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10 Essential Non-business Books for Business Leaders

Updated: May 20

A starling bird sitting on a pile of books above the words "Starling on Learning"

Anyone who knows me knows I love books. I have several in my Amazon cart at all times, and, much to the chagrin of my partner, I have books piled up throughout our home (and on my Kindle and in Audible and anywhere else I can house them). Because of this obsession, I can never pass up a good “best books” list—especially on the topics of business, leadership, or professional development.

But, if I’m being honest, there are only so many times a girl can see books like Jim Collins’ Good to Great and Simon Sinek’s Start with WHY before her eyes start to glaze over (both great books, btw). When I think about it, there are so many different books that have contributed to my own success as a leader—so many non-business books.

So, let's read outside of our comfort zone! In the interest of expanding our horizons, seeking new perspectives, and cultivating a breadth of knowledge that will serve us wherever we find ourselves on the corporate ladder, here is my own personal take on ten essential non-business books for business leaders (there are many more than ten, but let’s start here).

1. Elastic: Unlocking Your Brain's Ability to Embrace Change by Leonard Mlodinow 

(Amazon | Leonard Mlodinow's website)

What it’s about: The human brain and how to think flexibly and with agility in order to be more creative, responsive, and open-minded.

Why I recommend it: Understanding your brain and how it works will take your leadership to the next level. Not just because you’ll be able to manage yourself better but because it gives you the tools to coach others better, as well. Especially as the world continues to become increasingly complex and uncertain, being able to embrace change and adapt with confidence are vital skills for all leaders.

2. A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger 

(Amazon | Warren Berger's website)

What it’s about: The surprising power of questions to drive better solutions, fresh possibilities, and greater success in business and life.

Why I recommend it: OK, so I guess it’s kind of a business book, but it’s not your average one and I've never seen it on any best books list. In my opinion, questions are a super skill that help us solve problems, make decisions, maintain our resilience, and lead more equitably. They make us better mentors and coaches—and better partners and friends—and cultivating a habit of good questions will serve you well in all corners of your life.

3. How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

What it’s about: Going beyond passive awareness and condemnation of racism to actively counteracting it and contributing to a more just and equitable society.

Why I recommend it: Because fostering happier and healthier workplaces requires more than an awareness and understanding of systemic inequities, it requires active work to confront and dismantle them. This book provides a helpful foundation on racism in America, as well as ways we can move beyond simply denouncing it to taking action against it—a responsibility of any modern leader. While any one book can only scratch the surface of such a complex and important topic, Kendi’s book is a great place to start or continue your journey into social justice. 

4. Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon 

What it’s about: Ten guiding principles to help you discover your artistic side and build a more creative life.

Why I recommend it: The book is a fast, fun, and aesthetically pleasing read—I quote it regularly and my copy is littered with sticky notes marking things I want to come back to. Even in highly technical or analytical roles, creativity is a differentiator. Spending even just a little time understanding how to amplify creativity can be a game changer.

5. Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel 

What it’s about: Core principles about how people learn, as well as strategies for designing more effective learning experiences.

Why I recommend it: I don’t care who you are or what your job is—you are in the business of helping people learn. It might be customers, employees, partners, peers, or higher-ups, but you definitely do it. Understanding the basics of how people learn and how to use that knowledge to your advantage will help you onboard, communicate, advise, advocate, sell, or anything else you need to do. And this book just happens to be the bible on that.

6. Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages by Guy Deutscher 

What it’s about: Language and how it influences both how we think and how we perceive the world.

Why I recommend it: This book is straight up fascinating. I’m a firm believer that words matter, and many of our courses contain lessons on language in service of self-awareness, critical thinking, and more. We often use language automatically and without being conscious of the assumptions and meaning that are built in. Being more aware of and precise with our language helps us persuade, inspire, and build lasting relationships—essential skills for any leader.

7. Rooted: Life at the Crossroads of Science, Nature, and Spirit by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

What it’s about: The interconnection of life on our planet and practices to help us feel a sense of belonging within the magic and wonder of the natural world.

Why I recommend it: Haupt's peaceful and delightful book made me want to go outside and watch trees. We get so caught up in things like work, results, technology, and social media. Taking a big step back to remember, reconnect, and reexamine our relationship with the ecosystem around us can be grounding and restorative. Something we’re big fans of here at Starling...and something I believe will make you a better leader.

8. The Art of Community: Seven Principles for Belonging by Charles Vogl 

What it’s about: Seven principles for building and strengthening formal or informal communities with advice on how to apply them.

Why I recommend it: Our companies are communities, our teams are communities, and our customers are communities. These communities may seem like they "just happen," but there's an underlying formula to the magic. The more we understand and are able to leverage what brings them together and keeps them together, the more successful we will be as leaders and members of those communities.

9. Experiments in Reflection: How to See the Present, Reconsider the Past, and Shape the Future by Leticia Britos Cavagnaro

What it’s about: Noticing what matters, sharpening your intuition, and using reflection to not only consider what is or was, but also shape what could be.

Why I recommend it: I’m a big advocate for reflection and think it is an often under-appreciated activity. In life, it’s what helps us grow and, in learning, it’s what makes things stick. This short and fun-to-read book is part of a series published by Stanford’s—the entirety of which is delightful and thought-provoking both intellectually and aesthetically. I highly recommend them all.

10. Do/ Story/ How to Tell Your Story so the World Listens by Bobette Buster

What it’s about: Principles used by some of the world’s best storytellers and how to apply them.

Why I recommend it: A C-suite leader I admire once told me that storytelling was the skill that has been most helpful to him in his position and I’ve never forgotten it. Being able to tell a compelling story helps us sell, convince, inspire, and motivate. As leaders, it's our job to get people to listen, so storytelling is something we should all be studying. Buster's book is easy and a pleasure to read.


At Starling we aim to create an interdisciplinary and holistic learning experience that is as influenced by the business books of the world as the non-business ones. In our opinion, the multi-faceted nature of the curriculum helps make us better leaders. If you're interested in that kind of thing, join our community for access to all available The Starling Way courses and more.

Psst...I'm always looking for recommendations to add to my collection of book piles. Feel free to reach out and let me know what you'd add to this list:



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