3 Books You Need To Read If You’re a Team Leader (That You’ve Never Heard of)

Business.com / Managing / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Great managers and team leaders never stop learning. Here are three highly recommended leadership books that you may not have heard of.

If you’re serious about progressing as a team leader or manager, you’ve probably read dozens of books on personal development, communication, and leadership.

Whether it’s Stephen Covey, John C. Maxwell or Peter Drucker, there are hundreds of great books out there that can help level up your leadership and team management.

The leadership development genre is a crowded one and it can be difficult to sift through to find what’s worth reading. If you’re a team leader looking for something new to add to your bookshelf, here are three books you’ve never heard of that you need to read.

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1. "A Team of Leaders: Empowering Every Member to Take Ownership, Demonstrate Initiative, and Deliver Results" by Paul Gustavson and Stewart Liff

“Once your team truly becomes self-managing, you can expect to deliver improved performance. Moreover, individual results within your team will also get better because people will find the challenge of learning new kinds of management tasks to be very rewarding. Finally, as each team member's role evolves and as your team members become more engaged, possess wider and deeper skills, and start being proactive, they will change from being merely doers to becoming energetic leaders.”

This little-known yet highly praised book is a great guide for leaders who are looking to empower their team. With many years of experience in organizational and people management between them, Paul Gustavson and Stewart Liff have created a system to develop a culture of leaders. By encouraging team members to step up and increasing employee engagement, an ideal team dynamic is built one where everyone takes on leadership tasks.

Book cover: A Team of Leaders

In this book, you will be introduced to their five stages of team development which lead to the creation of a "team of leaders". During this process, leaders and managers empower their team members to step up, take initiative and take on leadership tasks. Once the team has reached the fifth stage, the team becomes self-leading and this frees up the leader or manager to do more strategic, high-value work. You’ll also learn practical how-to information on how to apply the model in your workplace and create your own team of leaders.  

This approach of developing leaders can be especially pertinent with millennial employees who feel that their leadership skills are not being sufficiently cultivated. Giving them more ownership and increasing their responsibilities in the workplace is one way to manage millennials and get them more engaged.  

The desired outcome? As Gustavson told me in an interview: “What I’ve found is that when the team takes on more leadership tasks, it moves them from a dependency, depending on one person to do things, to more of an engagement, ownership and commitment stage.”

2. "Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life" by James Kerr

“Performance = Capability + Behavior. Leaders create the right environment for the right behaviors to occur. That’s their primary role… Leaders design and create an environment which drives the high-performance behaviors needed for success. The really clever teams build a culture that drives the behaviors they need.”

If you want to learn about the power of teamwork, learn from one of the best teams. In "Legacy", James Kerr examines the factors behind the enduring success of the All Blacks, the New Zealand rugby team. With the highs and lows of the team as the backdrop, Kerr shares how the All Blacks created a winning team culture that has propelled them into legendary status.

Book cover: Legacy

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Character is the key factor in building a strong team. The All Blacks believe that “better people make better All Blacks” and that creating an environment that encourages desired behaviors would have their players living up to those expectations. They also believe in writing down their group norms in a document called The Black Book. This book outlines the tenets which each team member must live up to.

The main takeaway from the book is the importance of viewing team management as a long-term strategy that includes the creation of a team culture.  While there are many books providing short-term solutions to better manage a team, "Legacy" shows how a long-term view of team management can lead to sustained success.

Peppered with quotes and insights from those within the All Blacks organization and other leadership greats, this book is an engrossing read regardless of whether you’re a sports fan or not.

3. "The Optimistic Workplace: Creating an Environment That Energizes Everyone" by Shawn Murphy

“When people feel that the work environment is safe, optimistic, and yes, joyful, they are more likely to contribute their best. Quite simply it feels good when you’re doing your best work. As it turns out, joy isn’t just about finding happiness, but also about playing; play at work is useful when creativity and innovation are needed. The usefulness of creativity and innovation to the workplace is linked to increasing employees’ knowledge and skills.”

For Shawn Murphy, the human side of business is the most important. In "The Optimistic Workplace", he outlines how creating a positive work environment can have a huge impact on employee engagement. What’s more, he believes that a manager or leader can make changes within his or her own sphere of influence to improve team performance.

One key takeaway from the book is the difference between culture and climate: “how an organization, good or bad, goes about their work” versus “how it feels to work at an organization while the work is getting done”.

Typically, company culture is something that the average manager may not have influence over. However, Murphy posits that leaders and managers have control over the climate that their team is operating in, and it is in this area that they can effect change. Changing climate is easier than changing culture, and often building a more positive climate make a world of difference for your team.

Book cover: The Optimistic Workplace

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Happy employees are said to be more productive, so making the office a happier place can improve team performance. To help you get started, the book includes 30-day plans to help you put these concepts into action.

"The Optimistic Workplace" empowers managers of all levels to create more positivity within their teams and highlights how increasing employee engagement can lead to a competitive advantage. This people-centric view of leadership can help you transform your team into one that is highly motivated, engaged and performing at their best. 

Managing people and teams can be challenging but rewarding. To become a better leader, equip yourself with the tools and knowledge you need with the help of experts and learning what works for successful teams. Whether it’s the well-loved classics or relatively new theories on people management, leadership development books are an excellent source for strategies and tactics on how to get the best out of your team.

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