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Leadership Books for New Leaders

August 05, 2022 Leadership
Tom Regan
By Tom Regan LinkedIn

New leaders stepping into their leadership roles have to face new challenges and new responsibilities. People they once asked for advice may now be peers. They want the people who promoted them to have confidence that it was a good decision, yet they may not feel confident in the new role.

Fortunately, a wealth of books exists to guide new leaders in their responsibilities. These books deliver insights that might otherwise take years to learn. Leadership books can teach essential management skills and guide new leaders through the pitfalls of learning to head up a team.

Maybe you'll pick up some of these leadership books for yourself. Or perhaps you want to pass them on to new managers in the organization. Either way, a fountain of wisdom awaits the smart new leaders who dive into these books.

Welcome to Management: How to Grow From Top Performer to Excellent Leader

— Ryan Hawk

Lead yourself. Build your team. Lead your team. That's the structure of this popular management tone from leadership podcaster Ryan Hawk. In "Welcome to Management," he lays out a clear framework for stepping into management. His insights are based on interviews with 300 noted leaders. The book covers everything from response management and the qualities of a great leader to the need for continuous learning.

The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter

— Michael Watkins

As a professor at Harvard Business School, Michael Watkins had a long history of launching new leaders. He brings that expertise to bear on this must-read book that helps new leaders navigate their promotions. The first weeks and months in a new leadership position are critical (and potentially perilous). To carve a path, Watkins, now a professor at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, lays out strategies to avoid the waiting pitfalls. He also provides plenty of examples to help you make a good first impression.

High Output Management

— Andy Grove

This management classic from 1995 remains one of the best field guides to management on the market. Some even consider it the "Bible" of management. The former CEO of Intel leads readers through the importance of focusing on team performance rather than just solving problems. He outlines techniques for bringing teams to peak performance. In addition, he helps you navigate the tricky scenarios that real life can place in your path. "High Output Management" is a practical manual for managers and entrepreneurs alike.

Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity

— Kim Scott

If being a new manager is difficult in general, it can be doubly challenging for women. That's because female managers often feel the need to act tough in order to command respect. Kim Scott draws on her executive experience at Google and Apple to help new leaders balance caring and challenging in managerial relationships. With focused advice on how to give feedback and create an environment where people love their jobs. "Radical Candor" stresses the need to be firm and compassionate simultaneously to elicit top teamwork and performance.

Related Article: 6 Leadership Skills for the Digital First Era

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

— Stephen R. Covey

This book from 1989 is another classic that has stood the test of time. Stephen Covey makes leadership personal by helping readers align their goals with universal principles regarding character ethics. He connects leaders' values with their choices and behaviors. He then discusses how developing a set of habits, which include empathy, proactivity, and teamwork, helps leaders accomplish goals interdependently with their teams.

True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership

— Bill George

The concept of "true north" for leaders was introduced by Covey. Medtronic CEO Bill George expands on it in this leadership book. The goal of "True North" is to point new leaders toward success based on authenticity, values, and an understanding of your own motivations. The interviews with 125 leaders that underpin this book led George in some surprising directions, and they make for an illuminating and fascinating read.

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High

— Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler

"Crucial Conversations," now in its third edition, is a vital resource for leaders who want to be prepared for high-stakes encounters. This leadership book details how to defuse anger, be persuasive, and talk about even the most challenging of topics. It's a great read for new leaders who may be thrown into conversations and meetings that they might not otherwise be prepared for.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't

— Jim Collins

This classic leadership book pulls back the camera to let new leaders get some perspective about the organizations they work for. "Good to Great" is a definitional study of excellent management that shows what it takes to move a company from mediocrity to greatness. Its long-term point of view can be healthy for leaders to understand the management practices and strategies that truly make a difference.

Related Article: Bridging the Gap Between Workers, Managers Is Critical to Hybrid Work

Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

— Simon Sinek

Part of leadership is inspiring your team to do great things — and to want to do great things. But everyone has worked for that manager who is the opposite of inspirational. What's the difference? According to Simon Sinek, also known for his seminal book "Leaders Eat Last," it has to do with motivation. People don't act until they understand why they should do something. True leaders are able to communicate in a way that delivers that necessary motivation, and Sinek shows new leaders how to do it.

First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently

— Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

This management classic draws on Big Data from Gallup, studying more than 80,000 managers to look for common traits. The study learned that great managers are willing to break rules when needed. Specific lessons and case studies from the book detail the types of rules that may need breaking. Advice for new leaders focuses on investing in the best individuals in your team and promoting them. "First, Break All the Rules" also encourages managers to develop relationships with team members and discusses how to give feedback effectively.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

— Daniel Pink

Many books discuss the importance of motivating employees and team members. "Drive" is a book that digs deep into what that looks like. Author Dan Pink postulates that the need for motivation is key to satisfaction at work and to excellent performance. He goes on from there to discuss innovative techniques for motivating. Many of these turn out to deviate greatly from the reward systems that most businesses rely on. New leaders can benefit greatly from the decades of scientific research into motivation that underlie Pink's directives.

Thinking, Fast and Slow

— Daniel Kahneman

Understanding the way people work and think is key to success in leadership. Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, opens doors to insights with this groundbreaking book. "Thinking, Fast and Slow" helps new leaders understand how people make decisions and form judgments. Kahneman contrasts intuitive, emotional (or "fast") thinking with logical, deliberate (or "slow") thinking. By explaining how these two thought systems work, he illuminates everything from cognitive bias to the perils of overconfidence. By doing so, he helps leaders make smart choices along the way.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

— Patrick Lencioni

Running a team successfully is a key skill that new leaders must learn. Patrick Lencioni takes his readers through that process through a fascinating story that journeys through team dysfunctionality. Reading about the results of the lack of trust, commitment, and accountability provides a valuable how-to lesson. In addition, "Five Dysfunctions" looks at the pitfalls provided by fear of conflict and lack of attention to results. Following this story of a leadership crisis is gripping and enlightening at the same time.

Leading With Gratitude: Eight Leadership Practices for Extraordinary Business Results

— Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

Appreciation is one of the most powerful tools in a leader's kit. "Leading With Gratitude" leans into this concept, showing clear, simple ways that managers can express gratitude to employees. When team members feel valued, morale is boosted, productivity soars, and profitability follows suit. In addition, gratitude strengthens bonds between team members, resulting in a reduction of turnover. The insights in this leadership book draw from true stories while banishing myths that peg gratitude as a weakness.

Related Article: What It Means to Be a Human Leader, and Why It's Important Today

Bringing Up the Boss: Practical Lessons for New Managers

— Rachel Pacheco

Rachel Pacheco keys in on the specific challenges of being a first-time manager in this practical book for new leaders. It covers all the basic skills involved with being a boss. These include the difficulties of hiring and firing and how to handle employees who are overperforming. This highly readable book is also packed with practical tools, including an assessment of psychological safety, coaching tools and other how-tos. In addition, it homes in on specific challenging situations faced by new managers.

The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You

— Julie Zhuo

Julie Zhuo draws on her background at Facebook to address new leaders who have just realized they don't know what they're doing. She focuses on the transition into leadership, explaining in detail the rules that are typically unspoken. Zhuo realizes that new managers have to ramp up immediately. Therefore, she focuses on what it means to be a great team leader even while you're still learning your job. Topics include hiring and firing, building trust with your team, and what to do when you don't know what to do.

Own the Room: Business Presentations That Persuade, Engage, and Get Results

— David Booth, Deborah Shames and Peter Desberg

All leaders must be able to give great presentations. However, many new leaders find the very prospect daunting. "Own the Room" amalgamates advice from a psychologist, an actor and a film director to help new leaders improve those skills. The tips and tricks in this book help you hold an audience's attention while making memorable, persuasive points. The book teaches the secrets of appealing to an audience's emotions and mind simultaneously in a compelling way.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

— Ben Horowitz

Aimed specifically at entrepreneurs, this book deals with the challenges faced by startups. "The Hard Thing About Hard Things" doesn't shy away from difficult topics. It offers insights on what to do when your launch fails, you make poor acquisitions, your stock price drops, or other crises occur. So much of leadership during tough times is about mindset. The practical advice in this book deals with the roughest topics a new leader might face. Filled with quotes from hip hop songs, this book delivers the kind of wisdom you probably didn't get in business school.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Innovation

— Ed Catmull

Managing creatives is like wrangling cats. New leaders need to understand the push and pull of creativity, tweaking their strategies a bit to keep innovation rolling forward. Academy Award and Turing Award winner Ed Catmull is well-known as one of the founders of Pixar. He draws insights from the much-admired (and highly profitable) company in this leadership book. He describes the importance of protecting creators and the creative process, urging leaders to understand the heart of what they're doing. Catmull also turns standard management memes on their head by pointing out that managers should not seek to prevent risks or errors. Instead, they should provide a safe environment for creatives to take risks. New leaders of creatives will also learn valuable lessons about communication and teamwork in this stimulating book.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

— Carol Dweck

While it's not a book about management per se, "Mindset" has fueled plenty of new leaders with its groundbreaking insights. When leaders adopt a growth mindset, they're better able to tap into their own abilities and the talents of their team. Avoiding a fixed mindset and applying a growth mindset to an organization is the first step toward success. As such, new leaders can learn a lot about how to motivate others from this bestseller from Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck.

Choosing Courage: The Everyday Guide to Being Brave at Work

— Jim Detert

New leaders often find themselves in business situations that they've never experienced before. Dealing with the unknown in this way can require real courage. In this book, Jim Detert encourages leaders to avoid bluffing their way through their jobs. He provides research-based tactics to help you find the courage to confront your boss and stand up for your team when needed. "Choosing Courage" shows you how to express your honest opinions and have a greater impact on the job.

More Sage Advice

John F. Kennedy once said, "Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other." Achieving a leadership position doesn't mean the person has reached a pinnacle where they stop growing. Learning is a lifelong process no matter how far up the organizational chart someone rises. Check out these top books for new leaders to hone essential skills and avoid pitfalls.


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