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5 Books Every Leader Needs On Her Bookshelf


Part of being a great leader is being a lifelong learner. I’ve found so much value in continually reading and gleaning wisdom from others.

Now, as I raise up other women to lead our world towards a brighter future through the Sseko Fellows program, I find myself recommending these five books constantly.

It’s a bit “off the beaten path” as leadership books go, but I hope you find it as useful as I do!

5 Books Every Leader Needs On Her Bookshelf

1. Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

By Brené Brown

Let’s be honest. This entire post could just say if you want to be a great leader, READ ALL BRENÉ’S BOOKS. BYE. But in the spirit of diversity, I limited myself to my current favorite Brené Brown book.

When thinking about leadership, we’re quick to define a leader by someone who has “followers”, but the truth of the matter is that TRUE leaders are almost always required at various points in their leadership journey to stand alone and “Brave the Wilderness.”

Her concept of “True Belonging” is actually our NUMBER ONE principle of leadership here at Sseko. (We call it “Rootedness.”) I truly believe that in order to be a great leader you must first be rooted in your own worthiness and truly “belong to yourself.”

Until we belong to ourselves, we cannot create spaces of belonging for others and inspire others to do the same. As I like to say;

The deeper the roots, the bigger the bloom.Click To Tweet

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

By Simon Sineck

As Maya Angelou says;

At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.Click To Tweet

As leaders, we must inspire those around us to help co-create a brighter future. And you truly cannot make someone feel inspired if you’re not deeply connected to your WHY.

When I walk into a room with a great leader who knows their WHY, I can feel it immediately. I want to join them, support them, eat what they are eating for breakfast.

But as “fluffy” as knowing your WHY can sound, it requires (like ALL good things) actual work and commitment. And reading this book is a great way to start!

3. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

By Julia Cameron

Now, I realize that this isn’t quite your standard leadership fare, BUT I’d say it’s been one of the more helpful books in my leadership journey!

Even if you’re not an “artist,” this book is an incredibly practical guide to unlocking your creative potential. And before you have a second to caw, “But Liz, I’m not a creative; I’m a leader” let me respond: “You better SHUT YO MOUTH!”

Leaders, by my definition, see the gap between the way things are and the way things could be. And then? They build the freaking bridge.Click To Tweet

And if building a bridge from your present reality to a brighter future THAT DOESN’T EVEN EXIST YET is not CREATING, I’m not sure what is.

Julia’s “Morning Pages” practice helps every creator move through their stupid insecurities and ego battles (we all have them!) so you can get to the work of actually creating.

This book requires commitment, but I promise it’s worth the work.

4. Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People

By Vanessa Van Edwards

If you’ve ever seen Vanessa Van Edwards speak in person, it will not come as a surprise that her new book Captivate presents a cohesive collection of works from the Science of People.

Whether through informal settings or visibly leading in front of a large crowd, Vanessa weaves together years of research, data, anecdotes and humor to give you one of the most practical resources on how to influence others.

In order to lead others, understanding your body language and how others are receiving you is critical!Click To Tweet

A good leader knows that she sets the emotional tone for a room and uses her influence to make others feel known and welcomed.

Van Edwards gives us practical tools and tips on how to do this well and create habits in our daily life to create a great first impression and leave others feeling empowered and understood.

Compelling, interesting and engaging, this book sets the stage for any effective leader.

5. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

By Anne Lamott

Okay. Now I know I’m going to lose some of you with this one.

What does a middle-aged, sober alcoholic’s spiritual journey and motherhood musings have to do with leadership?

And to this, I’d say: Well friend, unless you’re leading a bunch of Jetsons made of steel and wire, you’re probably leading humans.

And as leaders of humans, I think it’s critical to remember the importance of just being and celebrating and mourning and laughing at the absurdity of life here on Planet Earth as we all just try to figure it out the best we can.

If you’ve got a bookshelf full of leadership gurus and how-to manuals, but you’re not seeking out beautiful, human writings and thoughts longer than Tweets, I say skip the above recommendations and take a minute to connect with the human experience through a great memoir or novel.

I truly believe that the vulnerability, humor and honesty we encounter when we read books like Traveling Mercies will ground us in a love, tenderness and appreciation for fellow humans, which is perhaps the number one requisite for being a great leader.

After all, at the end of the day,

We’re all just walking each other home. -Ram DassClick To Tweet

Headshot of female entrepreneur founder and CEO LadyBossBlogger.com (14)Liz Forkin Bohannon is the founder and CEO of Sseko Designs. Sseko Designs is an ethical fashion brand that works to educate and empower women. By providing employment and educational opportunities, Sseko enables women to continue their education and become leaders in their country. Liz lives in Portland, Oregon where she runs Sseko and raises her toddler son, Theo, with her husband and company co-founder Ben.

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