The 10 Fundamental Books to Boost Your IT Leadership Skills

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UPDATE 9/28/2016: This post has been updated with new books about IT leadership and additional information since the original version went live. There are now 10 books as opposed to the original seven, and I’ve updated several descriptions to better reflect their content.

If there’s anything truly terrifying, it’s the prospect of leading someone.

IT leadership

I understand.

Even back in high school when I was the team lead for a group assignment, I felt immense pressure.

Is everyone doing their part? Is everyone working well together? Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?

I can’t be the only one.

So imagine leading a team presentation in front of your team. Your boss. Your entire company.

It’s horrifying. Even more so if communication isn’t your strong suit. But as an IT professional, communication is essential to becoming an excellent leader, whether of a small tech team or a sprawling IT department.

Still, the problem with leadership is it’s one of those things you can’t really measure. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn it.

Now, before we get down to the nitty gritty, I’m going to talk about books, and in particular how they relate to this whole IT leadership shebang.

According to LifeHack, books have the ability to provide mental stimulation, stronger analytical thinking skills, improved focus and concentration, as well as knowledge. All things needed to be a strong leader.

So when you add books about leadership to the mix, it can be pretty powerful.

Because aside from increasing your emotional intelligence, leadership books help you navigate this brave new world so when you do have to manage your own super IT team, you’ll be ready.

But where do you find not only good leadership books, but ones that cut the fluff and give you practical tips and insight?

I’ve got you.

Below, I’ll lay out the ten fundamental books for you to brush up on your emotional intelligence and IT leadership skills.

Each was chosen based on their practical approach to leadership strategies.

1. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

IT leadership

Capterra CEO Mike Ortner is big on the Classics and the importance of things like Latin. With this pick, it’s easy to see why.

Divided into 12 books, Meditations has remained one of the most influential leadership texts of all time, demonstrating the universality of leadership challenges and experiences.

Talk about timelessness.

Because apart from touching on Aurelius’ adherence to Stoicism, this Roman Emperor also explores how to handle adversity and interactions with others, all packaged within a plain and straightforward style presented with clarity and accessibility.

This book is just one of the examples of how ancient Roman wisdom is surprisingly modern and continues to be applicable.

This edition, translated by Gregory Hays, “vividly conveys the spareness and compression of the original Greek text….in fresh and unencumbered English.”

In other words, it’s a great pick for leaders who value directness and simplicity.

2. The Road to Character by David Brooks

IT leadership

Leadership is deeply personal. Sure, there are skills you can acquire over time, but leadership still involves intensely individual philosophies and principles.

David Brooks understands this in The Road to Character, where he discusses the notion of the “Big Me,” and how an emphasis just on “resume virtues,” like wealth and status, can tilt the scales and lead us to live unfulfilling, unrealized lives.

Rather, he asserts, we should balance our “resume virtues” with “eulogy virtues,” or those personal qualities that are at the core of our being, like kindness, honesty, and courage.

This is crucial for leaders and would-be leaders, because a lack of emotional intelligence doesn’t just hurt you, it affects the people on your team as well.

According to a study by Pearson and Porath, in workplaces with a low EQ offender more than 75% reporting feeling less committed to their job. Two-thirds even reported a decline in their performance because of a tense work environment as a result of a leader with low emotional intelligence. 12% eventually left the workplace altogether.

Big numbers for such a preventable problem.

If you want to know more about the balance between resume and eulogy virtues, check out Brooks’ TED Talk here.

3. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

IT leadership

If you haven’t already, you need to jump aboard the Brené Brown train. Not only has she been featured on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, but she’s also a TED Talk favorite, and y’all know how I feel about TED Talks.

In Daring Greatly, Brown suggests something that is sure to make many techie hearts quiver in mortal terror. Because the key to leadership, according to Brown, isn’t charisma, power posing, or being stern, but vulnerability.

You heard me right. Vulnerability.

Why is that word so frightening? Let’s take a look at its definition, according to Dictionary.com:

  1. Capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon:
    1. A vulnerable part of the body.
  2. Open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc.:
    1. An argument vulnerable to refutation; He is vulnerable to bribery.
  3. (of a place) Open to assault; difficult to defend:
    1. A vulnerable bridge.

You’re right. That is concerning.

But contrary to popular belief, vulnerability isn’t a sign of weakness. Rather, David K. Williams of Forbes says, it’s “one of our most accurate measures of courage.”

Vulnerability doesn’t mean letting it all hang out or being a hot mess. It’s about being able to openly admit your mistakes and being able to ask and receive help from others. It’s about accountability and responsibility, and a willingness to be honest with your team members.

It’s the foundation of trust. And without trust, you can’t expect to build a successful team.

4. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

IT leadership

Leadership can be hard, especially if you’re naturally an introvert. It’s easy to be upset with yourself, wondering how you could’ve worded something differently or spoken with a more authoritative voice.

But introverts have a lot more power than you might think.

In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking author Susan Cain takes you on a tour of some of the most powerful introverts and how society’s habit of devaluing introverts leads to major disadvantages.

Think about it: What’s something many leaders you know do too much of?

How about talking instead of listening?

“If you’re not the center of attention in a social situation, you have the freedom to observe people more closely,” says HubSpot VP of Marketing Meghan Keaney. “You can better assess a room, understand what motivates each person within it and what holds them back. Much of this comes down to a receptiveness for subtleties.”

So if you’re more of an introvert yourself and need a boost of confidence, this is a great book that proves you can still be a great (and quiet) leader of your IT department.

5. Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy

IT leadership

Remember what I mentioned above about power posing? Know the woman behind that concept?

Amy Cuddy’s 2015 release follows her 2012 TED Talk and explains the science behind how our body language shapes our self-confidence, self-esteem, and leadership capabilities.

Not convinced?

In the experiment that led to her findings she discovered, “high-power posers showed a nearly 20% increase in testosterone (the dominance hormone) and a 25% decrease in cortisol (the stress hormone).”

In other words, Cuddy states, “These two-minute changes (in body stance) lead to hormonal changes that can configure your brain to be either assertive, confident and comfortable, or really stress reactive and feeling shut down.”

Her book is a great read, particularly if you’re glossophobic and looking for some practical tips to build up your self-confidence for an important presentation.

6. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

IT leadership

Here at Capterra, this book is standard for any new employee. But I’m sure you’re wondering, what does a success mindset have to do with leadership?

Everything.

As a leader, you do more than just organize and direct your team members. You’re also a source of encouragement and support. You have the ability to help each of your employees tap into their potential, something that can transform both that teammate as well as your entire team.

Potential is important because IT is constantly evolving and needs professionals that can develop and grow along with it. The difficulty lies in being able to help that employee tap into their potential.

That’s where you come in.

With Carol Dweck’s book, expect to learn how to change your fixed mindset into a growth mindset, where you can constantly learn and evolve, giving you the ability to tackle new problems and come up with innovative solutions.

It’s solid advice that you can pass on to your employees to create an entire growth mindset team.

7. Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

IT leadership

Daniel Goleman is known for popularizing the term emotional intelligence and has become the go-to expert on why EQ is just as important, if not more important, than IQ.

In this book, Goleman delves into the importance of soft skills in business and leadership, stating that “actions of the leader apparently account for up to 70% of employees’ perception of the climate of their organization,” an important stat considering that employees often leave because of poor managers.

Emotional intelligence, then, offers more than just a human dimension to the workplace. It’s integral to retaining employees as well as making them feel valued and appreciated. Not to mention, happy employees are also more productive.  

8. Developing the Leader Within You by John C. Maxwell

IT leadership

Not everyone is a born leader.

I’m not, and I’m guessing you don’t feel like you are either, especially since you’re reading this post. But no worries. Leadership can always be learned.

In his runaway hit, John C. Maxwell touches on a variety of leadership styles with insight into how leaders can inspire, motivate, and influence those around them.

“Link them up with desire and nothing can keep you from becoming a leader,” Maxwell tells readers. “This book will supply the leadership principles. You must supply the desire.”

Written with engaging anecdotes and presented in an accessible format, readers can expect a simple and straight-forward approach that’s trained an impressive six million leaders around the world.

Apparently, “[e]ven the table of contents reads like a motivational poster.”

9. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni

IT leadership

I remember during my follow-up interview with Capterra, Ryan Yeoman asked me about my background in creative writing, which I studied in college.

“What type of creative writing do you think is most effective?” he asked, and I already knew the answer.

Fiction. Easy.

You see, the best thing about fiction is that it’s instantaneously immersible. A story has the capacity to take a reader on a journey and enable them to live out another life through clusters of sentences.

It’s pretty powerful, which is probably why reading offers a variety of benefits, including the ability to foster open-mindedness.

In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, Patrick Lencioni invokes this power and takes the reader through the fictional story of Decision Tech CEO Kathryn Petersen as she navigates the five dysfunctions that can sabotage even the best of teams.

But Lencioni doesn’t stop with his story.

Through this refreshing leadership text, he also provides practical solutions and advice for solving these problems, enabling you to become both an insightful and courageous leader.  

10. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek

IT leadership

There are many that believe you have to put yourself first in order to better serve your team. But for Simon Sinek, that’s actually counterintuitive.

In his New York Times bestseller, Sinek cites a tenet from the United States Marine Corps: “Officers eat last.”

By claiming leaders should place themselves last, Sinek argues that a leader who sacrifices their own comfort for the benefit of the team creates a new level of camaraderie and loyalty that allows team members to face new challenges—-something he calls “The Circle of Safety.”

Drawing on lessons from the USMC and other applicable fields, Sinek crafts a strong argument for the notion of a selfless leader.

More?

Can you think of any other fundamental books for excellent IT leadership? Let me know in the comments below.

Looking for IT Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best IT Management software solutions.

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Capterra

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At Capterra, we believe that software makes the world a better place. Why? Because software can help every organization become a more efficient, effective version of itself.

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Thanks for the suggestion Geoff!

I’ve been thinking of possibly updating this post in the future with even more titles for IT professionals to choose from. I’ll be sure to add your suggestion to my growing list!

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Dale Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends And Influence People” should also be in there, especially for technical people! Pearls of wisdom, the one book I recommend to all my teams.

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