Three Must-Read Leadership Books | Summaries and Reviews

Choosing a leadership book is not always easy as this subject is an area very widely explored and studied. We care so much about it because being a leader is undeniably a factor of success in life: in the world of business and management, in the political sphere, socially, spiritually, as well as in athletics, leadership is a genuine driver of achievement!

A leadership book for success?

A leader inspiresmotivatesinfluencesunites, acts with determination and empathy, without ever losing sight of his objectives. Leaders hold impactful positions and know how to lead a group of people in their direction.

Personalities recognized as great leaders, the most famous in the history of the world such as Luther King, Gandhi, Mandela, Churchill, Bonaparte, De Gaulle, and many others, indeed, all had this ability to galvanize efforts around a common action. They also all had a vision and the conviction that a dream can be realized: this can be understood in Obama’s famous “Yes we Can ”, “I have a Dream” by Luther King, or even the famous phrase by Gandhi who encourages us to be “the change we want to see in the world”.

In fact, to develop leadership is to actually develop personally! And good news, the majority of experts on the matter say that leadership can be learned! So, why not get started? To help you at it, here are the summaries of three must-read books on leadership:

  1. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (Follow Them and People Will Follow You)” by John Maxwell: the author describes the 21 rules of leadership to be applied in one’s management in order to unite large numbers of people around oneself and accomplish one’s greatest projects.
  2. The Leader in You: How to Win Friends, Influence People, & Succeed in a Changing World” by Dale Carnegie: In this leadership book, 16 fundamental leadership principles are developed by a global expert on the subject to achieve personal and professional success.
  3. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t ” by Jim Collins: the author explains how to develop excellent leadership and to use it to propel one’s company to leadership status in its sector.

1. “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” by John Maxwell

By John Maxwell, 2002, 346 pages

What we learn in “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

Leadership is a skill that few people have naturally, which is not learned in school. Yet, being a good leader truly helps one to accomplish great projects and gain the support of others. In “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership“, the author, John C. Maxwell, an American pastor, draws on his own experience but also on his historical observations to draw up 21 rules to follow in order to improve one’s management and leadership skills. He explains more precisely in what conditions leadership emerges and why some people manage to unite people around them and carry out their project while others fail.

In this book on leadership, in addition to his 21 laws, John C. Maxwell also explains that, in an organization, there are four determining parameters:

  • The staff of the organization determines its potential.
  • Relationships within the organization determine the morale of its members.
  • The structure of the organization determines its size.
  • Its vision determines its orientation.
  • Leadership determines its success.

What are the 21 laws to improve your leadership?

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” lists the rules to follow, according to John C. Maxwell, to improve one’s leadership. They are summarized below.

  • Law No. 1: The Law of the Lid

Everything we want to accomplish is limited by our ability to be a leader; it is rarely the talent of the team that makes the difference, but rather the leader and key players. The higher the leadership, the greater the efficiency.

  • Law No. 2: The Law of Influence

Without influence, you will never be able to lead others; and influence is gained in action. You have to work hard to get there.

  • Law No. 3: The Law of Process

Leadership develops day in and day out, in everyday life, not overnight. It involves a long-term vision.

  • Law No. 4: The Law of Navigation

A leader scrupulously plans how he will go about achieving his goals. He has a clear vision of his destination.

  • Law No. 5: The Law of Addition

When a “true” leader speaks, everyone listens to him, and this is not because of his position. In addition, the leader develops in seven key areas: who he is, who he knows, what he knows, what he feels, what he has experienced, what he has done and what he can do.

  • Law No. 6: The Law of Solid Ground

Trust is the foundation of leadership. To develop trust, it is essential to develop your skills, work on your relationships, and have a good character.

  • Law No. 7: The Law of Respect

The best leaders will naturally be followed by others. Respect is earned by telling the truth and investing quality time with others.

“When people respect you as a person; they admire you. When they respect you as a friend, they love you. When they respect you as a leader, they follow you.”

  • Law No. 8: The Law of Intuition

All leaders assess with a leadership bias. So, when they assess a situation, they instinctively know what to do. This intuition develops through a multitude of experiences.

  • Law No. 9: The Law of Magnetism

It is our personality that determines what we get, and the people we attract are who we are.

  • Law No. 10: The Law of Connection

You must first touch a person’s heart before asking them to take action. The strength of contact is making others feel happy with us. The stronger this relationship (or contact), the more people will follow us.

“To lead yourself, use your head; to lead others, use your heart.”

  • Law No. 11: The Law of the Inner Circle

It is those close to the leader who determines his potential. Leaders help people find strength in them, invest their time with the best, delegate, and keep in their circle those who are capable of raising up others and helping them to improve.

  • Law No. 12: The Law of Empowerment

Confident leaders empower others. For that purpose, they believe in others. The delegation of power allows the leader to acquire authority and the organization to develop and innovate.

  • Law No. 13: The Law of the Picture

It takes a leader to give rise to another leader. This is why it is essential to spend time with other leaders who are better than ourselves.

Laws of Leadership of leader

  • Law No. 14: The Law of Buy-in

People buy into the leader before buying into the vision. A vision is not imposed.

“If you believe the messenger is credible, you will then believe the message is valuable.”

In order for people to buy-in, they have to understand you, as well as your dreams and hopes.

  • Law No. 15: The Law of Victory

A leader always finds a way to make his team win, and it is training that leads to victory, not just talent. Great leaders thrive under pressure.

Victory is characterized by:

    • A unified vision
    • Diversity of talents
    • A leader dedicated to winning and optimizing the potential of his players
  • Law No. 16: The Law of the Big Mo

Momentum brings invaluable assistance to the leader. When there is momentum, people are motivated and inspired. They want to perform.

  • Law No. 17: The Law of Priorities

A leader knows the difference between being active and being productive (“acting” is not “accomplishing”). You must regularly readjust your priorities to focus, yourself, and your employees, on the things that matter. “Doing more” does not necessarily mean “doing better”.

  • Law No. 18: The Law of Sacrifice

A leader must know how to give up to seize opportunities and to rise up. The higher the level of leadership, the greater the sacrifices. You cannot ask for sacrifices without making them yourself.

  • Law No. 19: The Law of Timing

Timing is just as important as vision and actions.

“The wrong action at the wrong time leads to disaster. The right action at the wrong time creates resistance. The wrong action at the right time is a mistake. The right action at the right time leads to success.”

  • Law No. 20: The Law of Explosive Growth

To add growth, we lead followers. To multiply growth, we lead leaders.

  • Law No. 21: The Law of Legacy

The value of a leader is measured by the legacy he leaves behind.

Review of “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” by John Maxwell

This book eliminates a lot of misconceptions about leadership and management. It shows that success does not happen by chance and that there are rules to follow in order to successfully carry out large projects. The mindset of a successful leader is one of ambition, planning, and connecting with others.

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” is more of a theoretical work: the author provides us with a study in which he was able to combine all the gained insights thanks to thirty years of success and mistakes, with observations drawn from the business world, politics, sports, religion and even war. However, the personal and historical anecdotes that illustrate the author’s points provide a concrete understanding of how these laws work in reality.

Strong points:

  • Easily accessible with a pleasant style.
  • Comprehensive content.
  • The many personal and historical examples.

Weak point:

  • The content lacks a bit of clarity and action-oriented language.

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2. “The Leader in You: How to Win Friends, Influence People & Succeed in a Changing World” by Dale Carnegie

The leader in you

By Dale Carnegie, 1995, 205 pages, improved version by Stuart R. Levine and Michael A. Crom

This leadership book was written by Dale Carnegie, known worldwide for being a global expert in corporate training. Since his death in 1955, the book has been regularly updated and improved by his network of professional trainers and the members of his company, Dale Carnegie & Associates.

In “The Leader in You”, Carnegie reveals to us 16 fundamental principles one can easily apply on a daily basis to develop one’s leadership qualities and thus to achieve more personal and professional success in life!

These 16 principles are laid out in the form of 16 chapters. A summary is provided below.

Principle 1 – Find the leader in yourself

The first decisive step to develop your leadership is to identify your leadership qualities. For this, Carnegie recommends that we:

  • Do not imitate others but rather find out who we really are and identify the skills that are unique to us.
  • Lead by example as actions are more powerful than words.

Principle 2 – Communicate

Trusting relationships are necessary to establish good communication. This is why you absolutely must:

  • Prioritize communication.
  • Make yourself available to others, whatever their status (superiors, subordinates, or colleagues).
  • Establish a climate of trust that is favorable to dialogue.

Principle 3 – Motivate others

To get someone to do something, Carnegie says, you have to make them want to do it. The person should have, in fact, the feeling that he is working to achieve a worthwhile goal, as much for him as for you.

To promote this, you should try to:

  • Show trust, respect, and care.
  • Involve your employees.
  • Manage with humanity.
  • Praise a job well done and give compliments a lot and often.

Principle 4 – Express to others the sincere interest you have in them

It is an extremely effective principle because people always respond favorably to those who are interested in them. Expressions of interest are essential in human relations.

Principle 5 – See things from the other person’s point of view

You have to open up to find out what matters to the other person.

Principle 6 – Listen

Attentive and active listening:

  • Teaches you a lot while creating a positive reaction in others.
  • Makes you more persuasive.
  • Is much more than simply “hearing”: you should truly get involved in the conversation (questions, incentives, etc.).
  • Is preferable to speaking: “listening well” is better than “speaking well”.

Principle 7 – Team up

Today, organizations can no longer operate on the boss/subordinate pyramid type model. They must be made up of teams that have a strong leader to lead them and energize them.

Dale Carnegie developed eight effective leadership techniques to lead a team:

  • Unify around a common goal.
  • Use individual differences to improve the team.
  • Make everyone feel responsible for the collective results.
  • Ensure that most of the decisions come from the group, as much as possible.
  • Accept blame and share the credit with your team.
  • Build a relationship of trust with your team.
  • Get involved constantly.
  • Become a mentor for your team.

Principle 8 – Respect the dignity of others

Showing respect for others is the best way to motivate. To provide a working atmosphere of well-being and respect, Dale Carnegie suggests:

  • Showing empathy by knowing how to put yourself in someone else’s place.
  • Being the same with your employees as you are with your colleagues: no condescension, no reprimanding, and do not impose your authority.
  • Seeking cooperation, mobilizing, challenging, getting the opinions of everyone.
  • Developing humanity in the company.

Principle 9 – Emphasize, congratulate, reward

Beyond compensation, rewards that promote self-respect and respect from others are extremely motivating.

Principle 10 – Deal with errors, complaints, and criticisms

According to Dale Carnegie, a good leader must:

  • Be able to admit his own mistakes.
  • Refrain from criticizing or condemning, and if he does, it should be constructive and kind.
  • Know how to establish an atmosphere of receptivity.

Principle 11 – Set your own goals

Your objectives should:

  • Be realistic, clear, stimulating, and measurable in the short and long term: they will thus give you a target to reach and help you to measure your successes.
  • Be small and punctuated by intermediate goals: as such, the process is more encouraging and motivating.
  • Have priorities.

Principle 12 – Focus on a clear objective

Leaders always keep their focus on their target. They are determined to achieve the clear goal they have in mind as a guideline. For this, you must believe in yourself, be persistent and not spread yourself too thin.

Principle 13 – Maintain a balance

Balancing your life and taking the time to do something other than work is vital. You gain in:

  • Happiness and personal satisfaction.
  • Energy, concentration, and professional efficiency.

Principle 14 – Adopt a positive mental attitude

A positive attitude is the secret to a happy life and a successful career; it is the cornerstone of leadership. Carnegie underlines two essential points on this subject:

  • We are what we think: our external environment has little influence on our personal happiness; it is, in reality, how we react to these influences that will matter.
  • Your attitude has an impact on others (good or bad).

Principle 15 – Control your stress

Demonstrating leadership means knowing how to:

  • Control your stress and focus your attention on the present moment.
  • Understand that it is not the circumstances that make you happy or unhappy, but how you react to them.
  • When faced with the inevitable, not to let yourself become disappointed or bitter and deal with reality.

Principle 16 – Be enthusiastic

Enthusiasm is very powerful. It:

  • Is contagious and makes you react: when you are passionate and you show it, it is easy to excite others.
  • Comes from within and cannot be feigned.
  • Is of passion and confidence.
  • Is as important as skill or hard work.
  • Can be induced and fueled.
  • Is transmitted more by our actions than by words (by a look, a physical attitude, your way of acting rather than by your dissertations).

Review of Dale Carnegie’s “The Leader in You

Dale Carnegie concludes the book by inviting us to take action. He then summarizes his 16 principles very simply, in a few lines:

“See things from the other person’s point of view. Give genuine consideration and congratulations. Mobilize the prodigious power of enthusiasm. Respect the dignity of others. Do not be too critical. Give others a fine reputation to live up to. Keep a sense of humor and balance in your life.”

The Leader in You” is a practical and concrete guide that is a quick read laying out the basics of leadership in a very accessible way. Ultimately, there is a lot of common sense in this book, but this simple common sense can, nonetheless, make a huge difference, both in one’s professional and personal life.

Strong points:

  • The simplicity of the principles outlined, easy to apply on a daily basis.
  • A concentrate of relevant advice that aims to develop one’s leadership at work but also especially in one’s relationships with others in general.
  • A very accessible reading, with many examples, concrete ideas, and stories.

Weak point:

  • Some advice is really quite basic.

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3. “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t ” by Jim Collins

Good to Great

By Jim Collins, 2009, 320 pages

“Good to Great” is a leadership book that helps us understand why certain companies or institutions never become great, or at least underperform, whereas others do.

To write this bestseller (sold in millions of copies), the author, Jim Collins, professor and researcher in American management, brought together a team of 20 people. This group effort aimed to establish a procedure for successful companies wishing to become leaders in their sector. The outcome is a series of fundamental principles leading to greatness.

The qualities of great leaders

This book on leadership makes an astonishing observation: all companies that have achieved a lasting breakthrough have the same type of leadership. Contrary to what one might imagine, these companies are not led by charismatic leaders, who are highly publicized, with big personalities. No, in fact, they have leaders who have managed to combine utter personal humility with intense professional will.

qualities of great leaders

More specifically, the leaders of these companies have the following qualities:

  • Establish successors capable of perpetuating success.
  • Are extremely humble.
  • Have unwavering determination.

Three fundamental points that “great leaders” have understood

These three points are:

  1. Thinking about “who” before “what” allows you to adapt to the changing world.
  2. The best employees are those who are autonomous and motivated; they do not need to be closely supervised.
  3. It is imperative to surround yourself with good employees to become a great company.

This last point is essential in terms of leadership: a leader who hires mediocre people to work with him will never achieve greatness, no matter which management you choose.

It is therefore highly recommended to apply strict criteria in terms of human resources management. And this is all the more viable when one goes up in the hierarchy. This concern for rigor translates essentially into compliance with three rules:

  • No company can develop healthily without enough competent people to ensure its development.
  • Each person must work in the position best suited to their talents.
  • The best people should work on the greatest opportunities, not on the biggest problems.

Four basic practices of great leadership

In this book on leadership, four practices are described as essential to great leadership:

  1. Greatness cannot be acquired by providing ready-made answers and by uniting teams around one’s providential vision.
  2. The best companies tend to enjoy lively debates and frank discussions.
  3. It is not the absence of problems that distinguishes great from good, but the ability to solve them.
  4. Alert mechanisms must be implemented so that information will not be ignored.

For Jim Collins, always trying to motivate your team is useless, because according to him, if you work with the right people, they will motivate themselves. The challenge is rather not to demotivate them. For this, it is vital not to ignore problems and to create a listening environment. And this happens through three principles:

  • Managing with questions, not with answers.
  • Encouraging dialogue and vigorous debate.
  • Carrying out “the diagnosis, without making any complaints”.

The Hedgehog concept

Jim Collins explains in this leadership book what the hedgehog concept is.

  • Foxes and hedgehogs

First of all, he distinguishes two groups of individuals:

    1. Foxes: they pursue several goals at the same time and have a complex approach to the world. They spread themselves too thin, going from one object to another, without ever integrating their thoughts into a unified vision.
    2. Hedgehogs: conversely, they simplify the world around them in a single unifying principle. Without worrying about complexity, they reduce all the challenges encountered to simple ideas.

The best companies evolve according to the hedgehog behavior. They develop a simple, unifying concept which guides them in all their actions.

  • The three dimensions of the Hedgehog concept

This Hedgehog concept is at the intersection of three fundamental dimensions. They include:

    1. What you can do better than anyone else, that in which you can become the best in the world.
    2. That which runs the economic engine.
    3. That which you are most passionate about.
  • Culture of discipline

When establishing a culture of discipline, there is no point in setting burdensome bureaucratic personnel management rules. This culture of discipline simply requires that:

    • The constraints are clear and leave enough space for everyone to be creative and to take initiatives.
    • You surround yourself with employees willing to go to great lengths: the staff of the best companies had the necessary self-discipline to excel in their sector.

Be careful, a culture of discipline should not turn into tyranny. For this, discipline must above all not be imposed forcefully. This does not work because disorder returns as soon as the “tyrant” leader leaves. Rather, the culture of discipline requires absolute adherence to the unifying Hedgehog concept.

“Don’t go into markets just to diversify. If people are methodical, there is no need for hierarchy. If the reasoning is methodical, there is no need for bureaucracy, if the actions are methodical, there is no need for excessive control. When you combine this culture of discipline with an entrepreneurial spirit, you get the chemistry required for greatness.”

The 10 steps to follow to go from good to great

To become a leader in its sector, a company must follow these 10 principles:

  1. Respect a transitional period before making a meteoric breakthrough.
  2. Move forward in stages, calmly.
  3. Deal with actual problems and find solutions quickly.
  4. Stay consistent with a clearly defined Hedgehog concept.
  5. Maintain a culture of discipline through people, reasoning, and methodical actions.
  6. Adopt the most appropriate technologies.
  7. Conceive mergers and acquisitions only as potential catalysts for fundamental change.
  8. Do not spend too much time trying to motivate or align workers within the organization.
  9. Let the results speak for themselves.
  10. Stay consistent over the years, each generation building on the work of the previous generation.

Review of Jim Collins’s “Good to Great

“Good to Great” is a leadership book that compiles a multitude of information to become a leader and thus to lead one’s business on the path to greatness.

Far from being flamboyant strategies, Jim Collins offers modest principles that are known to be effective worldwide. His approach is to encourage leaders with discreet profiles, who, instead of imposing their vision, will know how to find the best employees and to initiate an ongoing discussion within their company. They will have to adopt a strategic vision based on a unifying and action-oriented concept.

Strong points:

  • This book is a real tool for reflection on how to “rethink” or “boost” one’s business.
  • The case studies and the density of information aimed at efficacy data.
  • Summaries at the end of each chapter, which allow the reader to get right to the heart of it.

Weak point:

  • Some generalities.

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What about you? What leadership book would you recommend? Is there one that has changed your life? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments!

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