Welcome to my list of books that I’ve found helpful as a leader in the past year.
Some church leaders reading this might be surprised that the majority of the books this year aren’t written by followers of Jesus. That’s not because there aren’t good leadership books out there written by Christians – there are (and over previous years this blog has recommended quite a few). It’s more because there’s much wisdom for Christ-followers to pick up from a breadth of sources, especially from biographical works (so we read about other great leaders) as well as non-fiction books (particularly those that help us learn from good research).
As last year, this list of 10 leadership books should to be read in conjunction with my list of 10 Good Books for Disciples for the coming year, which can be found on my Discipleship Blog. This year, for the first time, both lists are ranked in order, counting down from 10 to 1. So take a look, and keep reading. Read with discernment. Read to learn. Read to grow. Read to be equipped, so you can equip others. That, after all, is at the heart of good leadership.
10. David Ritz – Respect – The Life of Aretha Franklin
When I was a young man I went for a haircut and playing in the background was music that seriously captured my attention. The rhythms moved me and the vocals stirred my heart. I asked my barber who the artist was, and was told it was Aretha Franklin. I immediately went and bought the album. Aretha died this year at the age of 76. Known as ‘The Queen of Soul’ her music has influenced the lives of millions. This shy, gifted and complicated woman was shaped by her context and has proved to be someone who’s inspired so many – especially women, minorities and people of faith. Other biographies are now coming out on Franklin, but I found this offering from Ritz really helpful. I felt to got to know this remarkable woman who had an extraordinary, God-given gift.
9. Keith Houston – The Book
If you love books then you’ll love this book. Because it’s all about books and how they came into being. It’s well written, beautifully illustrated and a pleasure to handle. Leaders should read this book, because leaders are readers. The blurb is a good and accurate summary of what’s inside: ‘Keith Houston reveals that the paper, ink, glue and board from which a book is made tell as rich a story as the word on its pages – of civilisations, empires, human ingenuity, and madness… Sure to delight book lovers of all stripes with its lush, full-color illustrations, The Book give us the momentous and surprising history behind humanity’s most important – and universal – information technology.’
8. Eric Metaxas – Seven Women
This is a great book about seven women who changed the course of history: Joan of Arc, Susannah Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie Ten Boom, Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa. Each of these world-changing figures followed the call placed on her life and transformed the world in which she lived. This is a fascinating read, with each character described in about 25 pages. Metaxas helps us get to know each one well. This book will inspire you to lead with conviction and courage.
7. Matthew Walker – Why We Sleep
Despite the fact that we spend nearly a third our lives sleeping, we actually know very little about sleep. What we do know is explained in this accessible book by world-renowned neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker. Learn about the two factors determining wake and sleep: our circadian rhythm and sleep pressure (determined by adenosine); learn about changes in sleep as we get older; learn about dreams and more. In particular, discover how most of us need to sleep for longer. This book has challenged me to see the crucial role sleep plays in our lives and to especially value my sleep more!
6. Mark Batterson – In a Pit with a Lion
Washington pastor and acclaimed author Mark Batterson has written two books on a little-known but profound bible verse – about a man called Benaiah (in 2 Samuel 23:20-21). I read both books this year, and recommended the latest – Chase the Lion – in my recent 10 Books for Disciples for 2019. This is the earlier book, originally published in 2006. In it Batterson urges us to face our fears, take risks, grab opportunities, be prepared to look foolish, and be brave, in response to following the passion God has put in our hearts. Full of stories and much wisdom, this book will stretch you to lead prayerfully and bravely.
5. Andrew Gimson – Prime Ministers
This delightful book gives a brief description and summary of every British Prime Minister, from Sir Robert Walpole in 1721 to Theresa May. Each chapter is short (around four pages) and tells a little about their struggles and successes. It provides just enough information so the reader knows something about each one. Every chapter begins with a sketch drawing by witty illustrator Martin Rowson. This is great little book.
4. Richard Reed – If I Could Tell You Just One Thing
I love this book. Richard Reed interviewed some of the world’s most remarkable leaders in their field and asked them to share their most valuable piece of wisdom. He then wrote up his findings in this book – which includes advice on work, relationships, creativity, faith, survival and much more. Chapters are very short and include interviews with David Attenborough, Dame Judi Dench, Bear Grills, Libby Lane, Michael McIntyre and Annie Lennox. You could read one every day and be inspired!
3. Andrew Roberts – Winston Churchill
I’ve not yet finished this book, as it only came out towards the end of the year and is long – nearly 1,000 pages! But I’m a good way through now and it really is excellent. Well researched, and superbly written, this may well be Robert’s best historical work. It covers all major aspect of Churchill’s life, from childhood to death, praises him for his achievements and remarkable gifts and yet is willing to question and criticise too, where appropriate. This may well become the definitive biography of Churchill.
2. Brené Brown – Dare to Lead
This latest book by Brené Brown is written particularly for leaders. It’s a must-read for anyone leading anything. Brown has spent many years researching courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy and her analysis and conclusions are insightful and challenging. In many ways she’s a modern-day prophet, wanting to see our western culture of shame (ie. ‘not enough’) be transformed by courageous individuals, families, organisations and communities. Leaders play such a crucial role in all this, which is why she’s written this book. I will continue to read everything she writes. I commend her wisdom to every and any leader.
1. The Bible
There is one book, though, that beats all the others to the top spot. It’s the Bible. For some leaders that’s a surprise, as they can’t believe that a religious text written such a long time ago has relevance in today’s supposedly secular culture, but believe me, it does! I continue to read the Bible daily. In fact it’s normally the first word I read and reflect on each morning. It’s the Bible that I want to most shape my thinking and praying, my conversations and emailing, my decision-making and strategising. The Bible. If you’ve never read it, make a start, beginning in one of the four Gospels as you read the stories of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If you’ve read it before and are finding it hard work, why not try a new translation for 2019? If you want something sharp and scholarly, go for the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). If you’d rather have something to stir your heart and emotions, try The Passion (TPT). Discover that Jesus was right when he himself quoted from the Bible, saying that people ‘don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4). Digest the Bible, and find Christ, and be nourished and satisfied. It’s the best book for living life as God intended and the key to excellent leadership.
May this Top 10 inspire you to read widely and lead well in the coming year. Happy New Year 2019!