VIDEO: Where Leadership Books Fail

If you search for Leadership Books on Amazon, you get over 105,000 results.  Clearly there is no shortage of interest in the topic and no shortage of experts trying to fill that demand in exchange for your $29.95.  With all this available knowledge, why are we still falling short when it comes to developing leaders?

Where Leadership Books Fail

Leadership is open to interpretation.

Asking 10 people to define leadership will result in 10 different responses.   Leadership is different things to different people on different days.   You need to understand and focus on specifically what you need to be a better leader.  Whether that is communication, empathy, or whatever else, being a better leader requires different strategies for each of us.  Typical leadership books need to appeal to a broad audience which makes it very difficult to be actually useful for anyone.

Leadership is not a buzzword.

Words like authenticity sell books, workshops and entire leadership philosophies.  However, 8 minute abs – albeit with 3 words –sold a tonne of videos with a promise that was never realized.   Leadership simply cannot be summed up in a single word or 287 pages.  Too often leadership books sell us on buzzwords, rigid philosophies or the flavor of the day instead of practical steps for building better leadership.

We only have ourselves to blame for this one as I would be a very rich man if I had a dollar for every Linkedin discussion that asked, “Define Leadership in one word” and a nickel for every response.

Lack of Actionable Advice

I think what many people are looking for when they purchase a leadership book is a step by step instruction manual for building leadership skills.  What they get are long winded motivational monologues that at best get the reader excited about developing themselves – for at least a few days – and at worst leave them tired and confused.  My biggest beef with most leadership books is the lack of practical “tasks” to get the reader started on their journey.

The Rest of the Story

Make no mistake; top leadership authors have decades of experience in the leadership industry along with thousands of satisfied clients.  However, I always feel that I am only getting part of the story when reading their books; just enough information to keep me coming back for the second edition, for the workshops, and the consulting.  Is it fair to expect the whole story for $29.95?  Maybe not.  But, some books resemble more of the extended remix of a marketing white paper than something of actual value.

How to Spot a Great Leadership Book

Read The Authors Blog

This is a great way to evaluate their writing style and what they have to say.  Is there at least one piece of useful information in every post, or is it full of hot air.  If the author can’t fill a blog post with meaningful content, imagine the difficulty with an entire book.

Ignore the Ratings

When looking at ratings (and comments on Amazon), ignore the extreme ends of the rating scale.  The comments for 3 & 4 stars (on Amazons 5 point scale) tend to be the most balanced and useful in deciding which book to buy.  People that actually take the time to write reviews are already a small subset and the raters at the ends of the scale either love or hate everything.

Cheat Notes

Soundview Executive Book Summaries are an excellent way to access the knowledge of many leadership books and only require you to read 10-12 pages.  The subscription cost is equivalent to 3 or 4 books, but will save you an incredible amount of time over reading an entire book.  Many leadership books only contain 10-12 pages of meaningful information, so you will not miss out on anything.

Case Studies

A quick look at the table of contents will help you identify if the book includes actual case studies.  There is a large correlation between the number of case studies – and the pages dedicated to each – and the quality of the book.  Note that even the case studies will not give you the full picture.  However, knowing the companies and having some background allows you to reach out to colleagues and get the rest of the story.


Ignore general leadership books and instead look for books with a specific focus that aligns with what skills you need to be a better leader.  Do you struggle with negotiation or conflict management?  Spend your money on books with on those topics.  The more targeted topic allows the author to focus their energy on a very specific need which results in information that is relevant and actionable.

Make It Happen

If a particular leadership book has jumpstarted your commitment to leadership development, then you have received excellent value for your dollar.  My point is that leadership books are just that; a starting point.  They do not take the place of focused effort.

If you are truly committed to becoming a better leader, stop reading about it and start acting upon it.  Develop some self-awareness around your strengths and weaknesses, prioritize and focus your development, look for meaningful learning opportunities, and get something done.

Until next time, I would love to hear from you about the best and worst leadership books you have read and why.

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