Earlier in my career ascending the corporate ladder, some of the books listed below would have come in handy. But whatever age you claim now, it's not too late to learn what I wish I knew in my twenties and early thirties.
While numerous influential leadership books have been written over the last decade, this latest list of my top picks will send you in the right direction toward building up your leadership skills in 2020.
1. 'Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling'
Communication is key to a healthy workplace. But all too often, managers -- no matter how much leadership experience they have -- simply tell their teams what they think their team needs to know. This ultimately stifles growth in the organization and can often lead to conflict and miscommunication.
To generate groundbreaking ideas and avoid disastrous mistakes, Edgar H. Schein, professor emeritus at MIT's Sloan School of Management, argues that leaders must learn how to practice "Humble Inquiry," which he defines as "the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person."
2. 'Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader's Guide to the Real World'
In "Nine Lies About Work," leadership and workplace gurus Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall outline the numerous faulty assumptions about work that often lead to office dysfunction.
Using engaging stories, real data and insightful observations from large companies, including Google, eBay and Amazon, the authors reveal the important truths that managers must recognize in order to lead a successful organization. (Here's one mind-blowing truth: "People don't want constant feedback, they want helpful attention.")
Adam Grant, best-selling author of "Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World," calls this must-read "one of the most provocative, lucidly written books" he's ever read about work. "Be prepared to throw your strategic plan out the window and become well-lopsided instead of well-rounded."
3. 'Applied Empathy: The New Language of Leadership'
Michael Ventura, CEO of the award-winning design firm Sub Rosa, has worked with iconic brands like Google, Nike, and Warby Parker to help them truly understand their leaders, their colleagues and themselves.
In "Applied Empathy," he explains why practicing empathy is the only path to powerful leadership. But most leaders don't fully understand how to do this.
This book will teach you what it really means to practice empathy (and no, it's not about expressing pity or sympathy) so you can create a more diverse, innovative and driven team.
4. 'Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? (And How to Fix It)'
Psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, who studies personality profiling, people analytics and leadership development, asks two powerful questions: Why is it so easy for incompetent men to become leaders? And why is it so hard for competent people--especially competent women--to advance?
One of the research-backed, big ideas behind the book explains that the features we normally associate with desirable leadership traits -- like confidence and charisma -- can later backfire as narcissism and even psychopathy.
On an episode of Love in Action podcast, Chamorro-Premuzic notes, "While confidence is good to have, overconfident leaders overrate their ability and job performance, and are more prone to reckless decisions because they are immune to negative feedback."
The book was named one of "14 business books everyone will be reading in 2019" by Business Insider.
5. 'The Serving Leader: Five Powerful Actions to Transform Your Team, Business, and Community'
While Jennings and Stahl-Wert use an easy-to-read parable to outline the key ideas and practices of serving leadership, all the characters in the story are based on real people in real organizations with real outcomes.
The book is both a practical guide for effective leadership and a book about the personal journey of growth that real leadership requires.
Joe Patrnchak, former Chief Human Resources Officer, Cleveland Clinic, credits the book for turning the organization around. "When I was looking for a teachable way to transform leadership and culture at the Cleveland Clinic," he notes, "I chose The Serving Leader. It started a transformation that continues to today."
6. 'The Healing Organization: Awakening The Conscience Of Business To Help Save The World'
Raj Sisodia, a founding member of the Conscious Capitalism movement and organizational innovation expert, Michael J Gelb, teach us how for-profit businesses can become agents of healing for their employees, customers, and communities.
In a recent episode of Love in Action podcast, Sisodia shares that work, as it's traditionally viewed, has a high human cost. "We don't have to kill people to make money," he notes. "In fact, when our employees are happy and thriving, our businesses will prosper."
Tom Peters, the legendary author of In Search of Excellence and The Excellence Dividend, wrote the foreword and notes, "This book constitutes no less than a magnificent contribution to the life-and-death process of re-imagining organizations and society itself. The Healing Organization is indeed audacious. But the facts are here. The cases are here. And, God knows, the need is here."