When you think about a good leader, who comes to mind? Is it Abraham Lincoln? John F. Kennedy? Maybe it’s the Dalai Lama. Whoever comes to mind, chances are you can think of someone you admire for their leadership. Some might think of someone who went through a difficult period in world history. Others might think of someone whose traits they wish to embody. The leader you think of might not even be world famous like the ones listed here, and that doesn’t matter. When we think of the most inspiring leaders in our life, it may be a parent, grandparent, family friend or mentor.

Wherever you look for leadership inspiration, there is perhaps no better way to get insight into leaders who have made a difference in the world than by reading a good biography. If your perfect leader is someone you know, that’s awesome, consider yourself lucky. However, you still might find a lot to like from the leaders who are the topic of the following books.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

(Doris Kearns Goodwin)

When it comes to books about U.S. presidents, Team of Rivals stands high above the rest. There has not been a more divisive time in our country than the years leading up to and during the Civil War. Brothers fighting against brothers, a country torn apart and two leaders going against each other. Abraham Lincoln, the president of the United States and Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, were both stout leaders. They both had a leadership style that inspired their followers and called them to action. Team of Rivals explains Lincoln’s presidency and who he surrounded himself with – his team of rivals – and how it helped him lead the nation and preserve the union.


(Ron Chernow)

The commanding general of the Union Army, Ulysses S. Grant would become the 18th president of the United States in 1869. His life up until that point was an amazing story. Serving under Abraham Lincoln throughout the Civil War, Grant led an army of men who were essentially going to war against their brethren. It was a terrible time to be a soldier, being faced with the task of fighting and killing your fellow countrymen but General Grant showed great leadership in such a tough time of the world. Author Ron Chernow has done an amazing job of research and writing to bring this leader’s story to life for those of us that didn’t know him.

Margaret Thatcher

(Charles Moore)

“The Iron Lady,” Margaret Thatcher served as the first woman Prime Minister of England. She gained her nickname because of her tough demeanor and stature. Thatcher worked tirelessly to allow for an enterprising free-market economy. She advocated for lower taxes and went head to head with other leaders over trade unions and social expenditure. Charles Moore, who penned the book, was given authorized full access to all of Thatcher’s papers, interviews and those with whom she kept in close contact. Whether you are a man or a woman in the workplace, this book is an amazing look into a great leader’s story.

Mandela: The Authorized Biography

(Anthony Sampson)

Nelson Mandela is a great leader. His father was a great leader, a tribal chief in South Africa. He credited his father’s leadership style for his own success in becoming the first black president of South Africa, ushering in the post-apartheid era. When asked about his father’s leadership style, Mandela told a story of how his father would listen to everyone in the tribal council before answering any of them. The ability to listen instead of fighting to be heard is a key leadership attribute. Mandela’s story is so captivating, after spending 27 years in prison, 18 of them spent in the harsh Robben Island prison doing hard labor. His sentence came from a suspicion that the African National Congress was going to attempt to overthrow the South African government. Can you imagine being put away for life based on a suspicion? His imprisonment could have been the end for Mandela, but it wasn’t. He used his imprisonment to motivate and inspire a nation to act and stand up for what they believe in. Author Anthony Sampson has done an amazing job capturing the life story of a man that is revered all over the world in his book simply titled Mandela. To get a grasp on how a great leader was born out of strife and struggles, look no further than this book.  

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Greg Stuart is the owner and editor of vDestination.com. He's been a VMware vExpert every year since 2011. Greg enjoys spending time with his wife and 3 kids. He has 20 years of IT experience and currently works as an IT Consultant both in the private and public sector. Greg holds a BS in Information Technology and an MBA degree. He currently resides in Southeast Idaho. You can follow him on Twitter @vDestination, read his blog (vDestination.com) and listen to his podcast (vDestination.com/feed/podcast).