Six books first-time leaders should add to their holiday wish list

Unfortunately, there’s no user’s manual for becoming a successful leader. A combination of training, experience and mentorship from other managers is most helpful, but many managers simply learn on the job — for better or worse.

Luckily, there are plenty of smart reads that will give you the inspiration and knowledge you need to guide you through the ups and down of management. They can’t substitute for practice, but they can give you the tools you need to cope with your new role and eventually excel.

Below, six business coaches from Forbes Coaches Council share their favourite books on leadership — the same ones that have helped them and their clients navigate their roles as leaders.

1. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown

As a first­ time leader, the last thing you probably want to think about is being vulnerable. But the truth is that when you’re vulnerable (in appropriate ways), you set yourself up to be an authentic, respected leader. Daring Greatly outlines how to incorporate the appropriate level of vulnerability into your life so that you can act with courage and avoid being trapped by insecurity. – Elizabeth Saunders, Real Life E

2. Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long by David Rock

I love Your Brain at Work by David Rock because it lays out many of the subtle dynamics that go on at work when you’re a leader. Often times as a leader, there is the level being talked about, and you can sense an undercurrent. If you’re not aware of what’s happening on that deeper level, you’re handicapping your leadership trajectory. – Jo Ilfeld, Success Reboot

3. The Prince by Machiavelli

Among the first books to read is Machiavelli’s The Prince. You don’t have to treat it as an instruction book, but it clearly lays out the challenges of leadership and how to manage up and down. It’s a great primer. If you don’t feel like reading it (though it’s quite short), I guarantee that you will love listening to the recording of Ian Richardson reading it for you. It’s so much fun. – Michael Pollock, Pollock Spark

 4. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz

The Four Agreements is clear, concise and simply powerful. Practicing the four agreements Don Miguel Ruiz presents as a code of conduct will not only transform your life but will also help you create powerful leadership foundation. After reading hundreds of books on leadership, this is still easily one of my favourites. – Rey Castellanos, Feed Your Wolf

5. The E­Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael Gerber

While it may not seem intuitive, every leader needs to understand and embrace how their business can grow and leverage with a team and proper systems. The E­Myth reveals the traps of doing it all yourself and the importance of being the visionary leader in your business instead of simply the doer or manager. – Kelly Azevedo, She’s Got Systems

6. The Go­Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea by Bob Burg and John David Mann

While The Go­Giver is probably not considered a leadership book, it serves up the five laws of stratospheric success. The premise boils down to putting others’ interests before our own. I believe this is a hallmark for any leader. Leadership requires emotional intelligence and a desire to serve others. Giving will lead to success. – Jen Kelchner, Kelchner

This article first appeared at