The 11 Most Thought-Provoking Books on Leadership

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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. 

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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.

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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.”
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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

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.
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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

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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

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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.
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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.