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12 Books Recommended By CEOs That Will Help You Succeed At Work

12 Books Recommended By CEOs That Will Help You Succeed At Work

As business leaders, CEOs face incredible challenges at work. How do they get through it? They seek ideas, inspiration, and strategies from books. Here is a list of 10 novels, works of history, and classic business books that have inspired today’s top CEOs.

1. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras (Jeff Bezos, Amazon)

Built To Last

    “Visionary companies pursue a cluster of objectives, of which making money is only one—and not necessarily the primary one.”

    Jeff Bezos recommends this book because it shows how to create a long lasting company. If you are seeking to build a legacy in business, this modern classic is required reading. Collins and Porras bring outstanding research depth to the book. A key insight from the book is that profit is usually not the only motivation for visionary companies.

    2. The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right by Atul Gawande (Jack Dorsey, Square/Twitter)

    Checklist-Manifesto

      “Good checklists, on the other hand, are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything – a checklist cannot fly a plane. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps – the ones that even the highly skilled professional using them could miss.”

      Jack Dorsey recommends this book because he knows that top notch execution is essential to business. Having good ideas is only part of the equation. Improving performance is a major concern for leaders and CEOs. If you are frustrated with mistakes and errors, building a checklist is a great solution. As Atul Gawande explains, surgeons, doctors, and commercial pilots use check lists to save lives. For a checklist to be useful, it must have a small number of steps that address major problems.

      To get started, read How To Build A Checklist In 6 Steps.

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      3. Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright (Tony Hsieh, Zappos)

      TribalLeadership

        “Change the language in the tribe, and you have changed the tribe itself.”

        Leadership makes the difference between a company that grows and one that fails. We only need to think about corporate scandals and the problems caused by unethical leaders (e.g. Enron) to understand that principle. Tony Hsieh admires the book because it explains the importance of creating a strong company culture. If your organization, department, or team is in trouble, tribal leadership could be the answer.

        4. The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson (Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola)

        The Ascent of Money

          “Only when savers can put their money in reliable banks that it can be channeled from the idle to the industrious.”

          In the modern business world, we have endless financial options and resources to use. There are plenty of ways to borrow money and many ways to seek investors. However, the financial system is a human system that can break down. In Ferguson’s book, you will learn how the financial system evolves and the forces that drive it. Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent considers it a great read. On a personal level, I found this book to be an outstanding and highly engaging introduction to economic history.

          5. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Randall Stephenson, AT&T)

          The Brothers Karamazov

            “Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”

            A long-standing classic of world literature, The Brothers Karamazov is a powerful read. CEO Randall Stephenson recommended this book in Scouting Magazine. There is much to learn from this book including perspectives on family life and life in Russia. If you’re looking for an engaging work of fiction to read, this book is a great place to start.

            6. The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman (Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase)

            The World is Flat

              “No matter what your profession – doctor, lawyer, architect, accountant – if you are an American, you better be good at the touchy-feely service stuff, because anything that can be digitized can be outsourced to either the smartest or the cheapest producer.”

              Understanding recent changes in the global economy is a challenge. In this popular book, Friedman has explained several key trends including outsourcing and improving technology. As you interact with global customers and competitors, this book will give you a big picture understanding. CEO Jamie Dimon recommends this book (along with The Intelligent Investor) in his suggestion to JP Morgan summer interns.

              7. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil)

              Atlas Shrugged

                “Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won.”

                Atlas Shrugged is a popular book among many successful people. Financial blogger Trent Hamm listed the book as one of the 10 books that changed his life. CEO Rex Tillerson recommends the book because it shows the positive impact that business leaders can make on the world. Published over 50 years ago, the novel remains a popular read in the business community.

                8. The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind (Warren Buffett, Berkshire-Hathaway)

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                The Smartest Guys In The Room

                  “The tale of Enron is a story of human weakness, of hubris and greed and rampant self-delusion; of ambition run amok; of a grand experiment in the deregulated world; of a business model that didn’t work; and of smart people who believed their next gamble would cover their last disaster—and who couldn’t admit they were wrong.”

                  As you build a career, you will be faced with choices. You may have decide whether to take a job or move to a new city. You will also be faced with the decision on whether to act ethically. This book is a great case study in what happens when an unethical focus to produce profits takes over. Warren Buffett has recommended the book. Buffett’s recommendation is in line with his famous newspaper test principle.

                  9. Competing Against Time by George Stalk (Tim Cook, Apple)

                  Competing Against Time

                    “The creation of value by using time as a competitive weapon requires strategies to lock up the most attractive customers to keep competitors at bay.”

                    With millions of customers to impress, it is no surprise that Apple CEO Tim Cook recommends this book. The recommendation is likely influenced by the fact that Cook came up through the ranks with a focus on operations and procurement. After all, if materials and inventory do not arrive on schedule, it is very difficult to run an effective business.

                    10. The Discoverers by Daniel J. Boorstin (Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs)

                    The Discoverers

                      “I have included the story of only a few crucial inventions – the clock, the compass, the telescope and the microscope, the printing press and movable type – which have been essential instruments of discovery… My focus remains on mankind’s need to know – to know what is out there.”

                      Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein has been reading this sweeping history book for years. Much like The World is Flat and The Ascent of Money, this book puts our world into context. You will learn about the people who explored the world, took risks and challenged their society’s ideas. Those are all important lessons to learn as you navigate through new business challenges. This book may also inspire you to keep working if you are working on a new product or a start-up – situations where you are confronted with uncertainty.

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                      11. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell (Marilyn Hewson, Lockheed Martin)

                      malcolm_gladwell_blink

                        “We live in a world that assumes that the quality of a decision is directly related to the time and effort that went into making it…We believe that we are always better off gathering as much information as possible and spending as much time as possible in deliberation. We really only trust conscious decision making. But there are moments, particularly in times of stress, when haste does not make waste, when our snap judgments and first impressions can offer a much better means of making sense of the world. The first task of Blink is to convince you of a simple fact: decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.”

                        Gladwell has become a widely quoted and important author for good reason. His insights and storytelling ability have few peers. In Blink, you will learn about the fine art of decision making and how fast decisions work. CEO Marilyn Hewson recommends this book because it helped her to trust her instincts in business.

                        12. Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman by Richard Feynman (Larry Page, Google)

                        Surely You're Joking

                          “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists.”

                          Google co-founder Larry Page has listed this book as one of his favorites. As a scientist who worked on many different problems in physics and technology, Feynman is a great example of pushing boundaries. As Google continues to develop new products such as driverless cars, one can see the Feynman’s innovative approach shining through. If your business ideas are novel and facing challenges, Feynman’s book will inspire you to keep working at it.

                          Featured photo credit: Jeff Bezos/Desk.com via desk.com

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                          Bruce Harpham

                          Bruce Harpham is a Project Management Professional and Founder and CEO of Project Management Hacks.

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                          Last Updated on January 21, 2020

                          The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

                          The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

                          Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

                          your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

                            Why You Need a Vision

                            Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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                            How to Create Your Life Vision

                            Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

                            What Do You Want?

                            The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

                            It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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                            Some tips to guide you:

                            • Remember to ask why you want certain things
                            • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
                            • Give yourself permission to dream.
                            • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
                            • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

                            Some questions to start your exploration:

                            • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
                            • What would you like to have more of in your life?
                            • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
                            • What are your secret passions and dreams?
                            • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
                            • What do you want your relationships to be like?
                            • What qualities would you like to develop?
                            • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
                            • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
                            • What would you most like to accomplish?
                            • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

                            It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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                            What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

                            Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

                            A few prompts to get you started:

                            • What will you have accomplished already?
                            • How will you feel about yourself?
                            • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
                            • What does your ideal day look like?
                            • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
                            • What would you be doing?
                            • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
                            • How are you dressed?
                            • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
                            • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
                            • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

                            It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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                            Plan Backwards

                            It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

                            • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
                            • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
                            • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
                            • What important actions would you have had to take?
                            • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
                            • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
                            • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
                            • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
                            • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

                            Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

                            It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

                            Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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