Top 10 Books For New Leaders


John Piper has said, “Books don’t change people, paragraphs do — sometimes sentences.” 

Piper's insight stands behind this "Top 10" list of books for new leaders. I chose the books below because each has marked my life and shaped my leadership. Sometimes the entire volume has hit home, but more likely God has used a key paragraph or even sentence to mold me into the leader he wants me to be.

I think these books are essential reading for any leader, but especially for emerging leaders.

  1. Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald
    God used this book to teach me the importance of self-leadership. I have read it and re-read it and re-read it. Wisdom and insight runs through these pages. "Beware of the barrenness of a busy life," "Look for the kernel of truth," and "MacDonald's Laws of Unmanaged Time" are just a few of the gems that sparkle in this book. MacDonald also helped give me an appreciation for biography. Read Ordering Your Private World and you will understand why this book has sold more than 1,000,000 copies.
  2. The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter
    I wish I could write a book that would survive me by 350 years. Baxter originally wrote what we now have as The Reformed Pastor for a meeting with a group of pastors in 1655. He was not feeling well as he prepared his notes, which is interesting because this book is powerful. This one sentence is the Holy Spirit's reminder to me:  "Take heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine . . .  lest you unsay with your lives, what you say with your tongues; and be the greatest hinderers of the success of your own labours." And that is just one admonition from the heart of the 17th century pastor. Outstanding.
  3. Leadership Is An Art by Max De Pree
    Max De Pree is the former CEO of Herman Miller. His book, Leadership Is An Art, has sold more than 800,000 copies. In it, he writes, "The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor." These words and others from his book have marked my life and leadership. You can learn more about this amazing leader and thinker at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership.
  4. Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson
    This simple book a game-changer for life and leadership. Johnson's thesis, "Move with the cheese" is a principle that echos in my mind. God has used this principle to keep me moving when life does not go according to plan.
  5. Tough Choices: A Memoir by Carly Fiorina
    Bill Hybels puts this book in his Top 10. Read it and you will understand why. I thought I had a good leadership framework until I saw Carly's. I would buy Carly's book if just for her leadership framework.
  6. The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner.
    Kouzes and Posner's work is a leadership classic. A practice-based model, the authors help breakdown leadership into five practices: (1) Model the way, (2) Inspire a shared vision, (3) Challenge the process, (4) Enable others to act, (5) Encourage the heart.  My copy is marked, highlighted, and very well worn. I also like Andy Stanley's Next Generation Leader. Stanley's work is, in some ways, a miniature Leadership Challenge from a Christian Perspective.
  7. Spiritual Leadership: Principles Of Excellence For Every Believer by J. Oswald Sanders
    Not only has Sander's work sold more than 800,000 copies, it is a gold mine of leadership wisdom -- for any leader. I think it is the finest one-volume primer on leadership. It is a must read for the beginning leader and for every seasoned leader too. Sanders covers leadership from A-Z.
  8. The Call: Finding And Fulfilling The Central Purpose Of Your Life by Os Guinness
    Os Guinness is so well read. The man is brilliant and he brilliantly encapsulates the primary and secondary call of God on our lives. Guinness will introduce you to great authors and wonderful insights, such as Hudson's Taylor's "A little thing is a little thing, but faithfulness in a little thing, is a big thing" and "Abraham Kuyper's "There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, 'This is mine. This belongs to me.'" I include The Call because his message provides the "Why" behind our leadership.
  9. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity by Nancy Pearcey
    Pearcey wrote, "We must begin by being utterly convinced that there is a biblical perspective on everything--not just on spiritual matters." That line has marked my life. Everyday Theology and The Scandal Of The Evangelical Mind are great companion volumes. So is Developing Critical Thinkers: Challenging Adults to Explore Alternative Ways of Thinking and Acting by Stephen D. Brookfield. While I do not agree with Brookfield's presupposition that there are no universal truths or total certainty, I agree with his practice of "challenging the presuppositions." Leaders need to think and think biblically. They need to "love God with their minds." These books help us do just that.
  10. Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs by Bill Hybels
    I chose Axiom for two reasons: First, because I believe leaders operate more effectively when they can distil key principles into memorable proverbs or pithy sayings; Second, because so many of Hybels' axioms are a part of my leadership vocabulary. For example: "Make the big ask," "Facts are your friends," "Take a flyer."

In the end, no list is perfect and many would take issue with my choices. So be it. There will be other lists for Drucker and Tichy and Collins and Kotter; for Patrick Lincioni and James MacGregor Burns; for Hesselbeing and Gerber; for Greenleaf, Maxwell, Bennis, Juran and many more. For now, pick up one one of the ten-or-more that I have identified. Read it, digest it, and implement it. I think they will help you fulfill God's desire expressed in Romans 12:8,

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is ... to lead, do it diligently.
— Romans 12:6,8 NIV