will lead to solutions for even the most challenging issues. He outlines specific techniques of active listening and follow-up, and he helps you understand how questions can improve the way you work with individuals, teams and organizations. This new edition of “Leading with Questions” draws on interviews with 30 leaders, including eight whose stories are new to this edition.

Leslie Belknap is the marketing director of Ethos3, where a version of this article first appeared.


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