Leading a team or business is no easy task.
Aside from overcoming any personal or professional fears, there’s managing people, customers, financials, etc. Being a masterful business leader really boils down to how much you are willing to invest in honing your skills and knowledge.
And no, I don’t mean investing money or spending money on overly expensive seminars. I’m talking about investing your time and attention.
Taking the time to read, take courses, or join a small mastermind group will not only hone your skills but will make you sharper, more efficient, and more confident. All of which is important to the growth and success of your company and important to your own growth and success.
So, to help you crush it in 2021, I’ve compiled a list of the ten books I believe every business leader needs to read. Happy reading!
Business Made Simple
Business is more than just a good idea made profitable; it’s a system of unspoken rules, rarely taught by the university system. If you are attempting to profitably grow your business or career, you need a certain level of business knowledge–knowledge that creates tangible value. Unfortunately, few of us have the time, access, or money to attend a Top 20 business school. And, it’s hard to be successful without a clear understanding of how business works.
In Business Made Simple, New York Times bestselling author Donald Miller focuses on the tangible skills it takes to offer extreme value to your organization while building your company, your career, and your legacy. Discover what the most successful business leaders have known for years in as few as 60 days through the simple but effective secrets outlined in this book.
Embrace challenges, persist through obstacles, see effort as a path to mastery, learn from criticism, and find inspiration in the success of others.
“How do we succeed in life and business? We prove ourselves worthy investments.”
“In short, having a growth mindset is about understanding that we will never reach the top of the mountain but we can keep climbing so the view gets better and better.”
“All human beings long for a mission. We are all born self-identifying as heroes in a story and we know, even as children, that our existence on this planet matters. Not only this, but as communal beings, every person longs to join a team on a serious and important mission.”
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
Are there things you want to do but don’t know where to start? Do you struggle with breaking bad habits and starting good ones? Do you wonder why you behave in certain ways despite knowing you shouldn’t? Are you the person you want to be?
The knowledge and techniques provided in Atomic Habits are geared toward helping you discover who you currently are by looking at what you currently do. By detailing the 4 Stages of Habit Formation, James Clear breaks down the psychology of behaviors, describing how actions become habits, why some habits stick, and some don’t, and how to reframe your life to create new habits and maintain them over time.
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.”
“You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.”
Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
Built To Last examines what lies behind the extraordinary success of 18 visionary companies and which principles and ideas they’ve used to thrive for a century.
Visionary companies are like machines that constantly produce great products and leaders. However, great ideas are not necessary for the start of a visionary company. Nor are high-profile, charismatic leaders. The secret… well, you’ll have to read to find out.
“Visionary companies are so clear about what they stand for and what they’re trying to achieve that they simply don’t have room for those unwilling or unable to fit their exacting standards.”
“…it is better to understand who you are than where you are going—for where you are going will almost certainly change.”
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action
Start With Why teaches us how great organizations communicate, lead, and acquire loyal customers. Sinek argues that great leaders and organizations focus on WHY they do what they do instead of WHAT they do and HOW they do it.
According to Sinek, if you want to influence people’s behavior, you can either manipulate it or inspire it. Manipulation may work in the short-term, but it’s a losing strategy in the long run. Great leaders don’t demand that people do things. They inspire them to care about something… which motivates them to do great work.
“Trust begins to emerge when we have a sense that another person or organization is driven by things other than their own self-gain.”
“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.”
Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make The Leap And Others Don’t
Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a business leader, or just an individual looking to improve, the concepts in Good to Great provide food for thought—and spurs to action. You’ll learn what it takes to be a “Level 5” leader, why assembling the right team first is more important than having the right idea, why you should be more like a hedgehog than a fox, and why “stop doing” lists are as important as “to do” lists.
In Good to Great, former Stanford business professor Jim Collins offers a primer on turning the average into the exceptional. Through detailed case studies of 11 companies that went from tracking the market to exceeding it by at least 3x, Collins presents the key factors that separate merely good organizations from great ones—from rare leadership to disciplined thinking to the dogged pursuit of a core mission.
“Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.”
“Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.”
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
We have almost no control over our appearance and features, such as height, the shape of our nose, or the color of our eyes. What we do control, however, are our skills and abilities, at least according to the latest research. Carol Dweck is one of those researchers, and her book Mindset discerns between two attitudes: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.
People with a fixed mindset believe talent is everything. If they’re not gifted with the ability to do something, they think they’re doomed to be a failure. Their skills seem to be ingrained in their genes, just like their looks, which is why they never try to improve in areas they are weak.
However, people with a growth mindset believe that whatever they want to achieve is theirs for the taking, as long as they work hard for it, dedicate themselves to their goal, and practice as much as they can.
“Talent isn’t passed down in the genes; it’s passed down in the mindset.”
“No matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment.”
“Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better?”
The Culture Code: The Secrets Of Highly Successful Groups
The Culture Code is all about the real world of culture and culture change. This book is filled with incredible stories. Daniel Coyle highlights specific groups and why they are so successful. From learning about the Navy SEALs team selected to take down Osama Bin Laden to the millionaire shoe tycoon Tony Hsieh to the innovators and ideators at IDEO and many more.
Coyle demystifies the culture-building process by identifying three key skills that generate cohesion and cooperation and explains how diverse groups learn to function with a single mind. In a blend of leading-edge science, on-the-ground insights from world-class leaders, and practical ideas for action, The Culture Code provides a roadmap for creating an environment where innovation flourishes, problems get solved, and expectations are exceeded.
“Vulnerability doesn’t come after trust—it precedes it. Leaping into the unknown, when done alongside others, causes the solid ground of trust to materialize beneath our feet.”
“Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they’ll find a way to screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a good team, and they’ll find a way to make it better. The goal needs to be to get the team right, get them moving in the right direction, and get them to see where they are making mistakes and where they are succeeding.”
“The road to success is paved with mistakes well handled.”
“Culture is not something you are–it is something you do.”
Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine
Profit First offers readers a new way of considering accounting. Instead of calculating your profit based on the difference between your sales and expenses, Mike Michalowicz suggests calculating your expenses from the difference between your sales and profit. Take your Profit First, then work out how to cut your expenses.
Mike developed this idea from the most effective weight loss strategy – limiting portions by using smaller plates. Michalowicz’s system aims to turn people’s businesses from feeling like cash-eating monsters into feeling like profitable cash cows.
“A financially healthy company is a result of a series of small daily financial wins, not one big moment. Profitability isn’t an event; it’s a habit.”
“All revenue is not the same. If you remove your worst, unprofitable clients and the now-unnecessary costs associated with them, you will see a jump in profitability and a reduction in stress, often within a few weeks. Equally important, you will have more time to pursue and clone your best clients.”
Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive And Others Die
The Heath brothers answer the question: “Why do some ideas succeed while others die”? “Made to Stick” provides a practical and systematic way to create ideas that are understood, remembered, and have a long-term impact. Furthermore, Chip & Dan Heath outline the 6 principles to identifying and creating sticky ideas
According to the Heath brothers, a sticky idea is one that is understandable, memorable, and actually changes perspectives or behaviors. Not all ideas are “stick-worthy”, though it is possible to systematically create sticky ideas, or to learn to spot ideas with potential.
“To make our communications more effective, we need to shift our thinking from “What information do I need to convey?” to “What questions do I want my audience to ask?”
“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It
Too much time spent working in the business and not enough time spent working on the business is a big reason why 50% of new ventures fail within the first 5 years. In this book, Michael Gerber teaches us how to think about growing a business as if we were planning to franchise it. His Business Development Process is a framework for developing turn-key systems throughout an organization to produce predictable results and grow in a sustainable way.
Gerber cuts through various myths about what’s involved in starting a small business and how to make a business successful. Walking you through every stage of how to build a business, The E-Myth Revisited highlights the important difference between working in your business and working on your business.
“Contrary to popular belief, my experience has shown me that the people who are exceptionally good in business aren’t so because of what they know but because of their insatiable need to know more.”
“If your business depends on you, you don’t own a business—you have a job. And it’s the worst job in the world because you’re working for a lunatic!”
Principles: Life & Work
In Principles, Dalio shares what he’s learned over the course of his remarkable career. He argues that life, management, economics, and investing can all be systemized into rules and understood like machines. The book’s hundreds of practical lessons, which are built around his cornerstones of “radical truth” and “radical transparency,” include Dalio laying out the most effective ways for individuals and organizations to make decisions, approach challenges, and build strong teams.
He also describes the innovative tools the firm uses to bring an idea of meritocracy to life, such as creating “baseball cards” for all employees that distill their strengths and weaknesses and employing computerized decision-making systems to make believability-weighted decisions. While the book brims with novel ideas for organizations and institutions, Principles also offers a clear, straightforward approach to decision-making that Dalio believes anyone can apply, no matter what they’re seeking to achieve.
“Principles are fundamental truths that serve as the foundations for behavior that gets you what you want out of life.”
“Above all else, I want you to think for yourself, to decide 1) what you want, 2) what is true and 3) what to do about it”
“You don’t achieve happiness by getting rid of your problems – you achieve it by learning from them.”
Getting Things Done: The Art Of Stress-Free Productivity
Getting Things Done is a manual for stress-free productivity, which helps you set up a system of lists, reminders, and weekly reviews in order to free your mind from having to remember tasks and to-dos and instead let it work at full focus on the task at hand. It is the bible of productivity.
“GTD” is a system designed to help you clear your mental space so you can work more efficiently, without stress or distraction. David Allen says learning to manage our mundane daily tasks is the foundation for feeling more relaxation, control, and meaning in our lives.
“If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.”
“Your ability to generate power is directly proportional to your ability to relax.”
“Things rarely get stuck because of lack of time. They get stuck because the doing of them has not been defined.”