8 Top Leadership Books for Coaches

My son was an intern at The Ken Blanchard Companies last summer when he asked me “What do you think is the best book on leadership?” I was stumped, because there are so many wonderful books on leadership—by not only business leaders but also many other types of leaders, past and present.

Let’s give a nod to the great political leaders whose journeys of provoking and leading change on a massive scale provide worthwhile leadership lessons: King Solomon, Cleopatra, Queen Elizabeth, Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Gandhi, Winston Churchill, and Martin Luther King, Jr., to name a mere handful.

Then we have to acknowledge the modern writers on leadership specifically: Drucker, Bennis, Maxwell, Blanchard.

But this is about the leadership books that have made the biggest difference for coaches. I have asked several of our Blanchard coaches and many of my peers, and here are the results:

Tony Klingmeyer, one of our Blanchard Master coaches, chose Management of the Absurd by Richard Farson. Tony says “It is wonderfully written, about many of the dilemmas and paradoxes our clients face when leading in organizations.” In this short and sweet book, Farson details the complexities of navigating human beings and debunks some well meaning management advice.

Renee Freedman, MCC, former director of The SupporTED Coaching Program, says her favorite book is The Leadership Dojo by Richard Heckler Strozzi. Renee says “Although there is much great guidance here, two primary things about this book sucked me in and made me fall in love with it: 1) it treats leadership as a somatic experience and that’s how I experience it; and 2) it has a 5-step leadership process of entering, centering, facing, extending, and blending—which I find extremely simple, effective, and trainable. It changed leadership for me from believing that only 1% of people can lead to understanding that anyone can lead, including me!”

Ann Marie Heidingsfelder picked Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization by John Wooden.

Many coaches on a recent webinar chose Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee. It is essentially the application of the concepts of emotional intelligence to leadership. How many clients really need to understand the fundamentals of self awareness, self regulation, awareness of others, and modifying self to be more effective with others? All of them.

Then there’s Leadership BS by Jeffrey Pfeffer. A recent addition to the canon, I personally love the devil’s advocate position the author takes against some of the baloney being peddled by leadership companies out there. No nonsense, brass tacks, and really useful for coaches helping clients navigate the insanity of the global business world. My particular favorite moment is when the author debunks the notion that leaders need to be “authentic.” This book is validating for natural subversives and required reading for idealists.

Why Smart Executives Fail by Sydney Finkelstein is one of my all time favorites and should be required reading for anyone aspiring to senior leadership—and those who coach them. You might think because it came out in 2003 that it is obsolete, but you would be wrong. Finkelstein examines some of the whopping business failures and teases out the mistakes that were made. These lessons are timeless. But my favorite chapter is “The Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful People.” Just the title makes me laugh out loud.

Another great book is Coaching for Leadership by Goldsmith, Lyons, and McArthur. This one is kind of a no-brainer, because it is an anthology with writings from leadership and coaching experts with extremely targeted practical advice for all kinds of situations (understanding purpose, gender differences, working cross generationally and culturally, etc.). Of course, Goldsmith’s entire body of work is must-know—particularly What Got You Here Won’t Get You There—but this is a different resource altogether.

Finally, a crowd favorite: Leadership and Self-Deception from The Arbinger Institute. A fairly fast and easy read that outlines the effects of self-deception and how to fix it. The fundamental premise is that when we behave in ways that do not match our values, we betray ourselves.

How does that match up with your list? Any books you’d add? Just include them in the comments section!

8 thoughts on “8 Top Leadership Books for Coaches

  1. Thanks for this post and answering that question for your son. I just read Leadership BS (Pfeffer) and loved it. On this recommendation (and the title of the last chapter), I’m going to give Why Smart Executives Fail (Finkelstein) a shot.

    • Oh, good. I am so excited that the list was helpful. What other books on leadership have been useful to you?

  2. Dear Madeline – thanks for this collection. I’d add John Gardner’s “On Leadership” which calls for vision and values as the foundation.for leadership. For a different take and perspective, I offer my own new book on faith-based leadership “Thy Will Be Done – Strategic Leadership, Planning, and Management for Christians.” See the link: http://www.christianleadership.co/ Thanks for the great articles and insights!

  3. Thanks Madeleine for sharing. Lots to look at there! One book I’d recommend (which isn’t generally described as a ‘leadership’ book) is Time to Think by Nancy Kline. Why do I recommend this? Because it examines in detail the profound effects of listening – on the listener and the person being listened to. To my mind listening is a key skill that leaders in particular need to consciously cultivate. The creation of the Thinking Environment that Nancy proposes as the basis for meetings and interactions would take collegiality and appreciative cooperation in organisations to a new level.

  4. Hi Newbycoach, thanks for the addition. I love learning about books that have escaped my notice. I agree that space to think, listening and reflection are in short supply all round these days, and are critical for quality leadership.

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