There are a few things most successful business owners have in common. Curiosity, a passion for learning, a deep commitment to autonomy and self-improvement, and an ongoing love affair with any good business book they can get their hands on.
While no book can solve every problem, or provide a silver bullet for success, there are a few books that every business owner should read. Whether we’re focused on growth, culture, or operations, these five books can help us make our businesses more successful and more fulfilling.
Dale Carnegie’s famous book was published in 1936, and yet it’s still one of the most influential books on human interaction today. After a long career in sales, Carnegie shifted his focus to teaching others everything he had learned about handling people — making them like you, helping them come over to your way of thinking, and getting people to change without offending them or making them resentful.
This is an incredibly valuable skill set, since so many business problems are people problems. The better we become at communicating with our teams, partners and providers, the better we will be at generating extraordinary results.
One of the most challenging lessons in any business is the realization that doing the work and running a business are two completely separate things. Being great — even world-class — at the actual work does not make us great at running a business, and that’s why so many businesses fail.
Michael Gerber identified several areas where most of us get stuck. First, most business owners wear three hats at any given time — entrepreneur, manager and technician. These roles are in direct conflict with one another, and lead to the next problem area: difficulty moving the business from its infancy, to adolescence, to maturity. He presents turnkey systems as a profound solution — focusing on creating systems and replicable steps that shift the business away from relying on individual performance. The systems run the business, the people run the systems. This is a powerful shift, particularly for businesses that are stalled at a lower level of growth than desired, or that are being hamstrung by the people working in them.
Even if we do get our businesses running on finely-tuned systems a la The E-Myth, we all still have people involved in every part of our businesses. By way of a fable, Patrick Lencioni explores the five patterns of behavior that undermine us and prevent our businesses from becoming the thriving organisms they could be. Starting with absence of trust, and proceeding through fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results, Lencioni traces a clear path through the defensive and obstructive patterns present in many businesses.
Fortunately, he also presents a strong antidote by running toward the problem, rather than away from it: “Teams succeed because they are exceedingly human. By acknowledging the imperfections of their humanity, members of functional teams overcome the natural tendencies that make teamwork so elusive.”
Recently WordPress — the software that powers over two-thirds of the websites online — announced that over 79 million new blog posts are published every month. That’s a mind-boggling amount of information, and considering that a significant portion of that content is marketing messaging, you’d better be doing your darnedest to stand out. Positioning, by by Al Ries and Jack Trout, gives us the framework to do that, by focusing on what’s already in the customer’s mind, rather than just on our product or service.
If you’re looking to make your business into an industry leader, to become the default choice for your customer base or to differentiate yourself from a tough set of competitors — three things most of us are constantly working towards — then this is the playbook to make it happen.
We might be a little biased, but since Inc.com recently said that The ONE Thing is the ONLY productivity book you need to read on the journey to becoming a billionaire, we’re going to go ahead and include it! The ONE Thing was written to help everyone (including business owners) strip away everything that doesn’t matter so that they can focus on their most important work. Gary Keller and Jay Papasan present readers with a fundamental question — the ‘Focusing Question’ — that pushes us to look at our work with fresh eyes:
“What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
Keller and Papasan break down the lies around productivity that keep us distracted and thinking small, and then lay out the hidden truths we can all use to start making extraordinary progress. They delve into how we can achieve productivity through priority and, in some ways, purpose, and show that by focusing on our ONE Thing, we can accomplish more by doing less.
Now, reading all these books (and many others) gives you the roadmap to success, but ultimately, success comes from action. It comes from absorbing the wisdom and experience of others — through reading, mentorship or training — and applying it proactively to our unique situations. Read these books, take what serves you, discard what doesn’t, and make sure you’re taking action on the insights they give you.
And if you know other business people who want to read The ONE Thing, or you want to read it with your team so that you’re all on the same page, download the discussion notes here.
We created this guide as a way for you to examine the book’s concepts and share your Aha! moments from The ONE Thing with others. Keep in mind, the two-pager is designed to spark deeper conversation and allow readers to draw their own conclusions on how to live a BIG life, both professionally and personally. Download it here, and enjoy your discussion!