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People who do great things typically are serious about self-improvement, which often is served in the form of a book. Here are two dozen good ones, recommended by founders, executives, and other high achievers.
1. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel
"This is a critical read for anyone wanting to create a new technology or business model. Peter Thiel describes very succinctly that the most successful businesses are able to invent brand new approaches versus improving on what others have done. It also delves into building the right culture and hiring the right team. The most insightful pieces for me are the questions that every startup or new business venture should ask themselves, primary around the idea being unique enough, and if the timing is right. He also emphasizes that solutions to hard problems are likely to be more successful long term than solving easy ones."
--Rich Kapusta, CMO of Alta Devices, a highly efficient and flexible solar company
2. Disciplined Entrepreneurship by Bill Aulet
"Bill Aulet's perspective from years of being an entrepreneur and MIT instructor shines through [this book]. He rejects the idea that people are either born with the entrepreneurship gene or they're not, asserting that, like any other skill, entrepreneurship can be taught. The book consists of 24 practical steps that are foundational to every entrepreneur journey. Anyone who is, wants to be, or interfaces with an entrepreneur should read this book."
--John Wechsler, founder of entrepreneurial mentorship initiative Launch Indiana
3. #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso
"[It] is fun, page-turning, inspiring, powerful, insightful and brutally honest. We follow Sophia and go down her memory lane to learn about her childhood and how she started her multi million business from scratch. If you want to succeed and lack motivations, this is definitely a book to pick up from a shelf... A girl boss doesn't always need to boss around. A girl boss knows when to throw punches and when to roll with them. This book is one of my favorites because it gives small business female owners like myself lots of tips, advice and insights."
--Micky Sivapruksa, founder and CEO of Flexi Lexi Fitness
4. Lead Like Jesus Revisited by Ken Blanchard, Phil Hodges, and Phyllis Hendry
"While many will question the validity of the Bible in their lives, that same group of people might look on the life of Jesus as one they'd like to emulate more. In today's divided world, this book brings readers a fundamental message to show more love to those we lead, deliver compassion, develop people in a more intentional way (think about how Jesus built up his followers over a deeply committed three-year period), and finally, be willing to forgive. Understanding that people still need feedback, but also need forgiveness inspires me to lead in more meaningful way."
--Chris Byers, CEO of online form builder solution Formstack
5. Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future by Joichi Ito and Jeff Howe
"Joi and Jeff use nine principals and creative storytelling to take readers on a detailed review of innovation and change. Also reminding us that today we are readily involved in making the future. At its core, [this book] illustrates how simple but profound developments can initiate powerful change in how we interact with the world."
--Reggie Nicolay, VP of marketing at real estate technology platform Realtors Property Resource
6. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
"This book takes the position that mastering the ability to focus on a demanding task all the way through--without allowing yourself to get distracted--helps you more effectively process complex information and deliver better results in less time. This is a book I picked up because I felt my time and attention slowly getting out of balance, as I spent more of both on things that didn't help me stay on the path to achieving my most important goals. I've adopted many of the tools in this book to realign my time management and become even more productive while still answering to the many demands I face daily as president of a startup."
--Andrew Fegley, president of Remarketable, an ALC smart data solution, a proprietary, privacy-compliant, multichannel retargeting platform dedicated to driving transactions
7. The Mythical-Man Month by Fred Brooks
"If I could recommend one book to my clients to help them become more effective with technology, I would definitely choose [this book].
--Rick Arnett, technical architect at business management consulting company Appirio
8. Relentless by Tim Grover
"Kobe Bryant opens relentless with, 'this book is the blueprint for discovering what you're capable of achieving, getting results you never imagined, and reaching the highest level of success.' [It] provides a glimpse into the work ethic and dedication of top athletes and clutch performers. Grover identifies three levels of high performers: coolers, closers, and cleaners. The cleaner is Grover's ideal competitor. The dedication and training required at that level is inspiring. The mindset and habits of a cleaner can be applied to business and life. Grover reminds us that there is no such thing as luck... You can take an elite athlete's mentality and use it to succeed in business."
--David DeRam, cofounder and CEO of medical device quality management solution Greenlight Guru
9. Mastery by Robert Greene
"'The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways,' Greene writes in his best-seller. This prophecy will only become more relevant as new technologies continue to emerge at faster and faster rates. Those who can quickly gain mastery over the skills necessary to wield this new technology effectively or create new technology of their own, will be the ones to dominate their field and change the world. In this book, Greene shares the best strategies for identifying the best skills to master, finding mentors, and innovating in your field."
--Matt Hunckler, CEO of Powderkeg, a network of local communities with global reach for tech entrepreneurs, investors, and professionals
10. Exponential Organizations, by Salim Ismail with Michael S. Malone and Yuri Van Geest
"The accelerating pace of technology and change across industries and geographies calls for new ways of working, learning and collaborating. We have seen the emergence of a new type of organization--the Exponential Organization. ExOs can bypass incremental, linear growth and leverage technology, AI and data to achieve performance 10X that of their peers. This book identifies the internal and external competencies essential for ExOs, and sets out the roadmap for new and existing businesses to disrupt themselves or their marketplace and achieve explosive growth. I recommend this book for any leader who appreciates the importance of challenging conventional business models in order to master this new economy and propel their organizations forward."
--Julie Lyle, CRO/CMO at DemandJump
11. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
"As a marketer who is committed to providing clients with game-changing solutions, Start with Why made a lasting impression on me and how I approach my work. First, it helped me articulate the MASSolutions why--or reason for being--to both our team and our clients. Yet it also brought me to this realization: in order to practice authentic, forward-thinking marketing, companies must start with two 'whys.' The first why is their own reason for being, as articulated by Sinek. The second why--which I believe is as critical as the first--is their customers' why, or reason for buying. Once both whys have been answered, they can be crystallized into one over-arching message, one big idea that tells a compelling story, both internally and externally. Ultimately, when leaders challenge themselves to answer both whys, they are able to begin a real marketing process that leads to both personal and organizational growth."
--Dave Mastovich, president and CEO of marketing firm MASSolutions
12. Skip the Party, Start a Business by Ariana Pierce
"I started my first business at 13 and have built two successful, million-dollar companies by 25. This book aims to empower young business owners to overcome distractions that all youth face and to focus on achieving their dreams. As an international speaker and business coach, I was inspired to write this book when I saw that there was a lack of books written for millennials by a millennial on goal achievement and entrepreneurship. What makes this transformative book a go-to resource, is the interactive assignments after each chapter. It's a must read for young business owners, leaders and parents who want to see their millennial succeed in life and business."
--Ariana Pierce, owner of Superstar Nail Lacquer and Style and Travel Girl accessories
13. Hold On To Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate
"I work with a lot of CEOs and their families. Most successful CEOs don't need another book on how to run a company. What they need is a book on how to be a better parent. In a society obsessed with outsourcing, parenting is something that should be kept in-house."
--Jamison Monroe, Jr., founder and CEO of Newport Academy, teen treatment centers for teens struggling with mental health issues, eating disorders, and substance abuse
14. The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni
"I love this book because it's the first one I've read that clearly articulates what it means to have a healthy organization. It's one of the best books that provides concrete examples of team building at the highest level in the organization. It defines what a cohesive leadership team looks like, how the team communicates and how it behaves. Most importantly, it shows how the relationship building, honest communication and trust amongst a leadership team impacts the rest of the organization and its people. I have learned that it is this clarity in an organization that is so critical to the ultimate success of the organization. As my company has grown, and I try to blend our old-school legacy values with new blood senior leadership, I often find myself referring to many of Lencioni's real world examples and utilize his tools to accelerate the evolution of the team around me."
--Adam Elberg, founder, president and CEO of Professional Physical Therapy, a provider of physical and hand therapy, and rehabilitation services throughout the northeast
15. Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson
"[It] drives home the point that things truly don't go viral; influencing the right gatekeepers in an ever-increasing world of gates means that the right relationships in business make all the difference. To get noticed in this world, you'll have to know how to forge the right connections."
--Beau Mann, founder and CEO Sober Grid, a mobile app designed as a resource to support users to live sober and healthy lives
16. It's Not the Big That Eat the Small...It's the Fast That Eat the Slow by Jason Jennings and Laurence Haughton
"The pace of the world is moving faster than ever before. As an entrepreneur, I know that making quick decisions and adaptability are imperative to a company's growth. This book profiles highly successful companies and how swiftness is a key factor in their achievements. It highlights how to think and move faster than your competition and outlines best practices you can work into your own business. It's a must-read for entrepreneurs and business leaders."
--Ronn Torossian, founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the top 15 independent PR firms in the United States
17. The One World Schoolhouse by Salman Khan
"As technology continues to change education in remarkable ways, and hundreds of entrepreneurs, teachers, and investors put their minds to harnessing its promise, it's still worth reading Sal Khan's description of his serendipitous entry, unpretentious philosophy, and profound impact on the world of education. The book traverses a lot of ground, and many important ongoing debates, but does it all in a beautifully simple way. This book reminds us that technology is not the holy grail but a complement to creative teaching, and that student motivation remains as important as the content on offer. I read this book again every few months. It's inspiring."
--Bharat Anand, Henry R. Byers Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and author of The Content Trap
18. The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber
"This book helps me appreciate that the successful entrepreneur understands other people with complementary skills are needed to make your business truly successful. We entrepreneurs like to have a Superman mentality, but that's a wildly impractical perspective that realistically will hold us back from our own success."
--James Thomson, partner at Buy Box Experts, a managed services firm and author of The Amazon Marketplace Dilemma
19. The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman
"Management teams always talk about empowering their people, and yet they still lead from the top. Obi Brafman shares the stories of companies and organizations that have manifested from the community and lessons we can learn from this unusual and uncontrolled approach. Using the Starfish and its unique ability to replicate itself as a metaphor, Brafman shows how community lead organizations are changing how we engage with each other as coworkers and customers; while also building something that is, in itself, unbreakable. As we all are building new solutions, new teams and sometimes a whole new company, Brafman's ideas make me pause and consider untraditional and engagement driven approaches to solving problems and building a community."
--Joanna Bloor, people accelerator, futurist/technology nerd, belief agent for the brave and curious
20. 10 Apples Up On Top by Dr. Seuss
"Though made for children, this book has served me as a metaphor for business since I read it to my son 25 years ago. The beginning of the book is very fun and competitive. A group of animals looking to be the first to stack 10 apples on top of their head. They walk tightrope and other activities while balancing their apples. Then out of nowhere, bear comes along, decides he wants their apples and attempts to, for no reason, knock down and take everyone apples. Those who started as competitors found themselves needing to work on a team in order to ward off the bear. And in the end, by working together, the stolen apples eventually landed stacked 10 tall on each animal's head. I've met the competitors, the bears and the team players in every business meeting I've ever been in. Over the years, I've played each of those roles. It's important to be the team player in every position. So while its childlike, most of the best business deals I've ever done included skills I learned on the playground. Keep it simple and don't worry about anyone else's apples."
--Stormy Simon, active cannabis advocate and speaker
21. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
"This is a great read for start-up and tech leaders building a business."
-- Jon Ziglar, CEO of Parkmobile, LLC
22. Enjoy Life by Stacia Pierce
"As a success and business Coach, that has helped business owners turn a hobby into six and seven figure businesses, I discovered that when you are not emotionally experiencing joy in your life, you'll find it difficult to manifest your goals. I put the exact steps that I used to bounce back from a divorce, remarry and build one of the fastest growing online coaching businesses. When my clients started adding joy breaks into their daily routines their income increased and relationships improved as they cultivated a life of happiness. A life well lived is not one in which you merely exist. It is a life of intention, joy and overall well-being. This book is the ultimate guide to living a rich, fulfilling life regardless of your career, income status or background. Enjoying life is the secret to manifesting your best life and business. "
--Stacia Pierce, serial entrepreneur, business mentor and owner of Lifecoach2women.com
23. A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton Malkiel
"I was assigned this book during one of my finance courses in business school. It was incredibly helpful for a lifetime of investment decision making. It is a viewpoint altering book, which is a must-read by any savvy investor."
--Barry J. Cohen, M.D., M.B.A., F.A.C.S., founder of Exponential Faces
24. Playing For Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World he Made by David Halberstam
[This] is by far the best book on Michael Jordan. As far as I'm concerned, anyone looking to be successful should read this book. It's not so much the descriptions of Jordan as a basketball player, it's the absolute, pathological obsession Jordan had to be great that fascinates me. Jordan was a freak, not because of his skills, but because of his desire, his energy, and his competitive spirit. Here's the takeaway: if you can work half as hard as Michael Jordan did you'll be successful. Immersing yourself in a story about someone with that kind of drive can't help but make you feel like you, too, can be like Mike."
--Alex R. Thiersch, JD, founder and director of the American Med Spa Association