30 Best Professional Development Books (grouped by topic)

Book recommendations on professional development are everywhere – but professional development isn’t one “thing” – it’s a broad umbrella that means different things to different people. 

Do you want to learn leadership skills? Or to improve your time management? These both technically fall under professional development, but one might be useless while the other is the key to your career growth. A book on critical thinking skills is not really going to help with personal branding or building a network. 

To help you find the right book for your situation, we’ve organized our recommendations into six categories: 

  • Effective Communication
  • Critical Thinking
  • Successful Leadership
  • Time Management and Productivity
  • Personal Branding
  • Professional Networking

Feel free to jump to the sections that interest you the most! 

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Table of Contents

Books to improve your communication

Effective communication is the key to understanding others and being understood yourself. These books teach how to communicate with empathy, confidence, and clarity, while also teaching the critical skills of persuasion and resolution. 

1. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler 

When stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong, you have three choices: avoid a crucial conversation and suffer the consequences; handle the conversation badly and suffer the consequences; or check out Crucial Conversations and discover how to communicate best when it matters most.”

We tend to do our worst communicating when conversations matter most. As the New York Times best-seller on the subject, Crucial Conversations is packed with timeless advice that every professional can utilize at every career stage. 

This book will help you recognize uncomfortable conversations in the moment — like when your boss asks you to stay late on a Friday — and teach you how to regulate your emotions, gather your thoughts, and speak with confidence even when the stakes are high. 

Buy it here.

2. Simply Said: Communicating Better at Work and Beyond by Jay Sullivan

Simply Said is the essential handbook for business communication. Do you ever feel as though your message hasn’t gotten across? Do details get lost along the way? Have tense situations ever escalated unnecessarily? Do people buy into your ideas? It all comes down to communication. We all communicate, but few of us do it well.”

This book adopts the Exec|Comm philosophy, which is the notion that we can communicate more effectively when we focus more on the other people in the conversation and less on ourselves. It’s the idea of “seeking to understand before being understood,” except this book applies it with specific examples that you’ll likely encounter in the workplace. 

By taking a pragmatic approach to developing communication skills, this book is a step-by-step guide that will hold your hand through the toughest professional scenarios, including your next big presentation. 

Buy it here.

3. Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time by Susan Scott

Using identifiable anecdotes from her experience to inspire and inform, along with a series of practical exercises designed to impart the requisite skills, Scott walks readers through the individual steps she’s developed to build better associations through more robust and honest discourses.”

You’ll breeze through this witty short read. Scott focuses on being gentle and honest; listening before understanding; and understanding before responding. 

While there may be one too many cliches inside, Scott is highly effective at using everyday language to clearly explain her key concepts, including the concept that silence is often the most powerful of all of our communication tools. 

Buy it here.

4. Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear by Dr. Frank Luntz

“In Words That Work, Luntz offers a behind-the-scenes look at how the tactical use of words and phrases affects what we buy, who we vote for, and even what we believe in. He’ll tell us why Rupert Murdoch’s six-billion-dollar decision to buy DirectTV was smart because satellite was more cutting edge than “digital cable,” and why pharmaceutical companies transitioned their message from ‘treatment’ to ‘prevention’ and ‘wellness.’”

When offering something new, it’s best done in plain English. That’s detailed under rule number five, which Luntz names “Novelty.” This take, and many others, will help you rethink how you communicate with the people around you. The only catch? You’ll need to skim past the author’s subtle political statements and focus on the invaluable information within. 

Buy it here.

5. The Fine Art of Small Talk: How To Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills — and Leave a Positive Impression! By Debra Fine

With practical advice and conversation “cheat sheets,” The Fine Art of Small Talk will help you learn to feel more comfortable in any type of social situation, from lunch with the boss to an association event to a cocktail party where you don’t know a soul.”

While other books in this category focus on the big conversations, Debra Fine shifts focus to those awkward pauses and nagging moments where you’re filled with hesitation, clamoring to find the right words to say next. 

Fine’s approach to communication is anything but surface-level. By learning to strike up and carry on meaningful conversations, this book will help you come across as calm, cool, and collected while building relationships with people. 

Buy it here.


Books on critical thinking

Solving problems and making important decisions require you to think beyond the immediate impacts and potential consequences of your choices. Successful professionals employ critical thinking to look long-term, sometimes sacrificing short-term gains for the big picture

These books will help you develop these logic and reasoning skills so that you can make the right decisions, even under pressure. 

1. Critical Thinking: Your Guide to Effective Argument, Successful Analysis and Independent Study by Tom Chatfield

“This is your personal toolkit for demystifying critical thinking. Clear and focused, it shows you how to sharpen your ability to think critically by developing and honing your skills.”

Aimed at students, Chatfield’s book may seem irrelevant to a working professional, but the context he has written it in makes it all the more practical and actionable for anyone to apply. Chatfield teaches you to take a logical approach to problem-solving, negotiation, and persuasion by encouraging you to build solid arguments and support them with evidence. 

Even if your school days are long behind you, Chatfield’s updated advice will help you develop confidence in your critical thinking skills and use the deluge of digital information to your advantage to make you that much more effective as a communicator. Plus, he even touches on the topic of dispelling biased and flawed ways of thinking, which is an invaluable skill in today’s world.

 Buy it here.

2. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Engaging the reader in a lively conversation about how we think, Kahneman reveals where we can and cannot trust our intuitions and how we can tap into the benefits of slow thinking. He offers practical and enlightening insights into how choices are made in both our business and our personal lives―and how we can use different techniques to guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble.”

With over 2.6 million copies sold, Kahneman’s explanation of “System 1” and “System 2” thinking will empower you to recognize your cognitive biases and moments of overconfidence and come out with a balanced perspective. 

The heart of Kahneman’s approach is differentiating between System 1 thinking, which is fast and emotional, and System 2 thinking, which is slow and logical. It’s the way he explores the implications of these modes that makes this book so intuitive, valuable, and widely applicable for professionals of all backgrounds.

Buy it here. 

3. Wait, What?: And Life’s Other Essential Questions by James E. Ryan

Jim Ryan, dean of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, celebrates the art of asking—and answering—good questions. Five questions in particular: Wait, what?; I wonder…? Couldn’t we at least…?; How can I help?; and What truly matters? At once hilarious and illuminating, poignant and surprising, Wait, What? is an inspiring book of wisdom that will forever change the way you think about questions.”

Good questions, presented in the context of social movements, history, and politics, lay the basis for Ryan’s overarching belief that we should spend just as much time thinking about the questions we ask as we do the answers we give.

With a focus on creating deeper connections with the people around us, Ryan encourages us to use good questions to explore the awkward, unknown, and unpleasant. By the end of the book, you’ll feel confident turning conversations into discussions and leading them forward. 

Buy it here.

4. Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About Success by Matthew Syed

Every passenger aircraft in the world is equipped with an almost indestructible black box. Whenever there’s any sort of mishap, major or minor, the box is opened, the data is analyzed, and experts figure out exactly what went wrong…  Syed argues that the most important determinant of success in any field is an acknowledgment of failure and a willingness to engage with it.” 

Whether or not you work in a field that deals with life-and-death situations, black-box thinking will teach you how to continuously improve your decision-making and problem-solving skills by constantly evaluating and learning from past choices. 

Syed teaches you how to create your own internal black box and consider not only how mistakes happen, but what you do immediately after they occur. Emotional real-world examples put his advice into perspective and will humble you into taking that advice to heart. 

Buy it here.

5. The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli

A novelist, thinker, and entrepreneur, Rolf Dobelli deftly shows that in order to lead happier, more prosperous lives, we don’t need extra cunning, new ideas, shiny gadgets, or more frantic hyperactivity – all we need is less irrationality.”

A study on human reasoning, Dobelli waded through years of research on behavioral economics, psychology, and neuroscience and condensed it into this practical guide on making better decisions. 

The chapters are short and punchy, sometimes only a few paragraphs long, making for an easy read packed full of examples to illustrate the cognitive errors, traps, and biases that Dobelli artfully explains. If you want to reinforce a decisive and positive mindset, this book shows you how.

Buy it here.

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Books to be a successful leader

Ready to take your leadership skills to the next level, personally or professionally? These books detail the essential qualities today’s leaders need, with practical advice to help you develop and apply them effectively within the workplace. 

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

This beloved classic presents a principle-centered approach for solving both personal and professional problems… Stephen R. Covey reveals a step-by-step pathway for living with fairness, integrity, honesty, and human dignity – principles that give us the security to adapt to change and the wisdom and power to take advantage of the opportunities that change creates.”

The seven habits are regarded world over: Be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put first things first, think win/win, seek first to understand, synergize, and sharpen the saw. The value of this book is not in the habits themselves but in Covey’s guidance on how to apply them.

Buy it here.  

2. Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

Too many workplaces are driven by cynicism, paranoia, and self-interest. But the best ones foster trust and cooperation because their leaders build what Sinek calls a “Circle of Safety” that separates the security inside the team from the challenges outside.”

Sinek’s point-of-view is exemplified through fascinating real-life stories from his accounts within major corporations and military operations. A great read just for the tales, Sinek delivers immense value that shows how great leaders evoke trust and create environments where colleagues will literally and figuratively put their lives on the line for another. 

Buy it here.

3. The Art of Possibility, by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander

The Art of Possibility combines Benjamin Zander’s experience as conductor of the Boston Philharmonic and his talent as a teacher and communicator with psychotherapist Rosamund Stone Zander’s genius for designing innovative paradigms for personal and professional fulfillment.”

The authors’ harmonious perspectives come together to present 12 breakthrough practices to help you integrate human creativity and ingenuity into your leadership style. With this book, you’ll learn how to combine passion with positivity and leave a ripple effect on the world around you. 

Buy it here.

4. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts, by Brene Brown

Brené Brown is an authority in the study of courage and vulnerability as it pertains to leadership. In brief, she shares subtle skills that encourage courage-building skills and also gives practical steps to apply these skills within organizations and any other form of social setting throughout this empowering book.”

While many communication books deal with the topic of approaching difficult conversations, Brown takes it a step further and teaches you how to approach difficult situations. When tensions flair and deadlines bring pressure to a team, Brown’s practical advice will help you step up and handle anything at work, competently and courageously. 

Buy it here.

5. The First 90 Days, By Michael Watkins

By walking you through every aspect of the transition scenario, Watkins identifies the most common pitfalls new leaders encounter and provides the tools and strategies you need to avoid them. Each chapter also includes checklists, practical tools, and self-assessments to help you assimilate key lessons and apply them to your own situation.”

If you’re transitioning into a new role or company, Watkins will walk you through every crucial second from your first impression all the way up to your first performance review. This advice is applicable across entry-level positions and every seat on the executive board, with a focus on avoiding common pitfalls, developing relationships, and achieving early wins. 

Watkins has coached many leaders through the transition period, and his first-hand experience shines through in each chapter. The self-assessments, checklist, and tools make this into a full-fledged workbook that’s ready to lead the way on your next career move.

Buy it here.

Books to help you increase productivity and improve time management

We all have the same 24 hours in the day, but how do top performers get way more done than others? These books take an unpretentious approach to help you prioritize your obligations, manage your time wisely, and learn how to manage the time-consuming and stressful duties that are standing in the way of your work-life balance. 

1. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

Since it was first published more than 15 years ago, David Allen’s Getting Things Done has become one of the most influential business books of its era and the ultimate book on personal organization. Allen has rewritten the book from start to finish, tweaking his classic text with important perspectives on the new workplace.”

Allen’s book centers around a two-step process: Defining what “done” means, and what “doing” looks like. It’s excellent for professionals who are feeling overwhelmed in their work day, and even more valuable if your work has a tendency to bleed into your free time. 

If you have too much on your plate and not enough time for your professional development, personal passions, or family matters, Allen’s teachings will help you prioritize, plan, and delegate so that you can tend to all of your responsibilities in due time.  

Buy it here.

2. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time… In Deep Work, author and professor Cal Newport flips the narrative on impact in a connected age. Instead of arguing distraction is bad, he instead celebrates the power of its opposite.”

Author and professor Cal Newport teaches a regime, built around four rules, that will help you transform your mindset about the way you work. With new habits and a new outlook on what focus, boredom, and distraction mean, Newport’s book is as actionable as it is entertaining. 

Many great true stories from business trips and time abroad help put things into perspective in a way that any professional can relate to and apply. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by distractions, this is the book for you. 

Buy it here.

3. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.

Essentialism is more than a time-management strategy or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution toward the things that really matter.”

If you find yourself busy, not productive, McKeown’s system will help you learn how to eliminate what’s not essential and find a new way of handling the things that are. In particular, his approach to elimination — which focuses on maximizing your meaningful contributions in the world — will make it easier to say no, even if you have a tough time turning people down. 

Buy it here.

4. Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy

There’s an old saying that if the first thing you do each morning is eat a live frog, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re done with the worst thing you’ll have to do all day. For Tracy, eating a frog is a metaphor for tackling your most challenging task – but also the one that can have the greatest positive impact on your life.”

Many of us have been guilty of “productive procrastination,” or the act of doing little things we have to do without actually making progress on the things we need to do. Tracy’s technique will help you take determinate action when it truly counts, and stay focused on the task at hand. 

Not only will Tracy teach you how to eat the frog, but how to find the frogs in your list of to-do’s and identify the biggest one in the basket. A must-read for any professional that repeatedly starts and ends their workday with daunting responsibilities.  

Buy it here.

5. How to be a Productivity Ninja: Worry Less, Achieve More and Love What You Do by Graham Allcott

Using techniques including ruthlessness, mindfulness, Zenlike calm and stealth and camouflage, you will get your inbox down to zero, make the most of your attention, beat procrastination and learn to work smarter, not harder.”

Struggling with information overload? In today’s world, Allcott argues that traditional time management techniques just don’t cut it. This fun and accessible guide teaches you to stay calm, even during yet another pointless meeting, and learn to love your work again. 

It takes no effort to read this book cover-to-cover, and you’ll find that Allcott’s advice is directly applicable in the modern workplace, especially for tech-savvy people.

Buy it here.

Books on personal branding

How do you not only showcase your personality, but turn it into an asset for your career? These books will put your unique skills, experiences, and values on display and help you leverage them to  build trust, respect, and connections as a professional.  

1. Personal Branding For Dummies by Susan Chritton

Distinguishing yourself from the competition is important in any facet of business, and the rise of personal branding has evolved specifically to help candidates stand out from the global talent pool… Personal Branding For Dummies, 2nd Edition, leads you step by step through the self-branding process.”

If you’ve never read a For Dummies book before, this is a great introduction to the series’ step-by-step style that makes a convoluted process like personal branding accessible to the masses. 

The information is targeted directly at career professionals, not entrepreneurs, and it’s a great fit whether you’re starting your first job or trying to distinguish yourself as you make a lateral move later in life. In addition to tips on designing your brand, Chritton provides tips and techniques on demonstrating it, and mistakes that could very well destroy it. 

Buy it here.

2. Reinventing You by Dorie Clark

Mixing personal stories with engaging interviews and examples from well-known personalities – Mark Zuckerberg, Al Gore, Tim Ferriss, Seth Godin, and others – Reinventing You shows how to think big about your professional goals, take control of your career, build a reputation that opens doors for you, and finally live the life you want.”

Clark’s guide is centered on the everyday overperformer. The one with unique passions and talents who has so much to contribute to the world, but has struggled to put their assets into the spotlight. 

If you want to do more than gab about your industry and actually reinvent yourself into a thoughtful expert, this guide is for you. Clark’s advice goes beyond distinguishing yourself and teaches you how to make a compelling brand that builds credibility and respect. 

Buy it here.

3. BrandingPays by Karen Kang

Globalization and social media have made the world smaller, more connected, and infinitely more competitive. The world has changed. Have you? If you don’t have the package that will take you to the next level of your career, you need to reinvent your personal brand.”

Especially valuable for seasoned professionals who maybe haven’t refocused their skills and approaches since the rise of social media, Kang’s guide is modeled after the approaches used in leading business schools and companies world-over. 

The whole BrandingPays methodology is built upon the concepts and techniques from the marketing firm that launched the Apple brand and has been updated to help professionals harness opportunities online. Charts and outlines make it easy to follow along with, and Kang draws a clear line between personal branding and self-promotion (something many other authors fail to do). 

Buy it here.

4. You Are The Brand by Mike Kim

It’s no secret that more people than ever before are building thriving businesses around their personal brands. But why do some create six- or even seven-figure businesses while so many others strive to make a consistent income? In You Are the Brand, Mike Kim shares his proven eight-step blueprint that has helped build the brands for some of today’s most influential thought leaders – as well as his own personal brand.”

Attention isn’t owned, it’s earned. That’s the humble take that Kim instills in the reader, calling out those who try to build brands that in no way reflect who they truly are. With a focus on authenticity, Kim teaches how to build a brand that is warm, inviting, and bound to attract a fervent community of followers.

Kim’s approach is practical and defined, with assessments and concepts that will help you carve out your personal brand based on clear messaging and a sound business model. It’s a must-read for professionals who are trying to be “idea-preneurs” or “how-to-preneurs,” as he puts it. 

Buy it here.

It’s been said that money can’t buy happiness, but what if it could? What if your intentionality with money changed everything for you? Here are my thoughts on the intersection of happiness and money:

5. This Is Marketing by Seth Godin

Great marketers don’t use consumers to solve their company’s problem; they use marketing to solve other people’s problems. Their tactics rely on empathy, connection, and emotional labor instead of attention-stealing ads and spammy email funnels.”

If you “hate selling” because the process feels high-pressure and misleading, Godin will break down your misconceptions and help you rebuild a mindset that focuses on helping instead of harassing, tricking, or scamming. 

This book was an instant New York Times best-seller and number-one Wall Street Journal best-seller for good reason. Godin’s reputation combined with his updated marketing wisdom will teach you how to position yourself with emphasis on who your offer is for, and who it’s not for. It’s extremely valuable advice, especially for those who have been taught the “old ways” of marketing, selling, and advertising and need to renew their approach.

Buy it here.

Books about professional networking

Networking goes beyond sending a connection request. In order to build meaningful relationships that can earn you recommendations, referrals, and new opportunities, you have to put in the effort and learn how to relate to others in your field. These books teach effective techniques that make networking less daunting. 

1. Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi

Do you want to get ahead in life? Climb the ladder to personal success? The secret, master networker Keith Ferrazzi claims, is in reaching out to other people. As Ferrazzi discovered in early life, what distinguishes highly successful people from everyone else is the way they use the power of relationships – so that everyone wins.”

Ferrazzi’s book details his own success story, working his way up from being the son of a small-town cleaner and steelworker to networking his way into Yale, a Harvard M.B.A., and several executive positions. Young, smart, and humble, he implores you to abandon networking and start connecting instead. 

 A truly refreshing approach to what it means to build professional relationships, Ferrazzi teaches you to approach conversations with the goal of creating mutual value. His own story intertwined with actionable advice makes for a resourceful and enjoyable read. 

Buy it here.

2. Superconnector by Scott Gerber and Ryan Paugh

In Superconnector, Scott Gerber and Ryan Paugh reveal a new category of professionals born out of the social media era: highly valuable community builders who make things happen through their keen understanding and utilization of social capital.”

Paugh wants you to stop networking and take a human, but systematic, approach to managing your community. The concept of Habitual Generosity shines through in the teachings, reassuring readers that the greatest returns will come to them when they least expect them.

The talk about good karma, building meaningful connections, and making selective choices about who you choose to build relationships with echoes the advice of Never Eat Alone, but with an entirely different perspective that’s rooted in the authors’ endorsement of social media. 

Buy it here.

3. How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie

“Dale Carnegie, known as ‘the arch-priest of the art of making friends’, pioneered the development of personal business skills, self-confidence, and motivational techniques. His books – most notably How to Win Friends and Influence People – have sold tens of millions worldwide and, even in today’s changing climate, they remain as popular as ever.”

The definition of timeless advice, Carnegie’s book instills confidence, reassuring you that what you want to do in your career can be done, and that you can probably do it far better than you think. 

The lessons are packed with value, starting from the six ways you can “make” people like you (hint: there’s no trickery involved) and the twelve ways you can persuade others to see your way of thinking by emanating understanding, passion, and integrity. 

If you’re looking to build a professional network that respects you as much as they like you, Carnegie’s guide can’t be overlooked. 

Buy it here.

4. Give and Take by Adam Grant

In Give and Take, Adam Grant, an award-winning researcher and Wharton’s highest-rated professor, examines the surprising forces that shape why some people rise to the top of the success ladder while others sink to the bottom.”

Too busy looking inward when thinking about your success? Grant teaches us that, while passion and hard work are important, we need to start thinking beyond ourselves and considering how we are connecting with and utilizing the talent that’s all around us.

As Wharton’s highest-rated professor, Grant’s advice is praised by social scientists and business theorists, but delivered in a pragmatic way that will help you rethink your interactions and achieve your career goals by applying the rules of give and take. 

Buy it here.

5. Networking Is Not Working by Derek Coburn

Born out of author Derek Coburn’s frustration with having spent thousands of fruitless hours attending traditional networking events, this book offers fresh, effective, unconventional strategies for growing and nurturing a powerful network. These strategies grew Coburn’s revenue by 300% in just 18 months and can have a major impact on your business.”

Coburn teaches you not only how to become the “Ultimate Connector,” but how to become a resource for others, one that professionals will want to turn to when they need advice (and services). He focuses on high-productivity networking tactics, doing away with the old business card exchanges and instead teaching his own creative ways to connect with people who can complement the value you provide to the world. 

This book is valuable for any professional who is fed up with traditional networking methods and ready to pursue quality introductions that lead to lasting partnerships.

Buy it here.

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