14 books every leader should have on their shelf

Here at Springboard Future, we know that leadership is an ongoing process. Every leader has a responsibility to keep improving themselves, and finding new ways to bring out the best in others.

Luckily, there are some amazing resources out there for proactive leaders looking to get better at what they do. We’ve curated a list of a few books we think will help you on that journey.

So, in no particular order, here are 14 books we think every leader needs to have on their shelf.

1. Pig Wrestling

By Pete Lindsay and Mark Bawden

We’ve all had the experience of feeling unable to solve a problem, no matter how hard we try. Pig Wrestling tackles this profoundly frustrating situation in a new way. We love its innovative approach, and often recommend this book to our coachees when they feel ‘stuck’ with a problem.

As well as having an important message, this short book is a pretty fun read! It’s presented as a fable, which makes it very engaging, memorable, and easy to get through quickly.

2. The XX Factor

By Alison Wolf

Every leader should have a good grasp of the social trends which shape the modern business environment. And when it comes to women in the white-collar workplace, and women who opt out or are forced out of it, there’s no better primer than The XX Factor. Alison Wolf has knocked it out of the park, putting together an exhaustively researched book which we found occasionally infuriating, often heartening, and always fascinating.

Oh, and needless to say, it’s not just for women…

3. The Chimp Paradox

By Dr Steve Peters

The subtitle really says it all: “the acclaimed mind management programme to help you achieve success, confidence and happiness”. The book was written by a Consultant Psychiatrist, who famously worked with the British Cycling Team to help them remove psychological barriers to their success.

In The Chimp Paradox, he explains his methods for identifying and managing your emotions, so you stop sabotaging yourself. It’s all presented in a simple, accessible way despite the sometimes complex scientific concepts.

4. Dare to Lead

By Brené Brown

Too many people seek leadership roles because they want power and status. In Dare to Lead, Brené Brown reminds us that real leadership is about recognising and nurturing the potential in others, not holding your power over them and keeping them down. Brown’s focus on empathy, vulnerability and forging real human connections is something we sorely need today.

We thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who wants to develop their courage, and learn how to step out of their comfort zone and into their potential.

5. The Culture Code

By Daniel Coyle

Great leadership is important, but so is great teamwork. In The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle focuses on the three skills every team needs to master. He uses examples ranging from sports teams to military units to teams at Google and Pixar, showing how creating the right culture can get the best out of diverse groups. Essential reading!

6. Bounce

By Matthew Syed

In Bounce, Matthew Syed deals with what he terms “the myth of talent”. He argues that we place way too much emphasis on whether someone has a ‘natural talent’ for something. Through exploring various examples in the world of sports, he explains why he thinks nurture is much more important than nature when it comes to developing skill.

7. Leaders Eat Last

By Simon Sinek

If you haven’t read this book yet… stop what you’re doing, and go read it now! In Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek explains a fundamental truth of leadership: you must be prepared to sacrifice for the good of your team. What does that mean in practice? Well, it depends on your context, so Sinek gives examples from a wide range of industries and situations with very different stakes.

The book is a necessary reminder that good leadership isn’t about grabbing power or having fancy titles. It’s about doing what’s best for the team, and getting the best out of them. Thought-provoking, inspiring and well-written, it deserves to be at the top of your reading list.

8. Team Spirit

By Brendan Hall

This truly compelling book tells the nail-biting story of a round-the-world yacht race. Skipper Brendan Hall won the race in 2010, at only 28 years old, and his gripping account is full of hard-won leadership lessons. Most of us won’t ever face the specific situations he and his crew did – but every leader can learn from his experiences. A brilliant read.

9. Leadership Agility

By Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs

Everyone wants their business to be agile. But sometimes, we overlook how important that quality is in individual leaders. In this fascinating book, Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs give clear, practical advice on how to assess your own level of leadership agility, and how to build on it. In today’s fast-paced VUCA environment, it’s a vital skill to develop, and one that will only make you a better, more resilient leader.

10. Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor

By Sylvia Ann Hewlett

We all know networking and mentorship matter. But Sylvia Ann Hewlett argues that if you have specific, ambitious goals, what you really need is a sponsor. In this information-dense but very readable book, she sets out a seven-step path to success, and explains why having a senior advocate is so useful along the way. Crucially, she also sets out why sponsors get a good deal out of it too – this is a two-way street, not charity. A useful, practical read.

11. Thinking, Fast and Slow

By Daniel Kahneman

Thinking, Fast and Slow offers a remarkable set of insights into the different minds we all possess from day to day and hour to hour. Building on his extensive research into behavioural psychology, Daniel Kahneman explains how we all switch between quick, intuitive decision-making and a slower, more thoughtful approach. As he points out, one isn’t ‘better’ than the other – but you need to be able to consciously shift between them depending on what’s appropriate.

At a time when we’re all learning how deeply ingrained our unconscious biases can be, this is essential reading. By practising how to slow down our thinking, we can learn how to train our intuition and avoid acting based on prejudices and bad information.

12. Getting Things Done

By David Allen

It almost feels redundant to include this book – you probably already know it! But if you’ve somehow managed to miss it, getting a copy of David Allen’s Getting Things Done should be top of your list of… well, things to get done. His method for powering through your to-do list has devotees around the world, who are evangelical about their love for the GTD method. This means that, if his approach works for you, you’ll find plenty of resources and a whole community online to help you stay on track.

13. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

By Susan Jeffers

This classic title is so influential, it’s become its own phrase. As a leader, you come up against challenging situations all the time, and often have to make decisions without all the data. This can be a scary feeling. Jeffers’ book can help you work through that fear, identifying its roots and learning how to move past it and take action. It was an inspiring read when it was published in 1987, and it’s still full of insights for navigating our uncertain world today.

14. Embodied Leadership

By Pete Hamill

This is a great book if you want to try a different approach to developing your leadership skills. With all our focus on ways of thinking, we sometimes forget that we’re whole, embodied people. And according to Pete Hamill, this is a huge oversight. Our minds and bodies are closely linked, and sometimes by applying rigid structures to the way we think, we overlook the information we’re getting from our own bodies. Embodied Leadership is engaging and readable, a great introduction to this fascinating area of leadership development.

What books do you always turn to for advice and professional development? We’d love to know what your leadership library looks like, so we can keep adding to our own shelves.