7 great leadership books everyone should read

Some professionals appear born to lead. These individuals have a natural flair for decision making and people management, and target leadership roles at the first possible opportunity. Many others take a little longer to make the leap; gradually acquiring the knowledge, skills and confidence to advance their career over time.

Either way, business leaders can benefit from learning more about the function, and the various philosophies and approaches adopted by executive-level professionals. By tapping into the experience of others and comparing schools of thought, individuals can develop their own leadership style.

A host of books have been written on this subject, enough to fill entire libraries. Some have been hugely influential on the next generation of business leaders, while others haven't. The following seven leadership books have gone on to reach the bestseller lists, and while you may not agree with everything you read, consulting them may give your career a little more impetus:

1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

Stephen R. Covey (1989)

Published in 1989, by the late Stephen R. Covey, 'The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People' has gone on to sell more than 15 million copies in 38 languages worldwide. The book presents an approach to being effective in attaining goals, by aligning oneself with the 'true north' principles of a character ethic. Professionals are urged to be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put things first, think win-win, seek first to understand and then be understood, synergise and 'sharpen the saw'. Covey highlights the benefits of balancing and renewing resources, energy and health to create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle.

2. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

Simon Sinek (2009)

In 'How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action', Sinek questions why some people and organisations are more innovative, influential and profitable than others, it is know as one of the must read leadership books. The book looks at the way great leaders - such Martin Luther King Jr. and Steve Jobs - think, act, and communicate, and considers it is the opposite of what other people do. Polly LaBarre, co-author of 'Mavericks at Work' said 'Start with why' is "a powerful and penetrating exploration of what separates great companies and great leaders from the rest".

3. Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow

Tom Rath and Barry Conchie (2009)

Written in 2009, 'Strengths Based Leadership' draws on the results of Gallup research, which conducted more than 20,000 in-depth interviews with leaders and 10,000 followers around the world. Using the survey findings, Rath and Conchie identify three keys to being a more effective leader: 'investing in your strengths', 'maximising your team' and 'understanding why people follow'. The book is designed to help readers identify their own strengths, and adopt strategies to maximise their leadership potential.

4. The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership

Sir Richard Branson (2014)

Published last year, 'Everything I Know About Leadership' offers an insight into the mind of Virgin Group Sir Richard Branson, one of the UK's most successful entrepreneurs and business chiefs. The leadership book gives an inside look into his quirky leadership style, which has a firm focus on fun, family, passion and listening at the heart of things. The fiercely independent-minded Branson says he has "never read a book on leadership" in his life, so readers can expect a unique take with a few surprises.

5. The Secret: What Great Leaders Know - and Do

Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller (2004, updated 2014)

Blanchard and Miller updated their classic business fable for its tenth anniversary in 2014. 'The Secret' tells the tale of Debbie Brewster, an executive whose work group is failing. She begins meeting with a mentor - her company president - who helps her discover the secret of great leaders, and how they can better-serve their followers. This is an accessible guide to leadership and people management, designed to help readers benchmark their own performance and identify room for improvement.

6. How to Win Friends and Influence People

Dale Carnegie (1936, updated 1981)

One of the first self-help bestsellers, 'How to Win Friends and Influence People' has inspired generations of business leaders. The book, which has sold over 15 million copies worldwide, takes its content from the original 14-week training courses delivered by Carnegie. US business magnate Warren Buffett enrolled in 1950 as a 20-year-old and, recognising the help it offered, still has the diploma in his office. The 1981 update included four sections: 'Fundamental techniques in handling people', 'Six ways to make people like you', '12 ways to win people to your way of thinking' and 'Be a leader: How to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment'. Two sections from the original book - 'Letters that produced miraculous results' and 'Seven rules for making your home life happier' were omitted from the revised version.

7. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Sheryl Sandberg (2013)

In response to a 2010 TED talk, Sheryl has written an inspiring book, ‘Lean in: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead’, which looks into personal experiences and opens the discussion on why women have faced barriers in the workplace - and examines the struggles and successes around the world. This book challenges readers to change their perspectives and ‘lean in’ to the boardroom table.

Want to hone your leadership skills? Consult Robert Half's advice for managers and learn how to maximise your potential.