Harry Truman said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Reading is important for leaders, not only because of the content being read but also because reading teaches one to think, reason, and formulate thoughts. Popular leadership books can be very helpful, especially if they are popular because leaders have found them to be challenging and helpful. But there are many lesser-known leadership books that are great reads as well. And there are books outside the “leadership section” that can be extremely valuable to leaders. Here are five books you may not have read, but should. Some would not be considered “leadership books.”
Why is communication an important part of leadership? People cannot follow a direction they do not understand nor live by a set of values that are unclear. To lead well, you must communicate well. Great leaders are great teachers. Milton Gregory’s classic work from 1884 is still in print! And it is worth a read.
Blaise Pascal, the French theologian and famous mathematician, wrote down many wise thoughts in his Pensées. T.S. Eliot stated, “I can think of no Christian writer more to be commended than Pascal.” Included in his thoughts are pithy statements about human nature and our inability to discover joy apart from Jesus. Because leaders are serving and serving alongside people, Pascal’s wisdom on human nature is helpful. For example, on reasoning with others, Pascal quipped: “People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.” Other authors caution leaders to care deeply about who is on their leadership team because the wrong person can bring out the worst in other team members. Pascal is more profound: “Some vices only lay hold of us by means of others, and these, like branches, fall on removal of the trunk.”
This is not an easy read and should be viewed as a resource more than as a book. In several contexts where I have led, I have asked staff that lead/teach kids, students, or adults to read the book. Yount skillfully summarizes decades of research and thinking on specialized disciplines that impact how people learn and grow, such as cognitive development, moral development, social development, and faith development. Why is this important for leaders? Leaders—you are not only leading; you are leading people. It is helpful for leaders to understand how people grow and develop.
Leading Change by John Kotter has been cited by many as the definitive work on guiding others to change, and for good reason, but this work by William Bridges is an equally important read. When you lead change, you are not merely tweaking an organization on paper; you are altering the lives of people. This work reminds leaders to consider what they will be “giving up” in the midst of the change so you can show them how “the new” will better fulfill the mission.
Surgeon and Harvard medical professor Atul Gawande advocates for the implementation of simple checklists to help create and reinforce culture. His book chronicles research where he introduced simple checklists in eight hospitals around the world and saw tremendous results in lowering post-operation infection rates. The hospitals were in different cultural settings with different doctors, but the advent of a simple checklist had big results. The book helps us leaders understand the importance of systems and processes.