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10 Best Books on Business Every Leader You Know Has Probably Read

Some of the most successful people in the business world share one thing in common beyond their billionaire status: they’re voracious readers. Bill Gates, Tony Elumelu, Warren Buffett, Strive Masiyiwa, Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey to mention a few (not many billionaires in the world, actually), all love to read books. Warren Buffett famously claims he still reads 600 to 1,000 pages a day.

Many of today’s up-and-coming CEOs and business leaders follow this footstep of reading valuable content as well. In today’s fast-paced world where the human attention span has dropped to eight seconds from 12 seconds in the early 2000s, physical books might be less and less in circulation but the BBC declares that books will remain the darling of business leaders both for aesthetics and intrinsic value.

So, if you are a business owner or aspire to be someday, you want to also follow in the footsteps of those who have been there. With the pandemic-led shift to online modes of learning, all of these books mentioned here

Here are some of the books top business leaders have read over and over again; books that have profoundly impacted their businesses and lives enough that they reread them regularly.

Most of these books are not entirely new, but they are not often found among the popular list of books to read; which makes it even more intriguing to learn from these unpopular materials.

1. Team Of Rivals: The Political Genius Of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Imagine you meet your professional idol who then dismisses you as an ‘ape’ because you’re poorly educated and even more poorly dressed. Ten years later, you’re president of the United States, and you make that professional idol your secretary of war during the Civil War, because you know he’s the best person for the job. That’s one of many instances reflecting Lincoln’s clarity of purpose. He consistently put what he was trying to accomplish above his own ego. You want to learn from the life of a man who is described to be “so great that he overshadows all other national heroes”.

2. Business Adventures by John Brooks

Not long after Bill Gates first met Warren Buffet back in 1991, Gates asked Buffet to recommend his favorite book about business. Without hesitation, he said “It’s ‘Business Adventures’, by John Brooks. I’ll send you my copy.” Gates was intrigued. He had never heard of “Business Adventures” or John Brooks.

Gates concluded by saying, “Today, more than two decades after Warren lent it to me—and more than four decades after it was first published — ‘Business Adventures’ remains the best business book I’ve ever read. John Brooks is still my favorite business writer”. With a review like that from Bill Gates, you only need to go get a copy.

3. The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham

According to Warren Buffet, this book is by far, the best book on investing ever written. To invest successfully over a lifetime does not require a stratospheric IQ, unusual business insights, or inside information. What’s needed is a sound intellectual framework for making decisions and the ability to keep emotions from corroding that framework. This book precisely and clearly prescribes the proper framework. While sections of the original edition deal with specific stock recommendations and portfolio strategies that are understandably dated, the bulk of the book’s content provides foundational evergreen investing insights. 

4. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air is the memoir of Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon at Stanford University, who was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in his mid-thirties. He wrote his moving book as he approached the completion of his training as a neurosurgeon, but after he had developed metastatic lung cancer. He died at the age of 37 before he could ever practice as a fully qualified surgeon. The book, which he wrote as he was dying, is published posthumously. Kalanithi uses the pages in this book to not only tell his story but also share his ideas on how to approach death with grace and what it means to be fully alive. When Breath Becomes Air reminds you that your life is much bigger than it seems, in terms of your work and dreams but also in terms of the people that surround you. 

5. Blue Ocean Strategy by Renée Mauborgne And W. Chan Kim

The authors use the metaphor of red and blue oceans to describe the market in business. Red oceans represent the known market space, where an industry boundary is defined and accepted. Companies try to outperform each other and gain a greater share of product or service demand. As the market gets crowded, the prospect of profit and growth diminishes. Products and services become commodities and cutthroat competition turns the ocean bloody; hence, the term “red oceans”.

Blue oceans, in contrast, denote the uncontested market space; the market that does not yet exist. In blue oceans the demand is created so there is no need to fight over space. There is an opportunity for growth that is both profitable and rapid. Blue Ocean forces you to focus on how to create market share rather than take market share, in order to build a long-term, successful business. The book is full of examples of successful Blue Ocean strategies which are inspirational and thought-provoking.

6. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

We are ignorant of who we are. We understand the world in two different opposing ways; the fast and slow thinking process. Fast thinking is intuitive, associative, metaphorical, automatic, and can’t be switched off. Its operations involve no sense of intentional control, but it’s the “secret author of many of the choices and judgments you make”. Slow thinking is deliberate, effortful. Its operations require attention. It takes over, rather unwillingly, when things get difficult.

For the older generation, so much emphasis was placed on IQ, but the most common thread in successful business leaders today is high levels of emotional intelligence. This book will challenge your way of thinking and how you make decisions. The lessons in the book can help business leaders understand the best way to market to customers, communicate more effectively with their teams, and raise money from investors.

7. Dare To Lead by Brené Brown

What does brave leadership look like? The author of this book set out to answer this question based on research with 150 global C-suite executives. She started by asking what people should do differently to lead during our modern times, when “we’re faced with seemingly intractable challenges and an insatiable demand for innovation. One of the keys taken away is that who we are is how we lead. Hence, daring leaders should demonstrate self-awareness and self-love.

This is not a typical leadership book filled with hyperbole but a practical guide for managers to address the emotion of leading a team. This is required reading for everyone in a leadership position.

8. Radical Candor by Kim Scott

Kim Scotta co-founder of Candor, Inc., has built her career around a simple goal: Creating B-shit-free zones where people love their work and working together. She first tried it at her own software startup. Then, as a long-time director at Google, she studied how the company’s leaders created an environment where the joy that people took in their work felt almost tangible. As a faculty member at Apple University, Scott learned how Apple takes a different path but is equally committed to creating the conditions where people can do the best work of their careers and love doing it.

As you further your career, you’re likely to lead other people in some capacity. Radical Candor is one of the best books to read on managing people. There has been some pushback on how ‘candid’ management styles can be an excuse for poor emotional intelligence and overly critical feedback, but Scott handles this in stride.

9. The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen

This is a Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business. The Innovator’s Dilemma” is one of the most important books chronicling how innovation takes place, and why it’s common that market leaders and incumbents fail to seize the next wave of innovation in their respective industries. Steve Jobs once used this book to explain why Apple needed to embrace cloud computing.

10. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Set during the time of the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany, this book made a lasting impression. One should never underestimate what the determined amateur can do when armed with a professional attitude. This book teaches the importance of grit, perseverance, and hard work, as well as teamwork and putting the group before the self. It’s an incredible story of triumph against all odds and a great read. Which book have you read over and over again without getting tired of it? Help others discover great books by sharing them in the comment section.

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