Richa Bansal

Top Five Leadership Books for Women That Shaped My Career

I love to read! Ever since I learned to read, I devoured books. As I transitioned from being a student to a frequent traveler for work, to a busy mom of two, I have graduated from reading my favorites on paperback, to scrolling them on kindle and finally to listening to them on audio. The genre I enjoy reading has also matured over time. As I have grown in my career, I have shifted from being a passionate lover of historical fiction to learning more about leadership skills and emotional intelligence.

Through this post, I want to share with you my list of five favorite leadership books for women that have shaped my career. This is not at all an exhaustive list, I already have several other books on my reading list (which I would love to share with you in a future post). However, I found these five to be a great resource, especially for young and rising women leaders, as they define their leadership style and grow their tribe. 

My Top 5 Books on Leadership For Women

So here goes, in no particular order…

1. Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office

“A simple, quick guide to presenting ourselves as the strong and bold women we are.”
 Gail Evans, author of She Wins, You Win and Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman
I read this book several years ago, and is still my go to reference guide for tips on advancing in the corporate world. The book lists 101 unconscious mistakes women make at work in the way they look, sound, think and act, and thereby unknowingly sabotage their career. It not only lists the issues, but also provides practical coaching tips to improve upon the development areas.  

Key Takeaway For Me
Over the years, I have embraced several tips recommended in the book to improve my personal style at work. My favorite though is from chapter 60 – Apologizing. Women have a tendency to apologize, ALL THE TIME! Even our automatic reply on the outlook reads “Sorry, I am not in the office this week… “. Apologizing all the time makes us look like we are at fault when we are in fact not. It is simply time to stop apologizing!

After reading the book, I was conscious about the times I was saying ‘Sorry’ in office and this has really set the tone for how I handle difficult conversations at work now.

2. The Female Advantage: Women’s Way of Leadership

“Must reading for women who are leaders or who want to be.”
Dawn Mello, former executive vice president, Gucci International
This book is truly a classic! Though the first edition was written in 1990, the women leaders interviewed in the book still emulate the female leaders of today. Unlike typical leadership books that talk about characteristics of great leaders, Sally Helgesen decided to do diary studies, that shows details of the leadership style of her subjects.

Key Takeaway For Me

I love the fact that each of the four women in the book speaks with a distinct voice, has a unique personality and has a different way of leading her team. Not only could I relate to the leadership styles and characteristics of some of the women interviewed in the book, but also could use these examples as models to further refine my own leadership style. 

3. Girl, Wash Your Face

“Shockingly honest and hilariously down to earth, Girl, Wash Your Face is a gift to women who want to flourish and live a courageously authentic life.”
 Megan Tamte, founder and co-CEO of Evereve
Though this is not a typical leadership book, it is one of my favorite books for 2019. Rachel Hollis is my inspiration for starting on the path of self-development and questioning the real purpose of my being in this world. I finished the audio-book of ‘Girl, Wash Your Face’ before I bought a hard copy to keep as my reference guide. In this book, Rachel shares 20 lies that prevented her from being the best version of herself, and how she overcame them to live a joyful and productive life.

Key Takeaway For Me

Through this book, I learnt the power of vulnerability and how that moves audiences (in a ‘coming soon’ post I will share how I decided to be vulnerable at work, got hurt, picked myself up and came out stronger). People relate with personal stories and find strength in learning that you have gone from a place of struggle to where you are now, and they can do the same. This knowledge has helped me tremendously shape my leadership style at work. 

4. Feminist Fight Club

“A worthy addition to the library of any young female professional or frustrated middle manager or male coworker who wants to help.”
This book is funny, practical and somewhat quirky guide for navigating the sexism prevalent in modern workplace. It is inspired by the author’s own struggles in a male-dominated occupation as a young 20 something. With its hilarious illustrations, straight to the point text, and practical advice, it will be hard to keep down once you start it.
Key Takeaway For Me
One of my favorite sections in the book is called ‘Know Thyself – Female Self-Sabotage’. After I read this chapter, I was hyper-aware of the unconscious mistakes we do at work to self-sabotage our career; these include being the ‘office mom’ (volunteering to ALWAYS organize team lunches and events), the ‘door mat’ (never saying no to anything that comes your way) and the ‘humble bragger’ (attributing success to luck rather than to self). And since I was consciously watching out for these self-deprecating behaviors, I was able to catch and correct them more and more, until they stop happening altogether. 

5. Start With Why

“Start with Why is one of the most useful and powerful books I have read in years. Simple and elegant, it shows us how leaders should lead.”
WILLIAM URY, coauthor of Getting to Yes
With over 44 million views, Simon Sinek’s TED talk ‘How Great Leaders Inspire Action’ is the 3rd most watched TED video of all time. The book is an extension of this inspiring talk and provides greater food for thought than the 20 mins video. I was immensely surprised by his clarity of thought, simplicity of his message and strong case studies that prove the Power of Why. All great leaders and all great businesses must know why they are doing the things they do. ‘What’ and ‘How’ must follow from there.

Key Takeaway For Me

Inspired by this book, I have internalized the power of why, in both small and big measures. I use it daily in my job, as I work with my team to keep projects on schedule, ask my stakeholders for more resources or to define the strategy for my organizational structure. It is much easier to motivate a team member to do something they dislike if they understand the why behind it. Also when the going gets tough, knowing the ‘Why’ also helps keep me focused and positive.

What are some of your favorite books for young and rising women leaders?


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