Seven powerful books for successful leadership


“A leader is a person who has an unusual degree of power to project into other people his or her shadow or his or her light.” Parker J. Palmer

To lead well you need to challenge your preconceptions, reflect on your experience, and be open to learning.

Being successful as a leader means challenging the status quo in your own mind.

Reading – when can find time for it – is one of the richest sources of learning in pursuit of these goals. Which is why, in the run-up to Christmas, we’ve done an office round-up of the seven books we think can offer a lot to your development as a leader.

1.      Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

A term bandied about quite a lot in pop-psychology nowadays, ‘Flow’ is "the process of achieving happiness through control over our inner life." Chinese whispers may have diluted the power of Csikszentmihalyi’s message into something trite and over-simplistic, so reading the original book is definitely worth your time.

One of the models that we use in our consulting work, the theory is that in order to enjoy life and succeed, you need to be ‘In Flow.’ This becomes a very important concept when you consider the qualities necessary for good leadership, and for gaining insight into your reports’ attitudes to work.

2.      The Leadership Shadow: How to Recognize and Avoid Derailment, Hubris and Overdrive

by Erik De Haan, Anthony Kasozi

Being a leader can sometimes feel like a path littered with temptations and pitfalls; you worked hard to get to where you are, and it’s difficult not to simply perpetuate the habits that got you there.

In this book, De Haan and Kasozi walk us through the way leaders thrive, the way leaders come to grief, and how to overcome the excesses of leadership.

Grounded in real-life examples, and drawing on descriptions of psychological behaviours based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) and the Hogan Personality Inventory model, it’s practical, actionable, and on-point.

3.      Man’s Search for Meaning

Viktor Frankl

An unassumingly slim book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” is part philosophy, part psychology, and part autobiography.

It’s the account of Viktor Frankl’s time in four different concentration camps, and how he later made sense of the traumatic experience that killed his parents, brother, and pregnant wife. Although we shouldn’t seek it out, suffering, he concludes, can give us purpose and meaning if we use it well.

In today’s adversity-adverse society, this can help us realise the importance of resilience, of preserving with immediate discomfort for long-term gain, and of imparting those lessons to others.

This book will only take a few hours to read, but it’ll stay with you for the rest of your life.

4.      Endurance

Alfred Lansing

The next time you feel that your daily grind is getting to you; that you’re not capable of doing what you’ve planned; or that people in general are somewhat lacking – read this book.

Based on first-hand accounts, it’s the story of legendary explorer Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to the South Pole. The boat gets stuck in the polar ice, leaving the crew to survive for over a year in the harshest of conditions.

Lansing’s writing is eloquent and lacks the melodrama that can be so distracting in books like these. It’s an easy read, but it helps us realise some hard realities about the responsibilities and challenges of leadership.

5.      The Talent Delusion: Why Data, Not Intuition, Is the Key to Unlocking Human Potential

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

Striking the balance between trusting your gut and using external data to come to a decision is a fine line to walk. In this must-read for senior leaders, Chamorro-Premuzic discusses what science – not intuition – tells us about finding, attracting and retaining talented people.

At Indigogold, we always argue that data should be only be used in combination with good judgement; but that decisions made with no dispassionate objectivity seldom stand up to long-term scrutiny.

Full of surprising revelations and thought-provoking insights, this book will turn your concept of leadership on its head.

6.      A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality

Ken Wilber

In his clear, straightforward prose, Wilber attempts to encapsulate “an integral vision—or a genuine Theory of Everything—(that) attempts to include matter, body, mind, soul, and spirit as they appear in self, culture, and nature. A vision that attempts to be comprehensive, balanced, inclusive.”

A tall order, and one that he admits is impossible to deliver on, as this utopian thought-state recedes even as we grasp for it.

Despite this, ‘A Theory of Everything’ is still an incredibly valuable addition to your leadership library, as it walks us through the importance of integrated thinking and living, wrestling some difficult concepts into a comprehensible and very useful order of play.

7.      Radical Candour

Kim Scott

Honesty – a tricky issue. Work culture, at least in the UK, can tend towards an avoidance of the hard conversations. The result: we don’t truly communicate, which means we can’t collaborate; issues aren’t openly discussed, so they aren’t solved; and creativity and innovation are stifled in an environment where people don’t feel safe voicing their ideas or concerns.

Fighting back against this culture of constipating pseudo-courtesy, Scott provides us with the concept of ‘radical candour’ – as a leader (as a person!) you can provide a direct challenge, and you can do it from a position of genuine personal care.

Read the book, implement its advice, and you’ll see a difference in how people respond to you as a leader.


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