If pushing yourself to the next level is a fundamental part of your mindset, you have to be a reader. Reading (or listening to) books full of wisdom is a daily habit for high achievers. Here are two dozen titles worth checking out.

1. Boss Life: Surviving My Own Small Business by Paul Downs

“The title says it all. Running a small business can be incredibly challenging, and more often than not, business books focus on the triumphant ‘you can do it!’ mantra highlighting successful outcomes of entrepreneurs. In this book, Paul Downs takes the opposing approach and bravely opens up about all the things that challenge small business owners: payroll, health insurance, the next client, the wrong client, the how to operate on a bigger scale before the money is in the bank, and how to lead when you’re not sure what’s next. It’s an incredible insight into the real struggle, the ups and downs, the wins the losses, that journey that comes with owning a small business and provides reassurance that we’re not alone in our struggles by empathically telling his own story so transparently.”

--Sarah Neukom, cofounder and president of ESP Presents, a boutique event production firm that creates purpose-driven experiential events for brands including AirBnB and Lululemon, as well as creative marketing agencies and nonprofit associations

2. Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

“Drawing on their experience in the most violent battlefield in Iraq, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin provide valuable and transferable leadership lessons that apply in life and business. As they say in the book, ‘With extreme ownership, you must remove individual ego and personal agenda. It's all about the mission.’ I love this book because it provides real-world examples of why it's important to get your team bought into the mission, which requires a deep understanding and explanation (on an almost daily basis) of the reason for the mission, essentially ‘the why.’ This is even more important in today's workplace, where employees desire for meaningful work is greater than ever and managers need to continuously lead with purpose.”

--Ryan Jeffery, cofounder and co-CEO of Ignite, a provider of out-of-office leadership-building experiences for companies which has hosted hundreds of people since its launch in 2017

3. The Rise by Sarah Lewis

"Lewis's book is an intriguing 'biography of an idea' of how failure is not a byproduct but an intrinsic part of success. That winners are not the 'errorless learners' we imagine but those who learn to 'account for the curves embedded in our aim' at a goal, as elite archers all know. Any kind of goal-oriented endeavor will have its up and downs, but Lewis reframes this as more than just grit, persistence, talent and shows how failure, instead of something to bounce back from as quickly as possible, can actually be a signpost to our goal... if only we acknowledge and understand that."

--Marie Myung-Ok Lee, a Korean-American writer, Fulbright Fellow, Writer in Residence at Columbia University, and author of the forthcoming novel, The Evening Hero whose stories and essays have been published in The Atlantic and The New York Times among others

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

“Incredibly well reasoned and written book that fundamentally challenged the way I saw the world and the human experience. Approachable, yet profound.”

--John Pollard, EVP of registry at Donuts Inc., a provider of top-level Internet domains named number one in the Deloitte Fast 500 in 2017

5. From Impossible To Inevitable: How Hyper-Growth Companies Create Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross and Jason Lemkin

“[This book] helped me to understand how to structure my business… This really became my perspective on how to scale, in particular how to specialize roles in the sales teams and it remains very important in our thinking.”

--Tom Smith, CEO at GlobalWebIndex, a market research company that provides consumer insights data across 45 countries to brands, marketing agencies and media organizations

6. The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers: The Guide for Achieving Success and Satisfaction by James M. Citrin and Richard Smith

“The authors suggest that in order to have an extraordinary career, you must: find a job you’re good at, feel passionate about, and surround yourself by people you admire and respect. I aspire to optimize all three of these.”

--Sian Wang, CFO at FastSpring, an e-commerce SaaS company used by thousands of businesses around the world

7. How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be: The 25 Principles of Success by Jack Canfield

“I found this book a decade ago and read it once a year and recommend it to anyone I meet who is struggling on getting traction in their life. When I first read it, I was trying to figure how to progress towards goals and the book talked broader context of success, gave stories around the key principles and specific tools to work towards goals. I read it every year because it inspires me to try new things and it has been applicable for every stage of my career so far. The number one principle in the book is that you are 100 percent responsible for yourself and that is something we can all continue to learn.”

--Heather Kernahan, president, North America at Hotwire, a global communications agency with 11 offices and 220 employees around the world

8. Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager by Michael Lopp

“This is the first management book that really resonated with me and it was recommended by one of my direct reports a few months after he joined my team. Why? Well, I was still a new manager back then and no one had yet told me that when it comes to leadership, people matter more than code. I suspect this book was a subtle hint that I needed to change my leadership game-plan. [It] is filled with stories from a manager’s perspective. While it’s a bit rose-colored, I believe it’s a fantastic introduction to all the coordination, stakeholder management, and empathy required to develop a people-oriented management style and healthy team.”

--Nick Caldwell, chief product officer at Looker, a unified platform for data with over 1,600 customers such as Sony, Amazon, IBM, and Spotify, and $280.5 million in funding from investors including CapitalG, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Premji Invest, Redpoint Ventures and Goldman Sachs among others

9. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath

“Most people are aware of urban legends, those stories that persist in culture about remarkable facts that seem so true, but really are not. Whether it’s the ‘razor in the Halloween apple’ or the ‘person traveling on business who meets an attractive stranger at a hotel bar and ends up in a bathtub filled with ice,’ there are versions of urban legends in every culture. Chip and Dan studied these memorable stories and what we can learn about them to create our own memorable stories. They distill the essential elements down to six, extremely memorable, points. This book has helped me tell better stories in business and in my personal life.”

--Steve Gershik, CMO at inRiver, a product information management company that supports more than 1,500 brands across 21 countries

10. Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio

“This book changed my life. Ray lays out the differences between everyday joys and making big impacts, which changed my parenting and ultimately career trajectory. I came to realization that I didn’t enjoy the minutiae of parenting such as doctors and dentist appointments, which led me to a discussion with my husband. We agreed that he would take on these tactical tasks with our kids so I could focus on work and that changed everything.”

--Judith Hammerman, head of Adobe Audience Manager, part of Adobe’s fastest growing business unit Adobe Experience Cloud

11. Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs by John Doerr

“Scaling a business is difficult. What got you to where you are won’t get you to where you want to go. This book really helps a company transform from ‘hero to mechanical.’”

--Jett McCandless, cofounder and CEO of project44, an Advanced Visibility Platform for shippers and third-party logistics firms, connected to over 175,000 carriers worldwide and recently named one of the best places to work in Chicago

12. One Bugle, No Drums: The Marines at Chosin Reservoir by William Hopkins

“[This is] a story around the Korean War. It’s not so much about military strategy as it is the intestinal fortitude that was required by everyone involved to be successful and the leadership that was displayed. Early in our career we focus on hard skills which are typically related to task. Such as understanding and applying accounting principles as an accountant, our learning multiple programming languages or routines as a software developer. However, as we mature we need to focus on softer skills such as effective leadership, communication, personal relations, and empathy for our customers and coworkers. There are so many exceptional examples of leadership in our history, and this is simply one which truly stands out for me.  As a newly promoted Sergeant, something like 30 years ago, I was given this book by one of my superior officers and he shared with me that in order to be an effective leader you must always strive to learn from your mistakes, be humble, take care of your people, and above all accomplish the mission.”

--John Beaty, GM of Excise, Avalara, a provider of tax compliance automation software for more than 20,000 businesses

13. The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyaha Goldratt

“One of the most important and frequently overlooked tenets of strong management is goal setting, and Goldratt covers it beautifully in this classic. It's written as a novel so you almost forget it's a business book. [This book] really resonated with me because it perfectly articulates and fleshes out some of the lessons I had been learning on the job about the nature of constraints and productivity. As my business grows, I continue to realize that Goldratt's lessons are timeless and relevant to all types of leaders.”

--Andrew Filev, CEO and founder of Wrike, a collaborative work management platform for more than 18,000 organizations, including Google, Tiffany & Co., and Edelman, and two million users across 140 countries

14. The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill by Greg Mitchell

“It details escapes under the Berlin Wall and the films the JFK White House tried to stop. It’s fascinating to relive how different the world was at that time, and it’s a telling reminder of how much we should cherish our freedom. I lived in Berlin in 1979 while attending college and it reminds me of the people I met in East Berlin and how sullen they were. After all, at its height one in every six East German citizens was an informant for the Stasi -- the secret police.”

--Eric Stang, chairman and CEO of Ooma, provider of cloud-based telecommunications and connected services used by nearly one million customers

15. Show and Tell: How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentations by Dan Roam

“Great storytelling is at the heart of everything we do. I am increasingly focused on the mechanics of telling a great story because it is through stories that we connect to people -- in building businesses, in great marketing, and even in developing and strengthening our relationships. I’ve found this book to be an unbelievable resource in breaking down storytelling into simple building blocks that can be architected to achieve a near-perfect narrative. And I love the idea that simple drawings are the visuals that are most effective at telling a great story. This makes me feel better about my years of terrible drawings on a whiteboard.”

--Kristen Alexander, CMO at Certain, a platform Fortune 1000 companies use to capture data signals from face to face interactions at events

16. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

“[This] is the story of Nike back when it was David not Goliath. Running headlong into the messy, complex, adrenaline rush of Nike’s early days, it captures a moment in time filled with enough sweat, peril and camaraderie to leave you wishing you’d been there, while imparting more wisdom about the realities of a business’ founding days than any business book we’ve ever read. It’s so easy to see the world he helped create as an inevitability -- where sneakers are part of every wardrobe, running is seen as normal, and the Swoosh is as famous as a Coke bottle. But his book takes you back to the point where none of these were inevitable in the slightest, making it a profound blueprint for any startup.”

--Steve Tidball, cofounder of the sports brand Vollebak, a three-year old outdoor apparel start-up which  has received recognition for their solar charged jacket from TIME Magazine’s Best Invention of 2018, Wired Gear of the Year, and Fast Company’s Innovation By Design

17. What Do You Do With a Chance? by Kobi Yamada

“I’ve been reading a lot of growth mindset books to my kids lately, which focus on conversations about failure, risk-taking and persistence. But these are not only relevant to them, as I find a lot of applicability to the working world in these too in how we lead and grow teams… New opportunities can be scary but can lead to amazing end results. In an industry and age where change is a constant and innovation will continue to fuel change, open mindedness and the courage to take leap is needed to reap the biggest rewards.”

--Peggy Chen, CMO of SDL, a language translation and content management company that works with 90 out of the top 100 global brands

18. Co-Active Leadership: Five Ways to Lead by Karen and Henry Kimsey-House

“[This book] gives a fantastic look into how in-touch we are with both ourselves as well as how we show up in the world. It’s a fast and easy read with engaging stories that illuminate key principles of leadership that I use in my every day working life. Leadership is a craft that requires continual intentional and committed refinement of a leader’s lifetime, and this book truly understands that. [This book] provides a useful framework for how to think about how we lead in an organization. Ultimately, I loved how this book made the connection between how understanding what’s happening inside directs what happens outside. It also expands on that to provide valuable guidance on ways to lead outwardly with authenticity, vulnerability, and power.”

--Brandon Atkinson, COO at Monetate, which provides personalization software used by QVC, Newegg, Timberland, Carnival, The North Face, and hundreds of others

19. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow

"I exhausted the personal development genre over a decade ago, so when this was recommended to me, I was skeptical that I'd get much out of it. I was happy to be wrong about that. This book brings together meaning and values with a lot of great lessons on how to succeed on all fronts of life, without letting day-to-day personal or business stresses impact your long-term vision.”

--Paul Koch, CTO of Chatmeter, a local brand reputation company used by 1.9 million business locations

20. Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler

“[This book stresses] how critical thinking and global perspective play a role in being more positive. By thinking critically, learning the facts and caring about the world, you will challenge cultural norms, seek new information, and embrace openness and curiosity.”

--Chris McNabb, CEO of Dell Boomi, an independent business unit of Dell Technologies used by more than 7,500 organizations

21. Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

“The book starts with Shonda telling her sister about all of these wonderful invitations she had been receiving. Her sister rolls her eyes and says (paraphrased), ‘what’s the difference, you’re just going to say no anyway.’ That forced her to take a hard look at her life and why she kept saying no. This struck me as a true leadership skill and one that can be hard to adopt -- self-reflection and change. For years I had said no to speaking opportunities, job interviews and so many other things believing that others were more qualified. I had thought ‘why would anyone want little ole me?’ After reading this book, I just started saying yes and trusting that my unique voice would resonate with others. After this shift in my mindset, the speaking and career opportunities started flowing -- all by saying yes and trusting the process. I also found that I suffered from what Shonda described as ‘F.O.D. - First Only Different,’ which many people of color and women suffer from. It can be lonely but offers a thrilling experience to break new ground and clear a path for others to follow. Overall, this book completely changed my life and my leadership.”

--Amelia Ransom, senior director of engagement and diversity at Avalara, a provider of tax compliance automation software for more than 20,000 businesses

22. The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail By Clayton Christensen

“How do sound decisions by great managers lead companies to failure? And how can new and disruptive technologies lead to a firm’s demise rather than its continued success? These are the questions at the heart of Clayton Christensen’s 1997 classic -- questions that have continued to challenge my thinking since my early days as an Adobe executive. The key learning for me was about differentiating between sustaining technologies (those that improve product performance and reinforce the established market position of incumbents) and disruptive technologies that have the potential to radically alter the competitive dynamic quickly and transform the established market structure. So yes, Christensen’s insights have informed how I think about our innovation agenda. But more broadly, they also remind me to challenge conventional wisdom; guard against the hubris that can come with success; and know that sometimes it’s right not to listen to customers -- or rather, to make sure that you are listening to the right set of customers.”

--Bryan Lamkin, EVP and GM of Adobe’s Digital Media business, where he has led the Photoshop and Creative Suite product lines, held CEO positions at two venture-funded startups, and today leads Adobe’s Creative Cloud and Document Cloud businesses

23. Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential And How You Can Achieve Yours by Shirzad Chamine

“The book helped me in the past to defuse negativity and build better teams.”

--Oded Gal, head of product management for enterprise video communications company Zoom, which is ranked number three on the Forbes 2018 Cloud 100

24. Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders by Warren Buffett

"This compilation of Warren's letters has had the single biggest impact on my career. I've learned so much from his wisdom. First, the importance of integrity, humility, and dedication to excellence. Second, the skill of transforming complex issues into simple principles that get to the core of the problem at hand. Third, as we struggle with the effects of a social media enabled world, how focusing on your closest relationships can provide immeasurable happiness." 

--Jason Green, partner at Emergence, a venture capital firm focused on early stage enterprise companies which recently unveiled ECP V, a $435 million fund more than 35 percent larger than its last raise in 2015

Published on: Feb 16, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.