At Growing Leaders, we believe in the potential and power of the emerging generation. Today’s emerging generation—the young people we call “Generation iY”—will carve a new path in history. Each new generation, however, is responsible not only to do something new, but to remember what has come before. Stories of great leaders from history personify an opportunity to learn what it takes to grow, to press on, to lead. This is what biographies offer us. They allow us to learn from past leaders. In fact, you may just find your most helpful mentor is a dead person!
If you know a young leader looking to grow—or you personally what to be inspired—here is a list of 12 great biographies to consider for growth and inspiration. Just imagine what could happen. Utilize these stories to help the students around you to expand their view of the world, teach them something about history, and embolden their own drive to become a great leader.
12 Biographies Every Young Person Should Read
1. John Wooden | Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court
John Wooden is the multi-award winning legendary coach of the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team. As the title implies, he has an abundance of wisdom to offer young leaders from the stories in his life—both on and off the court.
2. The Wright Brothers | The Wright Brothers
We all know that the Wright Brothers invented the airplane, but do you know the story behind this huge accomplishment? Their story, and legacy, is full of passion, imagination, and entrepreneurship.
3. Malala | I Am Malala
If you don’t know Malala, you should. Malala is a teenage activist who stood up to the Taliban in her native country of Pakistan. Now a Nobel Peace Prize recipient (at only 17!), Malala proves the importance of standing up for what you believe in, especially for those who have no voice.
4. Winston Churchill | Never Give In: The Extraordinary Character of Winston Churchill
You probably already recognize Churchill for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the second world war. This book, however, provides an interesting look into the personal side of this great leader.
5. Abraham Lincoln | Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times
Abraham Lincoln is, of course, recognized for his leadership of our country and his work to end the evil of slavery. This book explores both Lincoln’s story and his greatest leadership characteristics, especially how they can apply to you today.
6. Aung San Suu Kyi | The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of a Burmese political leader who led a revolt over an oppressive regime in the 80s and 90s and won the Nobel Prize for her work. Her inspiring story is deeply rooted in the practice of non-violence, which so many great leaders have utilized in recent history.
7. The Mirabal Sisters | In the Time of the Butterflies
Written as a novel, this book tells the story of “Las Mariposas,” four sisters who stood up to the unjust rule of a dictator in the Dominican Republic. Their story, and their mission, lives beyond them because of this work.
8. Martin Luther King, Jr. | The Autobiography of Martin Luther King
You probably already know about the life and deeds of Martin Luther King, Jr. This book, his own autobiography, puts the struggle of the Civil Rights movement into the words of its greatest advocate and leader: MLK himself.
9. Harriet Tubman | Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom
Harriet Tubman was known as a leader of the Underground Railroad, but there’s so much more to her story . The account of her life, which shows the powerful things that can happen when you commit to an ideal greater than yourself, highlights the necessity of hard work, standing up to injustice, and unfailing idealism.
10. Nelson Mandela | Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela was the South African leader who fought to end apartheid, the systematic oppression of black Africans. From his work in his youth, to his 27 years in prison, to his eventual election as president of the country—Mandela’s story would be unbelievable, if it weren’t also true.
11. Gandhi | Gandhi: A Life Inspired
Gandhi was not only the famed leader of the Indian resistance against British rule, he was also the inventor of what we now call nonviolent resistance. His insight and passion have served as an example of what it means to be a leader for generations, and that legacy will continue.
12. Florence Nightingale | Florence Nightingale: A Life Inspired
Well-known in her time, Florence Nightingale was the leader of a movement that created what we now know of in the modern world as the profession of nursing. Ms. Nightingale was both a leader in medical reform, and an outspoken advocate for learning from your mistakes—no matter how embarrassing they are.
I hope that you will consider giving one of these books to a young leader you know, or perhaps even reading one yourself. As you might imagine, when I sat down to create this list, there were a lot of books I had to cut out. If you are interested in receiving what I consider to be the rest of the list, click below to see four more biographies.