Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

30 Books to Make You a Better Leader

A single book might not help you discover your inner leader, but 30 books can change your life. That’s the premise behind the Regional Leadership Forum’s (RLF) 2007 book list. RLF, a nine-month program of individual work and group sessions presented by the Society for Information Management (SIM), fosters leadership development in part through book discussions.

The forum focuses on individual growth, and business intelligence, not technical acumen, says Bob Rouse, director of RLF and professor of computer science at Washington University. Hence the list includes Two Old Women by Velma Wallis and Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

Reading beyond the business section is a lifelong learning skill that the forum stresses, notes Rouse. Case in point: Since graduating from RLF in 2002, Jim Noga, VP of IT at Massachusetts General Hospital, has given managers books from the updated list each holiday season. RLF adds six new books each cycle. New titles this year include Michael Marquardt’s Leading with Questions, Patrick Lencioni’s Death by Meeting and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.

Those who find the list’s length daunting may want to follow the lead of Michael Pellegrino, CIO of Fuji Photo Film USA. He read up on speed-reading prior to the forum, which involves six two-day sessions and nearly 8,000 pages of reading.

“I started the program on the first day thinking, ‘What am I doing here? I don’t know if I can keep up with this work,'” says Pellegrino. “On the last day, I thought, ‘This is one of the greatest experiences that I have ever had, and I don’t really want it to end.'” So it didn’t. Pellegrino and his peers created an extension program, which included several, albeit fewer, books.

2007 RLF Reading List

  1. Adler: How to Read a Book **
  2. Boyatzis & McKee: Resonant Leadership: Renewing Yourself and Connecting with Others through Mindfulness, Hope and Compassion **
  3. Kotter: Heart of Change **
  4. Bridges: Managing Transitions
  5. Buckingham: First Break all the Rules **
  6. Dotlich, Noel and Walker: Leadership Passages **
  7. Conger: Winning ‘Em Over
  8. DePree: Leadership is an Art **
  9. Frankl: Man’s Search for Meaning **
  10. Friedman: The World is Flat **
  11. George: Authentic Leadership **
  12. Ghandi: the video
  13. Goleman: Working with Emotional Intelligence **
  14. Hammerschlag: The Theft of the Spirit
  15. Jamison: Nibble Theory
  16. Katzenbach: The Wisdom of Teams **
  17. Lencioni: Death by Meeting: A Leadership Problem about Solving the most Painful Problem in Business **
  18. Machiavelli: The Prince **
  19. Mackenzie: Orbiting the Giant Hairball **
  20. Marquardt: Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask **
  21. O’Toole: Creating the Good Life **
  22. Patterson: Crucial Conversations **
  23. Rousseau & Cranston: The Social Contract
  24. Shafir: The Zen of Listening
  25. Jaworski: Synchronicity **
  26. Useem: Leadership Moment **
  27. Wallis: Two Old Women
  28. Whyte: The Heart Aroused
  29. Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go
  30. Michalko: Thinkertoys **

PS from John: I put a ** next to all of the books on this list I have already read. I agree 100% with the author, a single book or two will help a little… but 30 or 40 or 50 great books — can literally change your life! (click here to see John’s suggested reading list).


  1. I’ve only read about half of these particular ones myself (mostly the “older” half, in case that belies my age or my conservatism), but I agree they’re definitely some of the top.

    For those who’ve already read many of these, and/or 30, 40, or 50 other great books, and are still seeking a more revolutionary, consistent impact on their teams, often it’s helpful to try something else as well. I think, John, your article on the importance of systematic assessment and intervention is spot on in describing this next step.

  2. I’d like to have you consider my book, “Leadership-Best Advice I Ever Got” to your list. May I send you a review copy?
    Paul B. Thornton

  3. Paul — would love to read your book — and be happy to send you a copy of mine. I very much look forward to gettin a copy and reading it with care — thanks so much for the kind offer — John

  4. For other readers of the blog — I received a copy of Paul’s book — it was very enjoyable – a nice, thought-provoking and fun look at a wide array of leadership advice — all the way from mothers-to-sons/daughters — to CEO’s. A delightful book – JBS