Essential Books to Improve Leadership Skills this Summer

Last updated: Jun 27, 2023

The most successful people in the world have one thing in common: They read. Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, and Barack Obama are all voracious readers, and it’s a good time for you to become one too. The long days of summer offer big blocks of reading time (poolside, perhaps?) and bookstores, libraries, and digital platforms are brimming with titles to inspire and empower you. If you’re ready to jumpstart your reading habit and your career, check out these essential books to improve your leadership skills this summer.


male exploring essential books to improve leadership skills

Titles Getting All the Buzz  

If you’re the kind of reader who wants only the hottest topics, current bestsellers, or the titles enflaming Twitter feeds everywhere, this is the short list for you.


  • “Leadership in a Time of Crisis” by Marshall Goldsmith and Scott Osman: Flash-published essays from 37 global thought leaders offer guidance on handling the coronavirus pandemic.
  • “Stillness is the Key” by Ryan Holiday: Timely concept book about taking a step back and reflecting instead of giving into the pressure to move faster, Holiday’s ideas could help you bring calm and discipline to your leadership style.
  • “The Future Leader” by Jacob Morgan: Hot off the presses, this new release takes a serious look at the trends, opportunities, and challenges you’ll face in the future of work and imaginative ways to lead your team forward.  
  • “Leadership in Turbulent Times” by Doris Kearns Goodwin: On the cover, this work is a pandemic-appropriate book about four presidents emerging victorious from dramatic setbacks; but in the hands of historian Goodwin, this bestseller is also a roadmap for aspiring business leaders.


Leadership Biographies

If you like to get to know your role models on a deeper level, take inspiration from compelling leadership biographies and memoirs.


  • “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson: The story of Apple’s imaginative founder is instructive, admirable, prophetic, sad, and personality-driven, peppered with Jobs’ innovative approach to leading, examples of his tyrannical tendencies, and his iconic quotes.
  • “Truman” by David McCullough: This seems like the right time to learn more about the president who took ownership of difficult decisions (we can thank Truman for, “The buck stops here”) and who, at the scariest moments in world history, was willing to make tough choices for the greater good.
  • “The Ride of a Lifetime” by Robert Iger: A business how-to and autobiography by the former Disney CEO rolled into one, this title gives you insight into a massive media company and the man at its helm for 15 years. Avid book-recommender Bill Gates says Iger does a great job of explaining what a CEO’s job really is. 
  • “Notorious RBG” by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik: Not a typical profile of a business tycoon, this biography of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has much to teach about chutzpah, gender equality, and the impact one determined character can make in the world.
  • “The Work” by Wes Moore: A moving memoir from a Rhodes Scholar and active-duty soldier turned investment banker and White House Fellow about mentoring, risk-taking, and aligning your professional life with your values.


female exploring essential books to improve leadership skills

Women Leaders

If you are ready to do away with the glass ceiling once and for all, seek out a more balanced bookshelf with titles by and about women leaders.


  • “Dare to Lead” by Brené Brown: This self-help/professional development book encourages women (even those who are not yet in leadership roles) to step up and cultivate a culture of courage in our workplaces.
  • “How Remarkable Women Lead” by Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston: Based on a five-year research project, this book investigates whether traditionally feminine traits are ideally suited for leadership in our complex and hyperconnected world.
  • “A Good Time to Be a Girl” by Helena Morrissey: A response to the ubiquitous “Lean In” chorus, this career book encourages women to shatter the “bro” system of business as usual and stop making accommodation for it.
  • “#Girlboss” by Sophia Amoruso: The playbook for scrappy millennial entrepreneurs, this bestseller launched a generation of rule-breaking, anti-establishment CEOs who are unapologetically young and fearless.  
  • “The Confidence Code” by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman: Is lack of confidence really keeping women from leadership roles? This practical guide helps you apply the question to your own career.


Redefining Leadership

If business as usual is a bore to you, maybe it’s time to read about truly original leadership ideas.


  • “Disrupt-It-Yourself” by Simone Bhan Ahuja: Our fast-moving start-up culture can make it feel like your brand is imperiled before you’ve had a chance to defend your territory. This action-plan book offers good offensive moves, helping you build a strategy to become an intrapreneurial innovator. 
  • “The Myth of the Strong Leader” by Archie Brown: Contrary to the belief that the person in charge must exude the fiercest presence, the author shows that in fact the best leaders are skilled at collaboration, delegation, and negotiation.
  • “The Moment of Lift” by Melinda Gates: Centered on the lessons learned as a philanthropist working on behalf of women, this book is a call to action for a new kind of compassionate leadership to tackle the biggest health, social, and business challenges on the globe.
  • “Think Like a Rocket Scientist” by Ozan Varol: Leaders have to tackle complex problems with the clock ticking. Same for rocket scientists. Steal techniques from the smartest problem solvers (and dreamers) in the galaxy.
  • “Quiet Leadership” by David Rock: Not just a handbook for introverts, this is a guide to help you bring a softer style to your leadership approach, with practical tips backed up by science. 
  • “Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader” by Herminia Ibarra: Turning the think-before-you-act axiom on its head, this book uses research and self-assessments to encourage you to evolve into a more spontaneous leader who doesn’t take herself too seriously.


Classics Everyone Should Read

If you haven’t yet cracked open the most influential leadership books of all time, summer is the perfect season to check a few classics off your TBR list.


  • “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey: Yes, it’s a self-help book rather than a leadership manual, but it’s hard to imagine a better playbook for leadership development than this practical classic.
  • “On Becoming a Leader” by Warren Bennis: For decades, executives and innovators have looked to this book for insights on the qualities that define leadership and the strategies to achieve them.
  • “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu: First published in 1521, this Chinese military handbook has been appropriated by a generation of ambitious executives and football coaches looking to vanquish their enemies.
  • “True North” by Bill George: This must-read is a wise guide to help you chart your individual path to leadership and success.
  • “Primal Leadership” by Daniel Goleman: Revolutionary in its time and still invaluable for anyone who wants to be a self-aware and empathic leader, this research-based book is a standard tool for any executive in training.  


Fiction for Leadership Inspiration

If you get inspo from a heart-racing scene and a passage of heroic dialogue, look to fiction for examples of leadership qualities you can apply in real life (minus the magic, bunnies, and bloodshed).


  • “Game of Thrones” by George R.R. Martin: Your office might not have dragons, but you can still use the lessons of visionary or servant leadership exemplified by Daenerys and Jon Snow.
  • “Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: It’s elementary. The finest detective on British soil makes it his business to know his business and to inspire Watson to project-manage every case.
  • The “Harry Potter” Series by J.K. Rowling: Become a leader in the Gryffindor mold: brave, honorable, transparent (no Invisibility Cloak required at your workplace), and loyal.
  • “Watership Down” by Richard Adams: Classic about a warren of rabbits who look to their leader, Hazel, to listen to, protect, and inspire them.


Add USF’s Career Charge Blog to Your Summer Reading List

We invite you to browse the posts on the Career Charge blog presented by USF’s Office of Corporate Training and Professional Development. In addition to helpful and inspiring content, the blog can direct you to certification and professional development courses that will help you optimize your leadership qualities.

Check out USF's Corporate Leadership Program to further strengthen your leadership skills.


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