“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.”Margaret Fuller
If you take the time to study many of the most influential leaders today and in years past, you’ll find an interesting commonality between them. In almost every instance, these leaders have been hungry readers, eager to learn through the written word. From Mark Cuban reading three hours a day to David Rubenstein reading a reported six books a week and eight newspapers every day, reading is how leaders expand their vision and become inspired to tackle the day’s challenges.
Unfortunately, the population at large doesn’t seem to have much interest in reading. According to a recent Pew survey, nearly one in four adults in the U.S. didn’t read a book in the past year. When people don’t read, they don’t prepare themselves to take up leadership roles.
Books can inspire and motivate, and the reading habits of today’s leaders are proof of what a difference reading can make. If you find yourself among those who would like to increase the amount they read, you likely want to know which books to start with. The following are just some of the books that have inspired modern leaders as they reached new heights of achievement. While some may be more typical leadership books, others may not be what you would expect.
10 of the Best Leadership Books That Inspired Today’s Greatest Leaders
1. Warren Buffett — How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Warren Buffett is another one of those leaders who has gained a reputation for his reading habits. Buffett has gone on record stating he reads around five to six hours every day. His love of reading stems from an early age. In fact, one book, in particular, had a massive influence on his life and career: Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.
At the age of 15, Buffett found a copy of the book and read it. He even tried out some of the methods Carnegie teaches, which did help with his awkwardness in social settings and fear of public speaking. The book inspired him to continue learning about Dale Carnegie and improving his leadership. By January 23, 1952, he had completed the “Dale Carnegie Course in Effective Speaking, Leadership Training, and the Art of Winning Friends and Influencing People.”
Today, Buffett considers his completion of that course one of his proudest achievements. “In my office, you will not see the degree I have from the University of Nebraska, or the master’s degree I have from Columbia University,” Buffett has said, “but you’ll see the certificate I got from the Dale Carnegie course.”
2. Steve Jobs — The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen
With Apple being at the forefront of technological innovation for decades, it should probably come as little surprise that a book about innovation was a major inspiration for Steve Jobs. The Innovator’s Dilemma was written by Clayton M. Christensen, an influential professor from Harvard Business School.
Among many insightful findings in the book, one of the main points Christensen puts forth is how a lack of innovation can doom a company. The titular dilemma happens when companies that once enjoyed success through a specific product become too stuck on that product as technology renders it obsolete. Think about what happened with Kodak and its failure to change with the rise of digital cameras.
It’s clear why The Innovator’s Dilemma had such an impact on Jobs. He took the lessons found within the book to heart and made sure Apple stayed at the cutting edge while he was there. Jobs refused to have Apple rest on its laurels while other companies passed them by. “It’s important that we make this transformation, because of what Clayton Christensen calls ‘the innovator’s dilemma,’” Jobs later said, “where people who invent something are usually the last ones to see past it, and we certainly don’t want to be left behind.”
3. Mark Zuckerberg — The Aeneid by Virgil
Inspiration can also come from classic literature. That’s what happened with Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. According to a profile from The New Yorker, Zuckerberg has been a big fan of classic epics for most of his life. Virgil’s The Aeneid stands out as one work that has influenced many of Zuckerberg’s business decisions.
Zuckerberg was introduced to The Aeneid in high school while he was studying Latin. The epic poem had such an impact on him that he has become known for quoting from it in business meetings. A couple of quotes that stand out may indicate why it resonates with Zuckerberg so much. The book talks of building a city that “knows no boundaries in time and greatness.” Zuckerberg has also quoted a passage speaking of “a nation/empire without bound.” These passages give insight into Zuckerberg’s thinking as he built Facebook, expanding the company over time and growing a business that encompasses much more than posts about what somebody had for breakfast.
4. Tony Hsieh — Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright
During his tenure as CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh stressed the importance of creating a welcoming and productive business culture. This wasn’t an idea that he simply thought of. It was through his extensive reading that he understood the importance of culture. Hsieh cited Dave Logan’s Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization as a significant influence in creating the type of culture he wanted.
Written by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright, Tribal Leadership provides a blueprint for building the type of work culture that gets results. In an interview with USA Today, Hsieh talked about how the book helped. “Tribal Leadership codifies a lot of what we’ve been doing instinctually and provides a great framework for all companies to bring company culture to the next level,” he said. Hsieh extended those lessons to Zappos, prioritizing culture above all. “Our belief is that if we get the culture right, most of the other stuff, such as delivering great customer service or building an enduring brand, will happen naturally on its own.”
5. David Rubenstein — Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
History and political books can also influence leaders. David Rubenstein, the co-founder of The Carlyle Group, says that Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin has been a source of inspiration for him. The book details how President Abraham Lincoln filled his cabinet with more than just friends and allies. Political rivals also joined the ranks due to their skills and abilities. Through his leadership characteristics, Lincoln was able to get them to work together for a greater goal.
Rubenstein says that he learned the importance of cooperation and the power of teamwork from the book. “What you get from that is that even though you have enemies, even though you have competitors, if you work together with them, you can achieve some great things,” he noted. When great leaders involve themselves and steer the course, incredible accomplishments are usually the result.
6. Sanjay Srivastava — Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life . . . And Maybe the World by Admiral William H. McRaven
In leadership, the details often matter. That’s what Chief Digital Officer at Genpact, Sanjay Srivastava, learned from Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life . . . And Maybe the World by Admiral William H. McRaven. Admiral McRaven teaches that in order to accomplish big things, you need to make sure to do the little things right, such as making your bed. Srivastava felt inspired by this idea, claiming it not only transformed his personal life but also his career. He says that the book’s principles are “completely applicable in the world of digital.”
Srivastava also learned how so much of leadership comes down to good storytelling. “Leadership is telling the story of your company in a way that the rank and file can understand,” Srivastava said. “They understand the beginning, they understand the middle, they probably understand the challenges that are going to come with it. But they also see the end. They see what it’s going to look like when the story unfolds the way a leader hopes it will.”
7. Muhtar Kent — The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson
While CEO of Coca-Cola, Muhtar Kent had to stay up to date on economics. Part of that also involved going back to look at the history of economics as it could provide further insight into what might happen in the future. Kent has cited Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World as the one book he enjoys the most. As he explained it, “I love books on economic observations. This is one of the best.”
8. Denise M. Morrison — The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, The Making of a Navy SEAL by Eric Greitens
Denise Morrison, the former president and CEO of Campbell Soup Company, has talked about some of the books that influenced her in her job. One particular book she notes is The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, The Making of a Navy SEAL, an autobiography by Eric Greitens. It’s easy to see how this book can be so inspirational, as it details the need for compassion to accompany strength and how to overcome serious challenges in life.
9. Mark Cuban — The Only Investment Guide You Will Ever Need by Andrew Tobias
Mark Cuban is no stranger to making successful investments. Perhaps that explains why he names The Only Investment Guide You Will Ever Need by Andrew Tobias as one of his top picks for business books. As he put it to U.S. News & World Report, “This is the only investment book I have read that truly made sense.” Cuban says that the tips the book provides are simple to follow, make sense, and lead to excellent results.
10. Hector Ruiz — Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t by Jim Collins
Many people have found inspiration and insight from Jim Collins’s Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t, and former Advanced Micro Devices CEO Hector Ruiz is no exception. Ruiz sees many lessons in the book that leaders at all types of companies can use to grow and find success.
“This is an essential read for anyone in a leadership position within an organization,” Ruiz said. “Through extensive research, Collins discovers that truly great companies focus first on getting the right people–people with strong discipline and resolve–in the right positions in the company. Discipline and focus are two values I strive to achieve daily.”
Start Making Your Reading List Today
The books shown above only scratch the surface of how influential reading can be for great leaders in any position. Many leaders even take inspiration from fictional books. Some examples are Barbara Corcoran with the Cinderella story and Oprah Winfrey from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Any effective reading list will contain a variety of different books about a lot of fascinating subjects.
Start creating your own reading list featuring books that can help inspire you in your life and career. Check out this list of leadership books to get some more ideas. That list includes impactful books such as Start With Why by Simon Sinek and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.
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- Money & Business: Best Business Books: Hector Ruiz’s Picks – US News and World Report. 13 May 2007, https://web.archive.org/web/20131209060754/https://www.usnews.com/usnews/biztech/articles/070513/21best.ruiz.htm.