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  • Writer's pictureStefano Calvetti

Leadership Readings: Lessons from My Bookshelf

Updated: Apr 8

Updated on Mar 09, 2024.

Summer is always a great season for reading more. Many people take holidays during this time of the year, and there's nothing better than enjoying a good book while relaxing on the beach, camping, at home, or anywhere you choose.

If you're interested in learning about leadership, here are a few reading suggestions from my bookshelf.

Check back from time to time since I'm always exploring and learning, I will keep updating this list!

If you have suggestions, please write them in the comments. I am an avid reader!


Various books on leadership arranged upright on a bookcase shelf

My top 10
  1. "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen R. Covey is a seminal work in the personal and professional development genre. It presents a principle-centered approach to solving personal and professional problems. Covey introduces seven habits that aim to help individuals achieve true interdependence and effectiveness in their lives. It is one of the most widely sold books on leadership, for a good reason!

  2. “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek is one of the most enlightening books for leaders, business owners, and entrepreneurs. If you haven't heard about it, I strongly suggest watching the author's famous TEDx Talk from 2008 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qp0HIF3SfI4). The book delves deeper into the power of the "golden circle," the sequence of WHY-HOW-WHAT that can inspire you.

  3. “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” by John C. Maxwell is another cornerstone of a leadership library. Emphasizing that leadership is not a passive endeavor and requires continuous growth, influence, and dedication, Maxwell provides a roadmap for leaders structured on 21 principles, drawing from real-life examples in history and his experiences.

  4. "Turn the Ship Around!" by L. David Marquet is a compelling narrative of leadership transformation set within a high-stakes environment. Marquet, a former submarine captain, shares his journey of breaking away from the traditional leader-follower model to a new method of leadership that he terms "leader-leader." His experiences underscore the importance of trust, the power of questioning the status quo, and the significant impact of empowering individuals on overall performance and morale.

  5. “System Inspired Leadership” by Frank Uit de Weerd and Marita Fridjhon presents a unique approach to teamwork that I wish I had learned about years ago. The book is based on the belief that any team can become an integrated system with its intelligence and voice. This approach's core is Relationship Systems Intelligence, defined as “the ability to reinterpret an individual’s own experience as an expression of the system.”

  6. “Team of Teams” by Gen (Ret) Stanley McChrystal and co-authors Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell argue that traditional top-down, hierarchical structures of organizations are no longer effective in today's complex world. They propose an interconnected and egalitarian network that fosters trust, cooperation, and effective communication as the solution.

  7. “True North” by Bill George is a journey into the meaning of leadership and its components. Discussing integrated life, motivation, values and principles, support teams, and self-awareness, Bill illustrates each element's importance through real-world leaders' stories.

  8. “That Will Never Work” by Marc Randolph narrates the story of how he and Reed Hastings created Netflix while the reader comes to understand all the challenges of entrepreneurship. Spoiler alert: they succeeded! The book isn't only about risk-taking, adaptability, and visionary leadership. It's also about self-awareness and knowing when it's time to step aside. You can also read Reed’s book “No Rules Rules” for further insights into the innovative culture implemented at Netflix.

  9. "Dare to Lead" by Brené Brown is an insightful guide with practical examples that, drawing on years of research, dissects what it truly means to lead with courage and vulnerability. She argues that the future belongs to brave leaders who are unafraid to lean into discomfort and forge deep connections, embrace empathy, cultivate a culture of transparency and trust, and empower individuals to step up and lead.

  10. “The 9 Types of Leadership” by Beatrice Chestnut, Ph.D., introduces leadership through the lens of the Enneagram. Chestnut describes how the nine Enneagram personalities are reflected in leadership and offer valuable tips to correct shortfalls, discover blind spots, and become a better leader. She has also been a fantastic guest on my podcast. Listen here.

Some theories on leadership and personal leadership
  • “The Captain Class” by Sam Walker tells the story of 16 successful sports teams, ranging from the fearsome rugby team “All Blacks” in 1986-90 and in 2011-15 to the unbeatable Barcelona Football Club from 2008-13 to the incredible Pittsburgh Steelers of 1974-80. Walker analyzes the impact of the “glue element” of these teams, called the captain. A common trait of these captains was that they focused not on personal glory but rather on the team's success.

  • “Coaching for Performance” by Sir John Whitmore, despite its title, is written not only for coaches but also for leaders interested in adopting coaching as a leadership style. Using the GROW model's framework (Goal, Reality, Options, Will) and combining it with a revised Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Whitmore explains how to lead by coaching and why it's powerful.

  • "Leaders Eat Last" by Simon Sinek explores the concept of leadership through the lens of human biology and sociology, emphasizing the importance of creating a culture of trust and safety within organizations. Sinek argues that leaders who prioritize the well-being of their teams above their own interests can build stronger, more cohesive groups capable of remarkable achievements.

  • "How to Be a Power Connector" by Judy Robinett offers a strategic guide to networking in the 21st century, focusing on the quality rather than the quantity of connections. Robinett - a guest in my podcast - provides practical advice on identifying and connecting with influential individuals across different industries and sectors to create mutually beneficial relationships. She introduces a 5+50+100 rule for managing one's network and emphasizes the importance of being a valuable resource to others.

  • "The Bullied Brain" by Jennifer Fraser, Ph.D., delves into the neuroscience behind abusive leaders, illustrating how bullying can cause lasting physical damage to the brains of those involved. She advocates for a shift in understanding and addressing bullying by incorporating insights from brain science. The book underscores the need for educational and organizational leaders to implement evidence-based strategies to prevent bullying and promote a culture of empathy and resilience. You can listen to my interview to Dr. Fraser here.

  • “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu is a best seller in the military environment and among leaders and strategists. Sun Tzu emphasizes the importance of self-awareness and strategic thinking – planning ahead, understanding challenges, and the skills you can use to achieve results.

Building teamwork
  • “Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team - A Field Guide” by Patrick Lencioni provides practical information and exercises to address the main obstacles in teamwork: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. It suits team leaders, consultants, HR professionals, and coaches. If you want to delve deeper, I also recommend “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable” by the same author.

  • “Creating Intelligent Teams” by Dr. Anne Rod and Marita Fridjhon is the precursor to system-inspired leadership. Its underlying principle is also the concept of Relationship Systems Intelligence. What I love about this book is how it advocates and supports, with a substantial case study, the idea of switching the pronoun “I” (I have done…, I have enabled…) with “we” in a team setting.


Memoirs - learning from others
  • “Call Sign CHAOS” by Gen. (Ret.) Jim Mattis spans from Mattis’s early experiences in the Gulf War to his position as Secretary of Defense during the Trump administration. It is structured around three main themes: direct leadership, executive leadership, and strategic leadership. For Mattis, learning from history, building competency, taking care of people, and gaining a deep understanding of goals and resources are the most critical components of a leader’s skill set.

  • “Open” by Andre Agassi (with assistance from J. R. Moehringer, a great author) is about personal leadership, focusing on the struggles of an incredibly talented and rebellious tennis player and his journey to overcome his internal saboteurs. This is not just about resilience: this showcases anti-fragility at its finest. With the help of a supportive network, Agassi was able to take charge of his life and become a highly respected tennis champion and philanthropist.

  • “Duty” by Robert M. Gates. Having served as Secretary of Defense for two U.S. presidents, Gates reflects on his extraordinary experience to highlight what made him a reliable and resilient official under two very different presidents: George W. Bush and Barack Obama. This book is not only a great resource for leadership lessons but also provides personal and emotional insight, adding an interesting dimension to an already captivating book.

  • “My Share of the Task” by Gen. (Ret.) Stanley McChrystal is a memoir of McChrystal's military career, from his early days at West Point to leading the coalition forces in Afghanistan. The author emphasizes the importance of adaptability, empowerment, communication, accountability, and relationship-building.

Teachings from the past and the present
  • “The Proving Ground” by G. Bruce Knecht tells the dramatic true story of three crews participating in the 1998 Sydney to Hobart yacht race. When a massive storm hits during the race, the decisions and behaviors of skippers and crew members make the difference between life and death. Be warned: this book might make you feel seasick.

  • "Lessons in Disaster" by Gordon Goldstein provides a unique insight into the leadership challenges and failures during the Vietnam War, seen through the eyes of McGeorge Bundy, the National Security Advisor to JFK and Lyndon B. Johnson. The book offers critical lessons on how miscommunication, misunderstanding, close-mindedness, and ego-driven decisions can lead to disastrous outcomes. On the same topic, I would also recommend “Dereliction of Duty” by H. R. McMaster. We know how important is to learn from mistakes, right?

  • “Napoleon” by Felix Markham. History is a great teacher, and Napoleon is a nearly endless source of learning. The book analyzes the General, the Emperor, and the man, telling his story of how he rose to power and what caused his fall (twice). Napoleon combined characteristics like strategic thinking, visionary leadership, and determination with soft skills such as communication and empathy. This made him so beloved by his troops and citizens that when he returned from his first exile, he could regain his seat of power in no time.

  • "Temptations of Power" by Shadi Hamid explores the complexities of Islamic political groups and their struggle between ideology and practicality. The book comprehensively explains how these leaders adapt to suppressive environments, demonstrating the importance of adaptability and resilience in leadership. It is a lesson on the intricate balance between power and values.

  • "The Landmark Thucydides" by Robert B. Strassler brings Thucydides’s account of the Peloponnesian War as a timeless guide to leadership in times of crisis and conflict. His unbiased narrative teaches strategic thinking, ethical leadership, and the consequences of arrogance and short-sightedness.

  • "Putin's War" by Marcel H. Van Herpen is a deep dive into Putin's assertive foreign policy and his methods to maintain his grip on power. It highlights the power of a leader's vision and strategy, even when it's controversial. It offers insights into Putin's style of leadership, characterized by strategic thinking, ruthlessness, and adaptability. See what happened in Ukraine.

  • "Caesar" by Antonio Spinosa is a chronicle of Julius Caesar's life, shedding light on his leadership style and strategic prowess that transformed Rome from a Republic into an Empire. The lessons from Caesar's leadership span from his unparalleled ability to motivate and inspire, his strategic thinking in battle and politics, and his understanding of the power of public opinion. It also warns of the dangers of hubris and the disregard for established systems and norms.

  • “Memoirs of Hadrian” by Marguerite Yourcenar blurs the line between novel and memoir and provides insight into the thoughts, feelings, and philosophies of one of the most successful Roman emperors. Among the many lessons you can learn from this great book, one stands out: the power of embracing diversity. Hadrian showed respect and appreciation for different cultures within his empire, understanding that embracing diversity could create a more harmonious, peaceful, and prosperous society.

  • “Running the World” by David Rothkopf analyzes the evolution of the U.S. National Security Council from its inception in 1947 to 2005. What surprised me was how the president’s leadership style influenced the structure and functions of the NSC. The lessons one can learn about leadership include decision-making processes in different situations, the importance of clear communication, team building and coordination, and adaptability. The insights on failures and mistakes made by various NSCs (and Presidents) are also enlightening.

  • “Diplomacy” by Henry Kissinger provides a high-level view of leadership from the 17th to the 20th century. It discusses strategic thinking, the ability to understand and seize the moment, and the dance between ambiguity and complexity, realism and idealism. Even if you disagree with Kissinger's choices during his career, this book is a “must-read” for understanding history and gaining a better grasp of today’s world order.

  • “From Rebel to Ruler” by Tony Saich traces the history of the Chinese Communist Party from its foundation in 1921 as a revolutionary movement against the ruling authorities. The CCP evolved by developing adaptability to changing circumstances and unity, learning from mistakes, and managing internal power dynamics.

I hope you will find this list exciting and inspiring.


Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep growing.


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