Must-Read Books for Young Leaders

Some people are born leaders, others have to learn – sometimes the hard way. As we all know, whether from toiling away beneath the unwatchful eye of an especially inept leader or by botching instructions ourselves, leadership is one of those things that’s easier said than done.

The trick, though, is to learn the all-important leadership lessons from someone else’s mistakes before you have the chance to make them yourself.

Whether you’re a young leader already or not, these eight books are packed with leadership lessons that will make you a smarter, more effective young professional.

the happiness advantage

The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

Have you ever heard that the act of smiling by itself is enough to make you happy? The Happiness Advantage is a book that applies a similar kind of inverted logic to finding success.

Instead of working to get a good job, working hard at that job, and then hopefully one day finding happiness once you do all of that, Achor suggests that starting with happiness—instead of making it a distant goal—will make you more successful. And hey, if it doesn’t, at least you’re happy!

7 habits of highly effective people

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

This massively successful book has had some serious staying power for a reason—it doesn’t recommend any trendy, new age short cuts to being a better person.

Instead, Covey provides an approach based in some bedrock, fundamental principles, like integrity and respect. With habits like “Begin with the End in Mind,” the book presents ideas you’ve probably thought of before, but gives you effective ways to approach them that you probably haven’t.

And even if this book doesn’t reach you personally, it’s so popular that you’ll probably encounter at least one manager of some sort in your life for whom it has, so you’ll at least know where they’re coming from when they start talking about the importance of habit five.

lean in

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

This book by the chief operating officer of Facebook answers the question of if women can balance work and family life by saying, “You won’t know until you try.”

As the title suggests, Sandberg encourages readers to embrace the challenges inherent in a workplace setting. Sandberg acknowledges how the professional world is usually not tilted in women’s favor—she experienced plenty of this unfairness firsthand—but urges women not to let it dampen their ambition.

Though it obviously was written by a woman for women, the book provides lots of insight for men as well.

how to win friends and influence people

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Sandberg’s book was a recent, modern hit. Carnegie, on the other hand, wrote this book well before Facebook.

Heck, he wrote it before color television.

But it’s remained in print since 1936 because of how flat out useful this book is. Everyone knows people skills will get you much further in life than technical skills, but that doesn’t stop everyone from spending a much longer amount of time working on those technical skills.

In this book, Carnegie offers a crash course in getting those people skills up to snuff. And if you’d like to grow a little outside of the professional context, look again at the title—it’s also a helpful primer on making personal relationships.

 the energy bus

The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon

If you find that narratives tends to be the sugar that help you swallow the self-help medicine, you might prefer this book by Jon Gordon. Gordon shares the story of a man’s life-changing bus ride  to provide an entertaining framework for his message of self-actualizing positivity.

Gordon gives ten rules that will energize any individual, organization, company, club, etc. to become more forward, thinking, optimistic and ultimately successful. Hands down, this is one of my most recommended books for an easy read.

 the power of habit

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

In this book, Duhigg shows you how you can tap into some mostly unconscious brain processing to effect some serious change in your life. He tells you how habits are formed, why they’re so powerful, and how you can change them.

This book can help you make much better, more efficient use of your time and feeds you bits of interesting trivia along the way—for example, did you know the tingling feeling after you brush your teeth was added so you would feel like your teeth were really clean? Duhigg tells you how “rewards” like that can be really powerful and offers advice on how they can be used effectively even away from advertising.

 primal leadership

Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman

From the title, you might assume this book is about some caveman style assertion of dominance. In fact, Goleman preaches just about the opposite. If you’ve ever heard the term “emotional intelligence,” this is the book that introduced that popular business buzzword.

Goleman talks about how a leader’s mood can have a profound impact on a group’s ability to accomplish its goals. He also offers advice on how leaders can effectively manage subordinate’s emotions as well. Just by focusing on emotion, Goleman claims you’ll be able to improve motivation, moral and commitment to the team.

managing up

Managing Up by Rosanne Badowski

Chances are you’re not the CEO yet. Figuring out the best way to interact with those above you in the corporate pecking order is probably just as important as effectively managing those beneath you.

As the title suggests, Badowski outlines the best way to do just that. She encourages open communication and the formation of a partnership with your superior in order to eventually move up yourself. Hey, sometimes good leaders have to know how to take orders, too.


Which book are you starting today? Have your own must-read list? Share your suggestions in the comments!

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

4 Comments on 8 Must-Read Books for Young Leaders

  1. Susan Murray
    March 3, 2016 at 3:04 pm (5 years ago)

    Leadership Jazz by Max Depree. A classic

    • Sarah Landrum
      March 21, 2016 at 11:54 am (5 years ago)

      Thanks so much for the suggestion, Susan! I’ll definitely have to check it out! Sounds like a great read!

  2. Brett Wilcox
    March 21, 2016 at 1:38 am (5 years ago)

    Thank you very much for posting up these suggestions. I will be on the look out for a couple of those in the coming weeks.
    My top recommendation right now would have to be for Don’t Just Manage, Lead by Arthur Coombs
    Packed with really interesting and insightful stories from an experienced leader that shares invaluable lessons on effective leadership methods throughout. A really great read that I can’t recommend highly enough.

    • Sarah Landrum
      March 21, 2016 at 11:55 am (5 years ago)

      Absolutely! So glad you liked them, and thanks for the recommendation! Adding it to my list of books to check out!

      I’ll have more book lists coming soon, too, so please check back! I’d love your insight!


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