The 11 Most Thought-Provoking Books on Leadership


In a previous post, I provided a list of the year’s best business books every young professional should read.  In this post, I curated the most thought-provoking and innovative books published in 2014 that will help leaders turn their game around. 

Essentialism is not one more thing – it’s a whole new way of doing everything. A must-read for any leader, manager, or individual who wants to learn to do less, but better, in every area of their lives. Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin? Do you simultaneously feel overworked and underutilized? Are you often busy but not productive? If you answered yes to any of these, the way out is the Way of the Essentialist. The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done.  It is not  a time management strategy, or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.

From Ed Catmull, co-founder (with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) of Pixar Animation Studios, comes an incisive book about creativity in business. Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation—into the meetings, postmortems, and “Braintrust” sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about how to build a creative culture—but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, “an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.”
Think Like a Freak, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner have written their most revolutionary book yet. With their trademark blend of captivating storytelling and unconventional analysis, they take us inside their thought process and teach us all to think a bit more productively, more creatively, more rationally—to think, that is, like a Freak. Levitt and Dubner offer a blueprint for an entirely new way to solve problems, whether your interest lies in minor lifehacks or major global reforms. As always, no topic is off-limits. They range from business to philanthropy to sports to politics, all with the goal of retraining your brain. Along the way, you’ll learn the secrets of a Japanese hot-dog-eating champion, the reason an Australian doctor swallowed a batch of dangerous bacteria, and why Nigerian e-mail scammers make a point of saying they’re from Nigeria.

4. How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg

Google’s former CEO and SVP share their leadership and management secrets of running the most innovative and best place to work company Google. The authors explain how technology has shifted the balance of power from companies to consumers, and that the only way to succeed in this ever-changing landscape is to create superior products and attract a new breed of multifaceted employees whom Eric and Jonathan dub “smart creatives.” Covering topics including corporate culture, strategy, talent, decision-making, communication, innovation, and dealing with disruption, the authors illustrate management maxims (“Consensus requires dissension,” “Exile knaves but fight for divas,” “Think 10X, not 10%”) with numerous insider anecdotes from Google’s history, many of which are shared here for the first time.

For readers of Drive, Outliers, and Daring Greatly, a counterintuitive, paradigm-shifting new take on what makes people and companies succeed.

Most new products fail. So do most small businesses. And most of us, if we are honest, have experienced a major setback in our personal or professional lives. So what determines who will bounce back and follow up with a home run? If you want to succeed in business and in life, Megan McArdle argues in this hugely thought-provoking book, you have to learn how to harness the power of failure. Drawing on cutting-edge research in science, psychology, economics, and business, and taking insights from turnaround experts, emergency room doctors, venture capitalists, child psychologists, bankruptcy judges, and mountaineers, McArdle argues that America is unique in its willingness to let people and companies fail, but also in its determination to let them pick up after the fall. Failure is how people and businesses learn.

The first major business book devoted to the universal and vexing challenge that determines every organization’s success: scaling up farther, faster, and more effectively as a program or an organization creates a larger footprint. Drawing on inside accounts and case studies and academic research from a wealth of industries – including start-ups, pharmaceuticals, airlines, retail, financial services, high-tech, education, non-profits, government, and healthcare — Sutton and Rao identify the key scaling challenges that confront every organization.  They tackle the difficult trade-offs that organizations must make between “Buddhism” versus “Catholicism” — whether to encourage individualized approaches tailored to local needs or to replicate the same practices and customs as an organization or program expands.  They reveal how the best leaders and teams develop, spread, and instill the right mindsets in their people — rather than ruining or watering down the very things that have fueled successful growth in the past.  They unpack the principles that help to cascade excellence throughout an organization, as well as show how to eliminate destructive beliefs and behaviors that will hold them back.


One of the best books change. Wall Street tech leader shares wisdom on how small behavioral changes lead to major self-improvement.
Whether trying to lose weight, save money, or get organized, we’re always setting goals and making resolutions but rarely following through on them. Small Move, Big Change is Arnold’s guide to turning broad personal goals into meaningful and discrete behavioral changes that lead to permanent improvement. A microresolution is easily kept and designed to nail a self-improvement target exactly and deliver benefits immediately. While the traditional resolution promises rewards on a distant “someday,” a microresolution rewards us today by instantly altering our routines and, ultimately, ourselves.

Leadership expert Liz Wiseman explains how to reclaim and cultivate this curious, flexible, youthful mindset called Rookie Smarts. She argues that the most successful rookies are hunter-gatherers—alert and seeking, cautious but quick like firewalkers, and hungry and relentless like pioneers. Most importantly, she identifies a breed of leaders she refers to as “perpetual rookies.” Despite years of experience, they retain their rookie smarts, thinking and operating with the mindsets and practices of these high-performing rookies. Rookie Smarts addresses the questions every experienced professional faces: “Will my knowledge and skills become obsolete and irrelevant? Will a young, inexperienced newcomer upend my company or me? How can I keep up?” The answer is to stay fresh, keep learning, and know when to think like a rookie.

9. Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative by Scott Eblin

Overworked and Overwhelmed- The Mindfulness Alternative

Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative offers practical insights for the executive, manager or professional who feels like their RPM is maxed out in the red zone. New research shows that the smartphone equipped professional is connected to work 72 hours a week. Forty eight percent of Americans report that their stress level is up and that the number one source of stress is the job pressure of a 24/7 world. What’s the alternative? While mindfulness is one of the “Top Ten Trends for 2014 and Beyond,” many professionals think it’s just too hard to give it a try. In this book, Eblin shows that mindfulness that makes a difference doesn’t require meditating like a Buddhist monk.10. MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership

10. MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership by John Baldoni


John Baldoni uses concrete, tried-and-true steps to bring out the inner leader in everyone. For management and employees alike, Moxie provides a roadmap to inspire innovation and effective leadership. Whether you’re already at the helm of your organization or still looking for a way up the ladder, Moxie is the leadership tool you can’t do without. Built on the MOXIE framework, leaders learn how Motivation, Opportunity, an “X” factor, Innovation, and Engagement work together for success. Leaders today need to be mindful of their circumstances as well as mindful of their own strengths and shortcomings. They need to have the disposition to succeed as well as the inner resourcefulness to persevere. Leaders must be willing to do things differently but also draw on tried and true traits, such as courage and gumption.
Recognize, develop, and embody great leadership. Seven Disciplines of A Leader is a comprehensive manual for building better leaders. Author and executive coach Jeff Wolf is a respected authority on leadership, and his strategies and inspiration have fostered dramatic growth in some of the nation’s top companies. In this book, he shares the secrets of great leadership to help readers align professional development and exemplify these traits themselves. Each of the Disciplines is valuable on its own, but together they add up to more than a sum of their parts, and work synergistically to propel leaders to higher and higher effectiveness and companies to better and better business. From initiative, to planning, to community service, readers will gain deep insight into what separates the good from the great, and how organizations can nurture these qualities in their employees with leadership potential.

  • I shared on Twitter and on my Facebook fan page.

  • Great list. I read Essentialism. A few of the others are on “The List”.

  • Great list that I apparently need to be reading..after sharing of course 🙂

  • Great stuff, as usual, Paul! I read Essentialism recently and it rocked my world. #9 looks all sorts of awesome.

  • Charles

    There are definitely a few on this list I need to read. When the semester is done! Shared on Twitter.

  • I really wanna read 7 and and 9 now. I share on FB and Twitter. I have a mentor/friend who is a Leadership guy. I’ll be sure to share this on his FB wall specifically too. Great work as always Paul. Thanks!

  • Charles

    There are definitely a few on this list I need to read. When the semester is done! Shared on Twitter!

  • #6 and #8 look amazing… those are what I would go for first… but they all look incredible. Sharing on Twitter now!!!

  • “The Up Side of Down” looks like it would be a super good read!!!

  • #10 sounds very interesting to me.

  • Courtney Alcott

    #7 for sure! I’m sharing on Twitter now!!

  • claytonwhitson
  • Crystal

    Shared on FB. #1 was already on my Christmas list, but 7 and 8 look like must reads as well!

  • They all look great. Sharing on Twitter!

  • I’ve read two of these and two are in my to read list (hopefully by the end of the year) The other’s I’ll have to check out. (oh and shared)

  • Matthew Habuda

    Few of my favorites. Shared on Twitter and LinkedIn

  • Stephan Hundley

    Great list! I just received 11 in hard copy and am looking forward to cracking it open.

  • Ben Fuehrer

    Shared. Looks like a great list!

  • Always looking for good book ideas. Just finished Essentialism. Which other one of the ten would you pick for the next read Paul? Tweeted.

  • Looks like a great list! Shared it on Twitter for you!

  • Paul LaRue

    Paul, as always I appreciate your posts! Thanks for challenging us and inspiring the leaders within us!

  • I shared on Facebook

  • Steven Tessler

    I can’t believe I’ve not read any of these…. Shared on twitter!

  • Shared via Tweet, Google+, and FB

  • Shared! I would love to read any of these!

  • jerrod murr

    Sharing on Twitter and Facebook. Great list!

  • Jenn Overway

    Shared to my team on FB!

  • James Burton

    Great list of books. I just shared on LinkedIn. Thanks Paul.

  • Gene Ziesel

    Shared on Twitter and Linkedin

  • David

    Tweeted, liked on Facebook and shared on LinkedIn

  • Jennifer Bernabo

    It is a great list to use for reading. I have shared it!!

  • Perry Moore

    Interesting list do you have others, mine is: anything by Seth Godin – “Think like a freak” and the classic “Leadership secrets of the Salvation Army”. will definitely check these out for reading in 2015. posted to Facebook.

  • Shared this on Facebook LinkedIn, Google I admit it. I’m an information junkie. There is no known cure and that’s fine with me. I never want to find a way to short change
    learning. How can I choose from this great list of books? This title intrigues
    me. “Small Move,Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently” by Caroline Arnold and this one supports what I’m studying “Seven Disciplines of A Leader” is a comprehensive manual for building better leaders. Author and executive coach Jeff Wolf but this one is definitely something I could stand to learn. “Seven Disciplines of A Leader” is a comprehensive manual for building better leaders. Author and executive coach Jeff Wolf. What do you think? Here’s the article by Paul Sohn to get you thinking. His chosen 11 Most Thought-Provoking Books on Leadership of 2014:

    Also tweeted it for you.

  • Matthew Swain

    I shared with a friend on FB

  • Tanya MacLeod

    Shared on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin- fantastic list!

  • Grace

    Thanks for this helpful resource I was happy to share on twitter and Facebook.

  • Ilirian Gjoni

    I shared on Twitter and Google +

  • Katherine Leicester

    Didn’t share, as none of the titles even began to spark my interest.

    IMHO the single best book on leadership written in 2014 is Simon Sinek’s “Leaders Eat Last.” Now that’s a book that everyone interested in leadership should read.

  • Natasha

    I shared this awesome and inspiring list on LinkedIn & Twitter!

  • Luis Angel Arroyo

    Thk you Paul for the inspiration you are to me. Your Amazing

  • Tweeted this morning … an excellent collection of books.

  • Michael McVey

    Thanks for the resource–will make good reading.

  • Brian Dodd

    Paul, I went a step farther and included this in my Top 10 posts of the week! I hope to win How Google Works!

  • John E. Smith

    Hi, Paul

    Interested list. which I shared on Twitter, LinkedIn, and my business page on Facebook.

    I read and reviewed “Essentialism” earlier this year, but the other titles are less known to me. Thanks for filling up any remaining empty spaces in my free time with some fascinating reading choices:)


  • These are some great books! I’d include True North by Bill George.

  • Todd Pounds

    I just shared on Twitter and Facebook

  • Just shared on all three

  • Marco Cassone

    Terrific Paul. Well done.
    How are you doing with open systems?
    Give a call if you have any questions or want to think through it.
    Best, and thanks again for the great list, which I shared.

  • Wedward

    Just shared on LinkedIn. Great list. Plan to get “Essentialism”!

  • Tara

    I shared on Facebook. There are a lot of books on this list that are actually on my Amazon wish list. I would LOVE to read #7 though as we move into the new year! Great list! Thanks for sharing!

  • Amazing list, I shared on Twitter and would love to read them all! Think I would start with Think Like a Freak just for the title.

  • Bernadette Bourke

    Oh gosh ! They all look so good, but to start……4, 5 and 7! Great list thank you! Shared on Linkedin 🙂

  • Anthony Carpenter

    Sent via Twitter

  • Steven Ruff

    Shared on FB and Twitter. Great list.

  • Kevin Wetherby

    Shared on LinkedIn. Looking forward to picking up a couple of these to read. Thank you!

  • David Mike

    FB, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+

  • Rick Carder

    Shared on LinkedIn!

  • haloui fateh

    i shared on yamer

  • AOA

    Great resource Paul. Thanks.

  • I *really liked* _Leaders Eat Last_ by Simon Sindek. Shared on Twitter 🙂

  • Shared on Linkedin. I can’t wait to dig into a few of these titles

  • hiba

    hey thank you for this list i added most of it to my Goodreads list 🙂

  • Go Irani

    10 Most Influential Books Ever Written –

  • Helen McAllister

    Another good one is “Leading Cross Culturally. Covenant Relationships for Effective Christian Leadership” by Sherwood G. Lingenfelter.

  • Johnd Clark

    Great post. I got some inspirations

  • Shared on Twitter. Thanks for the chance!

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