17 Best Leadership Books for Women to Read in 2021

Home » Books » Leadership Books for WomenUpdated: October 06, 2021

You found our list of inspiring leadership books for women.

Leadership books for women are guides that help women obtain and excel in management and executive roles. This genre covers topics such as dealing with discrimination, speaking up and being heard, and earning the respect of direct reports, colleagues, and supervisors. The purpose of these books is to identify techniques, characteristics, and behaviors that improve professional women’s chances of becoming good leaders.

These works are a subset of business books and books on leadership, and help women to develop management skills.

This list contains:

  • best books for female CEOs
  • biographies of women leaders
  • books on female leadership
  • leadership books by women
  • leadership books for women of color

Here we go!

List of leadership books for women

From new releases to all-time bestsellers, here is a list of books every professional woman should read to achieve the ideal career.

1. Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

women and leadership book cover

Women and Leadership explores the challenges females face while chasing or holding high positions. The book analyzes the lack of gender representation in modern leadership and delves into obstacles women who do manage to head countries encounter. This guide gathers interviews with major global leaders like Hillary Clinton, Jacinda Arden, and Theresa May. Authors Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala are also trailblazing female politicians, and bring firsthand experience to the conversations about the struggles women must surmount while navigating the political landscape. Women and Leadership is full of perspectives of powerful women and is a call to action for women to outlast discrimination and overcome the odds.

Notable Quote: “From childhood and throughout adulthood, socialization and stereotyping are part of what shapes women and men, including their leadership styles.”

Buy Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons.

2. How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith

how women rise book cover

How Women Rise outlines common pitfalls that hold women back professionally and prescribes habits and hacks to help female leaders progress more quickly. The book explores 12 unhelpful habits that prevent women from meeting professional goals and suggests fixes for these hangups. Chapters address issues such as perfectionism, and people-pleasing, and reluctance to self-promote, and give female readers advice on how to make more effective career moves.

Notable Quote: “In other words, your habits are not you. They are you on autopilot.”

Buy How Women Rise.

3. Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois P. Frankel PhD

nice girls still don't get the corner office book cover

Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office seeks to overturn the myths that the key to female success is being agreeable, taking care of others, and never causing trouble. From childhood, women are taught to be likeable and hyperconscious of the opinions of others. This book exposes the ingrained habits and beliefs that prevent women from advancing career-wise, and lays out strategies to overcome these roadblocks. Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office targets self-sabotaging behaviors like taking on too many responsibilities, expecting to be acknowledged automatically, or failing to stand up for yourself and offers more effective alternatives.

Notable Quote: “You gain courage and confidence from doing the things you think you cannot do.”

Buy Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office.

4. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

Lean In

Lean In is one of the most popular books on female leadership. Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg encourages professional females to speak up, take risks, and be bolder in the workforce. The book gives advice on topics like mentorship, negotiation, and work-life balance. Sandberg seeks to help women overcome the tendency to shrink or shy away when met with resistance, spurring female leaders to instead “lean in” and take control of the conversation. Lean In is a manifesto for female ability and more equitable workplaces. Almost a decade after its initial publication, the book still inspires and empowers women leaders and sparks conversations about gender at work.

Notable Quote: “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”

Buy Lean In.

5. How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life by Joanna Barsh, Susie Cranston, and Geoffrey Lewis

How remarkable women lead book cover

How Remarkable Women Lead is one of the best books for female CEOs. Authors Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston worked as consultants for McKinsey & Company for decades, and use this firsthand experience and expertise to analyze behaviors and identify patterns in high-performing female professionals. The book uses anecdotes about executives to explain how extraordinary women reached the top of their fields. How Remarkable Women Lead provides a blueprint for overcoming challenges, growing, and becoming an amazing female boss.

Notable Quote: “It takes time to find your strengths, and it takes even more time to turn them into capabilities.”

Buy How Remarkable Women Lead.

6. The Likeability Trap: How to Break Free and Succeed as You Are by Alicia Menendez

the likeability trap book cover

Many women are taught that to get ahead, they must be pleasant and well-liked as well as smart, skilled, and hard-working. Even famous and successful women at the top of their fields are subject to the double standards of being both agreeable and able. The Likeability Trap urges women to ditch the pressures of being liked and validated in favor of embracing and appreciating their true selves. The book gives recommendations for being more authentic while still achieving favorable professional outcomes.

Notable Quote: “If authenticity is necessary to be likeable, and critical to effective leadership, but women are encouraged to spend most of their careers trying to be more of whatever it is they’re told they’re not, how can they possibly be authentic, likeable, and effective leaders?”

Buy The Likeability Trap.

7. HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Women and Leadership by The Harvard Business Review

On women and leadership book cover

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Women and Leadership is a collection of essays about high-performing women in the workplace. Like the other HBR top ten titles, this anthology brings together some of the most thought-provoking and popular publications on the subject from The Harvard Business Review. This resource explores topics such as female ambition, gendered power dynamics, the flaws in diversity programs, and career progression. Plus, HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Women and Leadership also contains an exclusive interview with Sheryl Sandberg.

Notable Quote: “A better metaphor for what confronts women in their professional endeavors is a labyrinth….As a contemporary symbol, it conveys the idea of a complex journey toward a goal worth striving for.”

Buy HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Women and Leadership

8. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

we should all be feminists book cover

We Should All Be Feminists is not strictly a business book, yet ranks among the books every professional woman should read. Inspired by the powerful TED talk of the same name, We Should All Be Feminists takes a deep dive into the ways in which culture limits both men and women through ingrained misogyny. The book lays out arguments for why all people can benefit from feminism and should proudly embrace the label of feminist, while also empowering women to rise above the expectations society lays upon them.

Notable Quote: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful.”

Buy We Should All Be Feminists

9. That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together by Joanne Lipman

thats what she said book cover

That’s What She Said takes a revolutionary approach to women in the workplace. This book addresses the gender gap and points out the ways in which standard diversity programs can fall short. Instead of putting the responsibility of demanding fair treatment solely on women, the book addresses men and makes compelling arguments about how equality can benefit male colleagues in the workplace. Women can use this logic to more adeptly resolve conflicts and negotiate more easily and effectively.

Notable Quote: “Social scientists have calculated that a woman must be two and a half times more competent than a man to be viewed as his equal.”

Buy That’s What She Said.

10. More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say) by Elaine Welteroth

More than enough book cover

More Than Enough is an uplifting memoir that relays the professional journey of former Teen Vogue editor Elaine Welteroth. Despite being young, female, and African-American, Welteroth managed to be one of the most successful heads in the publication’s history. This autobiography charts the path between Welteroth’s early life and later career victories. The prose is full of affirmations that assure readers they are capable and belong in professional spaces that often aim to exclude women with big ideas. More Than Enough is an instructional manual for breaking down barriers and remaking the professional world in your image.

Notable Quote: “When your dreams are bigger than the places you find yourself in, sometimes you need to seek out your own reminders that there is more. And there is always more waiting for you on the other side of fear.”

Buy More Than Enough, and check out more motivational quotes for work.

11. Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

rising strong book cover

Rising Strong is one of the most inspiring leadership books for women. Brené Brown researches and writes extensively about vulnerability, and in this book she speaks to overcoming hardship and failure, learning from setbacks, and coming back stronger than ever. Rising Strong teaches readers how to embrace discomfort, own failures, and find the courage to try again. The book helps readers be less scared of messing up and dare to continue on after falling short.

Notable Quote: “Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”

Buy Rising Strong.

12. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

grit book cover

Grit is one of the best leadership books by women. Psychologist Angela Duckworth argues that the key to success is grit, which she defines as a blend of long-term persistence and passion. The book uses case studies to observe how individuals survive and thrive in tough situations. This guide shows that grit is a learnable trait, and describes methods for increasing resilience such as specifying goals, strengthening professional support systems, and being more deliberate in practice and the pursuit of goals.

Notable Quote: “Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another.”

Buy Grit.

13. In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs by Grace Bonney

In the company of women book cover

In the Company of Women is a series of interviews with influential female leaders across a wide range of professions, from architects, to tattoo artists, to celebrity entertainers, and industry titans. Spotlights include Roxanne Gay, Michelle Quan, Lizzo, Carrie Brownstein, Janet Mock, and dozens of others. Drawing on a diverse and accomplished group of interviewees, the book presents different perspectives on what it takes to succeed as a woman in the modern professional world. In the Company of Women is full of entertaining and inspiring stories, wise words, and helpful guidance to motivate every reader to become her best self.

Notable Quote: “Winners are losers who got back up.”

Buy In the Company of Women.

14. Becoming by Michelle Obama

becoming book cover

Becoming is one of the bestselling biographies of women leaders. In this memoir, former first lady Michelle Obama traces her life journey from the South Side of Chicago to the White House, relaying the leadership lessons she learned along the way. The book touches on themes like race, motherhood, and female achievement and explores shortcomings as well as triumphs. Becoming is as inspirational and honest as it is informative. Michelle serves as an example for bold women, and teaches readers how to follow in footsteps yet forge their own paths.

Notable Quote: “Most of us lived in a state of constant calibration, tweaking one area of life in hopes of bringing more steadiness to another.”

Buy Becoming.

15. The Little Black Book of Success: Laws of Leadership for Black Women by by Elaine Meryl Brown, Marsha Haygood, et al

the little black book of success book cover

The Little Black Book of Success is one of the most useful leadership books for women of color. The book seeks to empower Black female executives through practical advice. Each chapter teaches techniques to help Black women thrive in the corporate world while keeping identity intact. The book offers advice on dealing with racism at work, finding the self-assurance to speak up, connecting with coworkers, building a strong support system, and using leadership positions to shake up the system. The Little Black Book of Success is a guide to rising in the ranks as a Black woman without sacrificing a sense of self.

Notable Quote: “To become a leader you must have a positive mental attitude, which you can achieve with positive self-talk and looking at what is right with people instead of what is wrong with them.”

Buy The Little Black Book of Success.

16. The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman

the confidence code book cover

The Confidence Code is a masterclass in self-esteem. The book stresses the importance of confidence in professional settings and shares strategies to help women believe in themselves and advocate for themselves at work. The authors explore the neurological aspects of confidence and conclude that while some elements of confidence are genetic, environmental, and habitual, there are actions individuals can take to improve and increase self-confidence, for instance, facing the fear of failure and taking risks. The Confidence Code explores the roots of low confidence in women and suggests tactics for rewiring the brain and becoming more self-assured. This book helps women grow the self-conviction needed to become workplace leaders.

Notable Quote: “Confidence, ultimately, is the characteristic that distinguishes those who imagine from those who do.”

Buy The Confidence Code.

17. Run to Win: Lessons in Leadership for Women Changing the World by Stephanie Schriock and Christina Reynolds

Run to win book cover

Run to Win is a handbook for female political candidates. Stephanie Schriock is the president of EMILY’s list, an organization that empowers aspiring female leaders to run for office. Although the advice is mainly geared towards politics, the lessons in self-confidence, resilience, ambition, and grace under pressure are applicable to any profession. Run to Win is a promise that women can achieve goals, make a difference, or, at the very least, cause a stir.

Notable Quote: “So, don’t decide not to take that next step because you don’t know how you are going to do all aspects of the job. Decide to take on the job and let me help you figure out the rest.”

Buy Run to Win.

Final Thoughts

Although women have made major strides throughout the last century, there is still more work to be done before women to achieve professional equality. A large disparity between the number of men and women in leadership positions still exists, in part because many women are still taught to follow and be supportive instead of shaking up the status quo. Female leadership books teach women how to find the confidence and voice needed to be effective leaders. Many of these guides are by influential women executives who want to empower a new generation of women to find their voices and change the world.

For more reading recommendations, check out these collections of books on management and books on inclusion and diversity.

FAQ: Leadership books for women

Here are answers to common questions about leadership books for women.

What are leadership books for women?

Leadership books for women are nonfiction books that teach women the skills and perspectives needed to thrive in the professional world. These works often cover topics such as mentorship, self-confidence, and handling sexism.

What are some good books for female leaders?

Some good books for female leaders include How Women Rise by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith, HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Women and Leadership by The Harvard Business Review, More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth, and Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office by Lois P. Frankel PhD
.

What books should every professional woman read?

Books every professional woman should read include Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Becoming by Michelle Obama.

Why should women read books on leadership?

Women should read books on leadership because these guides can give female professionals the confidence and knowledge needed to progress more quickly career-wise. Reading the stories of successful female executives can help women avoid potential pitfalls, learn secondhand lessons, and employ more effective strategies that can propel their careers and professional goals to heights previously unimagined.

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Author: Angela Robinson

Team building content expert. Angela has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and worked as a community manager with Yelp to plan events for businesses.

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