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21 Books Highly Recommended by Successful Executives

Looking for a good title to pick up? Here's where to start.


Read when you’ve got time to spare.


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Whether you like to listen to audiobooks during your commute or spend your free time gaining new perspectives within the pages of hard copy, voracious readers are always looking for something good to consume. Here are nearly two dozen ideas provided by executives who swear by the wisdom these titles contain.

1. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

"This book has really guided me with insights and best practices for building teams. The most important thing we can do to drive growth at this stage of our company's evolution is to learn how to effectively work together. Everyone on our team brings something unique to the table and my job is to make sure that all those things jive to create both business value and a productive, healthy environment."

--Eric Palm, CEO of Fuzzy Pet Health, a veterinary care telemedicine startup which has cared for more than 3,000 pets since it was launched in 2016

2. Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D.

"Before you roll your eyes, let me just say this book is a classic that's still relevant. I find that you can always take away new learnings from this book. One of the mantras I live by is: It is what it is. My philosophy in business--and what I tell my team--is that when things are unfolding, don't spend a lot of time thinking about what happened. When things change (and the cheese moves), focus on solutions. Change is a good thing. In Silicon Valley, we call this 'disruption,' and it's what keeps us innovating and moving forward in business. My advice to anyone looking to disrupt a space is to read this book, then recognize and adopt the portions relevant to your business."

--Amit Haller, co-founder and CEO of Reali, a tech-powered real estate company that has raised $10 million in funding to expand service in the Bay Area, Sacramento, and beyond

3. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

"This is the most real book for a CEO or business leader. Oftentimes, the external view of companies is that they are always doing great. However, the reality can be very different--running a startup isn't always easy. I found it therapeutic to read this book and think it's an important read for every entrepreneur because it teaches you how to focus on the road instead of the wall when there are so many things changing internally and externally that impact your company."

--Vivek Ravisankar, co-founder and CEO of HackerRank, a technical hiring platform that helps over 1,000 companies--including five of the top eight banks in the U.S. and four of the top seven retail companies--find and evaluate software developers around the world based on skill

4. Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions by John Kotter

"I love this book because of its simple and effective approach to getting its message across. Change is something that is constantly needed in any business, and this book provides a practical eight-step process for managing change with positive results. The powerful framework explained in the book is very effective in helping teams adapt to new circumstances. The book does a great job in explaining different behaviors within a team during the change by identifying all the different aspects and it educates the reader on how to manage them effectively, including how to create a sense and need for urgency."

--Venky Balasubramanian, co-founder and CEO of Plivo, a communications platform that simplifies how businesses integrate SMS and voice communications into their applications, which has grown to over 70,000 customers with 200 employees across three offices globally and has been profitable since 2015

5. The Four Disciplines of Execution by Stephen McChesney

"This book describes the philosophy that was used to transform Washington, D.C., into the vibrant city it is today and what is also our philosophy at Phone2Action. It outlines four disciplines to achieve company success, including focusing on the wildly important (e.g., focusing on less in order to accomplish more) and keeping a scoreboard (letting people know how they are performing on an ongoing basis). The principle I found most useful was 'act on the lead measures.' Success is based on two measures: leading and lagging. We normally pay attention to lagging measures, such as revenue and profit. However, lead measures--the activities team members are doing every day to drive growth--are more important and in the end will drive the growth and revenue. This book has not only helped me prioritize my time but also has made me a better manager and has helped me achieve my desired business outcomes."

--Ximena Hartsock, who previously worked for the D.C. government in the Fenty administration and is founder and COO of Phone2Action, a civic technology platform with more than 400 clients and doubling in size each year

6. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

"This book is written by Phil Knight and documents the story of his creation of Nike. It's an inspiring look at the sacrifice he made to create the company. His respect for his employees' feedback and loyalty to those who partnered with him provides a good roadmap to help prioritize your own employees as the most valuable aspect of your company."

--Gabe Winslow, EVP of media for Ansira, a local media buying agency that provides data-driven customer acquisition to over 65,000 retail doors

7. Hyper Sales Growth by Jack Daly

"An absolutely vital book for anyone trying to create a business, which is now and remains my foremost passion in life. Daly's book details the forgotten art of sales: not how to convince someone to buy from you, but how to make it so that you never need to. The entire key to maintaining growth is building relationships with your customers instead of treating them like a piggy bank; customers respond to respect more than pressure. I sorely wish I'd had a book like this when I was starting out TransPerfect and hadn't had to learn those lessons the hard way. And everyone thinking of starting a business should start right here so they can learn the critical truth of how to show the customer you care more about helping them than making the sale."

--Liz Elting, co-founder and former co-CEO of TransPerfect, a translation solutions company, and named to Forbes' Richest Self-Made Women list for the past three years

8. Bold Leadership for Organizational Acceleration by Jim A. Tompkins

"Jim catches lightening in a bottle with this little book. Slim at just a couple-hundred pages, it's a quick read, but don't let that fool you. [The book] hides real wisdom under that admittedly bland title, unfolding a philosophy of human and humane leadership that encompasses your entire life, including everything from forms of self-care to solidarity with your team in a constant effort, not to produce more, but to produce effectively in a way that can be maintained over the long term. No more crunches, no more all-nighters; this book emphasizes the importance of maintaining your relationships, your energy, your enthusiasm--in short, everything that makes your job worth doing. And that's something we forget all too often."

--Eric Yaverbaum, president and CEO of Ericho Communications, as well as best-selling author of seven books, including PR for Dummies and Leadership Secrets of the World's Most Successful CEOs

9. The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber

"This book taught me the difference and importance of working on your business as an entrepreneur, rather than in your business as a technician. In other words, it highlights the benefits of working on the most important thing, not the most urgent thing."

--Kevin Mann, co-founder and chief product officer at CallRail, a provider of call tracking and analytics to more than 90,000 companies and marketing agencies globally that received $75 million in funding last fall

10. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry

"Leaders are not defined by how they feel but how they cope with their feelings in front of others. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 explains how awareness of your and other's behaviors in a given situation, and the motivations behind that behavior, are key to more efficient and effective leadership. Self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management are critical to my leadership style."

--Andreas Pettersson, CEO of Arcules, a connected intelligent video platform which is Canon's latest spinoff, built on the intellectual property, technology, and expertise of Canon Group company Milestone Systems

11. Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston

"It may be a bit of a curve ball, but Barracoon is a favorite for me right now. It's a series of interviews (in 1927) with the last surviving person captured in Africa and transported to the south in a slave ship. It's a harrowing first-hand account of slavery and a study in the best and worst of human nature--always relevant to business, leadership, society."

--Bryce Smith, founder and CEO of LevelTen Energy, a renewable energy marketplace which launched in January 2018, is a 2017 graduate of the Seattle Techstars accelerator program and raised $6.8 million in a Series A in October 2017

12. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

"Over the years, this has easily become my favorite book. Fitzgerald's take on the American dream and how the desire for success influences the decision-making process is a valuable lesson for any business leader today. One of the great things about being an entrepreneur is the opportunity to be around highly successful people and learn from them. However, it can also be extremely easy to lose sight of your core values if you're not careful. This book is a good reminder to always be true to yourself and retain your values."

--Neill Feather, CEO of SiteLock, a business website security solution which protects over 12 million websites worldwide and was recently acquired by ABRY Partners

13. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

"More than anything else in our lives, our habits determine our destiny. Their mysterious power comes from their automaticity, repetition, and cumulative power. For example, Benjamin Franklin wrote a summary of his day every night before bed. Arianna Huffington begins her days with 30 minutes of meditation. These actions, which seem insignificant on their face, become over time a key to their success. What I learned from this book: The master skill of life is not a specific habit. It's the power to create new habits. Success is largely a matter of creating habits of success. And Duhigg shows us how achieve this habit mindset."

--David Maxfield, New York Times best-selling author and VP of research at VitalSmarts, a leadership training company that works with more than 300 of the Fortune 500 companies

14. Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

"It resonated with me unlike any other book while trying to solve the big question of 'How do I keep that same family-feeling I had at my first location as I scale across the country?' At the time, my business was expanding rapidly, but the company was beginning to feel more and more corporate. Each year, additional rules were being put in place to ensure best practices. Tony's ideas ultimately helped me implement a unique company culture that would become one of my company's greatest competitive advantages. If you're tired of building the same old corporate bureaucracy and want to add spice to your workplace then this is a must-read."

--David Royce, founder and chairman of Aptive Environmental, recently named the 11th largest pest control company in North America in its second full year in business

15. American Creation by Joseph Ellis

"Any time I feel individually challenged, or my organization feels overwhelmed, I think of how the founders of this country won a war of independence and created a unified government without fear of failure, despite the fact that failure was the most likely outcome. I refer to this all the time, as it shows that people can accomplish extraordinary feats when they don't limit themselves to a pre-conceived notion of the way things are done. Especially in business development and sales, where it's all about winning and losing, the differentiator usually comes from being bold and embracing the art of the possible from what is seemingly impossible."

--Chris Crowley, executive vice president and chief commercial officer at Alorica, the largest customer service provider in the U.S. and third largest in the world, with over 100,000 employees worldwide

16. Ego Free Leadership by Brandon Black and Shayne Huges

"In [this book], Encore CEO Brandon Black tells his personal story of professional struggle, and how eliminating unproductive ego habits not only benefited his company during the Great Recession but helped him grow as a person. The story is also told from Black's leadership development coach and president of Learning as Leadership, Shayne Hughes, who discusses techniques to learn and control your 'egosystem.' I was particularly drawn to the vulnerability that Black shows by stepping back and realizing how he has a direct impact on his company's internal dysfunction, and how he and Hughes remedy this by adopting egoless tactics to boost Encore's profits by 300 percent. As I've started and funded several of my own companies, I've found myself looking back to the VEDEC communication model--vulnerable, empathetic, direct, exploratory, and caring--for furthering conversations around corporate development."

--Andreas Roell, managing partner for Analytics Ventures, a venture capital fund financing companies driven by artificial intelligence algorithms that supports over 70 employees

17. Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

"As a serial entrepreneur, I've had many low moments when I wasn't sure whether I had the strength to keep going. This book helped me realize that we all flounder and fail--not just us professional risk-takers--and that the power to face hardship comes from embracing the uncertainty that's inherent in bold choices. It helped me see that the downs are just part of the entrepreneurial adventure, and to use them to learn what was needed to make me and my company become that much stronger."

--Sheryl O'Loughlin, CEO of REBBL, a plant-based, super herb adaptogen beverage company, former CEO of Clif Bar and Company, former co-founder and CEO of Plum, Inc., and author of Killing It: An Entrepreneur's Guide to Keeping Your Head Without Losing Your Heart

18. Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

"Growing up, Gilmore Girls was my favorite television show, partly because of the humor and writing, but mostly because of the relationship that was depicted between two strong female leads. Being a strong female and having strong females to look up to is so important to me. Every time I re-read this book I take something new away from it. Lauren Graham makes you feel like her friend while she takes you on her life journey through entrepreneurship, sexism, and self-doubt. Two of her biggest opportunities were given to her by successful women, and this really reinforces the idea that empowered women need to empower other women, something that I try to do every day. Lauren makes having doubt feel so relatable and encourages you to keep going. It's a feel-good book that is written in a way that will leave you wanting to be her best friend."

--Lauren Steinberg, the 24-year-old founder of Queen V, a Millennial-focused feminine wellness brand that launched nationwide at Walmart in April and has exceeded $1 million in sales

19. Complexity of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod

"I was aware of game theory, but it was always too abstract for me to map it to day-to-day business (and life) situations. Axelrod's book really opened my eyes to how game theory can really make a difference in getting alignment and to win-win with customers, partners, and even competitors. The book is an extremely easy read that looks at winning (and losing) strategies across a variety of competitive domains: business, industry standards, trade negotiations, and even arms control negotiations. Having concrete examples of how the same strategies worked (and didn't work) across so many different domains really opened my eyes to how to build systems and structure programs to get to that win-win."

--Ray Ghanbari, CTO at SmartDrive Systems, a provider of video-based safety and transportation intelligence with a database of over 220 million risky driving events, which achieved 30 percent growth in its subscription base in 2017

20. Future First: How Successful Leaders Turn Innovation Challenges into New Value Frontiers by Alice Mann

"With her keen business acumen and deep compassion for people who will inherit our successes and failures, Mann has written a book that's one-part business strategy, one-part inspiration, and one-part plea to the leaders of the world to consider the long-term consequences of our actions. With Future First, Mann moves the corporate responsibility conversation forward by positioning social issues and global environmental degradation not as problems but innovation challenges. This is truly a must-read for any entrepreneur interested in achieving lasting and integrated business results and social change."

--Kirsten Saenz Tobey, co-founder and chief impact officer of Revolution Foods, which serves nearly three million healthy meals per week to students in 30 cities across 15 U.S. states and distributes a line of retail food products to over 3,000 grocery stores nationwide

21. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

"It's a book about human decision making. This book has helped me think about how people--be they customers, peers, or other stakeholders--process information, make decisions, and the traps that we tend to fall into as humans. The convention of systems, with their unique characteristics, shed a unique light on how our brains work and has helped change the way I think about our interactions with each other."

--Riaz Ali, chief marketing executive of SCAN, one of the largest not-for-profit Medicare Advantage plans in the nation, serving over 190,000 members

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This post originally appeared on Inc. and was published July 19, 2018. This article is republished here with permission.

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