As the year comes to a close, we’re looking back and reflecting on a learning-filled 2018. One of the ways that I pursue my own personal development is through reading, and this year I read several books that anyone looking to build leadership skills, or support others in doing so, should put on their (ever-growing) Must Read List.

These are the books I find myself recommending again and again to clients, that I’ve dog-eared and marked up such that I can never share my copy, and have resulted in notebooks filled with quotes from their pages.

You may notice a general theme across the content of these books: they’re all about how we can better understand ourselves and one another in order to deepen our relationships, better connect with our colleagues, and drive results through collaboration and teaming.

While results and getting things done are critical, it’s the people we develop and engage with that help drive our success in the long-term – and when we have great, people-focused leaders at the helm, organizations thrive.

Being vulnerable, giving to others, and putting relationships first isn’t a cakewalk, but they’re competencies that serve as a foundation for effective leadership, both now and in the future.

Ready to challenge your thinking and expand your leadership toolkit? Check out these four books:

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. By Brene Brown.

What’s it about?

Brene Brown calls this book “the ultimate playbook for developing brave leaders and courageous cultures.” Dare to Lead offers insight into topics such as shame, vulnerability, and what leading with courage truly means (hint: it’s not about oversharing or simply being direct with everyone). Along with sharing her research and personal anecdotes, Brene provides actionable advice and suggestions that you put to immediate use as you step up, put yourself out there, and lean into courage.

Why should you read it?

Read this if you’re looking to ramp up your leadership skills, create a braver, more courageous workplace culture, learn to engage in tougher conversations, and show up as your whole self at work and at home.

Notable Quote:

“Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage effective and unproductive behavior.”

Bonus: Check out the Dare to Lead Hub which has 9 ways to engage with the work (quizzes, downloads, and exploratory resources). 


How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding you Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job by Sally Helgesen & Marshall Goldsmith

What’s it about?

I first heard about this book after I recommended What Got You Here Won’t Get You There to a coachee during an alignment call with her boss, and her boss suggested this instead. I’m so glad she did! Realizing that men and women may face different roadblocks as they fulfill their ambitions, Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith combined their leadership expertise and experience to describe 12 habits that helped women early in their careers – but can hinder them as they move up. They share specific examples and case studies to bring the habits to life and offer actionable advice to scale roadblocks and get over feeling “stuck.”

Why should you read it?

This book is for anyone who wants to better understand the unique challenges women may face and be an ally in helping bridge the leadership gap. Are you a leader looking to support and elevate your team? This book is for you. Looking to be promoted but struggling with a desire to please people? This book is for you too. An early career professional who wants to understand what your colleagues may be experiencing? Yep, it’s for you as well.

Notable Quote:

“Research shows that loyalty is a primary reason women tend to stay in their jobs longer than men. It’s a virtue that can easily become a trap. The desire to be loyal can lead you to neglect your future, sacrifice your ambitions, and sell your talent and potential short. Others may benefit, but you do not.”

Bonus: This is a great book to read with a leadership circle or a group of friends – check out their discussion guide here.


Humble Leadership: The Power of Relationships, Openness, and Trust by Edgar Schein & Peter Schein

What’s it about?

I was exposed to Edgar Schein early on in my grad school years. He’s well-known for his ground-breaking work with organizational culture. Unsurprisingly, he hits another home run with this topic. It’s a guide for learning about the importance of open communication, relationships, and trust in an increasingly complex and collaborative working world. The authors implore us to focus on relational (versus positional) power and reimagine leadership in a way that views empathy and vulnerability as strengths.

Why should you read it?

This is a great book for professionals at any stage in their career – it’s academic and theory-driven, with practical guidance and stories woven in to illustrate the key takeaways. The authors ask: “What if we proposed that you can reframe the personal challenge of improving your leadership skills into a collective challenge of helping to improve how your group performs?” Sound compelling? Then this book is for you.

Notable quote:

“An individualistic, competitive, destiny-is-in-your-hands-alone mindset limits a leader’s ability to handle uncertainty and volatility, since no individual will be able to process the volume of data nor assimilate all the dynamic inputs that are vital to effective strategy.”

Bonus: Check out some additional insights and ways to engage with the content on the authors’ website


Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives our Success by Adam Grant

What’s it about?

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and professor at the Wharton School, uses his research to help us understand how our interaction style can drive or hinder our success. He defines three styles – givers, matchers, and takers – and explains that most have a dominant style, even if it’s rare to be purely one. Our style, he argues, has a “surprising impact on success,” and interestingly, givers are both the LEAST and MOST successful. How? Grab the book to find out. It’s fascinating and incredibly useful.

Why should you read it?

This book offers a simple means of categorization to help us figure out how to better engage with others, network, influence, and collaborate. Understanding your and others’ style can improve your chances of success both now and into the future.

Notable Quote:

This is what I find most magnetic about successful givers: they get to the top without cutting others down, finding ways of expanding the pie that benefit themselves and the people around them. Whereas success is zero-sum in a group of takers, in groups of givers, it may be true that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

Bonus: Interested in your dominant style? Take Adam’s quick quiz to find out here (you will be asked to provide some personal details to access the test).


We’re already looking forward to some great reading in 2019. Here are a handful of books on my (ever-growing) Must Read List:

Must Read in 2019:

The Person You Mean to Be by Dolly Chugh

Mindful Work by David Gelles

Mindset: the New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck

The High-Potential Leader: How to Grow Fast, Take on New Responsibilities, and Make an Impact by Ram Charan

Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire our World by Michele J. Gelfand

Leading from Purpose: Clarity and the Confidence to Act when it Matters Most by Nick Craig


What are the best books you’ve read this year? What books are already on your Must Read list?