Many podcast listeners/friends have asked me what books they should read to become a better leader. The totality of this list is in the hundreds… But for now, let’s start with seven. You’ll notice I’m more interested in reading about fascinating stories and the heroes in them than I am about “business” type books. There is so much to learn from real stories and the action taken (and the subsequent consequence of those actions) by the leaders in those stories. Note** This list will evolve over time…

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard

Not many people are aware that President Roosevelt was the first to chart and navigate a totally unknown river in the Amazon… And he did that AFTER he was President.

Along the way, Roosevelt and his men faced an unbelievable series of hardships, losing their canoes and supplies to punishing whitewater rapids, and enduring starvation, Indian attack, disease, drowning, and a murder within their own ranks. Three men died, and Roosevelt was brought to the brink of suicide. The River of Doubt brings alive these extraordinary events in a powerful nonfiction narrative thriller that happens to feature one of the most famous Americans who ever lived.

Legacy by James Kerr

The simplicity and beauty in which this story is told is inspiring and useful.

James Kerr goes deep into the heart of the world’s most successful sporting team, the legendary All Blacks of New Zealand, to reveal powerful and practical lessons for leadership and business.


Leaders “keep a blue head.” Wise leaders seek to understand how the brain reacts to stress and practise (this is how it’s spelled in the book) simple, almost meditative techniques to stay calm, clear and connected They use maps (an operating system), mantras, and anchors to navigate their way through highly pressurized situations.

The word automatic is from the Greek, Automatus, and means “self-thinking.” By training with intensity, we make our performance more automatic.

Leaders do extra. Leaders “sweep the stalls.”

Values: “Humility, honesty, integrity, respect. You know, I say all those words and for me and for the people I’m speaking to I’m saying, “Look, you shouldn’t really need to work on those because they should just be a given.”

Values “cannot be espoused and adopted by us at a conscious level – they are something that we are.”

The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker

The questions we should ask ourselves on a daily basis: “How can I be more effective?” “If I do this, what am I choosing not to do? Does THIS give me the opportunity to be more effective?”


“The first practice is to ask what needs to be done. Note that the question is not ‘What do I want to do?’”

“If there is one secret to effectiveness, it’s concentration.”

“Scientist have shown that achievement depends less on ability, and more on the courage to go after the opportunity.”

“Effectiveness, while capable of being learned, surely cannot be taught.”

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

An incredible story of curiosity, determination, and an immense desire to teach the world how to fly.

On a winter day in 1903, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, two brothers—bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio—changed history. But it would take the world some time to believe that the age of flight had begun, with the first powered machine carrying a pilot.

Orville and Wilbur Wright were men of exceptional courage and determination, and of far-ranging intellectual interests and ceaseless curiosity. When they worked together, no problem seemed to be insurmountable. Wilbur was unquestionably a genius. Orville had such mechanical ingenuity as few had ever seen. That they had no more than a public high school education and little money never stopped them in their mission to take to the air. Nothing did, not even the self-evident reality that every time they took off, they risked being killed.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

This is a non-fiction book written like a beautiful novel. This is a book written by someone who “just did it.” And continues to do so…

Fresh out of business school, Phil Knight borrowed fifty dollars from his father and launched a company with one simple mission: import high-quality, low-cost running shoes from Japan. Selling the shoes from the trunk of his car in 1963, Knight grossed eight thousand dollars that first year. Today, Nike’s annual sales top $30 billion.

Bill Gates gave one of the best recommendations I’ve read about this book: “an amazing tale, a refreshingly honest reminder of what the path to business success really looks like. It’s a messy, perilous, and chaotic journey, riddled with mistakes, endless struggles, and sacrifice. Phil Knight opens up in ways few CEOs are willing to do.”

In Search Of Excellence by Tom Peters & Robert Waterman

Tom Peters and his coauthor Robert Waterman profiled 43 companies in what Bloomsbury Publishing has said is the “greatest business book of all time.” It describes the eight basic principles that made these organizations successful: 1) A bias for action 2) Staying close to the customer (frontline obsession) 3) Autonomy and entrepreneurship 4) Productivity through people 5) Hands-on, value-driven 6) Stick to the knitting 7) Simple form, lean staff, and 8) Simultaneous loose-tight properties. There’s a reason this book was checked out of the library more than any other for 17 years! Tom has a no BS approach. Straight, to the point. And always useful.

Mastery by Robert Greene

This book will help you better understand the evolution of mastery: The keys to it. The hidden force. The strategies for finding your life’s work. The importance of apprenticeship. Why you should value learning over money. The seven deadly realities. Strategies for acquiring social intelligence.

Each one of us has within us the potential to be a Master. Submit to a rigorous apprenticeship, absorb the hidden knowledge possessed by those with years of experience. Study the behaviors of Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Leonardo da Vinci and the nine contemporary Masters interviewed for this book.





Ryan Hawk runs the Leadership Advisory practice at Brixey & Meyer. He works with clients all over the world to help them be personally excellent and more effective leaders. He does this through keynote speeches as well as 1 on 1 leadership advising. He’s learned the commonalities of sustaining excellence from interviewing 275+ of the most thoughtful leaders in the world on his hit podcast, The Learning Leader Show.