As business leaders, every minute of your time is a valuable asset to be used with the greatest care and discretion. As a relatively avid reader, a question I’m often asked is: ‘is it therefore counter-productive to spend time actually reading business books’?
In my opinion, reading is one of the most productive ways to spend your time, particularly if you choose your business books well. In fact, I’m a believer in mixing business books with fiction and/or biographies too.
Here’s a list of books that should more than repay the cost of the time you spend reading them. The first six of these are business books, and the next five are books that I’ve found over the years as either insightful, topical or just too interesting to put down.
If you are still on holidays, you have the perfect opportunity to recharge batteries and fine-tune your engine ready for 2022. If you’re back at work, just leave one on your kitchen bench or in your living room and pick it up where you left off. Or, read it on the train and be sure to watch as all the robots are staring at their phones reading mindless drivel on social media – you will feel better for it.
1. ‘Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere’ by Tsedal Neeley
As organisations and their leaders emerge from the COVID-19 superstorm and begin to understand what an Enduring COVID world might look like, this book by a Harvard Business School professor – a virtual and global work expert – is based on documented research and is essential reading.
It’s become abundantly clear that there will never be a full-time return to the traditional in-person workplace for desk employees, so it’s vital to reap the benefits and navigate the challenges of a remote or hybrid workforce. Following specific steps and using interactive tools, managers will learn how to lead virtually, motivate their teams and maintain productivity, and find out what digital tools they’ll need to achieve this.
2. ‘Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones’ by James Clear
James Clear, an expert on habits and decision-making, publishes an email newsletter with over 400,000 subscribers, and contributes to the New York Times, Forbes and Business Insider.
Read this book to learn how to get one per cent better every day at what you do, simply by making miniscule (‘atomic’) changes to your habits. Discover simple behaviours that will help you make good habits a certainty, and bad ones history. These down-to-earth life hacks – illustrated by success stories from elite athletes, leading scientists and prominent CEOs who adopted them – have the potential to transform your career and your life.
3. ‘Find Your Why: A practical guide to discovering purpose for you or your team’ by Simon Sinek, David Mead and Peter Docker
I know, another Simon Sinek book. And I have to say, I’m sceptical of some of his work, but I think this one is pretty good. This is a follow up to Start With Why, which helped people become more inspired at work, and also energise their colleagues and customers, by understanding the WHY behind their product or service.
Find Your Why is a ‘how to’ guide for individuals and businesses, explaining exactly how to go about finding that sometimes elusive WHY. It contains detailed instructions on how to find your personal WHY, how to help your co-workers discover your organisation’s WHY, and what to do if your work and your WHY don’t match. I find it also helps outside of the work environment too.
4. ‘Extreme Ownership: How US Navy SEALs Lead and Win’ by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
This narrative is filled with tough lessons mastered during the authors’ service in SEAL Special Operations Unit Bruiser during the Iraq war. They learned that leadership at all levels of operation were the most important lesson on the battlefield, and after leaving the navy they started Echelon Front, a leadership consultation and training business, to teach these concepts to organisations who want to create high-performance teams.
Within this book you will learn about the leadership principle of Extreme Ownership – planning for all eventualities and accepting responsibility if things go wrong. Sub-sections cover Winning the War Within (accepting responsibility), Laws of Combat (defining goals, communicating them to team members and delegating, to facilitate teamwork) and Sustaining Victory (leading both up and down the chain, to achieve clarity and reduce uncertainty).
5. ‘Superlife: The 5 Simple Fixes That Will Make You Healthy, Fit and Eternally Awesome’ by Darin Olien
You can’t bring your best self to your work if you’re not fit and healthy. Superlife is a handbook to help you exploit your body’s natural ability to stay well if treated correctly with what the author (a nutritionist and superfoods expert) calls the five life forces: quality nutrition, hydration, detoxification, oxygenation, and alkalization. There are no complicated or restrictive diet plans to follow, but he does provide to-do lists, shopping lists (and a ‘throw away’ list) for a balanced diet, plus other straightforward fixes, to create a holistic guide to maximum wellness.
6. ‘Emotional Intelligence: A Simple and Actionable Guide to Increasing Performance, Engagement and Ownership’ by Amy Jacobson
Perth-based human behaviour specialist and leadership coach, Amy Jacobson, demonstrates that emotional intelligence is an essential skill for interacting with colleagues, especially for senior executives facing challenges like lack of purpose and accountability in their workforce, poor communication, performance and productivity decline, and personality or cultural clashes.
Learn how to understand, engage with and inspire others, and move on towards transforming your organisation’s culture via a 5-step process involving self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, social skills and motivation. The tools and diagrams provided, as well as genuine examples and case studies, will help you develop this must-have competence.
7. ‘The Coffee Trader’ by David Liss
I love this book. An insight into the world’s first commodities market, set in Amsterdam. Liss shows the danger, subterfuge and ruthlessness required to be a successful trader, willing to risk it all and then how to keep it. I find this book fascinating as it delves into dealing with relationships in business, which can be constructed and maintained on multiple levels and which is what we all pragmatically confront on a daily basis. It discusses the intrigue of partnerships and relationships, and delves into betrayals and ruthless financial dealings. I love it.
8. ‘Seven Brief Lessons on Physics’ by Carol Rovelli
Trust me, it’s not as nerdy as it sounds. This book was one of the year end recommendations in The Economist several years ago. It’s great. Rovelli takes you through such concepts as Einstein’s general theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, black holes, the complex architecture of the universe, elementary particles, gravity, and the nature of the mind. He doesn’t quite explain why a cricket ball will swing more on a cold day in Yorkshire compared to a balmy day in Brisbane, but I’m sure he probably could. From a business context, it’s critical to maintain momentum or, if you can, create it. It is those challenges that cause us, as leaders, to look to the nuances within our particular professions and try to create platforms which can create a broader success for our firms. As I say to my son, ‘physics is everywhere’.
9. ‘Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age’ by Debby Applegate
This is the book I most recently finished – just last week. If you have a penchant for ‘speakeasies’ and the golden age of the jazz era, this is a book for you. Debby is an extremely accomplished author, having won the Pulitzer Prize for her book on Henry Ward Beecher, The Most Famous Man in America. Despite some references unique to the world’s oldest profession, it is a glorious insight into the life and times of the 1920’s/1930’s era in the US and the limited impact prohibition laws actually achieved. Whilst Polly certainly ‘ran a business’, what I liked most was her resilience. The number of times she fell back, only to have to restart, but then gained several steps ahead before falling back again I felt was inspiring. Yes, her activities certainly weren’t legal, but she certainly was learning as she went, and each year seemed to build a foundation on which to build her business, no matter how illicit it was.
10. ‘Alexander Hamilton: A Wonderful Story of a Founding Father’ by Ron Chernow
Okay, so two things stand out with this one. Firstly, it’s a doorstop. It’s a thousand pages, give or take a few (apologies to the Beatles). Secondly, it led to one of the greatest musicals of all time. I read this about a decade ago, and Chernow truly does the best biographies of all time. He’s another Pulitzer prize winner on the list. I was forced to read his bio of JP Morgan as a grad at JP Morgan and have been hooked on his work since – Rockefeller (Titan), Washington, Ulysses S Grant and, of course, Hamilton. A great insight into a man with deep drive, extreme ambition, and a work ethic like no other. Just a spoiler alert – never challenge anyone to a dual. Hamilton clearly taught the United States the value of credit, which I think is paramount to any long-term survival of any business.
11. ‘The Prince’ by Niccolo Machiavelli
If you’ve ever used the phrase ‘Machiavellian’ but never read the book, now is the time to start. It’s a short read, but a fascinating insight into ‘politics’. I find this book amazing in terms of what it taught me from a negotiations perspective – what is the other person really trying to achieve. “What am I trying to achieve?” is something you should also be trying to resolve in your own mind. Politics is ‘everywhere’ in business, and this wonderful little book illustrates this perfectly.
More holiday reading
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Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and should not be relied on as advice. It does not take into account the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular person. You need to consider your financial situation and needs and seek professional advice before making any decisions based on this information.