7 Books that Every CEO Should Read
There is no magic recipe or perfect path to becoming CEO. As such, there is no one-size-fits-all lesson for being a great leader either.
We know that each organization has diverse needs and challenges, but in the end, we are all human trying to figure everything out. Whether you are already a CEO, about to start your first CEO position, or aspiring to be a CEO one day, this list of books can give you advice on how to recover from failure, implement change, be an inspiring leader, and most importantly, grow as a person.
As busy as you probably are, we made sure to include no BS books. On this list, you will find timeless advice and chapters that are not filled with fluff just to sell copies. Read on to discover what books should be on every CEO’s reading list.
1. Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley's Bill Campbell by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle
Bill Campbell was a key player during the growth of several prosperous companies, such as Google, Apple, and Intuit. He cultivated deep relationships with Silicon Valley’s most well-known leaders, including Steve Jobs, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt. Coach Bill mentored dozens of other important leaders across the nation, from entrepreneurs to venture capitalists to educators to football players.
After Campbell’s death in 2016, it was clear he left behind a legacy full of growing companies, successful people, respect, friendship, and love. Trillion Dollar Coach was based on interviews with over 80 people who knew and loved Bill Campbell.
2. Shoe Dog – A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight
The founder of Nike, Phil Knight reflects on his journey to growing one of the world’s most notable brands. From starting with a $50 loan from his father to achieving $30 billion in annual sales, there is much to be told and wisdom to be learned throughout the memoir.
His story starts with him having a simple mission: import high-quality, low-cost athletic shoes from Japan. By selling shoes out the back of his car and grossing $8K the first year, no one could have guessed where it would take him. Readers get the inside story of the many risks, setbacks, and early successes the legendary entrepreneur experienced.
3. Blue Ocean Strategy – How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne
With 3.6 million copies sold worldwide and now available in 44 languages, Blue Ocean Strategy has become an exemplar for business leaders that want to spearhead their industries. The authors, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne are management experts. Their book has the goal to get businesses to think differently about strategic success.
Rather than battling competitors, they reveal how creating blue oceans, which are untapped markets, can help business achieve success. The book includes research findings from 150 strategic moves across 100 years and 30 industries.
4. Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink
A book that appears on almost every CEO reading list is written by former Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. They believe a leader’s own ego is the greatest obstacle one can face. The Navy SEAL’s intense combat experience taught him some of the toughest leadership lessons. Willink shares 12 key leadership concepts and explains that when leaders stop passing around blame and start taking responsibility for everything in their world, their teams do the same and problems get solved.
After doing service as a SEAL, Willink and Babin teamed up to start a company, Echelon Front, where they teach those same leadership principles to leaders in businesses, companies, and organizations across the civilian sector.
As a CEO, taking responsibility for both progress and setbacks is essential to growing your company. No one wants a leader who shifts the blame to another team or employee instead of taking ownership. Those who apply the extreme ownership mindset, and the other 12 lessons gain the ability to lead with confidence.
5. Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall
Leadership gurus Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall outline flawed assumptions about work that lead to a dysfunctional office.
Freethinking leaders understand the power and true beauty in every individual’s uniqueness. These are the leaders that recognize the strength and cohesiveness of their team is more valuable than their company's culture.
The authors use engaging stories and research observations from large companies, including Google, eBay, and Amazon, to reveal the realities managers must face so that they can lead a successful organization. One of the nine lies is: “People don’t want constant feedback; they want helpful attention.”
6. Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull
Creativity Inc. is written by the president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation, Ed Catmull and it is a book that gives a great lesson in being open to finding problems in your company. Finding problems gives business owners a chance to correct them and to adapt and grow from them.
With the dream of creating the first computer animated movie, Catmull could have never guessed that his future company dominated the world of animation for two decades. In that time span, Pixar pumped out classics such as, Toy Story, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, Wall-E, Finding Nemo, and much more. The secret ingredient to each movie’s success was the extraordinary environment that Catmull and his colleagues built at Pixar.
Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made the organization globally admired - and very profitable.
7. Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger by Peter Bevelin
The fascinating book begins with the author, Peter Bevelin, quoting some wisdom from Confucius, “A man who has committed a mistake and doesn't correct it, is committing another mistake.” We recommend this book to anyone who is in constant search for knowledge.
The book teaches us how thoughts are influenced, why we are quick to misjudge, and how to improve the way we process new ideas. The lessons are not just for running a company. It is full of advice on thinking bigger and understanding what motivates the people we work with every day.
Bevelin’s pursuit for wisdom started partly by making mistakes himself and observing others. But he was ultimately inspired by the mind of Charles Munger, a man whose simplicity was unmatched to anything Bevelin’s ever read or seen. The book explores this philosophy, and it also describes ideas from many different fields. You will find insights from first-century BCE Roman poet Publius Terentius to Mark Twain—from Albert Einstein to Richard Feynman—from 16th Century French essayist Michel de Montaigne to Warren Buffett.
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