Cairn Leadership

The best leadership reading list you'll find.

Our leadership reading list offers insights from leadership wisdom, psychology, mountaineering, behavioral economics, rock climbing, and philosophy.

Even better this list is updates monthly and you can sign up for email updates here!

Improve Your Leadership Skills

give and take book

Give and Take

For generations, we have focused on the individual drivers of success: Passion, hard work, talent, and luck. But in today’s dramatically reconfigured world, success is increasingly dependent on how we interact with others. In Give and Take, Adam Grant, an award-winning researcher and Wharton’s highest-rated professor, examines the surprising forces that shape why some people rise to the top of the success ladder while others sink to the bottom.

15 commitments of concious leadership book

15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership

Great leaders know they need to constantly and consciously grow to best serve their people. This book provides eye-opening perspective and new ways to understand your leadership and life. The authors back up their work with thorough research and provide ample hands on ways to practice and use the commitments they offer.

dare to lead book

Dare to Lead

If you seek courage, want to inspire people, or understand the power of human connection in leadership, read this NOW! We had heard so much about Brene Brown, and not taken action because we thought she was ‘wishy washy.’ It turns out she is all about hard nose truth, insightfully exploring what we all know and fear to talk about. Absolutely life changing.

when book

When

Insightful read about how powerful timing is for the best of us. From how to maximize your effectiveness to marrying coffee with naps, and why the Lusitania sank. Enjoyable and practical.

atomic habits book

Atomic Habits

Atomic Habits picks up after The Power of Habit to give you actionable daily ways to stop doing the things you want to stop and start doing the things you want to start. Powerful ideas put into action- just like we like them.

drive book

Drive

Read this now if you need to motivate people. Pink lays out how to access intrinsic motivation in almost any situation and clearly shows why the old ways of motivating people are dead! This should be a go to for any leader- Purpose, Mastery and Autonomy.

deep survival book

Deep Survival

Well written research into how people in extreme situations such as mountaineers, firefighters and Navy jet pilots survive the unthinkable. A classic fun read that relates extreme situations to everyday life. Enjoy the stories and prepare to shift your mindset toward becoming a survivor!

your brain at work book

Your Brain at Work

Your Brain at Work by David Rock is one of the most useful books we have come across for a long time! A superb foray into how our biology holds us back in interpersonal and work situations and how simple awareness can have tremendous impact on our effectiveness and satisfaction. A must read with high level science offered in easy to digest anecdotes and exercises.

primal leadership book

Primal Leadership

A foundational text on Emotional Intelligence.

the nature fix book

The Nature Fix

A comprehensive and fun to read expose on why you NEED to get outside more often to be happier, healthier, and more creative.

leadership and self deception book

Leadership and Self-Deception

Well written research into how people in extreme situations such as mountaineers, firefighters and Navy jet pilots survive the unthinkable. A classic fun read that relates extreme situations to everyday life. Enjoy the stories and prepare to shift your mindset toward becoming a survivor!

thanks for the feedback book

Thanks for the Feedback

A well researched guide for receiving feedback in all areas of life. We particularly enjoyed the breakdown of different ways to give feedback and the practical exercises to shift your perspective.

never split the difference book

Never Split the Difference

This fun to read, practical guide to negotiating will help you find common ground with just about anyone. Chris Voss takes stories and principles from hostage negotiation with the FBI and makes them accessible for leaders anywhere. Like a Masterclass in negotiation without the price tag of an ivy league.

Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke

Thinking in Bets

Annie Duke brings a fresh perspective to making decisions through the lens of a professional poker player. This book will make you think deeply and help refine your decision making skills. 

Risk A User's GUide

Risk A User's Guide

General McChrystal and his team at McChrystal Group offer a comprehensive review of organizational & strategic risk complete with well defined leadership actions to help mitigate it. 

Critical Thinking and Understanding Bias

lead yourself first book

Lead Yourself First

This fun to read, practical guide to negotiating will help you find common ground with just about anyone. Chris Voss takes stories and principles from hostage negotiation with the FBI and makes them accessible for leaders anywhere. Like a Masterclass in negotiation without the price tag of an ivy league.

algorithms to live by book

Algorithms to Live By

Ever thought about how computer science problems relate to your life beyond the blue screen of death? Neither had I. This book makes high level concepts like thrashing, sorting, randomness etc. into approachable explanations and then offers the reader ways that computer scientists solved the complications. Surprisingly, a lot of it transfers to real life! I especially enjoyed the chapter on game theory!

you are not so smart book

You Are Not So Smart

Collection of essays outlining heuristics and fallacies that trick us into believing we are right when we are dead wrong. Read to broaden your perspective and hone your critical thinking, or just because it’s fun!

10% happier book

10% Happier

An approachable insight on the power of meditation and mindfulness written by a skeptic. Dan Harris offers a compelling and fun to read story that just might help you become 10% happier (with compounding interest). Every leader should read this and consider how a short meditation practice could up his or her game.

mindset book

Mindset

Not as fun to read as many of the others on this list, but a critical idea to keep in mind as you lead, and move through life.

how women decide book

How Women Decide

Great read for any gender, this book examines the different ways that women think and decide.

critical thinking book

Critical Thinking

This book lays out the history of critical thinking and then walks through the nuts and bolts of how to think critically more effectively. You’ll learn logic and ways to verify information. 

checklist manifesto book

The Checklist Manifesto

A well researched guide for receiving feedback in all areas of life. We particularly enjoyed the breakdown of different ways to give feedback and the practical exercises to shift your perspective.

thinking fast and slow book

Thinking Fast and Slow

The work that Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for in Behavioral Economics. Lengthy and dense in parts, but fascinating and perspective shifting.

Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows

Thinking in Systems

In this book Donella Meadows, a pioneer in systems thinking, breaks down what you should know about the concept from theory to nitty gritty diagrams. If you want to get smart on the subject without getting way past practical, start here!  

Creating and Leading a Team or Organization

the crux book

The Crux

“What passes for strategy in too many businesses, government agencies, and military operations is a toxic mix of wishful thinking and a jumble of incoherent policies. Richard P. Rumelt’s breakthrough concept is that leaders become effective strategists when they focus on challenges rather than goals, pinpointing the crux of their pivotal challenge—the aspect that is both surmountable and promises the greatest progress—and taking decisive, coherent action to overcome it.”

business for punks book

Business for Punks

A no BS, in your face master dissertation on starting and running an amazing business. Refreshingly honest, relentlessly useful. A nice bonus, one of the most succinct and useful explanations of finance for business owners (about 10 minute listen for the section). An incredible book for business owners, useful for any leader who wants to live according to his or her values.goes here

let my people go surfing book

Let My People Go Surfing

Learn from Yvon Chouinard’s stories and mistakes and his philosophy if you want to create a business that matters to the world in every sense. A fun and useful read about the history of Patagonia, how they have put their money behind their beliefs and a road map to do the same in your organization!

traction book

Traction

Gino Wickman walks you through the famous EOS system step by step. This is a great book to help you put structure to your business or team.

the effective executive

The Effective Executive

Peter Drucker lays out pearls of wisdom on each page of this guide. We don’t like the pervasive gender bias for men, but understand the era in which this was written. The book offers so much timeless advice for leaders that we still recommend it. Worth reading slowly and reflecting on often.

the e-myth revisited book

The E Myth

For anyone building a team of business, this book outlines practical ways to make your endeavor last. While it seems at first most practical for franchise owners, the case here is that every business or team should have clear standard operating procedures that anyone could follow. This allows you to scale and grow with consistency. Michael Gerber offers actionable ways you can do this in any organization.

tribe book

Tribe

Short, sweet, interesting, and immensely valuable if you want to bring a group of people together. Sebastian Junger uses compelling examples of how shared adversity brings people into strong community that you can harness for your team or organization. Worth reading a couple of times!

teams of teams book

Team of Teams

In Team of Teams, McChrystal and his colleagues show how the challenges they faced in Iraq can be rel­evant to countless businesses, nonprofits, and or­ganizations today. In periods of unprecedented crisis, leaders need practical management practices that can scale to thousands of people—and fast. By giving small groups the freedom to experiment and share what they learn across the entire organiza­tion, teams can respond more quickly, communicate more freely, and make better and faster decisions.

What you do is who you are

What You Do Is Who You Are

Ben Horowitz uses incredible stories to illustrate highly actionable points about building a great culture. This is one of the most practical and immediately usable books on culture we have seen in a long time! 

Learning From Our Past
Biographies and Stories of Leaders Worth Reading

call sign chaos book

Call Sign Chaos

When we saw SECDEF Mattis had a book, we had to read it! This was of course interesting in the ongoing geopolitical environment, and Mattis walks through his life offering lessons on leadership at all levels of an organization. His tips are actionable at your particular level and provide food for thought as you consider the next! The stories alone are worth the read.

endurance book

Endurance

Dive into the true story of the epic Antarctic journey of Ernest Shackleton. Learn from this legendary leader how he achieved ultimate victory of every man surviving through the dark months at sea and years of uncertainty.

musashi book

Musashi

 Musashi’s journey to discovering the way of the sword as a way of life mirrors our philosophy for leaders at Cairn Leadership Strategies. It’s a journey. It’s about character and discipline. Leadership can be found and learned in many aspects of life. Living an excellent life inherently leads to excellent leadership.

open book

Open

A raw and truthful account of a lifelong relationship with excellence. Worth reading for any leader working through the complexity of life.

the push book

The Push

How many people do you know who spend months doing nothing other than eating, sleeping, and pursuing a feat no one believes possible? One of my favorite books this year and worth the read for climbers and leaders alike. This book is well written, easy to read, and full of profound insights from climbers to leadership guru Jim Collins himself!

annapurna a womans place book

Annapurna

A riveting story about the first all women climb on one of the world’s deadliest mountains. This book is fun to read and packed with leadership ideas and struggles to learn from.

the killer angels book

The Killer Angels

A fantastic account of the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War.

the splendid and the vile book

The Splendid and the Vile

An in depth and fascinating read about Winston Churchill’s leadership during the first year of air raids on the UK in WWII.

once an eagle book

Once an Eagle

A fictional account of a USMC Marine’s journey from private to general.

shoe dog book

Shoe Dog

The story of how Phil Knight built Nike.

the last traverse book

The Last Traverse

Not only is this book set in the same place that our company name originated, it is a chilling story of how wicked the mountains can be. We enjoyed the in depth discussion or human factors, good storytelling, and fascinating account of how a Search and Rescue effort actually works. This one made us think twice about our stance toward risk! 100% worth reading.

Deeper Philosophical Books Worth a Cup of Coffee and a Fire

nicomachean book

Nicomachean Ethics

This one is NOT a page turner. It IS foundation to what we mean by good, how to pursue character, who makes the best friends and how to pursue a life of virtue. Take it on a retreat and grapple for a while; it’s worth your time and effort.

hidden life of trees book

The Hidden Life of Trees

Beyond being in and of itself fascinating to learn the intricacies of trees and forests we love, the book provided so much valuable perspective. Perspective on true time horizons. Perspective on resilience. Perspective on systems thinking. Read it if you are interested in ecology, systems thinking, or seek more creative solutions to your current leadership challenges.

sophies world book

Sophie's World

For leaders in or entering the executive level, philosophy becomes more important. Philosophical inquiry offers a place to stretch one’s capacity to think differently. Sophie’s World offers a fun and somewhat comprehensive review of the history of existential philosophy worth reading as you craft purpose and culture for your people.

the bhagavad book

The Bhagavad-Gita

A classic dialogue between warrior and Hindu god that helps shed light on the power of equanimity in your life. The warrior detests killing and the god demands fulfilled duty. A little hard to read at some points, but short and well worth the challenge!

siddhartha book

Siddhartha

A classic worth reexamining. It will help you consider the deeper meaning of life.

breakfast with seneca book

Breakfast with Seneca

A useful and readable digest of Seneca’s letters about Stoicism. Worth reading a little bit each morning to add perspective to your day or all at once to more deeply understand the Stoic philosophy.

the happiness hypothesis book

The Happiness Hypothesis

Jonathan Haidt skillfully combines two genres-philosophical wisdom and scientific research-delighting the reader with surprising insights. He explains, for example, why we have such difficulty controlling ourselves and sticking to our plans; why no achievement brings lasting happiness, yet a few changes in your life can have profound effects, and why even confirmed atheists experience spiritual elevation. In a stunning final chapter, Haidt addresses the grand question “How can I live a meaningful life?,” offering an original answer that draws on the rich inspiration of both philosophy and science.

will to wild book

Will to Wild

In these pages, you will find stories with practical tips and tactics from world-famous rock climbers and ultra-runners, to longtime thru-hikers, surfers, desk jockeys who’ve figured out how to get off the clock, and even a suburban mom who started teaching women to scale frozen waterfalls in her mid-fifties. Along with Shelby’s stories, they will show you how to get unstuck, how to pay attention to “trail signs” that point you toward your adventure, how to face your fears, and what to do when everything goes haywire (which will likely happen, never fear!).

Understanding Flow

finding flow book

Finding Flow

Wide ranging from research methods to philosophy, this is a page turner that will help you understand the concept of flow and think about living a more worthwhile life.

the rise of superman book

The Rise of Superman

A go to book to help you get the newest science and data about what happens in our bodies when we are in flow states.

Time and Energy Management

a minute to think book

A Minute to Think

Juliet Funt offers impactful ways to create more space for ideas and deep work. 

happier hour book

Happier Hour

Research backed ways to make the most of your limited time. Fun to read and very useful. 

peak mind book

Peak Mind

Current research on how to use mindfulness to take control of what you pay attention to. 

the way we're working isn't working book

The Way We're Working Isn't Working

Useful outline of ways to make work more effective and less onerous. 

the comfort crisis book

The Comfort Crisis

This is a fun to read exploration of what we might be missing out by seeking too much comfort. If you are like us, you will be intermittent fasting, cold water swimming and carrying heaving things around more often after reading this great book by Michael Easter.

the extended mind book

The Extended Mind

The Extended Mind outlines the research behind this exciting new vision of human ability, exploring the findings of neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, psychologists, and examining the practices of educators, managers, and leaders who are already reaping the benefits of thinking outside the brain. She excavates the untold history of how artists, scientists, and authors—from Jackson Pollock to Jonas Salk to Robert Caro—have used mental extensions to solve problems, make discoveries, and create new works. In the tradition of Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind or Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, The Extended Mind offers a dramatic new view of how our minds work, full of practical advice on how we can all think better.

the power of full engagement book

The Power of Full Engagement

We live in digital time. Our pace is rushed, rapid-fire, and relentless. Facing crushing workloads, we try to cram as much as possible into every day. We’re wired up, but we’re melting down. Time management is no longer a viable solution. As bestselling authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz demonstrate in this groundbreaking book, managing energy, not time, is the key to enduring high performance as well as to health, happiness, and life balance. The Power of Full Engagement is a highly practical, scientifically based approach to managing your energy more skillfully both on and off the job by laying out the key training principles and provides a powerful, step-by-step program.

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Leaders on a vista