The 5 Most Important Leadership Books of 2015

by Jesse Lahey on December 29, 2015

Jump-start your new year with the past year’s best thinking

Stack of open books on the desk in the library
So many books, so little time. If you’re like me, the number of appealing books published every year is overwhelming. These are the five books from this past year that I believe are the most important for leaders — with ideas and principles that will help take your team to the next level in 2016.



Primed to Perform

Subtitle: How to Build the Highest Performing Cultures Through the Science of Total Motivation

Authors: Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi [interview scheduled 1/15/16]

Big Idea: Why people work determines how well they work. It’s a damaging myth that indirect motivators like pay, incentives, and perks will positively shape organizational culture. Instead, successful organizations inspire the three most powerful motives for work — play (enjoying the work itself), purpose (valuing its impact on others), and potential (believing it moves you toward your personal goals).

Why It Matters: Leaders now have a holistic model for measuring and shaping culture — a framework, language, and metric that has been statistically proven to predict and drive long-term business success.



Getting Things Done (GTD) — 2015 Edition

Subtitle: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

Author: David Allen [see interview]

Big Idea: The brain is for having ideas, not for holding onto ideas. For greater focus and creativity, you and your team need to get stuff out of your heads, into a reliable system.

Why It Matters: GTD is a flexible system for organizing time, information, and projects in a way that allows you and your team to continually adapt based on the needs and priorities of the given moment. That’s crucial in today’s rapidly changing business environment.



Return on Character

Subtitle: The Real Reason Leaders and Their Companies Win

Author: Fred Kiel [see interview]

Big Idea: Virtue is its own reward, but that’s not all. Practicing integrity, compassion, forgiveness, and responsibility is also smart business.

Why It Matters: Leaders with a reputation for moral character consistently deliver nearly five times greater profits, plus 26% higher employee engagement and reduced risk.




Subtitle: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World

Author: Brian Robertson [see interview]

Big Idea: Companies and nonprofits need a new “operating system” to continuously evolve and delegate authority to the optimal levels of the organization, engaging the entire workforce as decision-makers.

Why It Matters: Today’s business environment is so complex, and changes so rapidly, that organizations can no longer rely only on formal leaders to acquire information, predict the future, and cascade decisions to the rest of the organization.



Are You Fully Charged?

Subtitle: The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life

Author: Tom Rath [see interview]

Big Idea: For long-term health and success, energy is a more effective personal goal than metrics such as weight or achievement. Choose work, activities, and foods that give you a high level of energy throughout each day.

Why It Matters: When you and your team are fully energized, you are sharper, more creative, and more productive — and you’re more enjoyable to be around.


Jesse Lahey, SPHR, is the host of the podcasts Engaging Leader and Workforce Health Engagement, and he is CEO (chief engagement officer) of Aspendale Communications. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. If you know anyone who would benefit from this information, please share it!


  • Nicely done. Thank you. I’ve read (listened to, actually) Holacracy earlier this year. It is as advertised.

    • Jim, thanks for your comment. I actually listed to Holacracy on Audible as well; though I eventually decided to get the Kindle version too for ongoing reference. This seemed like one time when the author’s own narration really added to the experience — Brian’s personable voice made the stories and humor come alive more.

      • Agreed. I’m looking forward to “reading” it again.

  • Deborah Starling

    Thanks for sharing this list. I think 2015 was a really good year for business and leadership books! I have added a few of these to my TBR pile :) The book I found most helpful (and inspirational) was “Leading For Results” by leadership development expert and author Joan Bragar ( I liked it because it has 5 practices that can be used professionally and in your personal life. It’s a book that makes you feel like you’re a part of a workshop or your very own leadership course. At the end of each chapter there are exercises for you to perform and apply to your own leadership scenario. I also liked the book because it’s for people who want to make a difference in the world; not just get rich and step all over the little guy. I think it’s a must read for sure. Thanks again and happy 2016!

    • Deborah, thank you — I’ll check out “Leading For Results.”

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