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5 Favorite Books on Leadership Excellence

Sarah A Scala, M. Ed & OD, ACC

Estimates Reading Time: 3 Minutes

Each year I try to read at least 50 books. It is an optimistic goal, and one that I have met or exceeded for the past 10 years. The following 5 books are my favorites on the topic of Leadership Development.  Some are older classics and others are fairly new. What books do you always turn to or recommend on the topic of leadership?  Leave a comment below to share.


 Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives our Success by Adam Grant. Adam Grant is the youngest tenured professor at Wharton School of Business and specializes in Organizational Behavior. When I read this book, I was fascinated by Adam’s findings about givers, takers, and matchers. He evaluates both business performance and culture. As Grant shares, while most people are matchers, they are not always the best performers. Givers are the best performers. “Givers often sacrifice themselves but make organizations better.” Grant’s research asks how we create organizations that protect givers from burnout to encourage more giving and stronger performance. Watch Adam Grant’s TED talk on Give and Take to learn more. This book will help managers of people or organizations understand more about people dynamics and what is most successful.


Encouraging the Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others by Kouzes and Posner. I read this book 10 years ago in Graduate school and enjoyed the real examples and ideas about recognition of individual effort and achievement.  The book says that “not even money works as powerful for motivating people.” I am sure we have all worked for bosses at one time in our career where recognition was excellent. We were driven and motivated to do well, often more than asked. At other times, we may have had bosses that didn’t seem to encourage or recognize our efforts, and we felt less appreciated and driven. This book is excellent for anyone who manages people or teams.   


The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. This book has had multiple editions and is based on a leadership development theory that is now over 40 years old, Situational Leadership II. Remembering back to my early 20s when I first read this book, I felt like this was the secret and strategy to being a great leader. This short book is in fable format, and is very easy to read. As a Channel Partner of Ken Blanchard Companies for over 8 years, I have used this model throughout my career to teach Situational Leadership II to many of my clients. The simplicity of understanding an employee’s development level, and matching the level with appropriate leadership style is an approach that we can always be reminded of as leaders.      


Primal Leadership: Unleashing the potential of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Anne McKee. This book looks at leadership and emotional intelligence competencies including self-awareness, self management, social awareness, and relationship management, as well as empathy. It explores the impacts of emotional intelligence for leaders and organizations. As a provider of executive coaching using emotional intelligence assessments, I found this book to be quite interesting in explaining how resonant leadership and EQ have a business impact. Having taken courses offered by both Anne McKee and Richard Boyatzis, I appreciate their approach, along with Goleman’s sharing of emotional intelligence competencies necessary for effective leadership.



Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t by Jim Collins.  I think of this book often when I am working on strategy or culture change with my clients. Collin’s study, detailed in this book, focused on how long-term sustained performance can be engineered into a company. A few of the great companies studied in this research include Coca-Cola, General Electric, and Merck. Having first read this book almost 20 years ago, I still find myself quoting key points to clients like: making sure we have the “right people on the bus,” “Level 5 leaders”, the “Hedgehog Concept,” and “Big rocks”.   

What are your favorite books on leadership? Leave a comment below to share the book title and why you recommenced it.  

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