Leadership Books To Empower Your Career

stack of books with glasses on top

You don’t need to be a CEO in order to benefit from the best leadership books. 

Leadership skills are relevant regardless of what position or field you are in. Whether you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur, and whether you’re working in the service industry or at a startup, you’ll be well-served knowing how to collaborate, communicate, and formulate your goals. 

One of the most powerful pieces of advice you can glean from a leadership book is the permission to pursue your goals. So even if you think that you’re not in a position to lead a team or if you’re scared you don’t have what it takes to succeed, reading someone’s firsthand account of how they became a leader may shift your outlook and make you realize that your dreams are possible.

Here are some other lessons you might find useful from a leadership book:

Being better at meetings. Let’s be honest, no one really likes going to meetings. But if you’re a new manager or a new hire or just someone who’s hoping to boost their career this year, you’ll benefit from having more fruitful meetings. It can be as small as knowing how often to schedule a meeting or more in-depth like learning how to have more productive 1:1 meetings. A good leadership book can give you practical advice on how to enhance your participation in meetings and maximize this often overlooked career opportunity. 

Improving your productivity. CEOs, political leaders, and creatives have the same amount of finite hours as we do. But how do they get everything done? You can learn how to manage your time and become more efficient by learning from the best.

Working with teams. They say we spend more time with our coworkers than our own friends and family—so it’s imperative that we learn how to collaborate and co-exist. Interpersonal skills are essential for any employee or manager. And as a manager, you can hone your awareness of the different dynamics in the workplace in order to set your team up for harmony and success. 

Having hard conversations. Challenging conversations are unavoidable at the office. Whether it’s giving a performance review or having a difficult conversation about a project, you’ll need to do it with tact, sensitivity, and professionalism. Learning how others approach these conversations will help you when the time comes.

Here are five popular leadership books to inspire and motivate you as you develop your leadership traits and navigate your career. 

1. The Making of a Manager: What to do When Everyone Looks to You by Julie Zhuo

Product designer Julie Zhuo was 25 years old when she found herself managing a team. The challenges and questions she had will be relatable to new managers or anyone who’s had to wear a lot of different hats at work.  Zhou covers everything from managing small teams to giving feedback and having difficult conversations to conducting meetings and job interviews. 

This book is good for:

  • New managers who are feeling clueless and over their heads :)
  • Small business owners 
  • Freelancers who are managing projects 
  • Employees at start-ups or other organizations where they juggle multiple roles 

Excerpt: “Dear reader, I hope that this book gives you useful tips for your day-to-day. But more importantly, I hope this book helps you understand the whys of management, because only when you’ve bought into the whys can you truly be effective in the hows. Why do managers even exist? Why should you have one-on-one meetings with your reports? Why should you hire Candidate A over Candidate B? Why do so many managers make the same mistakes?”

2. HBR’s 10 Must Reads For New Managers from the Harvard Business Review

Harvard Business Review has been a leading resource for all things work, career, productivity and management. Their book HBR’s 10 Must Reads for New Managers is a compilation of their best articles on becoming a manager. You’ll find such articles as “Managing the High-Intensity Workplace,” “Leading the Team You Inherit,” and “Harnessing the Science of Persuasion.”

This book also includes the article “What Makes a Leader?” by the bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, plus the bonus article “How Managers Become Leaders” by Michael D. Watkins.

This book is good for:

  • People who were recently promoted to a managerial role
  • Creatives who work with corporate clients and need guidance on navigating business relationships 
  • People who like their advice to be backed up by research and case studies 

Excerpt from “How Managers Become Leaders”: “What I found is that to make the transition successfully, executives must navigate a tricky set of changes in their leadership focus and skills, which I call the seven seismic shifts. They must learn to move from specialist to generalist, analyst to integrator, tactician to strategist, bricklayer to architect, problem solver to agenda setter, warrior to diplomat, and supporting cast member to lead role.”

3. Lead From the Outside by Stacey Abrams

From politician, author, and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, comes Lead From the Outside, part inspiring memoir and part practical career guide. Weaving in stories from her personal and professional life along with exercises to help uncover your true goals, Abrams’ book 

is a must-read for anyone who has felt like an outsider and is seeking inspiration on how to embrace their strength and ambitions. 

This book is good for:

  • Budding creatives, leaders, and anyone who wants to start dreaming big
  • Guidance on identifying your goals and ambitions
  • People who love inspiring, candid personal stories

Excerpt: “Ambition means pushing past simply what we are good at. The goal is to stretch ourselves, to explore our potential, even when we know we won’t be first or the best. I sometimes advise people to watch what they fear, what makes them most nervous or feel the most self-protective—sometimes fear masks ambition. And unmasking it can unleash your drive.”

4. Atomic Habits by James Clear 

Developing your leadership skills is not unlike creating a new habit. Learn how to implement tiny changes into your life to help you make big gains. With case studies and lots of practical tips on how to build and sustain a habit, this book will help you incorporate healthy, positive habits to become a successful leader.

Excerpt: “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little dif­ference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous. It is only when looking back two, five, or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent.”

5. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts by Brené Brown

​Researcher, author, and viral Ted Talk sensation Brené Brown encourages us once again to find strength in our vulnerability. Using case studies, research, and her own personal stories as examples, Brown shows us how empathy and listening and vulnerability are the new essential tools for today’s business world. 

Excerpt: “Get a one-inch by one-inch piece of paper and write down the names of the people whose opinions of you matter. It needs to be small because it forces you to edit. Fold it and put it in your wallet. Then take ten minutes to reach out to those people—your square squad—and share a little gratitude. You can keep it simple: I’m getting clear on whose opinions matter to me. Thank you for being one of those people. I’m grateful that you care enough to be honest and real with me.”

Feeling inspired? Round out your reading by plotting out your goals and action steps with our free Ink+Volt goal-setting worksheet here.
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