If you’ve been eying a corporate leadership position or if you’re in an executive role now, you know how complex the work can be. There’s a reason people at this level gobble up relevant books and podcasts: Smart leaders know they need input from a variety of sources to stay on track, both for themselves and for their organizations.
If you’re planning your next read, one of these books might be just what you’re looking for.
Head & Heart: The art of modern leadership, by Kirstin Ferguson, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2023, $22.95. As an executive herself, and a former Air Force officer (in her native Australia), Ferguson describes modern leadership as a balance between head and heart. Accordingly, she provides four key attributes of the modern leader for each category. Then she further redefines leadership by assigning the principles to anyone, at any level who acts as a leader. As she explains, leadership is a series of moments, not a position of authority.
While Ferguson’s argument is compelling, U.S. readers might also appreciate the fresh perspective offered by an author whose examples range from the Pacific Rim where she is based, all the way to North America.
The Unlocked Leader, by Hortense Le Gentil, with Caroline Lambert, Wiley, 2024, $30. Can you finish this sentence? “One in five CEOs…” Gold stars (and a look of surprise) if you guessed “…now seek therapy.” By supplying this data in the first paragraph, Le Gentil sets the tone for what follows. Hers is a refreshing and frequently surprising look at issues that can limit the success of leaders — and everyone else, for that matter. Included in that list are what she calls mindsets that turn into “mindtraps,” as well as trauma, and even inherited trauma.
Le Gentil builds the case for these obstacles and their impact, then switches gears to shifting mindsets (“mindshifting”) and redefining oneself in terms of an empowered approach to leadership (“mindbuilding”). This is a quick read that’s likely to stay with you.
All Pride, No Ego: A queer executive’s journey to living and leading authentically, by Jim Fielding, Wiley, 2023, $28. As a baby boomer who knew that he was gay since he was six, Fielding describes always feeling excluded, different and “less than” his peers. When he could no longer tolerate living a double life, Fielding sought roles where he could be himself, culminating in top positions at places like Dreamworks and Disney Stores Worldwide.
In All Pride, Fielding demonstrates why the personal can’t be separated from the professional, and how the professional is enhanced and even directed by the personal. As he says, “There are not a lot stories or books about Queer Leadership.” He also notes that his “leadership style and philosophy are unique and represent an important perspective and voice that is lacking in this genre.” Agreed. This book provides that voice while also presenting leadership counsel that can be appreciated at any level.
To the Top: How women in corporate leadership are rewriting the rules for success, by Jenna C. Fisher, Wiley, 2023, $28. By now there have been dozens, perhaps hundreds of leadership books written by and for women, and each no doubt contains at least a handful of valuable insights. This book joins the genre, but with a most welcome modern twist. In To the Top, Fisher embraces multiple aspects of today’s workplace, including remote and hybrid schedules, and presents strategies to help women leverage the same in their climb to the top.
Fisher’s advice spans topics ranging from pay raises to finding board roles, always from the perspective of rewriting the rules that have shut women out in the past. For women in the corporate world, this book is a good refresher on some standard advice but also a refreshing take on standard practices that are beginning to crumble.
Dream Big and Win: Translating passion into purpose and creating a billion-dollar business, by Liz Elting, Wiley, 2024, $28. Last but not least in this roundup of leadership books for executives: A title about creating your own executive role. It’s not exactly the fast track, but the rewards can be out-sized. As the co-founder of a translation company that generated $1.16 billion in revenues last year (yes, that was a “B”), Elting has secured No. 71 on Forbes’ 2023 list of Self-Made Women. It hasn’t been all roses and honey, however — as witnessed by the fact that Elting had to sell her share of TransPerfect after a bitter lawsuit with her ex-partner. This is a fast and fun read about building, leading, losing and recouping, all within your own executive suite.
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Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.