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13 Books for Thought(ful) Leaders

16793367681_e748a37419_hThe most effective, influential leaders of their pack read. They read a lot. But in my own experience and in reviewing the reading habits of key leaders in different fields, something surprising surfaced:

Maybe it matters less how much you read and matters more how diversely you read.

If you’re a business owner or a thought leader or thoughtful leader constantly reading business and economics books, guess what? You could be impoverishing your mind’s capacity to imagine, empathize, and think boldly through problems.

Below I share with you a few examples of well-known CEO’s favorite books and then give you 13 books to put on your list this year to do business as unusual.

A Few Surprises

If you assume that successful, innovative CEO’s read only business books, guess again.

Richard Branson – the renegade business investor and founder of the Virgin Group (400 companies strong) – chose among his top 5 favorite books two political books and three children’s books (including my all-time favorite, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are).

Steve Jobs’s top 5 include King Lear and Autobiography of a Yogi.

Zappo’s CEO Tony Hsieh‘s favorites include psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis.

Jacqueline Novagratz has summarily lived the question of how to change poverty across the globe. As CEO of Acumen, she lists as among the most important books to read numerous ones on international politics as well as Mary Oliver’s poetry collection Why I Wake Early (“Her poems ground me in the beauty of the world,” she wrote recently at LinkedIn Pulse).

13 Books for Thought(ful) Leaders & Business Artists

People from 16 countries participated in our Quest event led by 13 visionary leaders from various fields. Here are books from each one and my take on why they’re required reading for anyone yearning to be a more thoughtful leader this year. They are each thoughtful leaders in their own right.

Note: Click on each title to link to the book’s sales page.

1. Start Here Now: An Open-Hearted Guide to the Path and Practice of Meditation (Shambhala Publications, 2015) by SUSAN PIVER

There are countless books on meditation. Why another one? Because none that I have reviewed are as personable, clear, and simple in the best sense of the word as Susan Piver’s Start Here Now. Thoughtful leaders have high degrees of self-awareness, for better and worse. This is your guide to start a simple meditation practice of a few minutes a day from a leader who hosts possibly the world’s largest online meditation community.

2. Uncertainty: Turning Doubt and Fear into Fuel for Brilliance (Portfolio, 2012) by JONATHAN FIELDS

It’s nearly impossible to thrive as an innovator or leader of your pack without an ongoing capacity to contend daily with huge amounts of uncertainty – in business, in life, in creative pursuits. In Uncertainty: Turning Doubt and Fear into Fuel for Brilliance, Good Life Project founder, speaker, serial entrepreneur, and all-around good human being Jonathan Fields provides the best guide on how to navigate the emotional and other hazards of doing your best work.

3. Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits (Allworth Press, 2011) by DEBBIE MILLMAN

Whether you like the idea of branding or not, you’d be, well, short-sighted to ignore it altogether. Granted, branding is often presented in a watered-down way as a set of marketing ploys. Yet, in Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits, Design Matters host Debbie Millman pulls together some of the finest minds in different fields to consider the cultural and other significance of branding’s importance on how we live, lead, and work.

4. Insight Out (HarperCollins, 2015) by TINA SEELIG

It’s one thing to have ideas. It’s a whole other thing to practice getting those ideas out into the world so they can influence other people’s imaginations. Stanford University professor Tina Seelig guides you through a thoughtful creative process from imagination to implementation. If you want to develop and distribute your ideas so they matter to the people you lead, read Insight Out.

5. Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind (Perigree, 2015) by SCOTT BARRY KAUFMAN and Carolyn Gregoire

Creative minds are messy. Creative personalities are paradoxical. Those are tenets that guide Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman’s guide to the 10 traits of creative minds. With Scott’s and other psychologists’ research integrated, this book also provide practical ways to act upon your innate wiring as a leader to create.

6. What To Do When It’s Your Turn (And It’s Always Your Turn) (Do You Zoom, Inc., 2014) by SETH GODIN

You can wait a lifetime to lead. You can wait for someone to choose you. Or you can simply recognize that today it’s your turn. Marketing smart-guy and all-around ruckus maker Seth Godin has published numerous books with traditional and Big 5 publishers. But with this book, What to Do When It’s Your Turn (And It’s Always Your Turn), as if to let form follow function, Seth took publishing into his own and his team’s hands. With his own press Do You Zoom, Inc., he wanted a design magazine-quality book that would inspire anyone to stand up and take her turn as leader and creator. The result is beautiful, inspiring, and thoughtful.

7. Duct Tape Selling: Think Like a Marketer – Sell Like a Superstar (Portfolio, 2014) by JOHN JANTSCH

To be a thoughtful leader, you need to earn trust and demonstrate expertise. To be an influential leader, you have to learn to sell well and with integrity. Those are in sum the tenets of John Jantsch’s latest book Duct Tape Selling: Thinking Like a Marketer – Sell Like a Superstar (His classic original is Duct Tape Marketing, the name of his company.). This is required reading for any leader who gets “stuck” with broken frames about what it means to sell and market your best work to people you care about and earn the return you deserve so you can sustain your work.

8. How the World Sees You: Discover Your Highest Value Through the Science of Fascination (HarperBusiness, 2014) by SALLY HOGSHEAD

To lead well requires two sides of self-knowledge: 1) the knowledge of your own distinct interior space of imagination, emotions, intellect & 2) the knowledge of how others see you and are captivated by you. That second feature is often overlooked by otherwise thoughtful leaders. CEO of How to Fascinate, Inc. and globe-trotting consultant & speaker Sally Hogshead is an expert especially in that area of self-knowledge. Her Fascinate Assessment, given to over 500K people, consistently dazzles our clients at Tracking Wonder with its crisp and useful insights. This book lays out the personality archetypes of how leaders fascinate their packs so you can leverage your own personality instead of trying to be like someone else.

9. The Freaks Shall Inherit The Earth: Entrepreneurship for Weirdos, Misfits, and World Dominators (Wiley, 2014) by CHRIS BROGAN

If you ever have the slightest inkling that you’re not cut out for business-as-usual, this book is for you. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, adventurous extraverts and quiet introverts, or in Chris Brogans words, “weirdos, misfits, and world dominators.” CEO of Owner Media Group, author of 8 books and counting, and champion of business owners of all stripes Chris Brogan offers a clear, personable guide for you to lead your way and in a way that builds genuine relationships with people you desire to help.

10. The Small Business Lifecycle: A Guide for Taking the Right Steps at the Right Time (Jetlaunch, 2013) by CHARLIE GILKEY

To lead well sometimes you need a clear map for where your business is in its natural stages and cycles. Productive Flourishing founder and champion of creative giants Charlie Gilkey offers that in this concise, elegant book. If you have your head in the sand about business cycles, this book will gently pull your head out, open your eyes, and get you moving in the right direction.

11. Louder Than Words: Harness the Power of Your Authentic Voice (Penguin, 2015) by TODD HENRY

If you’ve ever read something you wrote or listened to a recording of your own voice speaking and wondered, “Do I really sound like that? That’s not ‘me.” this book could be what you need. Your voice is central to your doing your best work in the world. For you to stand up for the ideas you believe will benefit your pack, you must finesse that elusive quality called “voice.” In Louder Than Words: Harness the Power of Your Authentic Voice, speaker, arms dealer for creatives, and good dad Todd Henry lays out personably and clearly how to create a resonant, genuine, and influential voice.

12. The Life Organizer: A Woman’s Guide to a Mindful Year (New World Library, 2014) by JEN LOUDEN

Leaders shape their days and lives so they have time to create the work that matters most to them. They’re engaged in regular self-reflection about intentions, desires, and artful actions to assure that that space and time are protected. In The Life Organizer: A Woman’s Guide to a Mindful Year, personal growth pioneer Jen Louden offers a thoughtful alternative to goal-setting that honors instead reflection and self-awareness.

13. The Art of Being Unmistakable: A Collection of Essays About Making a Dent in the Universe (CreateSpace, 2013) by SRINIVAS RAO

What happens when you really risk being “you” – unmistakable you – in public and on behalf of the ideas and people you believe in? On Srinivas Rao’s 34th birthday, he chose to take every risk he could to make a difference in the world. This collection of brief, highly readable essays both takes you on his personal adventure and inspires you to lead in your own unmistakable way.


To strengthen your complexity muscle, diversify your reading.

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