When a person thinks of books about management and productivity, memoirs may not come to mind. But as Nahema Mehta, the CEO of Absolut Art, told Insider, they “could easily be considered books on leadership.” Memoirs allow us to hear the thought processes of influential people during their journey to the top. They’re packed with lessons about challenges, resilience, relationships, and success.
The benefits of reading are a favorite conversation topic for powerful people such as Barack Obama, who recently released his reading list for the summer, and Bill Gates, who said he reads 50 books every year. And they aren’t rereading “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” – these leaders are known for their selective taste in books, including memoirs.
Below, you’ll find a list of 12 memoirs from political leaders, CEOs, athletes, comedians, and more that won’t feel like homework and will offer great lessons about leadership, creativity, and finding fulfillment at work.
Abby Wambach is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and she still holds the record for goals scored in international tournaments for both men’s and women’s soccer. In her book, she urged readers to let go of old leadership rules that play a zero-sum game. Instead, find your team and chase victory together.
2. “Able: Gold Medals, Grand Slams and Smashing Glass Ceilings” by Dylan Alcott
As a three-time Paralympic gold medalist and Grand Slam tennis champion, Dylan Alcott’s story demonstrates the power of difference. He has become a powerful advocate who centers the voices of those with disabilities. This memoir does exactly that — his story in his words.
3. “Becoming” by Michelle Obama
In her memoir, Michelle Obama demonstrated her storytelling chops and shared her experience growing up in Chicago, climbing to the top of her profession, and eventually becoming first lady of the United States. She remains one of the most influential voices in the world, and her notes on leadership remind us to stay down to earth and seek out opportunities that allow us to make a difference.
4. “Reborn in the USA: An Englishman’s Love Letter to His Chosen Home” by Roger Bennett
Roger Bennett — a cohost of the “Men in Blazers” show — wrote a memoir filled with silliness, sports, and pop culture. It’s good for a laugh, but it’s also a thoughtful memoir about his love for the US and how to be a beacon of joy in a divided country.
5. “Where I Come From: Life Lessons From a Latino Chef” by Aarón Sánchez
Reality stars can teach us a lot about performing under pressure, being accountable, and staying relevant. Aarón Sánchez of “MasterChef” and “Chopped” fame brings us into his life as a celebrity chef and takes us back to his upbringing as a Mexican American in New York City falling in love with cooking.
6. “Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration” by Ed Catmull
Ed Catmull, a cofounder of Pixar — the animation studio that delighted us with “Toy Story,” “Up,” and most recently “Luca” — shared his own journey through Hollywood and tips for building a creative, inclusive culture. This memoir is filled with things to learn about creativity and management, and following your dreams, that are worthwhile for any business leader.
7. “My Beloved World” by Sonia Sotomayor
Sonia Sotomayor’s heartfelt memoir is a story of self-invention. Sotomayor, the first Hispanic and third woman on the Supreme Court, wrote about the importance of mentorship, independence, and determination on her journey to the most powerful court in the nation.
8. “Letter From Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr.
Reading Martin Luther King Jr.’s book in full is a worthwhile exercise for every leader. As companies strive to address racism in the workplace, King’s description of his steady, compelling approach in the face of anti-Black terrorism is a reminder of how leaders can stand up for justice and care for their communities.
9. “Uncanny Valley: A Memoir” by Anna Wiener
Anna Wiener’s memoir about her experience in Silicon Valley made a splash in the technology world and beyond. It was named one of the 10 best books of 2020 by The New York Times. It’s also chock-full of wisdom and cautionary tales about business and leadership.
10. “Bossypants” by Tina Fey
Other than being hilarious, “Bossypants” is an insightful book about management, especially for women. Tina Fey has unconventional advice for managers, such as: “If you’re so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone.”
11. “Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder” by Arianna Huffington
Arianna Huffington’s deeply personal memoir is a lesson about the challenges and triumphs of leadership, in both her work and her personal life. She also gathered groundbreaking research to talk about harnessing the power of psychology, sports, and meditation to thrive as a leader.
12. “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight
Phil Knight, a cofounder and retired chairman of Nike, wrote this bestselling memoir about how he turned a business selling shoes from his trunk into a billion-dollar enterprise. Bill Gates, a known bibliophile, named this memoir one of his top five books of 2016.
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