Ever read something which clicked? Meaning, it was an aha moment during which you thought I'm going to remember this because it will help me. Here's a list of titles which contain such fodder, according to two dozen high-achieving executives.
1. The Millionaire Real Estate Agent by Gary Keller
"This book is required reading for modern real estate agents, but also a wonderful primer on how to build and lead an effective sales team useful to any executive interested in creating a top-producing, agile sales organization capable of rapid growth and scalability. In an industry filled to the brim with motivational sales hype, Keller's book has stood the test of time as the foundation for how to structure a sales organization, which should be no surprise given the remarkable success that Keller himself has had rising to the top of an incredibly competitive industry."
--Daniel Ramsey, founder and CEO of MyOutDesk, a $25 million firm which provides real estate virtual assistant services to over 5,000 clients
2. The Rule: How I Beat the Odds in the Markets and in Life and How You Can Too by Larry Hite
"As humans, it's easy to let emotions get in the way of decision-making, but as entrepreneurs, we mustn't do this. I wish I had this book earlier in my career. It's filled with critical insights and lessons including what happens when you drive business with emotion instead of the numbers. This story is a personal account of Larry Hite's unlikely rise to the top of the business world. He is living proof that anyone can overcome hardships to achieve greatness. [This book] offers valuable life wisdom for everyone, I even think it should be mandatory reading for high school students."
--Sandy Sandler, digital marketing consultant and creator of Bowdabra, a bow-making tool used for crafts, accessories, and home decor, which has been featured on QVC, HSN, and has exceeded $10 million in retail sales
3. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*CK by Mark Manson
"In addition to being an immensely funny and quick read, this book left me with a number of insightful takeaways that I have been able to apply to both my personal and professional lives. The author seamlessly weaves anecdotes with well-documented research to provide insights into how one can approach challenges and adversity with an entirely new perspective. His stories around owning mistakes, confronting issues head-on and focusing on process rather than outcomes -- all presented in a lighthearted but crystal-clear narrative -- has helped me improve my patience, broaden my perspective and not take the little things too seriously."
--David Gutstadt, founder and CEO of Fitler Club in Philadelphia, a private lifestyle club which has reached its membership goal in under six months and currently has a waitlist of applicants and future plans of expansion to key cities throughout the U.S. and Canada
4. A History of Credit and Power by Scott B. MacDonald and Albert L. Gastmann
"[It's] a fascinating discussion on how credit serves as a wellspring of economic life, enabling businesses to function and thrive. Looking at the history of credit shows a direct connection to power. Credit leads to wealth and that can augment power. For trade, entrepreneurship, and commerce to occur, credit is needed. The history of credit is full of volatility and innovation, with banking houses coming and going and credit cycles booming and busting. However, the general trend highlighted by MacDonald and Gastmann has been towards credit enabling innovation. That continues today. Technology is driving the democratization of credit and supporting the global economy. I see it every day. When businesses have access to credit, they invest, hire and grow."
--William Phelan, SVP and GM at PayNet, an Equifax company with the largest proprietary database of small business loans, leases, and lines of credit in existence, that provides credit and analytics on small and medium enterprises to enable lenders to make more informed decisions
5. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter
"Hofstadter's masterwork blends art and message in each chapter, requiring multiple readings to truly appreciate its depth. It's a sprawling work of philosophy disguised as a book of mathematics disguised as a book of instruction, covering topics such as chess, AI, ant colonies, fugues, and art, all the while attempting to extract the essence of what makes each of them remarkable. Through this book, I learned interwoven relationships are at the core of everything we do, which helps me better unpack what's contributing to a problem and solve it."
--Peter Pezaris, serial entrepreneur with three successful exits and CEO of CodeStream, software used by Motorola and Deloitte to streamline the way development teams communicate
6. Royal Road to Card Magic by Jean Hugard and Frederick Braue
"This is the book that got me into card magic 20 years ago and still is my number one reference when I have time to practice. Close up magic has helped me in so many ways in my business career. The discipline it takes to perfect a move, the bravery to try out a new sleight and learning to develop the confidence to perform to an audience all translate into the work environment. And, of course, misdirection can also be helpful at times."
--Ian Chambers, CEO of British entertainment company Mind Candy and creator of Moshi Twilight, the number one sleep app for kids in both the Apple and Google app stores
7. The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney and Jim Huling
"I sent a copy of this book to every employee at my company when I became CEO because it has so deeply shaped my views on leadership and achieving goals. From leading thinkers at Franklin Covey, the '4DX' of Focus, Leverage, Engagement and Accountability have provided a roadmap that motivate individuals at any level to execute, once they've decided what to do. The philosophy that 'if you're not keeping score, you're just practicing' has led our company to reach complete transparency around the progress of individual, team, and company-wide goals. I relate to it so much as a longtime athlete, knowing that teamwork and a clear shared vision are the keys to winning. So, as the 'head coach' at work, the 4DX tools have become invaluable in building the strongest team -- or company -- as possible."
--Greg Brown, CEO of Reflektive, a performance management company built for top performers and growing businesses and the 13th Fastest Growing Company in North America on Deloitte's 2018 Technology Fast 500, with more than 500 customers including Allbirds, PagerDuty, Pinterest, Privia Health and Protective Life Insurance
8. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
"I have lived enough to know that I am an eternal work-in-progress. My hope in this crazy beautiful thing called life is to do the work necessary to live up to the very best version of myself. This book, as much as anything I've read, helped me figure out how to do that. To paraphrase a wise old saying: 'Watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.' This book takes that nugget of wisdom and translates it into actual, practical steps that we can take to improve our habits so that we can ultimately enhance our destiny."
--Ilana Zivkovich, founder and CEO of Werq, an executive and team performance coaching firm which advises hundreds of executives
9. Nonviolent Communication by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg
"This is the first book that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella asked his executive team to read when he was appointed CEO, as part of his effort to change Microsoft's culture from cut-throat to creative and compassionate. It's the only book I found that truly gives concrete language tips for speaking with more emotional intelligence and in an empathetic way, and has heavily impacted my work as a communication expert working with business leaders."
--Krister Ungerböck, a global communication expert, executive coach and former CEO of one of the largest family-owned software companies in the world who grew his company from $1 million to $100 million in shareholder value
10. The Maxwell Daily Reader by John C. Maxwell
"This book originally published in 2007 has '365 Days of Insight to Develop the Leader Within You and Influence Those Around You.' I very rarely begin my day at work without first reading the short leadership lesson given for that day. And I give a copy of the book to every member of my team. Although I absolutely love what I do, some days simply begin as grey, cold, rainy Mondays. And although most days I very much look forward to reading this book, it is on those grey, cold, rainy Mondays when remembering 'Character is Everything,' 'The Law of Priorities,' 'Enlarging Others' and 'Growing to Your Potential' (and these are just five of the daily topics just for the month of January) provide clarity and focus as you start your day. If you want to begin or end every day with a great dose of instructions for leadership, please take the time to acquire and review [this book]."
--Johnny K. Merritt, an attorney with over three decades of corporate and real estate experience who has served for the majority of that time as the outside general counsel for a $1.5 billion company involved in interstate commerce
11. Attention Management: How to Create Success and Gain Productivity Every Day by Maura Thomas
"In a world of growing distractions, it feels there are many tips and tricks for time management that are just not feasible for leaders. This book flipped my perspective on productivity and dialed in on what the real issue was for me -- managing my attention. Maura offers digestible action steps with the Four Quadrants of Attention Management that keep you in a proactive state versus reactive. This book has also shifted the way I lead and coach my team."
--Paige Velasquez, CEO of Zilker Media, an award-winning digital marketing agency with clients including Chicken Soup for the Soul
12. The Fifth Domain: Defending Our Country, Our Companies, and Ourselves in the Age of Cyber Threats by Richard A. Clarke and Robert K. Knake
"Clarke and Knake take their readers on a 'ripped from the headlines' adventure in cybersecurity using their personal experiences, including in quantum-computing labs, the White House situation room, Fortune 500 boardrooms and their work in the United States intelligence community, to paint a very realistic picture of our current cyber world. Cybersecurity is in many ways the signature issue of today, touching us all; from individuals with concerns regarding privacy, to the economy, national security, and foundational issues for our democracy. This book both illuminates these issues and serves as a clarion call to action. The reader doesn't need to be an expert to understand the material in this book and be motivated to take steps to minimize exposure to cyber threats and support cyber resilient systems that are built to resist and withstand most attacks."
--Peter Altabef, chairman and CEO of cybersecurity company Unisys who was appointed to the President's National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee in 2016 and is the recipient of the 2019 Federal 100 Eagle Award for his role in co-leading a transformational NSTAC initiative
13. Can't Hurt Me by David Goggins
"This is the life story of one of the toughest human beings on earth. He's overcome insane obstacles in his life to reach the highest levels possible in the U.S. Military (Navy SEAL, Army Ranger and others). His story is inspirational and shows how much more we can push our bodies physically and why so much more is possible through our mindset. It helped me train for my first marathon and run it in under four hours while running a startup at the same time, which required workweeks of 60-plus hours."
--Rhett Doolittle, founder and CEO of marketing software company Bluume who has established two companies recognized on Inc. 500's fastest growing companies in the United States
14. The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer
"This book gives readers an understanding of how the human mind works, and how to free yourself of its unproductive instincts, many of which are left over from the early days of human kind. By providing insight into how the brain works, this book helped me identify negative patterns in my thinking and decision making so I could subsequently avoid them. When I feel overwhelmed -- either personally and professionally -- or scattered in my decision making, I pick up this book to ground myself, quiet the noise and help me ignore the irrelevant inputs competing for my attention."
--Carisa Miklusak, CEO of tilr, a skill-based marketplace active in 23 markets with more than 50,000 job seekers on its platform
15. The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive by Patrick Lencioni
"The book creates a simple framework for organization health. It's simple in theory however difficult in practice. Lencioni offers up a great story highlighting how this framework could seem odd from the outside but when implemented in the right way could be very powerful."
--Jason Gardner, CEO of Marqeta, a card issuer and fintech company valued at $2 billion which works with companies including Affirm, DoorDash and Instacart
16. The Marketing Playbook: Five Battle-Tested Plays for Capturing and Keeping the Lead in Any Market by John Zagula
"It's a great book that gets to the essence of how you choose to compete as a business and helps you think about what strategy you're really playing, and can help you identify if you're inadvertently playing multiple strategies. Once you know how you want to compete, you can then ensure the whole team gets aligned around the given strategy giving you the maniacal focus you need to win."
--Sanjay Castelino, CPO of Snow Software, which works with more than 4,000 organizations around the world to provide visibility into software applications
17. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz
"There are so many how-to books out there about running your own business: here's how you sell, here's how you manage a team, etc. While these are great resources for learning how to run a business, [this book] helped me deal with reality when my best-laid plans and meticulous strategies inspired by those books fell apart. It helped me understand that your most important job as a CEO isn't to create strategies; it's to decide how to move forward when strategies fail. This book won't tell you what to do when a big problem falls on your lap, but it will guide you on how to approach the problem and what you'll need to make an informed decision. The personal anecdotes also validated my feelings about running a startup: 'You only ever experience two emotions: euphoria and terror. And I find that lack of sleep enhances them both.'"
--Carley Childress, founder and CEO of Macorva, an HR tech startup offering an employee engagement platform used by thousands of people in technology, manufacturing, government, retail and hospitality companies
18. Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant
"We each need to always strive to move beyond relationships that are transactional in nature, to create real bonds that last. [This book] shares the power of a giving mentality and how to apply it toward becoming a better person and better leader. I recommend it to anybody who aspires to lead in a way that attracts genuine win-wins, real meaning and lasting impact."
--Amy Zupon, CEO of Vertafore, a provider of insurance technology for independent agents, managing general agents, carriers, states and regulators which partners with 65 of the top 100 brokers for agency management systems
19. Play Bigger: How Rebels and Innovators Create New Categories and Dominate Markets by Al Ramadan, Dave Peterson, Christopher Lochhead and Kevin Maney
"Many business and marketing books are written to teach you a concept, but rarely do they tell you how to practically apply that concept. This book does. The authors set out to take the idea of 'Category Design' as a normalized notion. The fact that Category Design is not actually a new concept makes [this book] a fantastic example of the book's thesis. The imperative nature of a business differentiating itself is not a new concept in marketing. I remember those lessons well. However, by bringing this thesis to life, [this book] has become the 'Category King' of Category Design. Its biggest success is that it not only sells the concept, but also provides a practical guide to building something different instead of worrying about being better."
--Melody Gambino, CMO at Cutover, a cloud-enabled work orchestration and observability platform, which is used in over 14 global financial services companies, including two of the top three U.S. banks by size
20. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney
"I have managed to become a successful CEO through focus and hard work, and while I have willpower to do difficult things, I often lack the willpower to eat well, exercise and do the things I feel I should rather than the ones I end up doing. This is the first book which brings together extensive research to explain why I'm a mixed bag of success and failure when it comes to doing the things I would like to. It also clarifies why willpower in itself is a term we should be a lot more comfortable with but are not. After extensive explanations for why we run out of willpower, the book ends with a summary of how we should consider to live the life we would like to: by maximizing our willpower."
--Sumir Karayi, founder, CEO and board member of 1E, a self-service endpoint management and security platform used by 1,750 organizations and 31 million licenses
21. My Antonia by Willa Cather
"I often find the best insights about running a successful business, managing change or dealing with adversity are found in a bookstore's literature section. Quality fiction allows a reader to experience the journey of conflict through resolution on multiple levels and to understand the complexity involved in most situations. [This book] describes the interaction of the optimism, entrepreneurship, self-reliance, trust and collaboration necessary for 19th century pioneers to survive and thrive in an unforgiving environment. As a legally-trained business leader I may tend to over analogize, but to me, myriad business lessons jump off the pages."
--Christopher P. Chapman, president and CEO of AccessLex Institute, a nonprofit organization that supports initiatives at almost 200 American Bar Association approved law schools
22. Whole Earth Thinking and Planetary Coexistence: Ecological Wisdom at the Intersection of Religion, Ecology, and Philosophy by Sam Mickey
"Technology has long brought people together, driving global interconnectedness, increasing cultural awareness, and linking people to resources from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. In essence, technology has made our world smaller. This eye-opening and mind-expanding book explores the idea of Whole Earth thinking and how increasing planetary interconnectedness comes with significant benefits but also poses great risks for the environment, societies, and the world at large. It inspires me to be a better global citizen and business leader, as it's truly incumbent upon those of us who are developing these technologies that make our world smaller to do it responsibly, with discipline, and a true sense of accountability. We only have one Mother Earth, and it's important for each of us to ask ourselves: How can I do better?"
--Asheesh Mehra, cofounder and CEO of AntWorks, a global artificial intelligence and intelligent automation company with more than 500 employees around the world
23. Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hons Rosling
"I highly recommend this book because it gives a hopeful message about the potential for human progress. Rosling, a world-renowned professor of international health and former adviser to the WHO and UNICEF, urges people to view the world differently. In this book, he challenges the 'doom and gloom' outlook that many of us have about society with data and hard facts. You'd think a book about global trends in health and economics would be dry and difficult to read, but that's not the case at all. Rosling's passion and experience as an educator make this book an accessible and fun read. It will leave you feeling optimistic and ready to change the world."
--Kim Lorenz, business consultant and author of "Tireless: Key Principles That Drive Success Beyond Business School," leadership mentor and founder of two companies which were acquired by Fortune 500 companies
24. The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Greg Keller
"As a leader and business owner in a world with infinite opportunities and distractions, I've long been aware of what I call the 'infinite need, finite me conundrum. [This book] helped me to find what matters most, take action where it will make the biggest difference, and focus my effort and attention. His succinct and poignant way of helping you focus is invaluable."
--David Dye, author of "The Seven Things Your Team Needs to Hear You Say" and cofounder of Let's Grow Leaders, a training and consulting firm with clients in 11 countries