The 9 Best Leadership Books for the Small Business Owner

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As a leader, you should be continuously looking to improve and develop your leadership skills, and, along with listening to podcasts and watching movies, an excellent way to do so is to read.

Indeed, when it comes to leadership, there are thousands of books available on the subject. Many of these have been written by some of history's greatest leaders, while there are numerous classics that have helped to pioneer modern business systems and leadership practices.

Of course, with so much choice available, it can be challenging to know where to start; you could pick something that relates to a niche you are interested in, or that was written by somebody that you admire. However, this can be time-consuming – especially when you have a business to manage, too.

Therefore, to help you narrow your search, we've compiled a list of some of the best books on leadership currently in print. Regardless of your industry, you'll be sure to find a wealth of valuable insight and advice in their pages – and hopefully a pathway to becoming a better leader.

‘Good to Great’ (Jim Collins)

A critical treaty on sound leadership, Good to Great comes recommended by the likes of Amazon guru, Jeff Bezos, and looks closely at the specifics of why some companies transcend to the highest tier of their industry – and other's don't.

Penned by former Stanford University professor Jim Collins (and assisted by a 21-person research team), the book presents the findings of a five-year project in which every company to have made the Fortune 500 list was scrutinised intensely. The results, as assessed by Collins, suggest that the most successful businesses all share the same leadership principles, as well as a corporate culture that encourages disciplined productivity.

For business owners that are looking to scale – and understand the leadership qualities needed for the transition – this is essential reading.

‘High Output Management’ (Andrew Grove)

Considered the leadership bible in Silicon Valley circles, High Output Management is the brainchild of former tech CEO Andrew Grove – the man responsible for establishing Intel's dominance in the processing sector.

The book focuses on the actionable aspects of leadership, including how to assemble the best teams – and then motivate them. Grove also illustrates his points through the use of common real-world scenarios, enabling readers to be well prepared for the most common challenges of management.

‘Turn the Ship Around!’ (L David Marquet)

Written by a former captain of a nuclear submarine, Turn the Ship Around! explores how you can improve your organisation by empowering other leaders.

Marquet argues that the rigid organisational structure that existed on his submarine was stifling good decision making, and that by empowering leaders within his hierarchy, he was able to rectify this. For those who prefer a more democratic or laissez-faire approach to leadership, the book makes for interesting reading, while the concept of developing leaders within your team is a key leadership skill in itself.

‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’ (Ben Horowitz)

Curated from Horowitz's earlier collection of self-exploratory blog posts, The Hard Thing About Hard Things is an intriguing insight into off-the-cuff leadership. Written by one of Silicon Valley's most influential venture capitalists, it focuses on the struggles of managing growing teams, hiring the right people and navigating the conflict of office politics – all in a dynamic and real-time narrative manner.

For those who are learning how to lead as they go, this book will likely ring true on a lot of points – and provide a wide variety of timely advice.

‘The Culture Code’ (Daniel Coyle)

One of the most recent entries on this list, The Culture Code is essentially a study of institutions that consistently achieve success. Drawing on examples from a wide array of backgrounds – from sports teams to military organisations – it focuses particularly on the exemplary cultures that these bodies have fostered.

By examining what common elements have helped to create these cultures of success, and framing them in a broader context, Coyle offers several pathways for creating a more effective team. If you are looking to replicate this within your own business, then The Culture Code is a great place to learn the skills and practices that will enable that.

‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable’ (Patrick Lencioni)

Detailing the experiences of Kathryn Petersen, the CEO of a fictional tech firm, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is, as the sub-title suggests, a fable designed to provoke discussion and promote team healing.

Highlighting the core problems that can plague collaboration, such as a lack of commitment and trust between team members, Lencioni uses his heroine to illustrate the best course of action, and provides a variety of musings on leadership actions. It was a New York Times bestseller upon its publication in 2005, with several NFL coaches publicly endorsing the book's effects within their own organisations.

While the lack of real-world insight may put some off, it is by no means light on management theory or allegory; indeed, it is an excellent reference point for those who feel that their team's effectiveness has diminished – and who want to put things right.

‘Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box’ (The Arbinger Institute)

Inviting the reader to look inward in order to find a better leader, Leadership and Self-Deception is very much a prolonged reflection exercise. Examining how leaders can feel overconfident in their decision making – which can, in turn, lead their organisations astray – it emphasises accountability and honesty to help you make the best possible leadership choices.

Compiled by The Arbinger Institute – a consulting firm that has been helping to improve corporate efficiency for 40 years – the book is ideal if you are looking to grow and develop your own mindset.

‘If I Could Tell You Just One Thing...’ (Richard Reed)

If your schedule is too demanding to dedicate the time required for extended reading, then this compendium of thought essays could be a viable option instead.

Featuring a diverse array of contributions from several notable figures (former US president Bill Clinton, broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and survivalist Bear Grylls are among them), the book contains leadership advice and encouragement in a thought-provoking way.

Whether you are seeking some inspiration between meetings, or prefer a little more diversity within your reading materials, If I Could Tell You Just One Thing is a treasure trove of leadership lessons and examples, conveniently diced into digestible pieces.

‘Reinventing Organisations: A Guide to Creating Organisations Inspired by the Next Stage in Human Consciousness’ (Frederic Laloux)

Conversely, if you prefer your leadership theory to be on the denser end of the spectrum, then Reinventing Organisations is the tome for you. A technical treatise on how companies should organise in the future, Laloux looks critically at the complex modern organisations of today. Tracing management patterns that have existed since the assembly lines of the industrial revolution, he argues that the constraints of ageing hierarchies are now limiting modern companies.

If you are looking to establish new and daring pathways through which to lead your company into a better, more efficient future, then this is as good a place as any to start; just be prepared for some pretty big – and potentially game-changing – ideas along the way.

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Remember: as a business owner and a leader, it is your responsibility to learn as much as you possibly can. The books on this list can open your mind to ideas and pathways that you would never otherwise have encountered – and that's a good thing not just for you, but for your business and your employees, too.

What other leadership books would you suggest? Do you have a personal favourite? Let us know your recommendations in the comment section below!