5 Books That Will Help You Grow as a Leader

“Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled ‘This could change your life.’” ~ Helen Exley

5 Books That Will Help You Grow as a Leader

By Andrea Novakowski

I like to read — a lot. My goal this year is to read 100 books, both fiction and nonfiction. As of this writing, I’m at #75.

How do I do it? The fact that I’m in three book clubs helps a lot. I listen to books on CD when I’m driving, I read first thing in the morning, and it’s the last thing I do at night.

I enjoy time alone, and use reading to relax and re-energize. One of my values is learning. It’s from books that I often get ideas and come across resources to share with you, my readers, and with my clients.

Below are five books that I’ve read this year that have most influenced how I work, how I think, and how I interact with my coaching clients. For each one, you’ll see a brief summary, WIIFM (what’s in it for me, or how the book made a difference in my life), and WIIFY (what’s in it for you, or how you may benefit from its information).

  1. Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott.

Summary: “When bosses are too invested in everyone getting along, they also fail to encourage the people on their team to criticize one another for fear of sowing discord,” says Scott. Radical Candor offers a guide for mixing praise and criticism to produce better results and help your employees achieve. Scott provides lots of great examples and stories you will relate to with suggestions on how you can do things differently.

WIIFM: Radical candor means both caring personally and challenging directly. I’ve found the concept works for me when I engage with my clients, with my colleagues, and even in my personal life. While it’s not always easy, if something isn’t “sitting right” for me, I find that the whole situation gets better if I speak up.

WIIFY: This book will help you understand what motivates each person on your team. It will allow you to build relationships so that you know where each person is, what they want, and what brings out the best in them.

  1. How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back From Your Next Raise, Promotion or Job by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith.

Summary: This book focuses on the specific roadblocks that women face as they advance in the workplace and shows how what worked for you in the past might actually be sabotaging your future success. This book shares both of these experts’ voices and perspectives to enhance the reading experience.

WIIFM: What I liked about this book was it encouraged me to start with one thing rather than making me feel I needed to make a lot of changes at once. The one thing I chose was to be more direct in my conversations (which combines what I learned from this book and the one above.) From chapter 17: “Making small changes and repeating them until they become habitual is more likely to yield long-term results than trying to become a brand-new you all at once.”

WIIFY: The higher you go in an organization, the more likely it is that your problems are behavioral. This book helps you assess which of your behaviors may be blocking your success and allow you to choose the change(s) that will have the biggest impact.

  1. The 20-Minute Networking Meeting – Professional Edition: Learn to Network. Get a Job by Nathan Perez and Marcia Ballinger

Summary: The authors provide a five-step process (including a cheat sheet) for structuring a networking meeting, along with sample questions to make your meetings productive both for you and the person you’re meeting with. This how-to book is informative and can be skimmed.

WIIFM: This provided me with a great reminder to ask two questions at the end of each meeting: “Who else can I reach out to?” and “How can I help the person I’m meeting with?”

WIIFY: The Readiness Exercise keeps you focused on what makes you different, what you bring to the world of work, and what you bring to this networking interaction in particular.

  1. Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges.

Summary: All transitions include three components: an ending, followed by a period of confusion and distress, and then a new beginning. The first step is understanding your own style of endings — which may be harder to do than you think. This book is an oldie but goodie.

WIIFM: This book was a reminder to me that letting go is always required in order to move into a new role, stage of life, or relationship. This idea is helpful to me now as I experiment with how I structure my work week. I’m learning that allowing the change to occur requires letting go of what was… the habit I had before.

WIIFY: Whenever you are in transition, ask yourself two questions: “What is it time to let go of in my life right now?” and “What is standing backstage, in the wings of my life, waiting to make its entrance?”

  1. Two Awesome Hours: Science-Based Strategies to Harness Your Best Time and Get Your Most Important Work Done by Josh Davis.

Summary: This book shows you how to use the best two hours of your day to do your most important work and get the results you want. Davis provides a quick read with informative ideas to help you work smarter.

WIIFM: I set aside time on my calendar first thing every day to do work that requires lots of concentration. I know that while it might feel good to empty my email box right away, it’s not the best way for me to be productive.

WIIFY: Do you arrive at the end of the day feeling like you haven’t touched your most important projects? Learn how to make room on your calendar. You are the only one who can make this happen.

I hope this Tip has piqued your interest in a book or two. In the coming year, I’ll continue to share books in my monthly Tip that can help you enhance your leadership skills.


I invite you to add to this list. What book has made a difference for you and your leadership? Please share it in the comments below.