10 Books Every Aspiring CEO Should Read

by Calvin Wilder, SmartBooks Founder & CEO

Leading an organization requires a broad range of knowledge on topics that don’t always seem to fit together. And you don’t learn a lot of this in school. Often, the biggest fires and the biggest opportunities result from the least expected circumstances.  There’s only so much studying you can undertake, especially when your time is in such high demand.
Books have filled an important gap in my ability to hone existing knowledge and introduce me to new ideas. Finding books that offer unique perspectives beyond the conventional wisdom isn’t easy – but over time, I’ve compiled a list of ten contenders that I believe every up and coming CEO should read. If you find value from just one of these books, then I’ll have done my job.

The Goal – Eliyahu M. Goldratt, Jeff Cox

First on my list, in no particular order, is a compelling read called The Goal. This book chronicles the story of a factory manager embroiled in the bureaucracy of high pressure corporate management. The story is a must-read for managers and highlights important concepts about reducing the limiting factors in an organization to put your goals within reach and elevate your production.

Traction – Gino Wickman

Traction explores the concept of the Entrepreneurial Operating System – a model process that lays out time-tested business principles to run your organization. The topics covered in this story include everything from business process optimization to effective meeting agendas to helping CEOs get a better system for leading their business. Check it out.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Patrick Lencioni

There are few business authors I enjoy more than Patrick Lencioni. Each book he puts out shines a new light on established entrepreneurial principles, and Five Dysfunctions is no different – check out this book to get an in-depth look at the invisible cracks that can separate and break apart even the best project teams.

Who – Geoff Smart and Randy Street

Billed as a solution to the “number one problem” that businesses face, Who takes a practical look at where we as a society went wrong in how we handle our hiring and recruiting. The strategies are simple and effective—a must read for all hiring executives.

Tools of the Titans – Timothy Ferris

Tools of the Titans takes a completely different approach to the concept of a business management book. Informed by Ferris’ own experience interviewing industry leaders, celebrities, athletes, and more, the book digs into the secrets of success that these titans share and how their habits can be put to work in your own organization.

Built to Sell – John Warrillow

Built to Sell has an interesting value proposition: Could your business thrive without you at the helm? Far more than just a book about selling your business, Warrillow explores multiple topics in this area and offers several criteria that CEOs should prioritize: teachability, identifying unique value, and repeatable strategies.

Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller – Ron Chernow

JD Rockefeller’s influence is apparent in every facet of the business world. Regardless of your opinion of the guy, there’s no denying that his influence is larger than life. This biopic goes into more detail about his rise to power than any I’ve read and offers some interesting insights that future captains of industry should know.

Rethinking the Sales Force – Neil Rackham

Rethinking the Sales Force invites CEOs to reconsider the established notions of business practice, namely, the structure and practices of their sales force.  The book suggests different sales models to meet the demands of today’s sophisticated customers depending on the nature of the product being sold, the customer, and how to create value for the customer in the sales process.

Double Double – Cameron Herold

Double Double promises to teach you how to double your revenue in three years or less, but even beyond this lofty goal, you’ll learn plenty more from this book. It’s stuffed with actionable advice and practical strategies for developing your business, perfect for up and coming CEOs with plenty of room to grow.

The Snowball: Warren Buffet and the Business of Life – Alice Schroeder

This is the book CEOs were waiting for when it was published: the first authentic memoir of Warren Buffet. There’s not much to say about this one; the subject alone speaks for itself. Get it, read it, enjoy it.

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