10 Talent Books Every Leader Should Read

talent booksMay 29, 2015

I have been asked by several people lately what book I can recommend to those HR and business leaders who want to expand their knowledge in talent management. My answer to all was that in my opinion there is not ONE book that does justice to this topic. The reason: the very definition and concept of talent management is literally being re-written as we speak. [You can learn more about my perspective on talent trends here].

As I thought more about the request I started making a mental inventory of those books that I frequently re-visit and use as inspiration for my own work.
Here is me dusting off my bookshelf and creating a list of ten books related to aspects of talent that I think every leader should read. The reason they made my list: none of them are HR manuals; they are business books. They all have some incredibly thought-provoking ideas that can help move the needle in talent management. And they all feature real-life case studies as well as practical tools and templates that anyone can implement tomorrow.

Drum roll… here is my list (in no particular order):

Book #1: “Kill the Company” (Lisa Bodell)

I love Bodell’s pragmatic approach towards organizational innovation outlined in this book. It is supported by solid research and years of experience in facilitating companies’ innovation initiatives. Lisa Bodell also provides leaders with a framework that empowers their employees to become talent.preneurs.

Book #2: “Start With Why” (Simon Sinek)

Simon Sinek is one of those people who inspires at a very visceral level. His method of “starting with why” can be applied to all sorts of talent-related processes: talent branding, selection, and talent.driven leadership, to name a few. If you don’t have the time to read the book, watch at least his TED talk – and be prepared to be blown away!

Book #3: “Workforce of One” (Susan Cantrell/David Smith)

What I like about this research- and case study-based book is that it outlines the process of talent segmentation and customization to create an engaging talent.experience. The book succeeds in taking well-known concepts from the world of marketing and applying them to the talent realm. [In full disclosure, I am a former Accenture consultant and this book is authored by Accenture Talent Strategy leaders].

Book #4: “Delivering Happiness” (Tony Hsieh)

Entrepreneur and CEO of Zappos.com, Tony Hsieh, has arguably succeeded in creating a company that is much more than just about selling shoes. In his book, Hsieh outlines some very practical steps towards creating a booming, customer-centric business by focusing on your most important asset – your talent.

Book #5: “Execution” (Larry Bossidy/Ram Charan)

This leadership classic provides a blueprint for how organizations can systematically link business and talent strategies to achieve execution excellence.

Book #6: “Drive” (Daniel Pink)

If you want to learn how to truly engage and retain talent, you need to read this book. Pink debunks commonly held myths about what motivates us (i.e. money). He leverages scientific insight and research to outline what truly engages people. I highly recommend you also watch the animated video summary of key concepts of the book.

Book #7: “The First 90 Days” (Michael Watkins)

Every time I am in a new leadership role I re-read this classic. I have also used it as a reference for designing executive onboarding programs for clients. No matter which level of leader you are – first time supervisor or C-level Executive – Watkins’ ramp up tool is a must read for any leadership transition. This book is now also available as an app that assists you in setting your 90 day plan and sends you milestone reminders.

Book #8: “Talent On Demand” (Peter Cappelli)

In this book, Wharton Professor Cappelli applies lessons from supply chain management to talent planning. In a time of increasing uncertainty and change identifying and hiring talent “just in time” will become ever more challenging. Cappelli provides a practical approach for navigating this environment while articulating the return on talent-related investments.

Book #9: “The Employer Brand” (Simon Barrow/Richard Mosley)

The original book on employer branding (now also called talent branding) is still the most comprehensive guide outlining the concept, business case, and a roadmap for designing an employer brand.

Book #10: “Blindspot – Hidden Biases of Good People” (Mahzarin Banaji/Anthony Greenwald)

This book is a science-based field guide to understanding unconscious bias. It is full of useful exercises to help surface one’s very own blind spots. A great primer for rethinking how each of us makes talent-related decisions in the work place.


Nicole Dessain is the founder of talent.imperative, a next generation talent management consultancy. We guide our clients in surfacing their most pressing talent questions, crunch data to answer them, and customize solutions to realize value through talent. Contact us to discuss how we can help you.

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