August 5th, 2022 | By: Sarah Humphreys
Leadership is a popular topic these days. To become a true leader, you need a combination of skills and attributes. Some of these are inborn, to be sure. However, you can develop your leadership abilities as well.
Entrepreneurial success stories often tip a hat to the literature that supports busy business owners through the thick of the business building experience so, of course, we wanted to share books with actionable advice that aspiring entrepreneurs will find helpful on their journey to building a successful business.
Business books that have already helped millions of entrepreneurs can guide you along the way to obtaining a sustainable business, and being the best leader you can be. After all, being a great leader takes effort — and a lot of it! Here are the 13 best business books that will help "lead" you on your path. See what we did there?
How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of the most widely-read personal development books of all time. Although Dale Carnegie wrote it in 1936, it's full of timeless principles that are critical for leaders of any era.
Carnegie will remind you that the most important leadership principles have more to do with building personal relationships than using the right technology or following the latest trends.
Give people your full attention. Show genuine concern for their problems. Make the other person feel important.
See things from the other person's point of view. If there's a difference of opinion, look for common ground.
Avoid criticizing and complaining.
Take the time to praise any achievement or accomplishment.
Remember that people are ruled more by emotion than logic.
As the subtitle states, the objective of the authors is to maximize the potential of organizations in every conceivable way. Kouzes and Pozner have updated their modern classic on leadership many times since its release in 1987. The most recent addition is the 6th, published in 2017.
The Leadership Challenge is grounded in the Five Practices for leadership. There are hundreds of case studies and examples of how these principles operate.
Model the Way. Identify your values and set a strong example by embodying them in your life and work.
Inspire a Shared Vision. Visualize and imagine your ideal future. Create a vision for the future that will inspire your team.
Challenge the Process. Always look for ways to improve and innovate. Be willing to take risks and experiment with new processes.
Enable Others to Act. Build trust and competence in those around you. Encourage collaboration.
Encourage the Heart. Show appreciation and celebrate accomplishments. Build a spirit of community that will inspire loyalty.
The late Stephen Covey was an influential author and speaker who motivated millions of business executives, entrepreneurs, and others. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is his cornerstone book that continues to be widely read.
Be proactive rather than reactive. Covey popularized the term "proactive," which means taking initiative rather than reacting to events.
Understand the difference between important and urgent. Urgent tasks may be essential, but they don't necessarily help you attain long-term goals.
Always seek win-win solutions.
Begin every task or project with the end in mind.
Success is mostly based on your habits, the actions you consistently take.
Robert Greene's 48 Laws of Power is as controversial as it is influential. It's been called a modern version of Machiavelli's The Prince. Another apt comparison is The Art of War, the ancient classic by Sun Tzu.
Unlike many contemporary authors on business and leadership, Greene has a ruthless and arguably amoral approach to success. Regardless of how you feel about his Laws, they are worth considering.
Hide your intentions. If people know what you're going to do, they can make plans to stop you or steal your ideas.
Don't outshine the master. Complimenting those in positions of authority will get you further than trying to critique or outthink them.
Don't trust friends. They can always betray you.
Get others to approach you. When someone else initiates contact, you are in the stronger position.
Seek to make others dependent on you.
Be formless. Be as changeable and adaptable as possible. This helps you adjust to changing conditions and also makes your actions hard to predict.
Simon Sinek has written several bestselling business and leadership books, including Leaders Eat Last and Together is Better, but Start With Why is his most influential work. The TED Talk based on the book has over 56 million views.
Influencing people comes down to either manipulation or inspiration. Manipulation works in the short-term but inspiration is the way to acquire long-term loyalty from customers as well as employees.
The Golden Circle. This is a simple diagram, a circle with Why in the center, How in the next ring, and What in the outermost ring. Everyone knows what they do. More successful businesses have a clear "how," which is a unique selling proposition (USP). Only a small percentage of leaders and companies understand "why," which has to be something beyond profits.
Apple is an outstanding example of a company that flourished by focusing on "why?" They understand that people don't buy something because of features but by inspiring people and focusing on solutions.
A leader not only needs a strong "why" but he or she also has to be able to clearly explain it and inspire others.
A business shouldn't try to sell to everyone but target those who are in alignment with its true purpose.
Patty McCord was the Chief Talent Officer at Netflix and helped to build that streaming service into the empire it is today. She was also one of the creators of the Netflix Culture Deck, a slideshow presentation of the company's cultural values. Netflix initiated the now-popular practice of creating a culture deck.
Embrace change and make sure every individual and department is on board with this philosophy.
Discipline is more important than process when it comes to solving problems and getting things done.
Hiring great people is essential for a company to succeed. When hiring, focus on perks, which tend to attract people who want to work at your company for the wrong reasons. You want employees who are the right fit for your culture.
Always provide feedback based on specific actions. Don't criticize using generalizations or talking about personality traits. Discuss actual behavior.
The most important function of a manager is to build effective teams. Everything else is secondary.
Seth Godin, who also wrote Purple Cow and Permission Marketing, is a popular author and speaker with an unconventional approach to business. He introduced the concept of "tribes" to describe a group of enthusiastic fans or customers sharing certain values and interests.
Godin defines a tribe as people who are connected to one another, an idea, and a leader.
In order to be an effective leader, you need a tribe. This is more than people who simply work for you or want something from you. There have to be shared values and goals.
People have an innate need to belong. The most successful leaders and businesses tap into this need by creating a tribe. In the modern world, most people belong to multiple tribes so there's plenty of room for more.
A leader doesn't just start or lead a tribe but transforms it. They can take a shared interest and turn it into a passionate goal.
Without a leader, a group of people is only a crowd. Don't make the common mistake of marketing to a crowd.
A tribe only needs around 1,000 members. It's better to have a small, dedicated tribe, than a much larger crowd of lukewarm followers.
CEOs like Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric and Dustin Moskovitz of Asana recommend "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries because it offers a strategy for creating and running a successful startup. Agility is essential to the message of this book for business owners and entrepreneurs.
Startups and established companies need to be managed differently.
Finding a interminable business model is the purpose of a startup. Once you have the business model, use validated learning to support its sustainability.
An MVP should be developed to test the buisness idea in the market.
Build, then measure, then learn — repeatedly. Do this as much as possible and as fast as you can. Don't be afraid or give up if you have to pivot. Most startups have to do this to find the right business model to support their idea.
In Elizabeth Thornton's view, today's executives and business owners pay lip service to objectivity but are often ruled by emotion and conjecture. Her advice is to take a strict data-driven approach to leadership and avoid the many temptations to veer off course.
Thornton relates her own painful experience of losing millions of dollars in a business due to her inability to recognize certain truths. This motivated her to study psychology, neuroscience, and business to find out how people's thought processes limit their success.
People are, by nature, subjective. It's a fundamental principle of sales that consumers buy more from emotion than logic. An effective leader, however, has to see beyond their own subjectivity and look at things as they really are.
We all have certain mental models that prevent us from seeing reality objectively. These may be based on our genetics, experiences, or preferences. In order to be objective, we need to first recognize our own tendencies to distort reality.
Entrepreneurs are often taught that passion about their products is essential. While you should believe in yourself and your products, this can also distort your perception if you don't constantly evaluate your results using hard data.
You need to learn to increase objectivity in both the short-term and long-term. In the short-term, you need to recognize when you're responding to a situation with emotion rather than logic. To become more objective in the long-term requires shifting your mental models, assumptions, and habitual ways of responding to people and events.
In this book, British historian and political scientist Archie Brown, seeks to overturn some common misconceptions about leadership. If you typically read books by business leaders and entrepreneurs, Brown provides a broader, more historical perspective. Even though Brown focuses on politics and history, you can apply the principles to business.
The most effective leaders are not always those who appear strong and dominant. Brown gives examples of strong leaders, such as Adolfo Suárez of Spain, who ruled through brute force. Such leaders, it turns out, often do more harm than good.
Some of the most renowned leaders in history who accomplished memorable feats, such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, were able to accomplish so much mainly because of their ability to negotiate and build consensus.
The most important leaders are what Brown calls transformational leaders. These are people who bring about systemic change. Some examples he cites include Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, and Charles de Gaulle.
In the modern world, few decisions can be made by a single leader. Therefore, someone who attempts to rule by force or through he power of their personality, can be more of a liability than an asset. The most valuable traits of a modern leader include the ability to listen, a willingness to cooperate. It's also important to change your mind and admit when you're wrong.
Successful businesses require big-picture thinking as well as attention to detail. Adjusting your habits requires a systematic approach, Clear says. "Atomic Habits" is one of those entrepreneur books that will stand the test of time. Use this business book in your own business to discover new ideas for a scientific approach to becoming a better leader.
These practical ideas will teach readers how to make time for new habits, overcome a lack of motivation in professional and personal life, utilize time management, design your environment to make success easier, and more.
Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.
If you want better results, focus on your system instead of setting goals.
The best way to change your habits is to focus on who you wish to become.
We can build better habits using The Four Laws of Behavior Change such as (1) make it obvious, (2) make it attractive, (3) make it easy, and (4) make it satisfying.
The environment shapes human behavior like an invisible hand.
Jim Collins is intent on understanding why some companies are able to stand out and achieve greatness while others remain stuck in mediocrity. He performed a 5-year study and identified leadership principles that were responsible for the difference. Use this business book to fuel your own story.
Collins introduces the concept of Level 5 leaders, whose defining characteristics include the ability to place the company's interests above personal ego.
Level 5 leaders understand the importance of hiring people who embrace difficult challenges.
Outstanding companies show a willingness to face "brutal facts" and alter their actions accordingly.
The Hedgehog Concept is vital for understanding what makes some leaders and companies stand apart. This is illustrated by a diagram of 3 concentric circles consisting of what you are passionate about, what you can be the best in the world at, and what drives your economic engine.
A culture of discipline allows you to follow through on your plans, reach your goals, and avoid getting bogged down in bureaucracy.
Great companies use technology accelerators. This means using technology to accelerate rather than drive momentum.
Owning a business requires a number of challenging decisions (all day) every day. This business book is full of insights from behavioral economics, psychology, and the latest research in the fields of neuroscience — learn how to streamline goal-setting and decision-making processes.
Lacking motivation means you're more likely to procrastinate tasks and less likely to complete your best work while you want to achieve your goals with as little wasted effort as possible.
If you constantly get distracted: maintaining focus on your tasks is another important facet of productivity. This means you won't get meaningful work done in the shortest amount of time.
Cognitive tunneling and reactive thinking are two harmful processes that affect focus.
Entrepreneurs need to leave room for balance in your life; getting the required work done while minimizing stress is key. It's important to also set aside time for other things that are important, such as friends, family, and hobbies.
There are so many exceptional business books for entrepreneurs out there, we wouldn't feel right without mentioning some of the most influencial titles by legendary entrepreneur authors like Steve Jobs and Jason Fried that have been supporting entrepreneurial dreams through the years.
Rich Dad Poor Dad — by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter
The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win — by Steve Blank
Who: The A Method for Hiring — by Geoff Smart
Think and Grow Rich: 1937 Edition — Napoleon Hill, Mark White, et al.
The Startup Owner's Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company — by Bob Dorf and Steve Blank
Rework — by Jason Fried
Trust Me, I'm Lying — by Ryan Holiday
E-Myth Mastery, and E-Myth Revisted — by Michael E. Gerber
Whether you are running a lean startup of one, or a successful startup of 200+ employees, if you want to become a better leader, one of the best things you can do is study the best strategies another successful entrepreneur has used. It's like practical advice straight from the source.
Business books like the ones we've shared in this article are the best books for entrepreneurs looking to sharpen their leadership skillset, and move forward into their entrepreneurial journey with confidence. Did we miss one? Comment below to continue the list for other small business owners looking to expand their business strategy and becoming a better entrepreneur by means of self improvement.
A long time ago, someone told Sarah that she was going to do great things. And even though that person was her own reflection looking in the mirror, those words have carried her through the thick of it all. You may find her singing in her car, cleaning things as stress relief, or using humor in uncomfortable situations. Sarah is a professional photographer, copywriter, digital creator, and nice lady to boot!