10 Books Every Nurse Leader Must Read

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I have yet to encounter a respected leader who embodied all the principles of authentic leadership on their first day in a leadership role. However, there are certainly people who seem to have a knack for it while others clearly do not. What I know to be true about great leaders is that they didn’t become great overnight, but grew into great leaders over time.

One way to build the essential skills that make you a great  leader is to embrace continuous learning as a habit. An easy way to do that is to read something instructional or inspirational every day. As the wise Harry Truman once said “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.

While it’s easy to see why we should read daily, there are so many choices! Where do you begin? No worries, I think I can help with that part!

The following list is comprised of  some of my favorite books that I believe include key principles of leadership and will truly enrich your leadership journey.

1. Leaders Eat Last, by Simon Sinek

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

Wouldn’t it be great if your employees came to work every day feeling excited and inspired to be there? What if they trusted you and felt valued for the work they do?  Simon Sinek believes leaders can create this world and gives readers true stories from several different types of businesses.

Why read this book? Because if you do, your employees will follow and trust you!

2. Start With Why, by Simon Sinek

Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek is known for teaching people how to become more inspired at work, and in turn, inspire others. In his book Start with Why, which was based on the third most popular TED video of all time, Sinek starts with the fundamental question: Why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others?

Why read this book? Because you will learn how to create a team that collectively makes decisions based on what’s best for patients – not themselves.

3. FISH: A Proven Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results, by Stephen Lundin, Harry Paul, and John Christensen


I read this book many years ago when I was a new manager because I had inherited a unit that was, well, a bit dysfunctional, very much like the fictional character in this book. She was charged with turning around an ineffective, unenthusiastic team and happened to work right across the street from the famous Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle Washington.  By applying creative, yet simple strategies she learned from the actual fishmongers, she was able to turn her team around. Four key principles are explored: Be There, Play, Make Their Day, and Choose Your Attitude.

Why read this book? Because you will learn how to show up differently and how to influence your staff to do the same.

4. Cure for the Common Leader, by my good friend, Joe Mull

Cure for the Common Leader by Joe Mull

In his book, Joe shares the latest evidence on leadership, engagement, and motivation. He then brilliantly turns them into 7 actions every leader must take to engage and inspire their healthcare teams. Although the intended audience is for physicians and their practice managers, Joe’s principles apply very nicely to nurse leaders too!

Why read this book? Because you’ll discover simple yet effective ways to become a better boss.

5. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R.Covey

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

When 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was first published in 1989, it quickly became a best seller and has since become a part of American culture. The book has influenced everyone from presidents to educators to improve their business and careers by living their lives with integrity, service, dignity and success in all areas.

Why read this book? Because it will change the way you show up every day as a leader.

6. First Things First, by Stephen R. Covey

First Things First by Stephen Covey

Stephen R. Covey’s First Things First is an excellent book on time management. He uses a principle-centered approach for prioritizing and gives you time management tips to help you make the changes you need to obtain happiness and retain a feeling of security. I still return to this book once a year as a reminder to put first things first!

Why read this book? Because it helps you prioritize the important things in a sea of distraction.

7. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, by Marshall Goldsmith

What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith

Whether you are at the top of your career or just starting out, this book will help you to eliminate your dysfunctions and move in the direction you want to go. Marshall Goldsmith is an expert at helping leaders overcome their unconscious annoying habits and attain a higher level of success.

Why read this book? Because you will learn what it takes to NEVER settle for the status quo.

8. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni shows us the five dysfunctions, which go to the very heart of why teams often don’t work well together. He outlines a powerful model and actionable steps that can be used to overcome these hurdles and build an effective team.

Why read this book? Because you will learn how to build a stronger team.

9. Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization, by John Wooden and Steve Jamison

Wooden on Leadership by John Wooden and Steve Jamison

John Wooden’s goal has always been to get maximum effort and peak performance from his team. Wooden on Leadership explains exactly how he pursued and accomplished this goal. Wooden Focuses on his 12 Lessons in Leadership and his acclaimed Pyramid of Success, to outline the mental, emotional, and physical qualities necessary in building a winning organization.

Why read this book? Because John Wooden is hailed as one of the best leaders of all time. Period.

10. Do No Harm Applies to Nurses Too! by Renee Thompson (me)

Do No Harm Applies to Nurses Too by Renee Thompson

Last but not least, I included my book on nurse bullying. I wasn’t planning to include mine, but was encouraged by the numerous people who told me I should. So I did. In this book, I highlight the seriousness of nurse bullying, the impact bullying has in healthcare, and powerful strategies individuals and leaders can take to stop it. Although intended for the individual who is struggling, there is a bonus chapter for managers.

Why read this book? Because we are hemorrhaging really great nurses due to this problem and need strong, knowledgeable, and competent leaders to stop it.

There you have it. 10 books every nurse leader should read.  Remember, no one is born with leadership skills. Great leaders are created deliberately, thoughtfully, and consistently – one lesson, one mentor, and one book at a time!

What other books would you recommend and why? I would love to include them in my next book round-up!

Take care. Be kind. Stay connected.

Helping you cultivate a healthy happy workforce,

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15 thoughts on “10 Books Every Nurse Leader Must Read”

    1. Thanks Mimi! Hoping to do my part to help other nurses get it too!!! Would you add any other books to this list?

      Air hugs!

  1. Great list,I have read the Covey book on 7 effective habits. One I just finished is Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

    1. You’re welcome Mary Lou!! Hmm..you could start a book club with your leaders!! If so, I would start with Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why 🙂

  2. Dr. Reezena H. Malaska, Rn, CCRN

    Dear Renee, once again I am inspired by you. I love all of your 10 suggested books. The only one I have read is Steven Covey’s “The 7 Habits…”. I believe each book has something leaders can learn from. I love to read, have read numerous articles over the years on leadership, behaviors, bullying, etc., & try to read 1-3 articles every day during my lunch break at my desk. Its the only way I can get my reading done. I do not take work home, that is my “down time” after long days at work! Once again. Thanks!

    1. I think I’ve read every book Stephen Covey has written! Some of them I’ve read a few times. Love how you incorporate reading as a habit!

  3. have you read or seen- Propel to Quality Healthcare: six steps to improve patient care, staff engagement, and the bottom line by Thomas Muha, PhD-strategies are based in positive psychology. I would recommend reading it, lots of actual stories from health care and nursing units.

  4. I am going to work on this list. I would add to it:
    The Happiness Effect by Shawn Anchor and Forged in Crisis by Nancy Koehn

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