The Best Leadership Books of the Last Decade


Great leaders are always trying to develop new skills to increase their effectiveness.

One of the easiest ways to do that is by learning tips and tricks from other leaders who have a diverse set of experiences and applying their insights and teachings to your own life.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the 10 best leadership books from the past decade. Whether you read one of them or all of them, you’re bound to sharpen your leadership skills.

best leadership books

1. Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Jocko Willink and Leif Babin are two retired Navy SEALs who were faced with the daunting task of securing the city of Ramadi during the Iraq War. Over the course of the mission, Willink and Babin learned that leadership is the biggest predictor of whether a team will succeed or fail. For the two former SEALs, leadership doesn’t just come from a figurehead at the top—it emanates from every level of a team or organization. This book explores the mindsets Navy SEALs apply to difficult situations—and how you can use the same principles to enhance your professional life.

2. The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle

Every organization is different. Yet successful organizations often share common characteristics, regardless of what industry they operate in. In this book, Daniel Coyle discovers what those characteristics look like by examining several high-performance organizations, including the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six, Zappos, and the San Antonio Spurs. Coyle reports his findings, helping readers identify the cultural traits these successful organizations share—despite their many differences.

3. Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization by John Wooden and Steve Jamison

Without a doubt, John Wooden was one of the most successful college basketball coaches of all time. To illustrate: During a 12-year period at the helm of UCLA, Wooden led the Bruins to 10 national championships. Over the course of his 41-year career, Wooden worked hard to help his teams reach their full potential. This book explores the legendary coach’s 12 lessons on leadership, as well as his Pyramid of Success—which defines the mental, physical, and emotional qualities all organizations need to succeed.

4. Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by Gen. Stanley McChrystal

In 2004, Gen. Stanley McChrystal assumed control of the Joint Special Operations Task Force, which focused on defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq. This conflict, however, wasn’t like traditional conflicts. Instead of operating like a cohesive, hierarchical unit, Al Qaeda was largely decentralized. Fighters would inflict damage and then blend back in with the locals. This new kind of warfare required a new approach. Ultimately, this new approach entailed evolving from one large team to a “team of teams”—an agile and faster configuration tailored to these unique circumstances. This book teaches you how to apply McChrystal’s lessons to your own organization.

5. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

What makes some organizations innovative, influential, and profitable while other, similar organizations languish? That’s the question Simon Sinek sets out to answer in Start with Why. Per Sinek, successful organizations “start with why”—meaning that they are built on the premise of ensuring that all stakeholders (e.g., customers, investors, and employees) understand the why behind what they’re doing. Read this book to learn the framework that Sinek believes is baked into the foundation of every successful organization.

6. It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership by Colin Powell

Colin Powell has worn many hats in service of the United States, including as a four-star general, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as the National Security Advisor, and as secretary of state, among other things. In this memoir, Powell shares the principles that have influenced his career and personal life in order to help people like you build better companies, more fulfilling careers, and stronger personal relationships.

7. The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

This book builds upon Willink and Babin’s previous book, Extreme Ownership, diving deeper into the principles that helped them succeed as Navy SEALs. The Dichotomy of Leadership explores the forces that pull leaders in different directions, and provides guidance on when leaders should lead, when they should follow, when they should take action, and when they should take a step back and see how things play out. If the duo’s first book was boot camp, consider this one Phase II of your training.

8. Leaders: Myth and Reality by Gen. Stanley McChrystal

In his follow-up to Team of Teams, Gen. Stanley McChrystal shines a light on a diverse set of leaders from throughout history—including folks like Walt Disney, Maximilien Robespierre, Boss Tweed, and Martin Luther King Jr. The general sets out to show how leadership works in practice, while dispelling popular myths. The book shows how many leaders have taken unconventional paths to the top—and offers advice on how you can improve your own leadership skills, regardless of where you are in your career.

9. From Hire to Fire and Everything in Between: Managing the Employee Life Cycle—Hire, Manage, Wellbeing & Exit by Natasha Hawker

A business is only as strong as the employees that power it. In this book, Natasha Hawker provides actionable advice about how to manage employees to help maximize their potential, while avoiding the downsides that can appear from time to time in business—such as sexual harassment, bullying, and being forced to fire someone. Learn how to manage the employee life cycle effectively so that your team is happy and productive—and your business is stronger because of it.

10. Ego, Authority, Failure: Using Emotional Intelligence Like a Hostage Negotiator to Succeed as a Leader by Derek Gaunt

In this book, our very own Derek Gaunt shares insights into his 29 years of experience as a hostage negotiator alongside tips he’s learned consulting for companies like JetBlue, Google, and Facebook. Written for a wide audience—including front-line managers, middle managers, and C-suite executives—this book will teach you how to develop and leverage emotional intelligence to create desired outcomes, navigate difficult conversations, become a better listener, and more.

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Chris Voss

About The Author

Christopher Voss is the CEO of The Black Swan Group, a firm that solves business negotiation problems with hostage negotiation strategies. Chris founded the Black Swan Group, in 2008 upon his retirement from the FBI where he was the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator. Chris is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Southern California (USC) Marshall School of Business and Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business where he teaches business negotiation in both M.B.A. programs.