Takeaways From Five Leadership Books That Won’t Waste Your Time

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I’ve read a ton of books on management and leadership. I have even more on my ever growing “to read” list which I know I’ll never get through… does anyone?!

I truly believe that reading books and learning from the experience of others is one of the most valuable uses of your time. The thing is, it does take time and it’s never a good feeling when you invest time into a book and feel like you haven’t really gotten much value.

With each book that I read, I make a bunch of notes and then write up the notes that I find more impactful in my day-to-day role as a manager.

Today, I’m sharing my notes from five leadership books that I’ve found valuable over the years. If you like the sound of the notes, you can click through to the book itself and take a closer look at purchasing it.

The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

This is a refreshingly honest read from Ben Horowitz in which he shares a bunch of the not-so-good parts of running a company and being a leader. It also includes lots of great tips for leaders, including:

1. As you grow, communication is more important and communication is more efficient when the team trusts you.

A larger team means more variables for communication to go wrong, along with more room for (mis)interpretation of what you communicate. Building trust can offset some of these issues.

2. A healthy company culture encourages people to share bad news. 

Don’t discourage bad news. Instead, welcome it and be grateful for it – “Well, at least we know about this thing now and we can work on fixing it.”

3. There are only two things for a manager to improve the output of an employee:

  • Motivation
  • Training

Motivation, combined with training can improve almost everything when it comes to the outputs of your team. Focus on getting them right. 

4. A tip from Andy Grove.

Anything that you measure will automatically create a set of employee behaviours.

Take care when setting goals, targets, bonuses etc. All of them will drive behaviours and we’re all human – we behave in unexpected ways sometimes!

5. Inspiration for team 121 questions:

  • What’s our number one priority?
  • What’s not fun about working here?
  • Who is kicking ass here?
  • Who do you admire?

If you’re unsure where to start with 121s with your team, try these. 

6. Advice on giving feedback:

  • Be authentic
  • Don’t get personal
  • Criticise in private
  • Everyone is different
  • Be clear

Giving feedback can be hard. Keep these principles in mind and use them consistently, and you’ll make the delivery of feedback far easier.

Find the book here

Turn the Ship Around by David Marquet

1. You can buy a person’s back with pay, promotion and fear. But genius, passion, loyalty and creativity are volunteered.  

2. Definition of leadership: communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves. 

3. In a top-down hierarchy, subordinates don’t need to be thinking ahead because the boss will make a decision when needed. 

4. Taking care of people does not mean protecting them from consequences of their own behaviour, this is the path to irresponsibility.  

5. Your people need:

  • Competence
  • Clarity

Empowerment doesn’t work without these. 

6. Encourage your team to come to you with what they intend to do, so that you can just say yes or no. Empower them with the trust and information they need to be able to do this.

Find the book here.

Now, Discover your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham

1. Most organisations are built on two flawed assumptions about people:

  1. Each person can learn to be competent in almost anything
  2. Each person’s greatest room for growth is their greatest area of weakness

Roles should be given that are carved from strengths.

A strength is a consistent, near perfect performance of an activity.  You must also derive some satisfaction from the activity. 

You will only excel by maximising your strengths, never by fixing your weaknesses.

2. Three things combine to create strengths:

Talents: Naturally recurring patterns of thoughts, feelings or behaviours that can be productively applied.


  • Inquisitive
  • Competitive
  • Charming
  • Persistent
  • Responsible

They feel so natural to someone that they appear to be common sense.

Knowledge: Facts and lessons learned

Skills: Steps of an activity

Skills determine if you can do something, talent reveals how well and how often you can do it e.g. golf.

Skills can’t make up for a lack of talent.

Skills are most valuable when combined with talent.

Find a strength by identifying dominant talents and refining them with knowledge and skills.

4. Focus on your strengths and manage your weaknesses by:

  • Knowing what a weakness is
  • Anything that gets in the way of excellent performance
  • Is it a skill, knowledge, or talent weakness?

Strategies to manage weaknesses:

  • Get just a little better
  • Design a support system
  • Use a strength to overwhelm a weakness
  • Find a partner
  • Stop doing it

You can read about these in more detail in this previous edition of the newsletter.

Find the book here.

Ride of a lifetime by Bob Iger

1. Principles of Leadership 

  • Optimism
  • Courage
  • Focus
  • Decisiveness
  • Curiosity
  • Fairness
  • Thoughtfulness
  • Authenticity
  • Relentless pursuit of perfection
  • Integrity

2. Own your own failures. 

You earn as much respect and goodwill by standing by someone in the wake of a failure as you do by giving them credit for success. 

3. Be aware of the effect of pessimism

You can’t communicate your pessimism (even if valid) to people around you. Pessimism saps energy and inspiration. Decisions get made from a protective, defensive posture. 

Pessimism > Paranoia > Defensiveness > Risk aversion.

People you lead need to feel confident in your ability to focus on what matters, not to operate from a position of defensiveness or self preservation. 

It’s not about saying things are good when they’re not. It’s about believing that you and your people can steer toward the best outcome. 

4. Company culture is shaped by conveying priorities clearly and repeatedly. 

It’s easy as leaders to send signals that their schedules are too full to be dealing with individual problems. But being present for people and available is important for morale and effectiveness. 

5. True integrity

True integrity is the sense of knowing who you are and being guided by your own sense of right and wrong. This is the leadership secret weapon.

6. Managing creatives

Managing creativity is an art, not a science. When giving notes, be mindful of how much of themselves the person you’re speaking to has poured into the product and how much is at stake for them (feedback). 

Find the book here.

Trillion Dollar Coach by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle 

1. Mentors vs. coaches

Mentor: words of wisdom.

Coach: rolls sleeves up and gets hands dirty. They get in the arena and make us realise our potential. They hold up a mirror so that we can see our blindspots. 

Treat teams, not individuals as the building blocks of an organisation. 

Great managers make people feel valued when they are in a room. They listen and pay attention..

If you’re a great manager, your people will make you a leader – Bill Campbell.

2. Meetings as tools for managers

Managers need to get staff meetings and 121s right. Meetings are important tools for managers. Meetings should be a forum for the most important issues and opportunities. Use them to get people on the same page, get to the right debate and make decisions.

3. Bill Campbell framework for 121s

Performance of job requirements: could be sales figures, delivery, budget etc.

Relationship with peer groups: critical for company integration and cohesiveness


Are you guiding and coaching your people

Are you weeding out the bad ones?

Are you able to get your people to do heroic things?

Innovation (best practices):

Are you constantly moving ahead? Making us better?

Are you constantly evaluating new tech and priorities?

Do you measure yourself against the industry best?

4. Eric Schmidt’s rule of two

If his team were confronted with a challenging decision, get two people close to the decision to gather more information and work together on the best solution. Come back a week or two later. Team almost always agreed with the recommendation. This empowers the two people. 

5. The most important currency in any relationship is trust

Trust is the willingness to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations about another’s behaviour. People feel safe to be vulnerable.

Trust means:

  • You keep your word
  • Loyalty
  • Integrity
  • Discretion

“A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you have always known you could be” – Tom Landry, Dallas Cowboys coach.

Handling team and company politics 

Beat the politics out of the situation by bringing up the problem clearly, then forcing everyone to focus on it.

Find the book here.

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