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5 Unconventional Leadership Books You Need to Read

“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.”

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BY Chris Winfield - 10 May 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

"Today a reader, tomorrow a leader."
Margaret Fuller

Want to know one of the "secrets" to becoming a better leader? Become a more voracious reader.

One of the best ways to "stand on the shoulders of giants" is to read. We hear it all the time--that the most successful people, our greatest leaders, are people who read constantly (i.e., Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Warren Buffett).

Reading for a leader is a way to broaden their knowledge, to expand their world view, to gain insight and widen their perspectives.

But the secret is knowing what to read. Not all of them will get you where you need to be. Here is my list of the top five books you must read if you want to become a more successful, well-rounded leader.

1. The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

by Lolly Daskal

"If you want to get your leadership right, you have to get yourself right."

In The Leadership Gap, Lolly Daskal reveals the consequences that highly driven, overachieving leaders face when they continue to rely on a skill set that has always worked for them but is no longer effective.

Over decades of advising and inspiring prominent business and government leaders around the world, Daskal has discerned that leaders can be sorted into seven categories--the Rebel, the Explorer, the Truth Teller, the Hero, the Inventor, the Navigator and the Knight--and they rise to their leadership position by relying on a specific set of values and traits.

Based on a mix of modern philosophy, science, and her own vast well of business experience, Daskal offers a breakthrough perspective on leadership--a new system for rethinking everything you know to reveal the path to becoming the kind of leader you truly want to be.

2. Turn the Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders

by L. David Marquet

"Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves."

A US Naval Academy graduate and former nuclear submarine commander, David Marquet literally knows how to turn a ship around--he took the USS Santa Fe from last to first place in the Navy's retention and operational standings.

In contrast to the usual top-down military leadership model, he chose an approach summarized as "give control, create leaders." And creating leaders at every level is the perfect model for building effective organizations. Turn the Ship Around! can help you create an environment for you team that empowers them and frees them to make use of their best qualities every day.

If your own ship is stuck, or even if it just needs a minor course correction, Marquet's solid experience can help you turn even a poorly functioning workplace into a place where your team members can thrive.

3. Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success

by Adam Grant

"Highly successful people have three things in common: motivation, ability, and opportunity."

Wharton professor Adam Grant's work is based on the idea that the template for success has changed from being based on individual attributes like commitment, talent, and hard work to a more interactive practice that relies on networking and dealing with others. Within that framework, he finds that most people operate as one of three basic types: a taker, a matcher or a giver.

He focuses especially on the givers--those who contribute to others without expecting anything in return, who take genuine pride in the successes of others.

Grant shows their extraordinary results across a wide range of industries. With a series of entertaining and astute studies of individuals and organizations, Grant makes a case for, as the old saying goes, doing well by doing good.

4. The 48 Laws of Power

by Robert Greene

"When you show yourself to the world and display your talents, you naturally stir all kinds of resentment, envy, and other manifestations of insecurity...you cannot spend your life worrying about the petty feelings of others."

A contrast to the usual "feel-good" tone of most leadership books, The 48 Laws of Power brings a hard-edged ruthless grit based on the philosophies of Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, and Carl Von Clausewitz and stories of politicians and other manipulators throughout history.

Greene's "48 laws" focus on making yourself look good, building your own confidence, self-preservation, and winning. Even if it's a message you're not entirely comfortable with, it's one you need to know.

5. Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization

by John Wooden

"You are not a failure until you start blaming others for your mistakes."

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden insisted on outstanding individual effort and performance with a total focus on serving the team.

Incorporating Wooden's "12 Lessons in Leadership" and the "Pyramid of Success", this important books discusses the balance of working for your personal best while holding on to a strong team orientation.

As Dr. Seuss said, "The more that you read, the more things you will know, the more you learn, the more places you will go."