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10 Leadership Books for Your Summer Reading List

By Matt Collins

Matt CollinsWhether you’re an experienced leader or an aspiring one, you’ve probably been advised at least once that reading will set you apart from your peer group. I vividly recall a college professor giving me this advice by explaining I should read the newspaper every day if I wanted to succeed in the business world.

You can imagine my fear upon realizing I hadn’t picked up a paper in months.

Leadership BooksSince then, I’ve come across countless articles and studies advocating reading as imperative to career growth, suggesting that reading helps us learn, inspires creativity, enhances memory, improves concentration, builds communication skills, and more. And in fact, there are studies backing up many of these claims.

So why is reading on the decline?

One of my personal theories is that reading is like exercising; we know it’s important to exercise our mental muscle, and we may even enjoy it once we’re doing it, but there’s not enough time in the day and there are so many options from which to choose.

While I can’t put more hours into your day, I’ve enlisted the help of DDI’s ‘personal trainers’ to weed through the options for you. Here’s what our resident brainiacs recommend reading to whip your brain into shape this summer:

1. Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy

Presence In DDI's Global Leadership Forecast, we found the key difference between men and women was in overall confidence levels. I am a HUGE FAN of Amy’s work in this area and highly recommend this book to help men and women increase their overall executive presence, gain confidence, and present the best-ever versions of themselves.

Recommended by Tacy Byham, Ph.D., CEO and co-author of Your First Leadership Job

2. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy Bryan founded the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). He has fought for decades for justice for the poor and wrongly condemned, many serving life sentences or on death row for crimes they simply did not commitment. He also has fought and won cases for juveniles tried and sentenced as adults, many with obvious mental health issues and living in horrible social situations. The stories in the book paint a picture of a transformational leader, one with courage and compassion.

Recommended by Rich Wellins, Ph.D., Senior Vice President and co-author of Your First Leadership Job

3. Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will by Geoff Colvin

Humans are Underrated Colvin’s point of view parallels many of the concepts behind DDI’s programs including the role of empathy in driving connectedness, active listening, and innovation as a collective act.

Recommended by Audrey Smith, Ph.D., Senior Vice President of Talent Diagnostic Solutions and co-author of Leaders Ready Now


4. Hostage at the Table: How Leaders Can Overcome Conflict, Influence Others, and Raise Performance by George Kohlrieser

Hostage at the TableGeorge Kohlrieser is an international leadership professor, consultant, and veteran hostage negotiator. He brings a really interesting angle to emotional intelligence and the value of an open honest conversation as tools to address difficult business challenges and take positive advances. The book has a great balance of amazing hostage stories with practical leadership advice.

Recommended by Verity Creedy, UK Sales Team Leader

5. Fit: When Talent and Intelligence Just Won’t Cut It by Warren Kennaugh

Fit: When Talent and Intelligence Just Won't Cut ItFor some time now I have struggled with the overly prescriptive view taken on talent and leadership. In Fit, Kennaugh sheds light on why and the inherent risk of adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to high performance and leadership. What makes this piece eminently readable is the rich portfolio of experience that Kennaugh draws on to bring the theory of high performance to life; at all times backed up by a solid body of theory and research. As a fan of the Hogan personality instruments, I particularly liked the deeper perspective Kennaugh brings to these tools supported by a wonderful and compelling array of real-life examples from various domains of life.

Recommended by Mark Busine, Managing Director of DDI Australia

6. Liquid Leadership: From Woodstock to Wikipedia – Multigenerational Management Ideas That Are Changing the Way We Run Things by Brad Szollose

Liquid LeadershipThis is a great book for any leader faced with transformation, change, global initiatives, and the need for increased innovation and creativity. The Seven Laws are well done and most importantly lead with placing people first.

Recommended by Bruce Marks, Director of Global Strategic Partnerships

7. How to Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform Your Working Life by Caroline Webb

How to Have a Good DayMy To-Do list hasn’t been touched, I just blew that conversation with one of my peers, and I feel like I have four flat tires at the end of the day. As a leader, I’ve had too many of these days. This book provides very practical ideas and tips, based on neuroscience and behavior research, in each of these areas. The content and research are bolstered by many real-world examples from other leaders who have successfully employed these tactics. If you’d like to seize control of each day in every aspect—your mental attitude to setting focused, achievable goals, and engaging in positive interactions even under tough conditions—this book will help. And it even includes great tips for managing email!

Recommended by Janice Burns, Product Manager and Director of Publishing, Design, and Media Services

8. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg

Originals I’ll admit to being skeptical about this book when I first heard of it. Though Adam Grant is a fellow organizational psychologist and despite the widespread renown generated by his earlier book, Give and Take, this new book’s topic is, on face value, far from…well, original.  Creativity, non-conformity, and innovation are among the most common targets for business books. But, Grant’s book won me over through two differentiating strengths. First, it’s research-driven, balancing dozens of compelling accounts of non-traditional approaches to incite change with rigorous research explaining WHY a particular effect occurs. Second, it’s well-grounded. I found it very easy to connect myself to the key points and to see immediate applications for Grant’s ideas. This uncommonly high level of practicality, paired with its deeply evidence-based nature, make Originals an engaging and repeatedly useable resource for those seeking to foster workplace creativity and propel change—for oneself and others—by thinking, acting, and leading unconventionally.

Recommended by Evan Sinar, Ph.D., Chief Scientist and Vice President

9. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the BoatThis is a fascinating book which speaks to the different styles of personal and team leadership. It tells the true story of the University of Washington eight-man rowing crew that won the gold medal in the 1936 Olympics against the backdrop of the rise of Hitler’s Germany. It shows the beauty of individual and team focus, and displays the unique contributions of different styles and capabilities of leaders, from boat maker to coach.

Recommended by Barry Stern, Senior Vice President of Accelerated Development Solutions

10. Do Less, Get More: How to Work Smart and Live Life Your Way by Shaa Wasmund

Do Less. Get More.My own recommendation may help you with time management after all. Do Less, Get More by Shaa Wasmund is an insightful guide to creating focus, working smart instead of hard, and, in doing so, accomplishing more. Shaa explains that hard work isn’t necessarily the sum of the effort you put in, but rather the sum of the outcomes you achieve.


Reading exercises the most important muscle you use as a leader – your mind. So get to it! Whether you pick up one of these recommendations or start in on one your college professor mentioned years ago, I encourage you to begin your mental fitness journey today.

Matt Collins is a client manager who collaborates with organizations to select, develop, and promote exceptional leaders. He is known at work and at home as a voracious reader, and after a drawn-out fight between his appetite for books and his need to sleep, he gave in and bought an adjustable bed base that lets him sit up in bed to read more comfortably. What book should Matt add to the stack on his nightstand? Tweet him your recommendation at @iammattcollins.

Posted: 07 Jun, 2016,
Talk to an Expert: 10 Leadership Books for Your Summer Reading List
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