I love reading biographies from high profile people to try and learn leadership lessons. I read about successful business people, politicians, football managers, explorers, journalists and ministry leaders, all to pick up leadership lessons. Here are the top five leadership biographies I’ve learned most from, and recommend to you:
- Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. This is the authorised and standard biography of Jobs, though other biographies since his death in 2011 are now starting to come out. Jobs is credited with being one of the most creative and brilliant entrepreneurs of his generation, who transformed personal computer, mobile phone, music and desktop publishing industries through his products. The book reveals a creative genius with a ferocious attention to detail, but also a ferocious temper that can only tolerate other ‘geniuses.’
- Scott & Amundsen by Roland Huntsford. The first book I read in 2016. I’ve already written about my major takeaways from the book here. Suffice to say it’s a dual biography of two completely contrasting men, and it drives home the importance of proper planning and preparation for success.
- Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela. Mandela’s autobiography is a fascinating study in political leadership, and the techniques of communication, vision and strategy that come with this territory. I can’t always agree with his strategies, but I am always challenged by his commitment to equality, and his willingness to pioneer where others would hang back.
- Churchill by Roy Jenkins. A biography on the great Prime Minister, who had already led such a full and eventful life by the time he took on the responsibility of leading Britain during her darkest hour in 1940. Churchill shows us the great energy and proactivity that great leaders have.
- Leadership by Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani was mayor of New York City during the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath. His story of providing leadership for the city during those days contains his thoughts on areas like managing expectations, and managing high performance teams through effective use of meetings.
I’ve also still got a big stack of further leadership biographies that have been recommended to me. The first two of these are specific books, the remaining four are people whose lives I’ve been recommended to study. If you have good suggestions on specific biographies to read on them then do let me know.
- Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Revivals: A biography of Abraham Lincoln that tells how to bring a group of former rivals together into a united team.
- Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc: The autobiography of one of the key figures within Pixar has great tips on how to manage a group of highly creative individuals.
- Warren Buffet: To learn how to delegate the running of a series of highly successful projects or businesses.
- JFK: To learn how to make good decisions in a crisis situation, and with only limited information.
- Vince Lombardi: To learn how to coach teams towards excellence.
- John Wooden: Similar to Lombardi on coaching teams, but with the addition of being able to do this for a much longer period of time.
So these are the leadership biographies I’ve been most affected by, or that I still most want to read. What’s your list?
Mark Williamson works as a director of One Rock. He’s an experienced leadership trainer, author of biographies on John Wesley and William Wilberforce, and is also passionate about praying for London. He enjoys good films, good food, and going for long walks with his wife Joanna. You can follow him on Twitter @markonerock.