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10 Books that Motivate, Empower, and Inspire Great Leadership

These great reads are sure to help open your mind and your heart to the possibility of success.

If we all know one thing about leadership and success in business, it’s that it is absolutely vital to continually improve, grow, and learn. The business landscape is always changing and evolving, and if you don’t stay on top of it, you are likely to be left in the dust. If we aren’t learning, we aren’t improving.

Since we don’t have the time to sit down with some of the greatest leaders in the world, the next best way to access those great minds is to read about them. To become a great leader, it’s crucial to read (or listen to leadership podcasts or audiobooks), inquire, and grow—even if you only have a few brief moments before hitting the road to work or starting dinner for the kids.

Here is a list of the top 10 books that I believe will motivate, empower, and inspire great leadership—both in the office and in your home life.

On Fear, Failure, and Tenacity

Fear, failure, and tenacity come up in business (and in life) over and over again. Learning to deal with them, make friends with them, and work through them are the keys to being resilient and successful.

Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown

Daring Greatly is all about risk-taking in the modern world. Being vulnerable is part of the experience, but as Brown argues, vulnerability is where our greatest strength lies. An inspiring and well-written book, Daring Greatly encourages risk-taking as a path to living our best lives and offers tools to inspire that same kind of risk-taking in others. Courage can lead to great things in both our personal and professional lives.

Grit, Angela Duckworth

While intelligence is a necessary ingredient for success, it’s not the only one. Angela Duckworth is a celebrated researcher who spent her youth having her lack of genius regularly noted by her parents—yet she discovered that her success came from far more than just book smarts. In her book Grit, she examines the experiences of everyone from West Point cadets to CEOs like Jamie Dimon to discover what is truly at the root of great success. As it turns out, it’s pure tenacity, and it’s something that can be learned and taught.

Opportunity and Decision Making

Every single day we are faced with decisions, but how do we know we’re making the right choices? By more deeply understanding the way our brains and bodies work, we can leverage our natural instincts to become better leaders, family members, lovers, and humans. These books challenge what we think we know about how our bodies and brains work.

Visual Intelligence, Amy Herman

Art historian Amy Herman has been teaching a seminar called The Art of Perception” at art museums all over the world for many years. In her seminar, she uses art to demonstrate the blind spots we have in our perceptions and interpretations of the world, and she’s taught everyone from members of the FBI and the State Department to employees of Fortune 500 companies to recognize the pertinent details to make better, more informed decisions. Visual Intelligence is a book that takes you through the ins and outs of how to see and examine the world around you so that you can recognize the opportunities and latent talent that surround you each day.

Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman

World-renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in economics Daniel Kahneman has written a book that essentially provides a map for the way that we think. In Thinking, Fast and Slow, he argues that two different systems interact to help us make decisions, and by further understanding the subtleties that pass between the two, we can make better choices that further both our professional and personal lives.

Leadership

At the heart of any successful company sits a great leader. Yet we all know that leaders are not often born into their roles but rather grow and develop over time. These books reveal what great leaders who have come before can teach us about great leadership and ideas.

Good Boss, Bad Boss Robert Sutton

Written in 2012 by a Stanford professor, Good Boss, Bad Boss is still one of the best management books on the market today. Sutton takes both psychological and management research to discover what works (and doesn’t work) for the best bosses (and the worst ones). He takes a close look at what it takes to become a great boss and inspire people to do their best work. His stories are funny and engaging, and he offers advice (like his “No Asshole Rule” that really started it all) that will stick with you throughout your career.

Originals, Adam Grant

Everyone wants to make their mark on the world, but as Grant argues, this can only be achieved by being highly original. To be original, your work must be novel and risk-taking, but you also have to be 100 percent behind it. Grant gets the inside scoop on the stories of hugely successful innovators and uses those stories to give insight into how to identify great ideas, how to champion them by building a coalition of allies, how to find the right time to act, and how to manage fear and doubt. Originals is well worth a read (or a listen, since it’s available in audiobook format, too) if you’re looking for the next big thing in your business.

Diversity and Inclusion

I’ve written extensively about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and it goes without saying that the work we do in this space is incredibly important not only to the success of any business, but also to the future of the human race. Here are a few books that can help broach the sensitive topic and offer insight into the human experience of work.

So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo

As we work toward creating a more integrated and diverse workforce, we must learn how to talk about race, subtle bias, and prejudice—in the workplace and in the world. In her book So You Want to Talk About Race, Oluo offers people of all backgrounds and races tools to use when discussing sensitive topics and broaching subtle racism. It’s well worth a read to help create a more inclusive world.

We Can’t Talk About That At Work!, Mary-Frances Winters

Race, religion, politics, and other sensitive topics continually come up at work, even if they are taboo topics. So how do you deal with them? In her book We Can’t Talk About That at Work!, Winters explores how to deal with sensitive topics in an inclusive and supportive way while supporting diversity in the workplace.

On Living Your Truth

Ultimately, being a good leader means knowing yourself, and you can’t know yourself without doing the hard work first. Sometimes doing the hard work is messy. Often it involves a bit of uncouth advice—and some swear words, too. Read on for the best books to help you live your truth.

You Are a Badass, Jen Sincero

Jen Sincero uses her own life (and her own self-described self-help experiments) to guide readers through 27 chapters, each one with a tiny tidbit of great advice for following your dreams and living your truth. In You Are a Badass, you’ll learn how to stop your self-sabotage, trust the universe, and “use the Force” to create change in your life—and learn to trust yourself.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson

Okay, if you ignore the somewhat shocking title and get to the heart of Mark Manson’s book  The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, you’ll discover why living in and dealing with reality is a whole lot more empowering than just glossing things over with positive thinking. Manson uses scientific research to show why it’s crucial that we focus on the important things in our lives and ignore the rest. It’s a great read if you’re looking for a confidence boost or if you’re just looking for something to get you out of a rut.

The Takeaway

Taking the time to sit down and dig deep into a topic that interests you might seem like a luxury that many leaders can’t afford. But the truth is that if we don’t nourish the parts of ourselves that want to continue to grow and learn, we won’t be able to bring our best selves to the table at home or at work.

Carving out just 10 minutes a day to read, think, write, or relax and focus on both our self-improvement and ways in which we can improve the lives of those around us is a sure way to continue to improve the world around us. Start with these 10 great reads, and you’re sure to discover something that will open your mind and your heart to the possibility of success.

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