Best Leadership and Management Books - Feature image

Best Leadership and Management Books (updated 2020)

by Sven Woltmann – October 20, 2020

This article will introduce you – from a freelancer's perspective – some great books on leadership, entrepreneurship, startups, management, and online marketing. I've read all these books and more, and I'm only presenting you with my favorites here.

Why should you, as a programmer, deal with such topics?

  • Entrepreneurship: Do you, at some point, no longer want to work as an employee? But rather self-employed or even as a solopreneur/entrepreneur? Then these books are interesting.
  • Online Marketing: As a software developer, it is vital to be able to market yourself. That's why I'm writing this blog.

Are you more interested in real programming topics? Then have a look at my book recommendations for programmers.

The following link will take you to some of the best books on productivity, personal and career development.

You will also find a list of biographies that you should have read as a programmer.

Books on Entrepreneurship

by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras

Link to the book at Amazon

What distinguishes long-standing, decade-long successful companies such as Coca-Cola, Disney, Walmart from their less successful competitors who were in the market at the same time and under the same conditions and opportunities, and who are also well-known, but only succeeded in phases?

Jim Collins and Jerry Porras spent years of research on this question. In this book, they present their results.

The lastingly successful companies have one thing in common: a core ideology that they preserve over decades, around which they constantly stimulate progress and change.

The core ideology consists of authentic core values which the founders believe and which are rigorously protected, such as innovation, quality, and decency. As well as a purpose, a "guiding star on the horizon – forever pursued but never reached" (David Packard) – such as "bringing happiness to millions of people" or "improving the lives of people around the world".

Progress is driven by "big hairy audacious goals" – BHAGs: goals that inspire and motivate people; goals that are formulated in simple terms and require no explanation, such as "we will bring a man to the moon and safely back to earth before the end of the decade". Employees of successful ventures have absolute confidence in achieving their goals – failure is unimaginable for them. Lasting companies never rest on their accomplishments – once they have reached a goal, they set new ones.

The book is very entertaining, thanks to the many illustrative and lively examples – a recommendation for all interested in lasting success. The findings are not only applicable in professional but also in private life.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, absolutely.

by Jim Collins

Link to the book at Amazon

How can good and mediocre organizations be permanently transformed into those that achieve extraordinary and sustainable results

To answer this question, Jim Collins and his team identified and analyzed eleven companies that initially had average (or below average) results over at least ten years compared to the general stock market – and over the next 15 years, exceeded the average return by at least three times.

This book presents the results of this study.

In essence, great companies have a culture of discipline: disciplined people engaging in disciplined thought and taking disciplined action.

At the heart of this culture are level five leaders characterized by humility, selflessness, motivation, hard work, and willpower – not by a strong ego and constant media presence. They first put together excellent people and then consider what the company will do ("first who then what"). Employees are selected primarily based on character traits such as willingness to take responsibility and perseverance, not professional competence.

Great companies have confidence that they will prevail in the end, but always face the brutal facts of their current reality.

They focus on one product or one service that they are deeply passionate about, that they can be the best in the world, and that customers are willing to pay for ("hedgehog concept") ... instead of diluting their time and passion in a variety of areas.

A great company is not created overnight. Like a flywheel, it continuously builds momentum until it is unstoppable. There is no such thing as the one miraculous moment, the one great breakthrough.

It is fascinating how entertaining the book is written despite its scientific basis. It is filled with numerous examples and anecdotes and opens your eyes to how great things can be achieved, even outside of business.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, absolutely.

by Michael E. Gerber

Link to the book at Amazon

Most companies are made up of "technicians" (bakers, craftsmen, mechanics, lawyers, web designers, programmers, etc.), who are dissatisfied as employees and hope to find happiness in self-employment.

Over 90% of these companies fail. A good cook is not automatically capable of running a restaurant. An excellent lawyer is not necessarily a good partner in a law firm. A good computer tinkerer cannot automatically build a company like Apple or DELL.

On the one hand, a successful business needs not only the technician but also an entrepreneur (that's what the "E" in the title stands for) and a manager.

On the other hand, the company needs a system of processes so that the founder can hand over areas of responsibility and not remain solely responsible forever and ever (which will ultimately be more stressful than the employment relationship from which he wanted to get out).

Thus, one of the book's core statements reads: The founder must not only work in his business – he must work on his business.

The book is easy to understand and entertaining due to numerous practical examples and a (fictitious?) conversation with a self-employed pie baker that runs through the whole book.

A must-read for everyone who wants to start a business and for every entrepreneur who realizes that he is reaching his limits.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.

by Eric Ries

Link to the book at Amazon

"Lean Startup" describes a management approach to bring new products to market faster and more successfully. The term "startup" does not refer to the size or age of a business, but to an organization that creates something new under extremely uncertain conditions.

In traditional development, new products are designed and developed for months or sometimes years to eventually determine that potential customers have no interest in the product.

Lean Startup, on the other hand, is about bringing a rudimentary prototype, a so-called MVP ("Minimal Viable Product"), to market as early as possible. The goal is to receive customer feedback as quickly as possible and – based on this – to improve the product ("Build-Measure-Learn" product cycle).

The book is particularly worth reading because the author does not only explain the lean startup approach. Instead, he vividly reports how he developed it based on his own painful experience.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, absolutely, and the author reads it himself.

by Nathan Furr and Paul Ahlstrom

Link to the book at Amazon

The number of successful businesses, measured by the number of start-ups, is small. Most entrepreneurs fail. But if the probability of success is so low – why do successful entrepreneurs exist who repeatedly manage to be successful and innovative?

The authors have spent years investigating what distinguishes successful from unsuccessful entrepreneurs. They have analyzed recurring patterns, and, with the "Nail It Then Scale It" method, they present a timeless step-by-step process that successful entrepreneurs follow to minimize risks and increase the probability of success.

The method is based on the realization that entrepreneurs do not fail because they cannot build a product. Instead, they fail because they build a product that nobody wants.

Instead of following their instincts, entrepreneurs should proceed scientifically and unemotionally. It is necessary to identify a monetizable pain, i.e., a problem that customers are willing to spend money on. Then they should verify this need, and finally – together with the customers and through early prototypes and feedback – develop a solution. Just like in agile software development.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.

by Clayton M. Christensen, Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon, David S. Duncan

Link to the book at Amazon

Similar to "Nail It Then Scale It," this book deals with how successful innovation can be systematically planned so that customers are willing to pay premium prices for the products and services offered.

However, the focus in this book is not on the product development process itself, but on why customers spend money on specific products and services.

The answer is to be found in the so-called "jobs to be done" theory: customers do not buy products and services; instead, they hire them to do a particular job.

One product can be used for a variety of jobs: a daily newspaper, for example, provides information, covers waiting times, helps people find a job, offers relaxation after work – all tasks for which completely different products can be used today. Likewise, different products can be used for the same job: For relaxation after work, I can hire Netflix, my smartphone, family, and friends.

To succeed with innovation, an entrepreneur must understand what job his product does for the customer. Otherwise, he risks being taken over by a competitor with a product that does the job better.

The book explains the theory and its application in practice with numerous vivid and convincing examples, which makes the book very entertaining and worth reading.

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes.

Books on Online Marketing

by Russell Brunson

Link to the book at Amazon

Russell Brunson polarizes, he's loud, it's exhausting to listen to him, you don't have to like him. But: you have to admit that with ClickFunnels, he has built an online marketing empire worth several hundred million dollars.

In this book, he summarizes his experience of more than a decade and the "secrets" of his success in clear, simply written, understandable instructions that even online marketing beginners can use to multiply their conversion rates.

Brunson describes the concepts of the "value ladder", the "sales funnel", cold, warm and hot traffic, and how to build the appropriate sales funnel for your products on the various stages of the value ladder and for the different traffic temperatures – phase by phase – from building blocks and scripts.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to successfully market their online business or "just" their blog.

You can order the book for free directly from the author; you only have to cover the shipping costs.

Why does the author publish this book for free?

The book is part of his marketing mix: The author expect so many readers to buy more of his products in the future that he will end up making a profit.

Alternatively, you can order the book from Amazon, which comes to approximately the same price as international shipping from the author. If you live in the US, it is cheaper to order the book from the author’s website.

Available as an audiobook? Yes, but I have read the printed book and therefore cannot judge the audiobook.

by Russell Brunson

Link to the book at Amazon

With your knowledge, skills, talents, products, and services, you have a chance to positively influence other peoples' lives. 

This book shows you how to position yourself as an expert, how to market your knowledge, how to convince your customers through storytelling techniques, how to lead them through your "value ladder", and how to ultimately build a base of "fans" who are happy to pay you for your services and advice. 

To this end, the book offers detailed step-by-step instructions, e.g., on how to conduct the "perfect webinar".

The book is written in a simple and understandable way, contains numerous examples, and is a clear recommendation for anyone who wants to market themself (or others) as a personal brand – as an expert.

You can order the book for free directly from the author; you only have to cover the shipping costs.

Why does the author publish this book for free?

The book is part of his marketing mix: The author expect so many readers to buy more of his products in the future that he will end up making a profit.

Alternatively, you can order the book from Amazon, which comes to approximately the same price as international shipping from the author. If you live in the US, it is cheaper to order the book from the author’s website.

Only partially suitable as an audiobook. The printed book contains numerous illustrations, without which it is difficult to follow the audiobook.

by Russell Brunson

Link to the book at Amazon

The first book in the series, "DotCom Secrets", explained basic techniques of online marketing such as the Value Ladder and the Sales Funnel. The second book, "Expert Secrets", explained how you could position yourself as an expert and convince people of your ideas through storytelling. Finally, the third book, "Traffic Secrets", shows you how to get people to find you in the first place.

And not just any people, but "your" people: those interested in your services and could be future customers and eventually your fans.

Most entrepreneurs develop a product and hope that the customers will come by themselves. But that's not how it works. Instead, you have to find out where your potential customers are (where they are currently generating traffic) and get their attention there, pull them into your Sales Funnels (see part 1) and tell them a story that will inspire them (see part 2).

This third part completes the series. It is easy to read like the other parts and contains numerous step-by-step instructions. I recommend it to every reader of the first two books.

You can order the book for free directly from the author; you only have to cover the shipping costs.

Why does the author publish this book for free?

The book is part of his marketing mix: The author expect so many readers to buy more of his products in the future that he will end up making a profit.

Alternatively, you can order the book from Amazon, which comes to approximately the same price as international shipping from the author. If you live in the US, it is cheaper to order the book from the author’s website.

Suitable as an audiobook? Like its predecessor, only to a limited extent, as numerous illustrations are enclosed as a PDF file.

by Donald Miller

Link to the book at Amazon

Are you self-employed or a founder? Do you often find yourself in the situation of having to describe your product or service in one sentence? Then this book is just right for you!

The StoryBrand framework presented in this book helps you to attract the attention of your customers and to communicate the advantages of your products in a clear, convincing, and comprehensible way.

Nothing makes people listen better than a great story. That's why you position yourself as the guide who accompanies the hero (the customer) on his journey to success. Exactly like in a good story or a Hollywood blockbuster.

The book is well structured, very practical, and presents the analogy to the hero's journey in an appealing using various examples. You can start right away to apply the framework to your product.

Therefore: a definite recommendation for every freelancer and entrepreneur – and those who want to become one!

Suitable as an audiobook? Yes, and the author reads it himself.

by Jim Edwards

Link to the book at Amazon

You can have the best online product in the world – you won't sell it without marketing. An essential part of marketing is copywriting. With the right copywriting, you can increase your sales many times over.

The ability to write good copy is not born, you can learn it. This book shows how to do this using recurring and memorable patterns, formulas, and text modules.

Good writing is not only essential for copy – you can also apply what you learn to other texts such as blog posts and tutorials. With the right headings, you get readers to click on your articles; with well-written texts, you make your articles enjoyable and invite your readers to stay on your website.

After reading this book, I reread some of my articles and thought: What have I written? Who should click on that? Or: Nobody can understand that! Or: That's just boring!

You can order the book for free directly from the author; you only have to cover the shipping costs.

Why does the author publish this book for free?

The book is part of his marketing mix: The author expect so many readers to buy more of his products in the future that he will end up making a profit.

Alternatively, you can order the book from Amazon, which comes to approximately the same price as international shipping from the author. If you live in the US, it is cheaper to order the book from the author’s website.

Not available as an audiobook.

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About the author

I'm a freelance software developer with more than two decades of experience in scalable Java enterprise applications. My focus is on optimizing complex algorithms and on advanced topics such as concurrency, the Java memory model, and garbage collection. Here on HappyCoders.eu, I want to help you become a better Java programmer. Read more about me here.

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