Last year, we made a scientific case for reading more often. Reading improves your mind so much that the effects are noticeable in scientific studies.
But we didn’t tell you what to read.
If you find yourself in the position of chief executive of a small business, it’s time to brush up on the books about productivity, leadership, and the business environment that can fast-forward your knowledge and skills without lifting a finger—except to turn the page. Here are ten recommendations:
#1: Getting Things Done by David Allen
This is one of the top books on productivity ever written, and for good reason—it’s effective. Author David Allen offers a systematic approach for prioritizing what it is that you do so that you can go about your day spending time on the right things. This is a vital skill of the small business CEO: learning which action items deserve your attention and which can be delegated.
“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them,” writes Allen. This gets to the central point of Getting Things Done: that which you hold as an idea never actually gets done. Think of the writer who thinks about a story but never puts the words down to paper, or the aspiring fitness guru who never makes time for the gym. Getting Things Done is about making things happen, which is why it’s essential for a small business leader.
#2: The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism by Olivia Fox Cabane
According to Inc.com, this was a favorite of Melissa Mayer at Yahoo. The book’s central thesis is that personal “magnetism” may seem like a mysterious talent, but is actually a skill that anyone can develop and acquire. It’s not difficult to see how this can benefit a CEO of a small business. Likeability is important when it comes to building a cohesive team.
“The Charisma Myth” may not be essential for CEO leadership, but it does bring an essential new way of looking at things: you are in control of your destiny as a CEO even when it comes to skills as vague as “charisma.”
#3: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
One of the central figures in stoic philosophy, Marcus Aurelius is not quite like the other authors on this list. Yet Aurelius is a unique figure. As emperor-slash-CEO of the ancient Roman Empire, Aurelius was in a unique position to gauge what was effective in both life and leadership. He wrote down many of these thoughts in an enduring text that still has relevance today.
Many of the aphorisms present in Meditations are directed at life in general, but applied to the stressful life of the CEO, you’ll find them just as useful as any of the practical guides on this list.
#4: EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey
Dave Ramsey is a radio personality in the realm of personal finance, but his experience as CEO of a small business has been invaluable to his listeners—many of whom run the gamut from debt-laden new listeners to battle-hardened CEOs. This is one of the more practical books on small business leaderships, containing in-your-face nuggets of wisdom like: “Team members leave, or are let go, most often because they should not have been hired in the first place.” Dave Ramsey doesn’t spare feelings when he tells the reader how life as a CEO is—and that’s vital for new CEOs.
#5: The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
Mega-CEO Jeff Bezos includes “The Effective Executive” in his list of top three books for CEOs, which alone is enough to justify its appearance on this list. The Effective Executive is a bit like “Getting Things Done,” but less on a personal productivity level and more on a company-wide level. That’s a vital change in perspective for anyone who currently serves as the CEO of a small business. The book does include personal time management tips for leaders, as well—and it’s hard to argue that famous readers like Jeff Bezos are anything but effective.
#6: Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras
Recommended by JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon, this book is about the overall vision of your company, especially relevant for those CEOs who don’t see themselves as tiny startups for long. It’s about what it takes to build a large company—including building a sense of teamwork and alignment as your company reaches new heights.
#7: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Abraham Lincoln is a timeless example of leadership during crisis; his entire administration was focused on the Civil War—which made his selection of a “team of rivals” in his cabinet even more puzzling to some. But Lincoln realized that in order to bring the Union together, that unification would have to start at the very top. Goodwin’s award-winning book is one of the most lauded to be released this century.
#8: Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t by Jim Collins
As a small business CEO, your focus will be on building something great. But some businesses don’t make it. Scratch that—most businesses don’t make it. This book addresses those instances of failure while highlighting what it is that makes great companies succeed.
#9: Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin
Elon Musk is a fan of Benjamin Franklin’s, reading “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life.” But it’s easy to forget that Benjamin Franklin also wrote about himself—and included some timeless tips about leadership and personal development that still resonate to this day. In the book, Franklin outlines how he grew up from a young lad to one of the most productive and innovative minds of the 18th century.
#10: The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success
Any book that Warren Buffett likes will earn attention. But this book is intriguing for its contents, which focus on both business and investing in new and surprising ways. This is a great book for CEOs who want to be “outside-the-box” thinkers.
As Will Smith—that’s right, the official Fresh Prince of Bel-Air himself—once told a young audience: “There's no new problem that someone hasn't already had and written about it in a book.”
And that’s coming from royalty.
Maybe you’d better listen. As the person in charge of your small business, you might find it a lonely place to be. But as long as you have great books with you, you’ll always have a rich source of insights at your fingertips.