The Best Leadership Books (That Aren’t about Leadership at All)

I’ve seen a lot of lists of leadership books on LinkedIn and other sites. I always enjoy reading a great book on leadership or business. I’ve taken a lot from many leadership books by authors like Heifetz (Leadership on the Line), Lencioni (The Advantage), Cloud (Boundaries for Leaders, Integrity, Necessary Endings), Friedman (Failure of Nerve), and many others.

Recently, I checked out a list of books recommended by some of the top CEO’s around the world. There were some expected titles, but there were also some that were a bit surprising. I was pleased to see books like The Remains of the Day, Portfolios of the Poor, and The Boys in the Boat.

That list got me thinking about my own (odd) career path, as well as some of the authors who have influenced my thinking about leadership…without actually meaning to write about leadership. I decided to make the following list of five books that have inspired my thinking about leadership, but aren’t really about leadership.

5. Ender’s Game

The movie was good…the book was better. What’s so compelling about the novel is the story of Ender’s brother and sister who basically become media moguls influencing world politics. Overall, Ender’s Game speaks to concepts like empathy, influence, means and ends, personal strengths and weaknesses, storytelling and the construction of reality, and the nature of friendship and teamwork.

4. Eleazar Fernandez, Reimagining the Human: Theological Anthropology in Response to Systemic Evil

Ok…I’m a nerd. I’m good with it. This book might not be for everyone, but if you are willing to wade into this dense work on what it means to be human, you are guaranteed to walk away with some great insights about how to relate better to other humans (and to be a better human yourself!). Fernandez does an excellent job of discussing how various systems interlock together to influence the way in which we understand ourselves and others. He recognizes that something is just not right with the world. He offers a compelling work on how we might rethink what it means to be human.

3. Daniel Kaneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

This book deals with the ways in which humans think and the various biases we exhibit in decision-making. As someone who has developed an interest in decision-making science, I have found it to be one of the best reads on the topic. It’s application to leadership is not straightforward (especially since knowing about our own biases doesn’t help us to avoid them…according to Kahneman), but it does offer a number of insights about human decision making that would be useful in leading teams who have biases that may be influencing their work.

2. Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Trilogy (Red Rising, Morning Star, and Golden Son)

Darrow, a rebel “Red” who is genetically and physically altered to be a “Gold,” is thrown into a life in which he must navigate his own prejudices while wrestling with his quickly expanding understanding of the worlds complexities. He once hated all Golds, but, after meeting some, realizes that things aren’t quite so simple. The book raises great questions about the potential of vision (a dream) to guide the path of a leader, situational ethics, the impossibility or making the perfect leadership decision, sacrifice, and the possibility of change. The books also deal with more mature themes of the forming influence of society and class division. They are also just a fun read.

1. Stanley Hauerwas, Community of Character

Stanley Hauerwas is, admittedly, one of my favorite authors. I find him thought-provoking even when I don’t agree with him. His essay entitled “A Story-Formed Community” is a reflection on Watership Down. Hauerwas offers a compelling discourse about the way in which narratives shape community and the stories needed to sustain a community that exhibits a particular character (e.g. what story must one’s community share to sustain the burdens of weaker companions, to follow leaders without all the answers, or to continue a quest when all Hope seems to be lost). This books makes the top of my list because of that essay. I highly recommend it!

I’ve always tried to read a variety of books ranging from theology to sociology to literacy studies to fiction. Ive always found it to be a good way for me to challenge my own thinking and to see the world from different perspectives. Whether you are a leader or not, try to unplug, sit down with a good book, and treat yourself to a new perspective.