Building Teams: Leadership Lessons for CEOs from 150+ Books on Leadership (Over 20+ Years of Reading)

Here is what I learned reading well over 150+ books on Leadership (over 20+ years of reading)

Over the past 20+ years I’ve always had an interest in Team and Organizational Leadership and have read well over 150+ books on the topic of Leadership (including insights from biographies on leaders like Washington, Lincoln, Churchill, Carnegie, and many modern executives and leaders, etc.).  I think it was only this year that I finally realize that there is a lot of commonality and I could pretty much cover 80% of everything in these books which was my attempt to summarize leadership traits and actions for myself but I also wanted to share them in this article. So this is for anyone who is just as interested in Leadership or anyone who wants to save time on reading all these books.

Also, if you scroll to the end (down below), there is a list of most of the books on Leadership that I’ve read and which I thought were most relevant for this topic.

As John Maxwell says, being a great leader is all about having a genuine willingness and a commitment to lead others to achieve a common vision and goals through positive influence.  In many ways, the one consistent message that I inferred from all the best books on leadership is that a modern leader is actually one who exhibits a style called “Servant Leadership” – but more on that here where I define it more precisely and clarify how to not misunderstand the word “servant” and not confuse it to think that it is some weak form of leadership (it’s actually a truly effective leadership style that works well in today’s modern workplace and everything below pretty much summarizes what it means).

Leadership is complex and it is all about getting the best from your people to deliver the best results for the organization. All the leadership factors cannot be easily boiled down to just a few which makes it even more complicated. But in the end, the outcome of good leadership is a successful team – the leader sets the direction and finds the way to get everyone there. In all the books I read, there are some key consistent themes and here is a list of those commonalities that I found over the years:

The Fundamental and Required Leadership Characteristics:
Integrity & High moral and ethical standards
Compassion & Empathy
Effective & active Listening
Even temper, restraint, calm & equanimity (George Washington – calm in the face of fire)
Giver, not a taker
Hard Work
Magnanimousness (Lincoln)
Positivity and Optimism
Self-awareness and self-control



What Leaders Do:
Attract and recruit the best people – recruit and build great teams and talent
Good at hiring for Personal Fit and Culture Fit
Lead by Example – “tone at the top” as my former boss and one of my favorite tech CEOs used to teach (Walter Scott, CEO)
Define the Culture
Create a Vision (gets the big picture) and communicate it
Inspire others
Communicate the Purpose / Mission regularly
Connect people’s work to the bigger mission – through goals or through mission reinforcement
Inform people not just about the WHAT but about the WHY
Leaders make mistakes but need to learn from them
Great leaders are great learners
Make decisions based on moral principles

Leadership is about PEOPLE:
People skills (people work for people, not for companies)
Connect with people and build solid relationships – relationships determine the morale of the organization
Good E.Q. and E.I. (and work on it continuously)
Be approachable and let others know you personally
Servant Leader – serves your people
Respect people and help them succeed
Have people’s best interest in mind
Communicate well / effectively
Add value to others
Understand others, their needs, goals and problems
Make people feel understood
Show people that you care (i.e. “nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care”)
Always be fair to others
Look for the best and best intentions in others
Give people significance and meaningfulness in their work
Make work fulfilling
Commitment to People
Care about others
People over process
Provide people safety at work
Make people feel good
Generosity towards those under your leadership
Make it OK to make mistakes and fail
Recognizes other’s work and results
Make people feel important and valuable
Develop other leaders and nurtures others
No judging, just listening and seeking solutions
Tell stories
Coach, don’t just tell what to do
Ask good questions to enable the best conversation and help people learn
Make people-development (coaching, mentoring) a top priority
Always be helping
Able to have difficult conversations

Execution and Performance:
Create alignment – align goals and values and people
Establish clear goals and communicate them
Have and communicate a “Standard of Performance”
Have the necessary technical competence
Simplify your business and make everything simple for others
Execute and deliver high performance by leading others
Gain and keep momentum
Promote teamwork
Focus on solutions, not problems – can idenify, analyze and solve problems effectively and efficiently
Lean into the problems – don’t avoid them, deal with them quickly
Manage for high performance
Empower people – in the end, people should feel that they did it all themselves
Delegates and does not micromanage
But, push people beyond their comfort zones (Colin Powell)
Takes responsibility and has accountability for their actions (not blaming others)
Don’t seek attention – be a quiet leader and focus on helping and leading others

Leadership Presence:
Cool, calm and composed – grace under fire
Defining moments – how you respond to problems and crises defines and reveals your true character

…and on this note, here is a model I created – “The 6 Cs of a Leader’s Presence”:

P.S. Here is the list of about 135+ books on Leadership that I read over two decades (I didn’t include everything, for example about 30+ other books that range from “The CEO Logic” to various biographies including those of well-known entrepreneurs and executives to military leaders):

  • 12 Disciplines of Leadership Excellence: How Leaders Achieve Sustainable High Performance – Brian Tracy and Peter Chee
  • A Higher Standard of Leadership: Lessons from the Life of Gandhi – Keshavan Nair
  • A Leader’s Legacy – James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
  • A Team of Leaders: Empowering Every Member to Take Ownership, Demonstrate Initiative, and Deliver Results – Paul Gustavson and Stewart Liff
  • All the Leader You Can Be – Suzanne Bates
  • Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value – Bill George
  • Becoming a Servant-Leader – Rayna Schroeder, Jackie Bahn-Henkelman and Jim Henkelman-Bahn
  • Becoming Hewlett Packard: Why Strategic Leadership Matters – Robert A. Burgelman, Webb McKinney and Philip E. Meza
  • Building and Retaining an Exceptional Leadership Team – Robert W. Barner
  • Churchill – Roy Jenkins
  • Coach Wooden’s Leadership Game Plan – John Wooden
  • Co-Active Coaching – Henry Kimsey-House
  • Co-Leaders: The Power of Great Partnerships – Warren Bennis and David A. Heenan
  • Dare to Lead – Brene Brown
  • Designing Dynamic Organizations: A Hands-On Guide for Leaders at All Levels – Jay Galbraith, Diane Downey and Amy Kates
  • Developing the Leaders Around You: How to Help Others Reach Their Full Potential – John C. Maxwell
  • Doing the Right Things Right – Laura Stack
  • Dream Teams: Working Together Without Falling Apart – Shane Snow
  • Eisenhower on Leadership – Alan Axelrod
  • Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success – Phil Jackson
  • Empowering Employees – Mimi Meredith and Kenneth L. Murrell
  • Ethical Intelligence – Bruce Weinstein
  • Execution – Larry Bossidy & Ram Charan
  • Extraordinary Influence: How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others – Tim Irwin
  • Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win – Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
  • Extreme Teams: Why Pixar, Netflix, Airbnb, and Other Cutting-Edge Companies Succeed Where Most Fail- Robert Bruce Shaw
  • First Break All the Rules – Marcus Buckingham
  • From Crisis to Calling: Finding Your Moral Center in the Toughest Decisions – Sasha Chanoff and David Chanoff
  • George Washington on Leadership – Richard Brookhiser
  • Giving Voice to Values – Mary C. Gentile
  • Good Leaders Ask Great Questions: Your Foundation for Successful Leadership – John C. Maxwell
  • Good to Great – Jim Collins
  • Great by Choice – Jim Collins
  • Great People Decisions – Claudio Fernandez-Araoz
  • Growing Great Employees: Turning Ordinary People into Extraordinary Performers – Erika Andersen
  • Growing Leaders – Richard Koonce, Gerry Miles and Steve Yearout
  • High Performers: Recruiting & Retaining Top Employees – Alan J. Dubinsky and Steven J. Skinner
  • Hiring the Best – Martin Yate
  • How to Be a Positive Leader – Jane E. Dutton and Gretchen
  • How to Grow Leaders: The Seven Key Principles of Effective Leadership Development – John Adair
  • Integrity – Henry Cloud
  • Investing in People – Wayne Cascio and John Boudreau
  • It Takes a Tribe: Building the Tough Mudder Movement – Will Dean
  • Jack Welch and the 4 E’s of Leadership – Jeffrey A. Krames
  • Leaders as Teachers – Edward Betof
  • Leaders Eat Last – Simon Sinek
  • Leaders Made Here: Building a Leadership Culture – Mark Miller
  • Leaders Open Doors – Bill Treasurer
  • Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change – Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs
  • Leadership and Self-Deception – Arbinger Institute
  • Leadership Blindspots: How Successful Leaders Identify and Overcome the Weaknesses That Matter – Robert Bruce Shaw
  • Leadership from the Inside Out – Kevin Cashman
  • Leadership Gold: Lessons I’ve Learned from a Lifetime of Leading – John C. Maxwell
  • Leadership in the Eye of the Storm: Putting Your People First in a Crisis – Bill Tibbo
  • Leadership Lessons from West Point – Doug Crandall
  • Leadership Lessons of the Navy Seals: Battle-Tested Strategies for Creating Successful Organizations and Inspiring Extraordinary Results – Jeff Cannon and Lt. Cmdr. Jon Cannon
  • Leading at a Higher Level – Ken Blanchard
  • Leading at the Edge – Shackleton
  • Leading Organizations: Ten Timeless Truths – Scott Keller and Mary Meaney
  • Leading with a Noble Purpose – Lisa Earle McLeod
  • Leading with Character and Competence: Moving Beyond Title, Position, and Authority – Timothy R. Clark
  • Leading: Timeless lessons from the greatest manager of all time – Alex Ferguson, Michael Moritz
  • Learning Leadership: The Five Fundamentals of Becoming an Exemplary Leader – James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
  • Let My People Go Surfing: Patagonia – Yvon Chouinard
  • Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times – Donald T Phillips
  • Not Bosses But Leaders: How to Lead the Way to Success – John Adair
  • On Becoming a Leader – Warren Bennis
  • Organization Genius – Patricia Ward Biederman and Warren Bennis
  • Powerful – Patty McCord
  • Powerhouse: Insider Accounts into the World’s Top High-Performance Organizations – Brian MacNeice and James Bowen
  • Radical CAndor – Kim Scott
  • Reinventing Organizations – Frederic Laloux
  • Results That Last: Hardwiring Behaviors That Will Take Your Company to the Top – Quint Studer
  • Scaling Teams – Alexander Grosse and David Loftesness
  • Secrets of Special Ops Leadership: Dare the Impossible – Achieve the Extraordinary – William A. Cohen
  • Servant Leadership – Robert K. Greenleaf and Larry C. Spears
  • Start With Why – Simon Sinek
  • Strategy Concepts of Bill Belichick: A Leadership Case Study of the New England Patriots Head Coach Kindle Edition – Leadership Case Studies
  • Team Genius – Rich Karlgaard
  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln – Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World – General Stanley McChrystal with Tantum Collins, David Silverman and Chris Fussel
  • The 10 Laws of Trust: Building the Bonds That Make a Business Great – Joel Peterson
  • The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Success – Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman
  • The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership – John Maxwell
  • The 5 Levels of Leadership – John C. Maxwell
  • The Advantage – Patrick Lencioni
  • The Art of Authenticity: Tools to Become an Authentic Leader and Your Best Self – Karissa Thacker
  • The Captain Class – Sam Walkeer
  • The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever – Michael Stanier
  • The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed – Adam Bryant
  • The Culture Code – Daniel Coyle
  • The Culture Engine: A Framework for Driving Results, Inspiring Your Employees, and Transforming Your Workplace – S. Chris Edmonds
  • The Dichotomy of Leadership – by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
  • The Difference Maker – John C. Maxwell
  • The DNA of Leadership – Judith E. Glaser
  • The Employee Experience Advantage – Jacob Morgan
  • The Essential Wooden: A Lifetime of Lessons on Leaders and Leadership – John Wooden
  • The Extraordinary Leader – John H. Zenger and Joseph Folkman
  • The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers Into Great Leaders – John H. Zenger and Joseph Folkman
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Patrick Lencioni
  • The Five Temptations of a CEO – Patrick Lencioni
  • The Four Obsessions of Extraordinary Executives – Patrick Lencioni
  • The Future of Leadership: Today’s Top Leadership Thinkers Speak to Tomorrow’s Leaders – Warren Bennis, Gretchen M. Spreitzer and Thomas G. Cummings
  • The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High-Character Employees – Bruce Weinstein
  • The Heart of Leadership – Mark Miller
  • The High-Potential Leader – Ram Charan
  • The Image of Leadership – Sylvie di Giusto
  • The Language of Leadership: How Leaders Inspire Action – Stephen Denning
  • The Leader Habit – Martin Lanik
  • The Leadership Challenge: How to Keep Getting Extraordinary Things Done in Organizations – Barry Z. Posner and James M. Kouzes
  • The Leadership Genius of Alfred P. Sloan: Invaluable Lessons on Business, Management, and Leadership – Allyn Freeman
  • The Leadership Handbook: 26 Critical Lessons Every Leader Needs – John C. Maxwell
  • The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell – Oren Harari
  • The Listening Leader: How to Drive Performance by Using Communicative Leadership – Emilio Galli Zugaro and Clementina Galli Zugaro
  • The Master Coach: Leading with Character, Building Connections, and Engaging in Extraordinary Conversations – Gregg Thompson
  • The Myth of the Strong Leader – Archie Brown
  • The One Thing You Need to Know About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success – Marcus Buckingham
  • The Outward Mindset – the Arbinger Institute
  • The Power of Full Engagement – Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
  • The Power of Servant Leadership – Robert K. Greenleaf
  • The Road to Character – David Brooks
  • The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership – Bill Walsh
  • The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do – Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller
  • The Servant Leader: Unleashing the Power of Your People – Robert P. Neuschel
  • The Southwest Airlines Way: Using the Power of Relationships to Achieve High Performance – Jody Hoffer Gittell
  • The Spirit of Leadership – Harrison Owen
  • The Taboos of Leadership Summary – Anthony F. Smith
  • The Talent Code – Daniel Coyle
  • The Truth about Leadership: The No-fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know – James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
  • The West Point Way of Leadership – Larry Donnithorne
  • True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership – Bill George and Peter Sims
  • Unlocking Potential: Seven Coaching Skills That Transform Individuals, Teams & Organizations – By Michael K. Simpson
  • Victory Through Organization – Dave Ulrich, David Kryscynski, Wayne Brockbank and Mike Ulrich
  • Warren Buffett CEO: Secrets From The Berkshire Hathaway Managers – Robert P. Miles
  • What We Say Matters – Judith Hanson Lasater
  • When Execution Isn’t Enough: Decoding Inspirational Leadership – Claudio Feser
  • Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance: Leading a Great Enterprise Through Dramatic Change – Lou Gerstner
  • Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization – John Wooden
  • Work Rules: Insights from Inside Google – Laszlo Bock