Leaders need to be readers. I recommend reading leadership and business books regularly to sharpen your skills and make you aware of important, new concepts. I’m a huge fan of Audible. I listen to these books on my daily commute. I especially like hearing the books read by the authors.
Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude by Raymond M. Kethledge and Mike Erwin. Special introduction by Jim Collins
I’m a fan of Team RWB and the work they do for veterans. When I saw the founder, Mike Erwin, had co-authored a book on leadership, I knew I had to read it. I was also surprised when I saw that Jim Collins, my favorite author on leadership, wrote the introduction. Jim Collins’ work on Level 5 leadership has been a guiding light for me throughout my career. Lead Yourself First is a modern and historical account of how leaders have used solitude to find emotional balance, clarify their thoughts, analyze information, and make the toughest decisions. The authors intertwine stories of modern and historical leaders like Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, Pope John Paul II and Aung San Suu Kyi to show how solitude shaped their roles as leaders. In a time when leaders are expected to be fully accessible all the time, this book reminds the readers of the importance solitude plays in the life of a leader.
Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done by Jon Acuff Non-Fiction
Are you a starter but not a finisher? Do you quit on personal goals when you have a cheat day? This book is for people who struggle to get things done. It’s also a story for those of us who are trying to do too many things. Acuff provides us with humorous and practical advice on how to beat perfectionism and learn how to get things done. This is a great book that needs to be listened to on Audible to really enjoy Acuff’s humorous insights.
Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days by Chris Guillebeau Non-Fiction
Great practical guide by Chris Guillebeau. If you have ever thought about starting your own business but were afraid of the risks, this is a great book for you. Guillebeau gives the reader a quick guide on how to start a side business with very little money or risk. He specifically wants to “keep your day job” when doing this. He explains the difference between a true side hustle and other ways to make money like Uber or Etsy. It’s a short, easy read with a lot of great, practical tips.
Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller Non-Fiction
I love Donald Miller’s insights. I listen to the StoryBrand podcast regularly. Miller is an expert storyteller and has brought those skills to marketing communications. His mantra, “if you confuse, you lose,” is his basis for simplifying and focusing company’s websites and marketing literature. I was looking forward to this book and bought it the day it came out. I was not disappointed. Miller describes the seven universal elements of powerful stories and shows readers how to use them to better connect with customers. If you are a marketing professional or a business owner, this is a “must read” book.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg Non-Fiction.
Why do we do what we do? How do we change what we do? The answer is found in habits. And the answers are found in this book. Pulitzer Prize-winning business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us into nearly every study ever made on habits and their power on us. From how habits affect addictions, to personal growth, and even how marketers use habits to sell products. This an amazing, well-researched book that will open your mind to the power of habits.
Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win (New Edition) by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin Non-Fiction
What can Navy Seals teach us about leadership? A lot. This book is filled with tough-learned wisdom gained in the fiercest fighting in Iraq. Jock Willink and Leif Babin intertwine stories from their days in Iraq with how these lessons apply to company leadership situations.
Extreme Leadership is a powerful, no-nonsense look at what it takes to be a great leader.
Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet by Jesse Itzler Non-Fiction
This will make you both laugh out loud and think about your life in a new way. When Jesse Itzler, a successful entrepreneur living in NYC, hires an elite Navy Seal to live with him and train him for 31 days, his life turns upside down. From day 1, there is a clash of cultures where Itzler leaves his comfortable world to train in the most uncomfortable ways. Throughout the process, Itzler learns he is capable of doing much more than he ever imagined. This book led me to write the article, Looking to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone? Hire a Navy Seal. I highly recommend listening to this book on Audible because it is read by the author and you get Itzler’s true reaction to all the crazy things the Seal gets him to do.
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth Non-Fiction
This is what everyone is talking about, Angela Duckworth’s well-researched book on what makes some people succeed where others give up. She reveals that grit, which is the “passion and perseverance for long-term goals,” is the secret to long-term success. Grit is the one determining factor as to why some cadets make it through Beast Barracks at West Point and others drop out. I had written this article, The One Trait Your CEO Wants You to Have, before I read Duckworth’s book. In my experience, the best trait for business leaders is persistence. I’ve observed that persistent people exhibit the fierce resolve to get things despite the challenges. It turns out, I had reached the same conclusions as Duckworth. Grit is a well researched, great read which I recommend to all leaders.
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight Non-Fiction
This is the story of the overnight success of Nike that took 18+ years. This is the best book I have ever read about what it is really like starting your own company. This is the book to read if you think entrepreneurship is easy. In great detail, Phil Knight describes the struggle of what it took to launch Blue Ribbon Sports (Nike’s predecessor). It took decades of hard work and incredible luck to go from a crazy idea and a trip around the world to the world’s most successful sports brand. There are stories of financial troubles, lawsuits, international trade failures, government intervention, media scrutiny, betrayal, and struggles. But in the end, passion, desire, hard work, family, and lifelong friendships allow Phil and his band of misfits to overcome all odds. This is an incredible, well-written story that should be mandatory reading for all entrepreneurs.
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story by Donald Miller Non-Fiction
Follow Miller as he learns to live a better story. He chooses to leave his quiet, comfortable, unchallenging life for a life of challenge and struggle. Miller expertly describes his transition as he searches for his father, hikes the Inca trail, and bikes across the country.
Reading his story inspired me to write 3 Reasons Why the Struggle is More Important than the Goal.
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek Non-Fiction
Sinek’s TED talk, “Start with Why” has more than 28 million views because the message is so eye-opening. Sinek tells us how great leaders and organizations get us onboard by effectively communicating the reasons behind their movements. Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers had little in common, but they all motivated people by starting with why. Reading this book inspired me to rewrite the About Us page on my company’s website.
SLIM by William Wister Haines Fiction
Slim was originally written in 1934 by William Wister Haines and had its last printing in 1951. But, due to its popularity with electrical linemen in the U.S., it was brought back to the market by Haines’ son, William Wister Haines Jr., in three limited edition printing in 2009, 2010, and 2013. Slim tells the story of a young man who comes of age working as an electrical lineman building transmission and railway lines in the early 1900’s. As the CEO of Peak Demand Inc., I have spent my civilian career making products for the electrical industry. I’m also the son of high voltage electrician. I have tremendous respect for linemen. Electrical linemen are some the toughest, hard-working people in the country. Haines’ book faithfully shows what life was like working in this tough industry in the early 1900’s. I love this book and I highly recommend it for anyone in the electrical utility industry.
Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World by William H. McRaven
The video of Navy Seal Admiral McRaven’s 1994 commencement speech at the University of Texas at Austin went viral, receiving more than 10 million views and it’s not surprising. This little book, based on that speech, features 10 important lessons McRaven learned in his long service as a Navy Seal. There are great takeaways from this book like “get over being a sugar cookie” and “don’t be afraid of the circus.” As a former Naval Officer, I really related to the lessons in this book. Coincidentally, I wrote a similar article, 10 Leadership Lessons I Learned Living on a Nuclear Submarine, before I read McRaven’s story. My article was read more than 140,000 times on LinkedIn.