Read Any Good Leadership Books Lately?

By Ray Peters, MS, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Whenever someone asks, “Hey, Ray, read any good leadership books lately,” my mind immediately harkens to a Dilbert comic strip, a copy of which is hanging in my office. In the piece, the pointy-haired boss is sharing with Dilbert the benefits of a new book he is reading about the “rules of leadership.” Dilbert goes into this lengthy discourse about the thousands of books on leadership that have been written, each one with a different leadership approach. Dilbert goes on to explain that none of the great leaders throughout history achieved success by reading a random book. Dilbert skillfully places the notion in context for his boss.

Leadership is not easy; that is why many capable contributors fail when they are assigned their first-time leadership role.  They are ill-prepared and fail to continue evolving – learning and growing. While I fully appreciate that all leadership is situational, we can all learn and grow by sharing in the experiences of other leaders. These learning opportunities are often manifested in the form of a book. I am always looking for that ah-ha moment while reading.

In my class, students are not only guided by our leadership textbook; they are assigned supplemental readings to draw a better connection between theory and application. For each new class, I assign recently released leadership books that help make the before-mentioned connection. These are generally books that I have either already read or have an interest in reading.

Before I give you the titles of the books we are reading this semester, I want to share with you three books that always make an appearance in my class. I have used two of the books for several years now in leadership development programs that I have facilitated in the private sector. The first is The 360° Leader by John C. Maxwell. Maxwell’s book firmly establishes the notion that you can lead from any position you occupy within any institution, which is a fundamental takeaway from my leadership course.

The second book is Jim Collins’s Good to Great, wherein Collins explains the concept of Level 5 Leadership, which outlines a person’s development from a highly capable individual to a pinnacle leader. By the way, the most significant barrier to being great is accepting good.

The third book and the one I most recently added is Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy. In her book, Cuddy details presence as “the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values, and potential.”

Now for the leadership books that my MBA-level leadership students are reading. The first is Unstoppable Teams: The Four Essential Actions of High-Performance Leadership by Alden Mills. A former Navy SEAL, Mills introduces readers to his C.A.R.E.-based leadership recipe – Connect, Achieve, Respect, and Empower.

The second book is Vision to Results: Leadership in Action by Jim Fischetti. Here Fischetti outlines the case for organizational vision and its role assisting leaders in guiding organizations successfully. I tell my students that vision is the ability to see around corners – identifying the next opportunities or threats that your organization will be facing. I’ll continue to misuse an out of context Biblical quote, “without vision, the people will perish.”

Thirdly, students are reading, Stephen Schwarzman’s book, What it Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence. Schwarzman is the Chairman & CEO and co-founder of Blackstone, a global private equity firm. He shares with readers his concepts on building, transforming, and leading thriving organizations.

Our final book is Nine Lies about Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World, by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall. Here Buckingham and Goodall argue that many of the accepted truths (lies) associated with the workplace are deeply flawed. From my forty-plus years of experience, I can verify that there are many workplace myths, like, the best ideas always win.

Given that our ultimate mission is to prepare students to meet workforce needs, which includes perfecting platform skills, students are divided into workgroups where they work collaboratively in developing and delivering a presentation on their assigned book. The presentations consist of a review of the critical elements from the book and how they relate to topics addressed in class. These presentations tend to be very enlightening and often include visiting business leaders assisting in assessing the outcomes.   

So, while I agree with Dilbert that one single author may not have found the magic formula to transform his point-haired boss from a “gullible baboon into a great leader,” experiencing the business world through the eyes of successful leaders can broaden our perspective and provide critical thoughts to ponder.  Happy Reading!

Ray Peters is MBA Director & Leadership Instructor at Nicholls State University. He can be reached at