These are some of the best non-fiction reads involving leadership that I have come across.   It is in the difficult times that true leadership often shines, and typically the leaders who emerge are not the brash and boastful.  The ones who rise to the occasion are men of integrity, character, and will.  When times get tough, people look to leaders, not managers; they follow people they trust.  The selections here are some of their stories:  the leaders they were, the challenges they faced, and how they overcame great odds.  Inspring reading.

* note/disclaimer:  I am an affiliate of for these books, so I would receive a small compensation  for any purchases you made on Amazon when going via the links provided below.  You certainly don’t have to go via these links, but I appreciate it and thank you if you do.  The only way a book will ever appear here is if I have read, understood, used, and found it to be very helpful as a leadership tool.  Consequently the selection here will be fairly slim, but I hope eminently satisfying!  Let me know what you think…

South: The Endurance Expedition


In 1914, 28 men sail from England to attempt what no one has ever done: traverse the Antarctic continent from one side to the other.  But soon, disaster strikes.  Their ship, the aptly named  Endurance, is trapped in the ice, then crushed, leaving the explorers stranded on the polar ice cap with no way home.  What follows can only be described as the epic tale of their months-long struggle for survival and eventual escape from their icy prison.

[imageframe lightbox=”no” style_type=”border” bordercolor=”#000000″ bordersize=”5px” stylecolor=”” align=”left” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][/imageframe]Written by Ernest Shackleton, the commander of the expedition, you get a first-hand account of the struggles and privations the men face.  Ceaseless blizzards, bone-shattering cold, and the constant threat of starvation are only the beginning of their challenges.  To escape, the men must travel hundreds of miles over broken ice floe, and treacherous glacier, though blinding, desolate white wilderness, then hundreds more miles of tempestuous open ocean in a tiny boat.

Yet through it all, Shackleton is able to hold his team together. His strength of character, clear vision, and sheer tenacity serve as a great example for leaders everywhere and in all ages .  South: The Endurance Expedition is an incredible tale that chronicles the amazing things men can do when well led.

After reading this, when you face challenges as a leader, you can say, “well, at least I’m not stuck on the polar ice cap thousands of miles from home, caught in a blizzard, it’s 40 below, and the food is running out.”  Everything else by comparison will see that much less daunting!


The Journals of Lewis and Clark

It’s 1803, and President Thomas Jefferson has just completed the Louisiana Purchase.  Now he needs to find out what he had bought and open up trade routes to the west.  The story of how Meriwether Lewis and William Clark crossed the continent is generally well known, but what many forget is that they didn’t do it alone.  They had with them a polyglot team of 43 people comprising two genders and three races.  Yet somehow in a very short time they were able to assemble and launch an exploratory expedition that would eventually cover 10 states and open the way for trade and settlement for the coming century.

When the team left St. Louis, they faced the unknown.  They could guess at what some of their trials would be – hostile tribes, treacherous waterways, rugged mountain crossings, wild animals, thousands of miles to travel without even knowing for sure where the next meal was coming from.  Jefferson even thought they might encounter dinosaurs.  They encountered all of these (except the dinosaurs), and more.[imageframe lightbox=”no” style_type=”border” bordercolor=”#000000″ bordersize=”5px” stylecolor=”” align=”right” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][/imageframe]

Yet despite all their trials, they lost only one man (due to disease), endured only one battle with a hostile tribe, and even managed to add a baby to their party.   The story of how their leadership made this all possible is one of the most remarkable feats to me.

There are two good reads here.  The Journals of Lewis and Clark is a compendium of the actual journals kept by Lewis and Clark, and supplemented by others makes for a great day-by-day read, allowing you to watch the adventure unfold through the eyes of the men who led the expedition and giving helpful insight into some of their leadership practices that helped ensure their success.

[imageframe lightbox=”no” style_type=”border” bordercolor=”#000000″ bordersize=”5px” stylecolor=”” align=”left” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][/imageframe]Stephen Ambrose also does an admirable job of telling the tale in Undaunted Courage.  He uses the journals as a resource, but adds other sources as well as his perspective as a historian, and weaves the exploits of the expedition into the larger fabric of a rapidly expanding American empire.  Either or both are well worth the time and provide that perfect combination of great story and useful insight.



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