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17 Books Read by Incredibly Successful People

Whether you're looking for the perfect gift or need inspiration yourself, these books come highly recommended by executives who thrive on self-improvement.

Whether you're looking for the perfect gift, or need inspiration yourself, these books come highly recommended by executives who thrive on self-improvement.

1. The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive by Patrick Lencioni

"This was a great book and very easy to read. The one piece of it that has stuck with me is the need to repeat yourself, your mission and strategy until you feel like an insane crazy person - in very simple terms. As the number of people I've had to lead has steadily increased over the years the more I've recognized the wisdom of simple, reoccurring messages towards a uniform goal. I generally refer back to this every time feel the need to explain things in greater detail that are so obvious in my mind. Until I remember that everyone else has a million things on their to do list and keeping the message short and consistent lets them avoid the mental gymnastics of having to remember too many watered-down statements that get lost in the shuffle."

--Tracey Wiedmeyer, CTO of InContext Solutions, a global provider of virtual reality (VR) solutions for retailers and manufacturers

2. The Five Dysfunctions of A Team by Patrick Lencioni

"I highly recommend this book for anyone leading a team. The author writes from the perspective of a new CEO charged to turn a company around, and her unpopular choice to prioritize building the right team before focusing on revenue or products. Step by step, the reader gets a tutorial on how to build trust with a team, embrace conflict, excite commitment, enforce accountability and drive results. The first two steps, building trust and embracing conflict particularly stood out. At Kabbage, we encourage new hires to refrain from business-heavy and resume-focused introductions, but rather on who they are and ask the same from their new teammates. It initiates teamwork and builds trust in a more impactful way. That way, when conflicts arise, there's mutual trust between teammates. The book explains why conflict isn't only important--but vital--to build a successful team."

--Amy Zimmerman, head of people for small business lending company Kabbage

3. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

"Although I've read a number of good business books recently, [this one remains] one of my all-time favorites. I've always felt that you can learn more from biographies than from 'how to' books. The beauty of this book is that Jobs was a complex man and the book deals with both his good and bad leadership traits as well as his business successes and failures, and there is a lot we can all learn from them. And while there is no doubting that he had a special vision, the one thing that stands out to me about his life is that deep down he was just a person like you and me--a person not afraid to risk failure in order to chase greatness. To this day for inspiration I often refer back to his famous quote that everything around us that we call life was made up by people that were no smarter than any of us and we all have the ability to change things, to influence things and to create things that make the world a better place for us all."

--Tariq Farid, founder and CEO of Edible Arrangements 

4. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

"I love the Malcomb Gladwell books. I am so interested in why people do what they do and how their surroundings and environment influence their choices and outcomes. While it's true that hard work and persistence account for so much, there is a distinct reality of time and place impacting opportunities that cannot be denied."

--Kim Houlne, founder, president and chief executive of Working Solutions, a home-based call center solutions company

5. Good Profit by Charles Koch

"There are no shortage of business gurus who offer a whole lot of advice without much or any real world experience of building businesses, especially at scale. Koch Industries employs over 100,000 people in nearly 100 countries. Charles Koch shares his comprehensive approach to building a principled business that doubles earnings, on average, every 6 years by utilizing Market Based Management. It is a detailed breakdown of how to build, sustain, and grow a business that earns what Charles calls 'good profit' by treating customers with respect, focusing on 100 percent compliance with all laws and regulations in difficult industries, and rewarding and focusing on value creation and value rewarded. This book is a must-read for any principled entrepreneurs and business leaders looking to create lasting value that leaves all of us better off."

--Kevin LaVelle, founder and CEO of Mizzen + Main, purveyors of performance menswear which offers classic style in a moisture-wicking, wrinkle-free fabric

6. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

"The book explores how to achieve an optimal state of 'flow' in which the person in flow experiences hyper creativity, focus and total involvement. I first heard about this concept at the Summit Series where Olympic athletes spoke on how they achieved a flow state during their competitions. It's a fascinating concept and one that I am constantly practicing on improving. When I'm in a flow state, my business ideas come more naturally and fall into place faster and I can accomplish a lot of work in a shorter amount of time while still having a clear mind. Another benefit of this is that I get to have more time to attend to the other parts of my life as well."

--Denise Lee, founder of Alala, a luxury women's activewear brand

7. Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

"I've always been obsessed with understanding why people make the choices that they do and how to influence them - and reading this book helped me realize that this was a real field of study with the potential to create massive change across our society. It puts structure around these ideas, and I apply the principles from that book all the time, especially in the food world."

--Jen Berliner, president of ZÜPA NOMA, a drinkable soup brand

8. and 9. Pitch Dark by Renata Adler and Lunch Poems by Frank O'Hara

"Both of these books changed the way I think about the power of language to communicate the simple day-to-day activities of life with a lyrical warmth. I try to carry one of them with me because they come in handy when I'm tired and a bit worn out on a subway platform."

--Craig Elbert, founder and CEO of Care/of, a direct-to-consumer wellness brand the specializes in personalized vitamins and supplements for health-minded individuals

10. The Tree by John Fowles

"I picked this up while having an hour to kill in Cambridge and looking for some atypical soul-feeding reading. The Tree is a single essay--only 91 pages long--and a rumination on our relationship with nature and how it relates to art and creativity. Our relationship with nature has become skewed, he argues after epochs in which science and our society which is obsessed with 'naming, categorizing, and collecting things' has tried to overcome nature with logic and force of will. This essay was first published in 1979, and it still rings so true today. All the major cultural themes of being present, letting go and not trying so hard to control everything are as true in the center of New York City where I live now, as they were to author in that moment observing the woods. Instead of focusing on the yield of the fruit trees, Fowles argues that human experience is by nature irrational, unquantifiable and individual, and being connected to the wild world, in its most natural state reminds us of this. I recommend it because it encouraged me, in our go-go 24/7 world, to understand that there is more to optimizing the human experience than pushing to be better. Better sometimes is letting things take their natural course."  

--Jennie Baik, cofounder and CEO Orchard Mile, a digital marketplace where consumers can shop and discover full ready-to-wear collections from over 200 designers

11. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

"If you aspire to lead a company, start reading this right now. Ben hits you straight between the eyes with his gloves-off portrayal of what it's like to be at the helm. What it's really like. From raising money to firing staff and everything in between, Ben will take you on an emotional rollercoaster full of gut-wrenching, yet entertaining, stories. In doing so, Ben casts vanity aside and reveals his own humanity. As a first-time CEO, I have already experienced so many of the emotions Ben talks about, and I was much better prepared thanks to this book."

--Omer Molad, cofounder and CEO of Vervoe, a hiring platform that gives candidates a chance to prove their skills by doing simulations

12. PEAK by Chip Conley

"If you find yourself or your company in a dark place, professionally (or even if you don't) PEAK is the book to get you out of that funk and get you thinking at a higher-level. Conley uses Maslow's theory on the psychology of motivation as a foundation for tools that can be applied in a business context. Whether working to strengthen engagement with employees, investors, customers, or all of the above, Conley's concepts really work. Moreover, his approach is ridiculously broad in application and teaches better listening, marketing, and management skills. In fact, the principals in the book are applicable to almost any situation, from big picture dynamics, to nitty-gritty solutions. PEAK is so well written, that many of the business culture and management psychology books out there seem to mimic PEAK's content and style, but in a less-effective way. I highly recommend this book for building a successful, high-performing organization."

--Dan Baird, founder and CEO of Crack the Crowd, a marketing and fintech firm providing marketing services and software solutions to equity crowdfunding platforms and issuers

13. Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella

"Taking the reins of a large empire is no easy feat. Keeping a company's integrity while growing and adapting its core values is even trickier. Throughout this book I was reminded of the most essential value: the human factor and the role it plays in leadership. As the third CEO in Microsoft's history, Nadella takes the reader on a journey that starts with humble beginnings and ends with a man considering the depth and impact of his responsibility. While the book isn't comprised of technical information, it is full of thoughtful and intelligent insights into the future of work and our society as a whole. Changes occurring inside and outside of Microsoft, are quite compelling and something that all business leaders should consider in this new age of leadership. As Nadella thoughtfully writes, 'Empathy grounds and centers me.' A necessary and refreshing look at today's workplace and society at large. Not exactly the book I expected, but I'm very glad I took the time to read and learn from it. I'd happily recommend it for any leader."

--Roy Pereira, founder and CEO of Zoom.ai, a chat-based productivity tool that helps employees to offload and automate everyday tasks

14. Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio

"This is an open, engaging and highly educational book which details Ray's principles and reasonings for business, life and family. I first read this book to understand the principles of how Bridgewater built a one in 10,000 people culture delivering best-of-class financial results. Most encouraging for all of us was despite Ray's massive successes in business and finance, he was very clear that his greatest failures were instrumental in preparing him for the next stages of his life and were instrumental in driving his greatest successes.  Ray also gives a behind the scenes look into the world of finance and geopolitics and reveals Bridgewater's unique way of building culture that begins with self-awareness, understanding co-workers and radical transparency.  A must-read for business and life."

--Kurt Long, founder and CEO of FairWarning, a cloud-based privacy and security intelligence provider

15. Zero to One by Peter Thiel

"After reading this book I looked at the issue of enabling cross-border investment in global real estate for middle class investors in a whole new way. I saw that using the same old systems would not work, leading to us launching an Initial Coin Offering to help people invest. It really helped me to see solutions in a whole new way."

--Scott Picken, CEO of at Wealth Migrate, an international real estate investment marketplace that offers global investors direct access to exclusive real estate investment opportunities in premier markets around the world

16. The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson

"This book made a major impact on my approach to repositioning value added real estate. In life and business, it is the little things that one does every day that makes a big impact, and, this book does a powerful job at demonstrating this." 

--John Latham CEO of The PPA Group, an organization that creates opportunities for investors to enjoy the benefits of multifamily real estate ownership

17. Drive by Daniel Pink

"At its core, all business is about learning how to motivate others, while helping them to achieve their goals in relation to your own. Pink's ability to break down human foundations and offer big ideas on how to impact change is transformational."

--Yuen Yung, CEO at Casoro Capital, a private equity and single-family office focused on creating real estate opportunities that are suitable, attractive, and efficient for high net worth individuals, family offices, and institutions

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