5 Books You Didn’t Know Were About Leadership (But Are)

Truly influential and effective leaders look for answers in a wide range of places, and your reading selection should be no exception. The best leaders devour books of all genres and themes (so don’t let those I-only-read-nonfiction snobs get you down) because whether they know it or not, reading fiction and biographies has shown to increase emotional intelligence far greater than reading non-fictional, informational, or even scientific texts increases factual knowledge.

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Some of the most significant books that have shaped who I am as a leader (or at least whom I aspire to be) were actually not so obviously about leadership. In fact some of them, as you’ll see, were fiction. The more conspicuous leadership books, like Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People or Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, are still required reading as far as I’m concerned, but aspiring leaders, as well as seasoned ones, would be remiss to exclude books that are slightly more covert in their leadership themes.

What’s more, these are just plain phenomenal books:

  1. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing – This was an easy choice, especially because it’s a time-honored story, yet when it comes to the lessons learned on leadership within these pages, you won’t have to look very far. Ernest Shackleton, who led the attempted Imperial Trans-Atlantic Expedition in 1914, embodies the quiet wisdom that effective leaders require, especially during times of intense duress, such as, oh you know, being stranded with his crew in frigid Antarctic waters for hundreds of days. If you can absorb even a fraction of Shackleton’s determination, decisiveness, and integrity, you’ll do more than alright.
  2. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl – This book is also about survival; however, it made this list for different reasons. Written by a psychologist who survived life in the Nazi death camps during the Holocaust, this book offers insight into some of the most important characteristics of effective leadership: empathy, optimism, and making sense of an unfathomable reality. Just read it.
  3. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry – The two main characters of this first book in the fictional tetralogy epitomize the inner dichotomy that many great leaders experience. On the one hand, we have Woodrow F. Call, aka “Call,” who is quiet yet decisive and somewhat of a lone wolf, albeit one whom the pack is smart to follow. And then we have the incredibly skilled and emotionally intelligent Augustus McCrae, or “Gus.” Although a bit lackadaisical (okay, he’s plain lazy), he’s always there when his team needs him, and without looking over anyone’s shoulder to micro-manage their jobs, he builds people up when they need a push and offers the overly-confident frank doses of humility.
  4. The Help by Kathryn Stockett – What does a book about African American maids and one rebellious writer during the peak of the Civil Right era in the South have to offer leaders? To name a few of the themes: the importance of taking bold risks to affect real change, the not-so-subtle reminder that every person who reports to you has a home life you very well know nothing about, and the idea that questioning the dissonant and poking at the thing that doesn’t seem fair is precisely how you create meaning in your work.
  5. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand – As leaders, we often face times in which we feel as if the road ahead is hopelessly filled with insurmountable obstacles. However, after reading this book, you can simply recall even one minute of Louis Zamperini’s mind-boggling ordeal (and the attitude with which he faced it), and you’ll soon realize you should probably just suck it up and tackle whatever it is you’re facing. This will be quite possibly one of the most inspirational books you’ll read in your lifetime.

What books have you read that unexpectedly turned out to be about leadership?

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