10 reads to push yourself to grow as a leader

by Kara Hamilton

Editor’s note: Here at Smartsheet, we’re out to help you achieve more at work — and set the world on fire! In this article, Smartsheet Chief People and Culture Office Kara Hamilton shares a few of her favorite reads for taking your professional development into your own hands and expanding your capabilities as a leader.

I love reading books. To me, reading is an important part of my personal and professional development. It’s an opportunity for growth and learning outside of day-to-day work that can motivate us to take our careers in a new direction — or to new heights. Even when I’m short on time and can’t sit down with a good book, I’ll stream audiobooks or listen to podcasts on my commute. 

Here are a few non-fiction favorites that have stayed with me, and helped me grow as a person and as a leader. They range from books on leading with our whole selves, to owning our time, to understanding the ways our hidden biases shape our thinking. I hope you find them as interesting — and inspiring — as I have.

1. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. by Brené Brown 

My all-time favorite book on work relationships and leading, Dare to Lead talks about the courage we need to achieve, together. Although within the construct of work, this book is about being a connected, accountable, and empathetic human. Well-researched, real, and funny.

“You can’t get to courage without rumbling with vulnerability.”

Brené Brown in Dare to Lead

2. Radical Candor: How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean by Kim Scott 

Author of Radical Candor Kim Scott was the first speaker we welcomed to Smartsheet as part of our speaker series, and her communication framework has shaped our culture. Her book contains practical strategies and enlightening stories, explained with compassion and humor.

“Relationships are core to your job. If you think that you can [fulfill your responsibilities as a manager] without strong relationships, you are kidding yourself.”

Kim Scott in Radical Candor

3. 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkamp 

This book 168 Hours not only stayed with me, it radically changed my approach to my time. Three word summary: Own your choices.

“When you focus on what you do best, on what brings you the most satisfaction, there is plenty of space for everything.”

Laura Vanderkam in 168 Hours

4. Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji

Blindspot by Mahzarin R. Banaji is a fascinating and accessible read on unconscious bias: Why we have biases and how they shape our thinking. Another one of our speaker series guests, the delightful Dr. Banaji visited our team in 2018.

“Once lodged in our minds, hidden biases can influence our behavior toward members of particular social groups, but we remain oblivious to their influence.”

Mahzarin R. Banaji in Blindspot

5. 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works — A True Story by Dan Harris

Not a ‘how-to’ on meditation —  10% Happier is a skeptic’s hilarious and personal journey to mindfulness. Harris proposes that five minutes of meditation per day will make you 10% happier. Sounds like a bargain.

“In my experience, meditation makes you 10% happier. That’s an absurdly unscientific estimate, of course. But still, not a bad return on investment.”

Dan Harris in 10% Happier

6. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

Blink is a fascinating look at how our brains process information and how we make decisions.

“We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for.”

Malcolm Gladwell in Blink

7. Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up by Jerry Colonna

This book is as much about self-knowledge and the purpose of work as it is about leadership (and it’s a great book on leading). In Reboot, Colonna, known as the “CEO” whisperer, shares why radical self-inquiry is critical to professional success and healthy relationships in all realms of life. 

“Slowing down the movie of our lives, seeing the frames and how they are constructed, reveals a different way to live, a way to break old patterns, to see new experiences anew through radical self inquiry.”

Jerry Colonna in Reboot

8. Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun 

Both funny and practical, Confessions of a Public Speaker looks at the techniques behind great communicators, and how anyone can learn to use them well. Hint: there is no way to avoid practicing.

“Confidence, not perfection, is the goal.”

Scott Berkun in Confessions of a Public Speaker

9. Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits — to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life by Gretchen Rubin

A detailed look at the value of habits and how they are developed, Better Than Before includes situational strategies and frameworks that are focused on individual fit, to help each of us make better habits — and break up with the bad habits — to generally improve our lives.

"We won’t make ourselves more creative and productive by copying other people’s habits, even the habits of geniuses; we must know our own nature, and what habits serve us best.”

Gretchen Rubin in Better Than Before

10. Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant 

A thoughtful and revealing exploration of loss and how it touches us all, Option B offers helpful insights on how to build resilience ourselves and help others in crisis.


“We plant the seeds of resilience in the ways we process negative events.”

Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant in Option B