How Inclusive Books Help Shape Well-Rounded Leaders

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“Books allowed me to see a world beyond the front porch of my grandmother’s shotgun house…[and] the power to see possibilities beyond what was allowed at the time.”―Oprah Winfrey 

Books serve as a window into new experiences, insights and ways of thinking. For as long as I can remember, I’ve devoured books. It isn’t very surprising that when I, a former TV news reporter with an English degree, started Media Minefield, I relied heavily on key learnings from leadership development and business-focused books. The words of Simon Sinek, Jim Collins, Dale Carnegie and Steven Covey gave me the business basics to guide my journey as a young CEO. To educate myself and get my business lingo up-to-speed, I consulted and consumed every book on “best of” curated lists released by well-regarded media outlets. 

Think about the last three personal development books you read. Who wrote them? 

It wasn’t until Sheryl Sandberg and Brené Brown’s books became best sellers that I realized all the books I’d devoured were from the perspective of white middle-aged men. 

While those books were valuable and informed my thinking, it was a single-experience education. Brown’s words resonated so strongly with me that I went to see her speak on multiple occasions. From “Daring Greatly” to “Dare to Lead,” Brown’s powerful messages helped shape my leadership style and became woven into the fabric of our company’s core values. 

As I scoured through book lists, I quickly found female authors are consistently shuffled into the "business for beginners" category. Oftentimes, long book lists only feature one female author. 

The future of business is diverse and inclusive. A dynamic conversation cannot happen without learning other perspectives and understanding the lived experiences of those in various industries and who grew up in different places and who had to overcome significant obstacles to achieve success. 

At Media Minefield, we value developing leaders from within. To ensure our up and coming leaders are consuming quality content and being challenged, I created a 3-year self-paced program called Flight School. The program consists of books, videos, projects and written papers. 

Unlike the popular reading lists, I thought we had a diverse book list because it was gender balanced. When George Floyd was killed just miles from our office in 2020, I had another awakening. Flight School did not have enough racial representation, and as a life-long learner, I wasn’t paying attention to representation in the books I was reading. I quickly realized it’s difficult to find best-selling business and leadership development books written by people of color. 

The powerful stories of the first black millionaires, leaders and successes featured in books like “Hidden Figures” and Arshay Cooper’s “A Most Beautiful Thing” are oftentimes nowhere to be found on mainstream “best of” lists. In fact, these books are often on book lists dedicated to BIPOC authors or surface only during Black History Month. It’s a shame since these books give us a window into overcoming adversity and valuable insight into the mindset required to achieve success. 

Below, you’ll find stories of bold leaders, entrepreneurs and a handful of other inspiring stories from a diverse group of groundbreaking thinkers. This list is not perfect. In fact, it’s constantly evolving. Please let me know what it’s missing and what I need to add. I hope it inspires you to examine your reading habits and consider the lived experience of the authors and how that may influence the information you are consuming. To lead in the modern era means we must have a well-rounded and well-represented education.  

  • The Third Door | Alex Banayan

  • The Virgin Way | Sir Richard Branson

  • Dare To Lead | Brene Brown

  • Atomic Habits | James Clear

  • The Alchemist | Paulo Coelho

  • Good To Great | Jim Collins

  • A Most Beautiful Thing | Arshay Cooper

  • Presence: Bringing Your Boldest | Amy Cuddy

  • Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear | Elizabeth Gilbert

  • Talking to Strangers | Malcolm Gladwell 

  • Originals | Adam Grant 

  • Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know | Adam Grant 

  • Primal Leadership | Daniel Goleman

  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln | Doris Kearns Goodwin

  • Think and Grow Rich | Napoleon Hill 

  • Delivering Happiness | Tony Hsieh 

  • The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned From 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company | Robert Iger

  • Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE | Phil Knight

  • Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage | Alfred Lansing 

  • Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less | Daniel McKeown

  • Becoming | Michelle Obama

  • Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors | Piers Paul Read

  • Radical Candor | Kim Scott 

  • Hidden Figures | Margot Lee Shetterly  

  • Infinite Game | Simon Sinek 

  • Leaders Eat Last | Simon Sinek 

  • The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight To Win The Vote | Elaine Weiss 

  • How To Be A Great Boss | Gino Wickman 

  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents | Isabel Wilkerson

  • Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win | Jocko Willink & Leif Babin

  • Black Fortunes | Shomari Wills

  • Wild Company | Mel & Patricia Ziegler