Leadership coach and blogger Michael Hyatt writes often about reading and career success. "In business, the right book at the right moment can tilt the playing field and give you a crucial advantage," he writes in one post. In another, he cites research showing that reading sharpens leadership skills including problem solving and persuasive powers.
Real people’s testimonies can be far more compelling than research, however. Here, successful businesspeople share the book titles that helped them attain their desired job titles.
"The Challenger Sale" by Matthew Dixon (Portfolio, 2011)
"It’s one of my favorites because it teaches a strategy that helps you sell based on facts rather than spin and smarm, and talks about sales as an education process," says John Jersin, CEO and co-founder of Connectifier, a recruiting technology company based in Newport Beach, Calif.
That’s important, Jersin adds, because "every role I’ve ever had, from engineering to sales to CEO, involves a fair amount of sales, whether you’re pitching ideas to management or selling products to customers."
"Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott (Anchor, 1995)
"It’s not about business or leadership, but writing. I read it while I was writing my own book, but it helps me every day in work and life," says John Clifford, founder of the New York-based design firm Think Studio and author or "Design Icons" (Peachpit Press, 2013).
The book’s title is also its key teaching and stems from the author’s childhood memory of her father advising her brother, who was struggling with a school report on ornithology, to "just take it bird by bird."
"Breaking tasks down like that makes them easier to accomplish," says Clifford, adding that whenever he feels overwhelmed or uninspired, and inclined to procrastinate, "I remember to just do the work, piece by piece."
"First, Break All the Rules" by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman (Simon & Schuster, 1999)
"The main takeaway for me was that instead of trying to identify and fix people’s weaknesses, I should focus on their strengths," says Keith Walters, chief operating officer for Axiometrics, an apartment market research firm based in Dallas. "If their strengths don’t line up with those needed, don’t try to change the person. Instead, find the right seat for that person and the right person for their seat."
"A Course in Miracles" by Helen Schucman (Foundation for Inner Peace third edition, 2008)
"A key message is to rise above the battleground to get a clear view of the best course of action," says Susan de Cuba, president and CEO of Treasure Coast Hospice, based in Florida. "Battleground is a term used in the book; to me, it signifies daily conflicts and politics that people get caught up in. And when you’re caught up in it, it’s hard to see with clarity. Rising above it comes with practice. When you separate yourself from tension, you can dissolve it."
"Awaken the Giant Within" by Tony Robbins (Free Press, 1992)
"One of the most resonating lessons is the past doesn’t equal the future. It doesn’t matter how many times you try something; you only have to do it right once to make it work," says David Clark, who owned a successful mattress retail chain before losing it all to addiction and, post-recovery, transforming himself into an endurance athlete, inspiration speaker and self-published author based in Boulder, Colo.
"In Search of Excellence" by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman Jr. (HarperCollins reprint, 2006)
"This book was an absolute game-changer for me," says financial advisor Charles Wareham, CEO of Valark Financial Services in Hartford, Conn. "It introduced the concept of champions and letting them run wild. When you have someone who’s passionate about a project, give them access to resources and get out of their way."
Modeling his company on the principles of autonomy and entrepreneurship set forth in the book, Wareham sees micromanagement as a creativity killer and de-motivator: "I don’t even count employees’ vacation days, yet productivity and client satisfaction are high and we are killing the competition."
"Henry V" by Shakespeare
"Your success as a leader hinges on the support of your staff. Just as Shakespeare’s development of subplots directs our attention to the vital role of support staff, your role as a manager should be to learn from your staff, develop their potential and reward innovative ideas," says Jennifer Lee Magas, vice president of Magas Media Consultants and adjunct writing professor at Fairfield University in Connecticut.
A key message from Shakespeare’s "Henry V" is that great kings learn not from other kings but from their subjects, says Magas: "Henry’s lesson is to be the kind of manager who knows employees’ names, asks about their families and exhibits genuine sincerity and appreciation."