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The Leadership Playlist

The 10 Best Leadership Books of All Time

The task here at the Leadership Playlist -- to share must-reads from the world of leadership -- just got easier, thanks to The 100 Best Business Books of All Time, out this month from Portfolio. The authors, Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten, who run the business book publisher and website 800 CEO Read, list and review the 10 best leadership books.

And how did they choose them? "We had three litmus tests," Sattersten told me in a phone interview. "Was the book accessible and well written? Are its lessons applicable today? And, third, would we apply the insights in our own business?"

Of the 10 leadership books that made the cut, four were authored by On Leadership panelists. Authors Covert and Sattersten gave me a quick, Twitter-style run down on each.

1. On Becoming a Leader, by Warren Bennis. "His message is, you can't be a leader until you know who you are. It's that simple," said Sattersten. "Once you know, you have amazing ability to lead successfully."

2. The Leadership Moment, by Michael Useem. "It's a book you read for the stories, not because you're looking for a solution," Covert told me. "I think the stories sit in the back of your mind, and when you reach a crisis situation -- which so many people are right now -- you can call on them." (And yes, I am related the author, he's my dad.)

3. The Leadership Challenge, by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. "It's the first book your read on leadership because it offers such a compelling model for thinking about leadership," said Sattersten. "You can use it as a basis for looking at everything else you encounter."

4. Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will, by Noel Tichy and Stratford Sherman. The book, about Jack Welch's leadership at GE, is the story of "the great corporate turn-around story of the 20th century," said Sattersten. And not because GE was faltering when Welch took charge -- on the contrary, said Sattersten, GE at the time was running "an acceptably profitable business," and yet still Welch was able to implement major changes. "It's like Tiger Woods changing up his golf swing at the top of his game," added Covert.

The other books on their list are:
Leadership is an Art, by Max De Pree
The Radical Leap, by Steve Farber
Leading Change, by John Kotter
Questions of Character, by Joe Badaracco
The Story Factor, by Annette Simmons, and
Never Give In! Speeches by Winston Churchill.

Covert and Sattersten also said they'd add recently published Tribes by Seth Godin to this list if they could update it.

With many saying Wall Street has witnessed a massive failure of leadership, I asked Sattersten and Covert if they'd like today's leaders to read these books. Answered Sattersten: "Yes, I'd like them to read the books. But what I'd love more is for someone to actually lead us."

By Andrea Useem  |  February 12, 2009; 10:48 AM ET  | Category:  Books Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Three unforgettably fun, non-business books for general reader, which inspire and illuminate qualities central to leadership:

(1) The Tao of Leadership by John Heider

(2) 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

(3) Profiles in Courage by JFK

Posted by: jhbyer | February 21, 2009 12:01 AM

The list is interesting. It is important to recognize that leadership is an evolving phenomenon. It is about using your talents and skills well in changing contexts. Leadership is also about lifelong learning and the constant search for new ways to use your personal leadership skills. The leadership books of tomorrow will reflect these changes.

Posted by: lrowitz | February 14, 2009 8:05 AM

Rudy Giuliani a true leader has a book out as well. Rudy's leadership skills are unmatched.

Posted by: mharwick | February 13, 2009 7:15 AM

I must suspect this is a 'politically correct' list of 'leadership books.'

That they are all authored in English, suggest that 'leadership' is an American invention, which it isn't.

Finding that flaw in the list, removes the need to search for any further flaws.

Posted by: brucerealtor@gmail.com | February 13, 2009 12:40 AM

This list would be better titled "the 10 Best RECENT Leadership Books of All Time."

Of course, recent publication is often a flaw of "all time best lists," but this one clearly lacks some of the fundamental books on the subject.

Posted by: Danny- | February 12, 2009 11:50 PM

On Becoming a Leader, by Warren Bennis. "His message is, you can't be a leader until you know who you are. It's that simple," said Sattersten. "Once you know, you have amazing ability to lead successfully."

Since it will likely take you the rest of your life to complete step one, you may want to consider another tack. Or, you know, the sermon of the setting of the wheel in motion.

Posted by: Bill_In_DC | February 12, 2009 10:54 PM

What's even weirder is that, back in the day before "leadership" books, columns, seminars etc became ubiquitous, America actually had some pretty good leaders.

Posted by: bourassa1 | February 12, 2009 7:01 PM

It's funny, America is full of "leadership" books, leadership courses, leadership seminars. You don't see these things in any other country.

And yet America seems to have the most God-awful leaders on the planet. From the timid, politicised Joint Chiefs to the crooks of Wall Street, the pampered princes of Detroit, the peanut-poisoners of the South, to the dogmatic incompetents who've infested the White House for the last eight years.

Everywhere you look, endless "leadership" guides, and lots of crappy leaders.

Posted by: bourassa1 | February 12, 2009 6:54 PM

After reading hundreds of such books, including all of the one's listed above except for the book of Churchill's speeches, I recommend as the "bible" on the subject a book by one of the author's of the Team Handbook . . .

Peter Scholtes' book: The Leader's Handbook: a guide to inspiring your people and managing the daily workflow

Posted by: RBCrook | February 12, 2009 6:48 PM

I would suspect anything posing as 'leadership' during the last 30 years, in any field - politics, business, religion, medicine, etc. I don't believe there has been any 'leadership', just an overriding moronic premise that the world was going to be a better place by allowing the most avaricious and egocentric among us to satisfy their need for absurd material wealth and power. Sorry.

Posted by: emlavern | February 12, 2009 6:08 PM

These books may very well be all I need, but I have to admit I'm disappointed to see only one female author on the list. While many core leadership concepts are gender-neutral, leadership style options available to many men simply don't work for many women.

I am eager to check out these recommendations, but wonder if any thought was given to gender when this list was created. Anybody have any favorite leadership books BY women (not necessarily FOR women - those are often heavily stereotyped) to recommend?

I value On Leadership as a resource and look forward to learning more.

Posted by: alsoleading | February 12, 2009 4:22 PM

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