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Career Advice

15 Books That Top CEOs Think Everyone Should Read

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated June 27, 2018
|9 min read

Think spending the summer lying on the beach with a book is unproductive? Think again. Successful leaders such as Warren Buffett and Mark Cuban dedicate hours each day to reading. So if you want to enjoy your vacation time and stay on top of the hustle, we’ve built your summer reading list with recommendations from our Top CEOs of 2018.

1. “The Speed of Trust: The One That Changes Everything” by Stephen Covey

Those who are perfectionists often struggle with micromanagement tendencies — when you have a clear vision for something, it's hard to not want to take the reins at all times. But this often slows the whole team down, and ends up being more harmful than helpful, Stephen Covey argues. In the quick and competitive atmosphere of the start-up world, trusting your team is paramount.

Eric S. Yuan, CEO of Zoom Video Communications, counts "The Speed of Trust" among his favorite books.

"The big thing I learned from this book is that especially for start-up companies, speed is everything. You’re competing with the legacy companies and quite often you have to make tough, critical decisions... how to build a company at full speed at the same time without creating major problems is the challenge. But if trust is already there, it is very easy," Yuan said. "If I trust you, I know your intentions are good. Even if you tell me, 'Eric, this is a huge mistake. Can you fix that' I trust you and I can make the fix."

2. “Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company” by Andy Grove

Authored by Andy Grove, founder and former CEO of Intel, this book gives guidance to leaders facing sudden change in their companies — and shares how these moments can actually be some of the most valuable opportunities available to a company. Yuan counts this another favorite book of his.

"I’m very paranoid. I think in any start-up, no matter what, there is no room to say, 'We’re okay now,'" Yuan said. "No, we’ve got to work harder. We need to always be paranoid and ready."

3. “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Harari

In this New York Times' bestseller, Yuval Harari manages to capture the story of the past 70,000 years of the human race. Beyond chronicling the history of our species, Harari's book also implores readers to think about what it means to be human, and ask how we want to shape the future of the many generations to come.

This groundbreaking book is a favorite of Sanjit Biswas, CEO of Samsara — but he's not alone. Fellow leaders Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have also endorsed the book.

4. “The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves” by Matt Ridley

Don't listen to the naysayers and doomsdayers. According to nearly any metric — food availability, lifespan, income — now is the best time to be alive by a wide margin, Matt Ridley believes.  In this nonfiction book, Ridley touches on how the human tendencies of exchange and specialization have improved life for everyone over the past 100,000 years — and how they will continue to benefit mankind in the future.

Biswas cites this book as another of his favorites: “It's interesting to zoom way out and realize how fortunate we are to live in modern times,” he said.

5. “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” by Klaus Schwab

We already know how much of an impact the steam engine, the telephone and the personal computer have had on the way humans work —but what is the next industrial revolution around the corner? According to Klaus Schwab, we're smack-dab in the middle of it. Artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, quantum computing and more are transforming the way business is done in a completely unprecedented way.

Among this book's fans is Bernard J. Tyson, Chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, who said it has helped him stay up-to-date and ready for whatever comes next.

“I keep current by reading what very smart people are thinking about the future,” Tyson said.

6. "Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice" by Adam Makos

It might not be the first book you think of when it comes to professional development, but this work of historical fiction has lessons about leadership and collaboration in spades. Set in the midst of the Korean War and widespread segregation, “Devotion” recounts the friendship of aviator duo Tom Hudner and Jesse Brown, the first African American carrier pilot for the U.S. Navy.

“It’s a wonderful book about friendship, resilience and amazing courage,” said Michael Mahoney, CEO of Boston Scientific.

7. “Return on Integrity: The New Definition of ROI and Why Leaders Need to Know It” by John Blumberg

We live in a world where sacrificing morality in order to drive the bottom line is no longer profitable, said John Blumberg. In fact, integrity might just be the most valuable asset you have. In "Return on Integrity," Blumberg explores the intersections between the core values of CEOs and leaders and the impact on their companies.

Lynne Doughtie, CEO of KPMG, describes it as "a powerful book that challenges you to reflect on the importance of personal core values."

“When each of us really knows our personal core values, they’ll permeate the organizations we work for by strengthening our decision making and enhancing openness, collaboration and trust,” Doughtie said.

8. “The Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama and Dr. Howard Cutler

Penned by Dr. Howard Cutler and the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, this seminal guide on happiness explores how to overcome loss and everyday anxieties in order to find your own personal nirvana.

Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, credits the book with shaping his management philosophy.

“That’s where I learned the true definition of compassion and the difference between compassion and empathy and how important it is to aspire to live compassionately and manage compassionately,” Wiener told the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

9. “Being Digital” by Nicholas Negroponte

Although it was written over 20 years ago, “Being Digital” is still a classic on the future of digital technology. It dives deep into the successes and failures of technological innovations like the Internet, virtual reality, the CD-ROM and more.

Weiner recommends this book as well, and said it played a large part in helping him shape the online business plan for Warner Bros.

"One of the key points that Negroponte was making was everything that can be converted from an atom to a bit will be. So I looked around Warner Bros. and thought, well, that’s going to have some pretty serious implications for a studio and for media," Wiener said in the same Silicon Valley Business Journal interview.

10. “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander

In 2015, CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg created a digital book club in which he and other members read a new book every two weeks, then took to Facebook to discuss it. One of his picks was "The New Jim Crow," a gripping critique by Michelle Alexander that pulls back the curtain on the crisis of mass incarceration in the United States.

"This social justice book outlines the many ways the US criminal justice system discriminates against minorities, disadvantages them and prevents everyone from having equal opportunity. I've been interested in learning about criminal justice reform for a while, and this book was highly recommended by several people I trust," Zuckerberg said on his Facebook page.

 11. “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu

Written nearly 1,500 years ago, this Chinese military treatise revolutionized military strategy — and still makes an impact to this day. Sun Tzu's lessons on strategy, planning and leadership are applicable not just on the battlefield, but also in the business world.

The book made so much of an impression on Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, that he wrote the foreword for the 2008 release "The Art of War—Spirituality for Conflict: Annotated & Explained."

"Fundamentally, the book demonstrates how small armies can defeat larger ones," Benioff said. "Ultimately, it is how took on the entire software industry.”

12. “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown

Nobody expected a group of Washington boys descended from loggers, shipyard workers and farmers to beat elite rowing teams from the East Coast, let alone the world over, but that's exactly what they did. In "The Boys in the Boat," Brown tells the story of the U.S. men's rowing team in the wake of the Great Depression and their ultimate triumph over the team playing for Nazi Germany.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella endorsed this book in an interview with Fast Company, calling it "a wonderful illustration of the importance of teamwork, which was a core part of my focus out of the gate as CEO.”

13. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth

Strike the word "talent" from your vocabulary — Angela Duckworth's "Grit" shares that the power of persistence is the true driver of success. Duckworth knows a thing or two about success, having earned a MacArthur Genius Grant and serving as an advisor to "the White House, the World Bank, NBA and NFL teams, and Fortune 500 CEOs."

One of the many CEOs who counts themselves as a fan of Duckworth's is Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit

"It’s full of amazing, inspirational stories that show that anyone, regardless of I.Q., talent or background, can succeed if they have grit — a blend of passion and persistence," Smith said in an interview with Lifehacker. "This book makes all of us underdogs feel like we’re just as capable as anybody else.”

14. “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't” by James Collins 

The world's best companies don't reach the top by settling for "good enough" — rather, a constant drive for excellence propels them forward. But what exactly separates a good company from a great one? In "Good to Great," Collins defines these differences, and shares how to make the transition.

Richard Flint, CEO of Sky Betting & Gaming and the #1 Top CEO in the UK, recommends this book to those hoping to make the leap: "It contains some surprises on what makes good leaders and companies,” Flint said.

15. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

Whoever said CEOs can't enjoy a good fantasy novel (or seven) on occasion? Craig Donaldson, CEO of Metro Bank, endorses Rowling's acclaimed series to every parent out there.

“Read all the Harry Potter books with your kids if you have children, because there is no better way to relax than reading with an eight-year-old!” Donaldson said.

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