If you're the kind of person perpetually on a mission to improve yourself, a good book can provide stellar inspiration and guidance. Here are top picks from nearly two dozen high-achieving executives.

1. Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive by Harvey Mackay

"Very few business books provide you with tangible advice that can help you immediately. This book did that for me and more. A common-sense guide to outselling your competition, it provides tips on negotiating, handling tough prospects, and even how entrepreneurs should embrace their restlessness and allow others to focus on the details. By far my favorite section in the book focuses on the 'Mackay 66,' sixty-six things you should learn about your customers to better engage with them. By understanding what makes them tick, as well as details about their history, education, family, and hometown, you can differentiate yourself from the sea of sameness with all the other salespeople. It's an awesome, quick read I would recommend for anyone wanting to succeed in business."

--Ed Mitzen, founder and CEO of Fingerpaint

2. Essentialism by Greg McKeown

"Essentialism is all about how to get more done by focusing on the things that really matter, and ignoring almost everything else. The essentialist acknowledges there is an opportunity cost to every action and every investment of time. He or she understands that to accomplish something great, one must only focus on the 'vital few' and must ignore the 'trivial many.' The book is full of life-changing frameworks that are immediately actionable--like 'the power of a graceful no' and 'the power of small wins.' As a business leader, there are literally hundreds of things I can spend my time on each day. But the ones that really matter--the ones that will really accelerate our business--are actually few."

--Jeb Ory, CEO of Phone2Action, a company that enables businesses and citizens to connect with policymakers using their mobile phones

3. Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff

"This book is an important reminder for any entrepreneur or business owner to never stop innovating. Blackberry revolutionized an industry, but couldn't keep up when stronger competitors like Apple and Samsung started pushing the envelope of innovation. Refusing to listen to the signals the market was giving them, Blackberry doubled down on devices and technology that were quickly overshadowed by the likes of the iPhone and the Galaxy. This lesson can be applied to any industry, and we're seeing this play out today with retail and e-commerce. Left and right, traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are pivoting and consolidating to keep up with customers migrating to shopping online."

-- Shai Peyser, co-founder of outerwear and apparel company VRY WRM

4. The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

"I am a big believer in the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of your success comes from 20 percent of your efforts. And [this book] taught me that the majority of what you want will come from the minority of what you do. As a father of three children with newborn twins, I have to be insanely productive with my time. Identifying my most important priority--my one thing--and ensuring it gets done, has enabled me to not only succeed as an entrepreneur, but, more important, as a husband and a dad. As they say in the book, "The people who achieve extraordinary results don't achieve them by working more hours. They achieve them by getting more done in the hours they work."

--Mike Salguero, founder and CEO of meat delivery company ButcherBox

5. Be Our Guest by The Disney Institute

"With the advent of social media, the customer service bar has been raised higher than ever before. I firmly believe that Disney is the leader in exceeding customer expectations. As a business owner whose business is often at the mercy of social-media influencers and customer word of mouth, this book has helped our team develop our own version of 'magic' for our customers."

--Diana Harbour, CEO of women's clothing retailer The Red Dress Boutique

6. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

"From the minute I picked up the book, I was immersed in Gladwell's fascinating research into the pathways of success of many of the world's leading business professionals, corporations, and brands. He presents a rationale that their success is more weighted toward opportunity and circumstance they had early on in life, which they took advantage of later to produce success. It is a counterintuitive approach to success that we do not always think about."

--Stan Steinreich, president and CEO of public relations company Steinreich Communications

7. Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle by Dan Senor and Saul Singer

"Through case studies and interviews, this book exposes the roots of Israel's entrepreneurial success. I keep several copies on hand to be able to give as gifts to hotel guests because it is such an insightful read for anyone curious about contemporary Israeli culture. At work, it has inspired me to instill the can-do attitude and to create effective teams who think outside the box. I feel it's a true reflection as to the spirit of Israel. When one says, 'out of the box thinking,' I question if, in fact, in Israel there is even a box."

--David Cohen, general manager of the hotel InterContinental David Tel Aviv

8. The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

"[It] is significant because it's one of the few books that doesn't glorify individuals. Isaacson explains that innovation is a lengthy process; it takes a long time to go from an innovative idea to full discovery and the successful culmination of a concept. Through his stories of some of history's most compelling figures, such as Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and World Wide Web trailblazer Tim Berners-Lee, Isaacson illustrates that innovation is a collaborative process. In today's complex world, innovations are made by teams of people working together and pooling their expertise."

--Ronald K. Machtley, president of Bryant University

9. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

"I appreciated Ben's honesty in telling the story of building his company. For an entrepreneur building a business, it's a constant struggle and the experience can be very isolating, so it's refreshing to read Ben's story and identify with the common experience. It is inspiring to hear him lean into the hard things, take ownership and responsibility to make tough calls that only the founder and CEO can make, and own the consequences of those calls. It's easy to abdicate in the hard time and avoid choosing to make the tough calls and go with popular opinions or trusted advisers' recommendations because of the painful and unpleasant nature of those calls, and how they affect people you care about."

--Herman Yau, co-founder and CEO of smart home technology provider Tend Insights

10. Good to Great by Jim Collins

"I think business leaders should read [this book] because of the emphasis it places on finding focus and learning to prioritize what's really important to your business, essentially how to take your business from 'good' to 'great.' One of the biggest challenges a business leader faces is getting sidetracked and spreading resources too thin by trying to do too many things at once. Business leaders who read this book will learn to look for ways to recognize what the company is really good at, concentrate on those areas, and then apply significant resources to develop and enhance those areas in order to take the company to the next level of success."

--Bill Rinehart, founder and CEO of premium travel service DUFL

11. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

"The subtitle of this truly life-changing book is Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. That's great advice that struck a chord with me when I read the book during a difficult period. I was leading a fast-growing company, and even though we were doing spectacularly well, I felt completely inadequate. It's a crisis of confidence I suspect many leaders experience, perhaps women in particular. Brown addresses the things that can get in the way of living, loving, and leading with our whole hearts, including shame and fear of vulnerability. Like a wise mentor, Brown shows readers how to find the courage to live--and lead--wholeheartedly."

--Shannon Miles, co-founder and CEO of virtual staffing company BELAY

12. Leopardology by Kivi Bernhard

"Leopardology gave me the insights and motivation to engage in critical business thinking and strategy, gleaned from the hunting habits and techniques of the African leopard, perhaps the most successful predator on earth. The principles and concepts outlined in this book can be applied to personal and business success. As Bernhard writes, 'Not unlike the world of commerce, in the bush-lands of Africa, if one is not hunting to survive, one will simply survive to be hunted!' How true."

--Joel Klein, founder and CEO of IMBC and BizTank, a shark-tank style program introducing investors and entrepreneurs seeking funding and capital

13. Beyond Happiness: The Zen Way to True Contentment by Ezra Bayda

"[It] makes you question what happiness truly is and how to achieve it. Most people, especially in business, look for happiness in external factors like expanding internationally and making more profits, but Badya writes that true and lasting happiness comes from internal sources and can be reached through compassion, gratitude, and mindfulness."

--Sharone Ben-Harosh, CEO of FlatRate Moving

14. A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards

"This masterfully written book highlights three different leadership styles, culled from the lives of three kings mentioned in the Bible: Saul, David, and Absalom. Whether you are a seasoned business owner or young entrepreneur, this book is a priceless treatise on the art of identifying and dealing with the good, the bad, and the ugly attitudes of those who sit in the big chair at the office."

--Michael Tyrrell, author, composer and producer of Wholetones, a healing frequency music project aiming to help people improve their health, sleep, creativity, productivity at work, and well-being

15. Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

"[It] is a great way to expand your mind into shifty, unorthodox realities and to adapt to crisis and unprecedented scenarios. As the book is narrated by a detective suffering from Tourette syndrome, the plot of the case he is investigating thickens and, in turn, twists the reader's logic. This is similar to the way most professionals reference the path they took versus the path in which they are heading. It is sometimes in the [rawest] moments, without metaphors and scientific labels, that the most light is shed and ideas become clearer."

--Lior Rachmany, CEO of Dumbo Moving + Storage

16. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

"A seminal moment in my career occurred after reading [this book]. It clearly puts in focus that what people tend to work on more are activities that don't drive success. He graphs the urgency and importance of all activities on an XY axis to form quadrants, and stressed that the urgent stuff will always get done (as there's an immediate negative repercussion otherwise). Covey teaches readers to focus their time on things that are high importance, low urgency, as these are the things that really matter. Once, I filled in this blank: 'My company would be doing much better if I only had time to ________.' Then I committed some time each day to those important, but not urgent, activities. My overall productivity as a manager and business owner soared."

--Phil Shawe, co-founder and CEO of translation services company TransPerfect

17. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

"My intense quest to understand the intersection of politics, history, and geography has provided me with a great toolkit and lens through which to view the world. Jared Diamond has dramatically helped me form that lens, and helped me understand the history of the human race. This book is a must for anyone interested in the modern world, and why certain countries, regions, and societies have advanced while others struggle."

--Ken Staut, CEO of equity crowdfunding platform GrowthFountain

18. The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes

"The key to a successful professional journey is to never lose touch with the fundamental practices. As the daily dealings increase, the operation matures and the team grows; it's very important to make sure you instill the fundamental mannerisms that all successful people have in common. This book does a great job of pointing to the obvious and reminding you to follow certain routines that will help you in your daily activities. We make sure that all team members, high-level executives and interns alike, read this book upon their initial hire and reread it throughout the year. It's our little secret."

--Allen Shayanfekr, CEO of Sharestates, a digital real estate crowdfunding marketplace for lending and investing

19. Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Benefit by Investing in Nature by Mark Tercek

"In this book, Mark Tercek, former investment banker and now CEO of the Nature Conservancy, writes about how supporting conservation is not just good for the planet, but great business. While some corporations and politicians view our natural resources as either consumables or obstacles to be pushed out of the way, Tercek makes a striking argument that investing in things like forestland, rivers, streams, sustainability programs, and clean energy will actually lead to economic progress. For me, this book connected the dots between my hope for a sustainable future and our need for a healthy economy."

--Warren Webster, president and CEO of luxury fashion and lifestyle brand Coveteur

20. The Art of War by Sun Tzu

"The book is all about strategy and empowerment--not just about you as a leader, but more importantly about the team you surround yourself with. The message is about taking weaknesses and turning them into your company's greatest strengths when the outside world least expects it. As an entrepreneur, I'm always focused on how to stay ahead or risk getting crushed by the competitor."

--Grégory Veret, founder and CEO of device management company Xooloo

21. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

"Mr. Knight shows that by never giving up, by being passionate, and by believing in what is right, you can achieve success. He didn't back down from his core values at Nike, and he in turn has been wildly successful. I think people can learn that with hard work and faith in yourself, your company, or whatever it is that you believe in, you can build something life-changing."

--Mitchell Green, founding and managing partner at Lead Edge Capital

22. No Shortcuts to the Top by Ed Viesturs

"This is a book about mountain climbing by one of the greats. Viesturs performed the incredible feat of climbing the highest 14 mountains in the world without supplemental oxygen. But I find it as inspirational in my role as an entrepreneur as I do as a mountain climber. There are so many parallels, including the requirement to make a firm commitment to an endeavor that is both scary and exhilarating. Those who follow the servant-leadership model may find Viesturs's story about ascending without supplemental oxygen especially resonant. It's about finding the resources within to serve and endure."

--Bryan Miles, co-founder and CEO of virtual staffing company BELAY

Published on: Jun 3, 2017
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