“These are the books that I recommend to close friends. I hope you find them as helpful as I did.”
The books in this selection put you up close and personal with some leadership greats and let you watch over their shoulders as they show us what outstanding leadership looks like.
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This one-armed man was the first to raft through the Grand Canyon, then sought to protect the Great American West. Whether he’s leading a small team of adventurers down a wild river or influencing decision-makers in the halls of government, this complex, fascinating leader has much to teach us about building teams, overcoming adversity, and following a vision.
With skill and passion, Phil Knight recounts the founding and growth of Nike from a $50 loan into a shoe company worth billions. With unexpected candor, humility, and humor, he shares his struggle to establish a clear vision, the ethical dilemmas he faced, and what it’s like to lead something that seems to be constantly teetering between overwhelming success and utter ruin. Well-written, entertaining, and revealing, Knight’s story of entrepreneurial leadership was a pleasure to read and hard to put down.
They came from every walk of life and embodied every personality style, yet when crisis came each was able to overcome enormous obstacles and overwhelming odds. This survey of the lives and leadership of Ernest Shackleton, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Rachel Carson is rich with great story-telling even as author Nancy Koehn exposes their humanity and inspires us with their leadership example.
Earnest Shackleton sets out to lead the first expedition to traverse Antarctica, but disaster strikes. With his ship frozen in the ice, he must abort the mission and lead his men hundreds of miles through blizzards, bone-shattering cold and the constant threat of starvation to escape. One of the greatest tales of leadership in adversity I’ve come across. Read more in these book notes.
Historical non-fiction that reads like a novel, Philbrick expertly protrays the actions of several key leaders, warts and all, at this crucial time in American history. Here are my Book Notes about a big mistake George Washington nealry made at the outset of his command.
He was more of a misfit than a leader in the beginning, but when the crucial moment came, he proved himself capable of amazing feats of leadership. Follow York’s personal journey as he struggles to reconcile his faith with life in uniform, and demonstrates the power that skill, commitment, and service to others can bring. Book notes here.
The first and best historical fiction book I have ever read, and an excellent look into the challenges of leadership. Author Michael Shaara combines historical accuracy with a captivating story-telling ability to make this a hard-to-put-down read about the battle of Gettysburg. For me it was also a great read about leadership. Among the many insights: decision-making under pressures. Book Notes here.
This day-to-day read of the adventures and experiences of these famous explorers gives a front row seat of leaders attempting to take their team into the unknown. Commentators focus on their discoveries, but what made those possible was their ability to lead their little team by strength of example, decisiveness, poise under pressure, and problem-solving skills in the near total absence of critical information. My Book Notes here.
When the colonists sailed for the New World they didn’t even know who their leader would be – they were to open a sealed box upon arrival to find out. Things only got tougher from there. I found this to be a riveting read; James Horn expertly brings historical figures alive, explores their motivations, strengths, and weaknesses, and destroys some widely-held myths along the way. My Book Notes here.
Take a socially awkward, combative and overly sensitive leader. Put him in charge of a fleet of six ships on the most ambitious voyage of discovery of its time. Then make the mission a political football with conflicting goals, bureaucratic in-fighting, and years of delay. When they do launch, they experienced as much disaster as they did discovery. This captivating, true story is a great read as a “how not to” for leaders. Book notes here.
A masterful and exhaustive account of Lincoln’s leadership by Pulitzer Prize winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin. Follow the pivotal moments in Lincoln’s early life, on the campaign trail, and in the White House as he learns to lead with strategic vision and demonstrates a genius for deflecting enemies, forming improbable alliances, and keeping the vision in sight during America’s most trying years.
Follow the struggles of Joe Rantz and the University of Washington rowing team in their improbable journey from working class to world class, culminating in a showdown with the dominant rowing team from Hitler’s Germany in the 1936 Olympics. A great inspirational read that highlights the values of perseverance, teamwork, and good leadership as a path to amazing accomplishment.
The mission: Land a rover the size of a Mini-Cooper on the planet Mars. With a team of ten very different people, a tight budget, a rapidly shrinking timeline, and the eyes of the world watching, Adam Steltzner was under immense pressure to produce. In this book, he shares his secrets and mistakes in building a team and trying to keep it together to get the job done. Book notes here.