13 Best Books for Leaders to Read in 2018

My literary picks for entrepreneurs, managers, and others

Books image from ThinkstockI set a goal for myself in 2017 — read 40 books. That may seem like nothing for some people — especially when many entrepreneurs are known for reading 50 books a year. But for me it was a big deal. I’m not just a business owner and leader, but I’m also a mom. Reading for myself was something that disappeared after my kids were born and for many years when they were small.

I also discovered that once you fall out of the reading habit, it’s really hard to get back into it. That’s why I set a goal to read 40 books in 2017. I’ll be honest — it was a stretch goal. And no one is more surprised than me that I reached it! It took a concerted effort to be successful. But once I got in the reading habit, it wasn’t hard. Now, I carry a book with me everywhere.

I read some truly wonderful books over the past year. I discovered them on lists very similar to this one. Some of them I listened to on Audible. But the majority I borrowed from the Austin Public Library. Your local library is a wonderful resource! Be sure to check there first if you’re not sure you want to purchase your own copy.

13 books to add to your reading list

1) Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini

If you want to find out what influences people and why they say yes, this book is fascinating. You’ll learn how to become a skilled presenter and how to tell when someone is using these same skills on you. I thought the writing was down to earth and easy to read. The author spoke at SXSW last year and it was a very popular session.

2) Daring Greatly or Rising Strong by Brene Brown

Honestly I recommend both, but if you have to choose, pick the one that’s closest to what you’re currently dealing with. It will give you tools to illuminate and help you work through certain situations.
In Daring Greatly, I learned why it’s important to let yourself be vulnerable.
In Rising Strong, I learned how confronting your stories — where the struggle is — can help you transform. Warning — these can be tear jerkers!

3) Presence by Amy Cuddy

This is one of those books that explains what we can do to change what we think of ourselves, which can set us up for success. I even started taking some of the ideas and implementing them into my daily routine. Amy Cuddy also has an excellent TED Talk.

4) Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith
What really stood out to me after reading this book was the realization that I had things I was reacting to, and those reactions weren’t serving me. By zooming in on those reactions and thinking through what triggered them, I was able to get closer to to calm and collected leader I want to be. A must read!

5) Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High
If your job involves interacting with people, I recommend this book. People interactions can be emotional and tough. This book walks you through navigating difficult discussions in a non-hurtful, safe way. I found it to be a relatively fast read.

6) Leading at the Edge: Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Saga of Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition
So, Shackleton’s Expedition was an insane failure, except for the fact that everybody made it home alive. They made it home alive, because the leader of the journey, Shackleton, did some pretty basic things. He wasn’t perfect by any means, but his leadership is credited with helping the crew persevere through amazing adversity.

7) Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, by Jack Weatherford
I’m a bit of a history geek, in case you couldn’t tell, so I love to read about how things in the past lead to where we are today. This book was incredibly enlightening. My history classes usually skipped over anything that wasn’t in Western Europe, so I hardly knew anything about Gengis Khan. He was brutal, yes, but also introduced and spread concepts our world relies on — like interstate commerce and postal service, religious tolerance and inclusion, and a central currency system. He was also an amazing leader This book will open your eyes.

8) The Hard Thing about Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz
This book made me feel better. I always doubted my decisions because I thought I needed to know more to make them. Not true! Ben explains that running a business is tough. No one tells you when you start one just how difficult it can be. Social media and news reports only tell us the glamor — not the guts. He shares his insights on the stuff leaders face every day.

9) Pitch Perfect, by Bill McGowen
This book is about how to prepare yourself for speaking well in front of others. This is one book I ended up buying after checking it out from the library. I also used it as a basis for a series of educational talks I presented in one of my networking groups. The advice in this book about speaking is spot on. It’s especially good for those who are about to speak to the media.

10) Psyched Up, by Daniel McGinn
This book is about how mental preparation can help you succeed. There’s different things that work for different people as you prepare for a major challenge — whether you’re an entrepreneur, a concert pianist, or a surgeon. I created a playlist to help me prepare for my day (and stopped listening to sad books on the way to work), because I realized that music helps me get psyched up and prepared.

11) Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth
It’s not often I have my mind opened and my opinions validated all at the same time. Angela Duckworth’s research shows that success isn’t about talent, but about a blend of passion and perseverance that she calls “grit.” It explained a lot about why I didn’t succeed in some areas, but did in others. And she explain explains how you can cultivate grit. After reading it, I implemented some new tactics in my routine as well as parenting. Another must-read!

12) Insight, by Tasha Eurich
I have to admit, I had a hard time getting into this book. The writing wasn’t bad, it just felt a little cynical and harsh. Combine that with the message that we’re not as self-aware as we think we are, and the message in this book is a tough pill to swallow. I’m still smarting from the quiz I took at the end which told me I was the least aware — I can’t tell whether it’s true or whether I’m lacking self-awareness to deny the truth. However, it’s good to examine our weak spots, and there are things we can all do to improve our self-awareness.

13) Everybody Lies, by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
New York Time writer and data scientist Set Stephens-Davidowitz argues that humans tend to lie to pollsters, but they tell their most intimate secrets to Google, which is why looking at big data can reveal trends we never knew — as long as we know how to ask. What can data tell us about racism in America? Sexuality? Media violence? How to beat the stock market? This book only made me more determined than ever to read more about the power of big data.

4 Bonus Reads

These aren’t business or psychology books, but I’m a firm believer that people should read regularly and widely. Plus, these are just darn well-written. If you have room on your reading list, see if you can add these in:

1) The Wonder of Birds, by Jim Robbins
This isn’t my typical genre, but I happened across it at the library one Saturday, and it called to me. I’m so glad it did. It is a gorgeous look at birds, our relationship with them and how they help us be better people. No other animal group provides so much, and they have even more to teach us about being human.

While reading this book I decided to keep chickens, and I’m currently preparing my coop. Watch out!

2) Run, by Ann Patchett
I loved Ann Patchett’s “State of Wonder,” so I decided to try “Run.” In typical Ann Patchett fashion, it slowly draws you into a world of relationships with surprises at every turn. She considers it a book about politics, to to me, it’s about complex family relationships and why we do what we do for the people we love.

3) How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World
I saw a business mentor reading this book by Steven Johnson, so I decided I wanted to read it to, and I wasn’t disappointed. Have you thoughts about how the world got so clean? What about our use of glass? Of sound? The author traces the beginnings and evolution of these innovations we could not do without.

4) Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman
I highly recommend listening to the audiobook read by Neil Gaiman himself. Not only does he weave together wonderful stories from the Norse legends, but his narration is awesome. The kids and I were laughing hysterically at his voicing of the antics of Loki, Thor, Odin, and more.

Want to learn how I got back into the reading habit? I shared my tips over on LinkedIn. Read my article on reading 40 books in a year here.

Happy reading!