Highly successful people typically work hard, practice the right habits every day and strive for self-improvement, with the latter often coming in the form of a book. If reading is something you're willing to do to sharpen yourself, take some suggestions from more than two dozen executives who have gleaned wisdom from these books.
1. The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton
"Stanford Professor Robert Sutton is an inspiration for me in building the right culture at Gfycat. Toxic people destroy innovation and have no place on any of my teams. Imagine how well-regarded Uber would be if it had followed that rule."
--Richard Rabbat, CEO of the user generated GIF platform Gfycat
2. The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? By Seth Godin
"At the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey, I was juggling my rapidly growing candle business and a full-time job as an art director in the corporate fashion world. It came to the point where the arrangement was no longer sustainable and I had to choose one, but the security of my biweekly paychecks and health insurance was anchoring me to my cubicle. However, as I started reading The Icarus Deception, its messages got under my skin--the primary one being that with the opportunities provided by the internet, not everyone has to conform to the traditional paths that had been long established by industrialization. If we take full advantage of the technological resources available to us, we can create the work we want to do as artists and entrepreneurs. Midway through this book, I was inspired enough to gather the courage to quit my job to work on growing my business full-time."
--Tamara Mayne, founder of Brooklyn Candle Studio, small-batch, hand-poured candles made with natural waxes, cotton wicks, and botanical perfume oils
3. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World by Gary Vaynerchuk
"[It's] the bible of content marketing and social media strategy. I give it to every new person on my team as required reading. Great for anyone interested in learning how to really connect with your audience authentically in the native language of each social platform. Not just for marketers. [It's] an important book for any entrepreneur or business leader looking to develop a fundamental understanding of what makes great digital content, the kind that will add value, compel sharing and--sometimes--catch fire."
--Megan Burke, CMO of eCornell, Cornell University's online education department with over 40-plus award-winning certificate programs
4. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
"If you're ever looking for cliff notes on virtue, wisdom, morality, humility, freedom, or leadership, Meditations is it. Chock full of powerful perspectives, Mediations is an exploration on how to stay true to yourself and unaffected by externalities."
--Jonathan Regev, cofounder of The Farmer's Dog, a fresh pet food company delivering customized, human-grade dog food to consumers' doors
5. High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove
"This is book is down to earth, yet gives brilliant advice on the art and science of management. Andy Grove is a legend, and the fact that he took the time to write this book for us all is a huge gift."
--Alyssa Ravasio, founder and CEO of Hipcamp, a startup that creates new campsites by unlocking access to beautiful private lands such as nature preserves, farms, and ranches
6. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
"'All for one, and one for all' is a phrase made famous by The Three Musketeers, but its philosophy is the driving force behind leadership principles I find to be successful. While it is far from a business book, there are overall themes that leaders can implement such as loyalty to the group, moving forward as team, having fun and some panache, and doing things for the right reasons. This philosophy asks leaders to hold all managers accountable while not micromanaging. Let your employees do their thing. The weaker ones will become transparent, but the good ones are going to become excellent."
--Ariane Daguin, owner, cofounder and CEO of D'Artagnan
7. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight
"The story laid out in Phil Knight's memoir is a compelling and inspirational behind-the-scenes look at how Phil created Nike and built a brand that became part of American culture. Phil harnessed his personal passion for running and sense of adventure as the foundation of his business, taking a courageous path to create a functional product line. This book serves as a must-read for any leader, as it is a reminder to continually improve management techniques, surround yourself with a reliable network of people, and be prepared for hardships and setbacks no matter how well everything seems."
--Michael Karsch, Chairman of the Board, Juice Press
8. Personal History by Katharine Graham
"[This book] is all about learning by doing. From building up The Washington Post to finding happiness after her husband's suicide, Katharine Graham's autobiography is written with the same clarity and nuance you'd expect from the former president of the Post. The book is full of endlessly interesting stories and characters, each anecdote driving home the value of willingness to learn. Graham always asked questions, consulted with advisors and sought to surround herself and her business with the most qualified professionals possible. As a business leader, I find myself consistently rededicating myself to the latter."
--Raj Goyle, cofounder of Bodhala, a platform using AI and big data to empower the legal industry with the evidence required to make critical business decisions
9. Winning by Jack Welch with Suzy Welch
"When I was growing my business, Jack Welch was one of the executives that I looked up to most. His model for using innovation and laser focus to reach the pinnacle of success in a crowded marketplace was second to none. As the president and CEO of a hospitality company, I always am looking for ways to make my properties stand out from the competition. Therefore, I was quickly able to connect with the stories in Welch's [book]. I particularly admired his emphasis on candor and the importance of hearing diverse opinions when addressing corporate issues. Overall, this is the most insightful and wide-ranging management book that I have come across, and a must-read for everyone from established businessmen to college graduates."
--Abraham Merchant, president and CEO of Merchants Hospitality
10. Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar
"[It's] a novel by the Belgian-born French writer Marguerite Yourcenar about the life and death of Roman Emperor Hadrian. This novel allowed me to see all the successes and failures in Hadrian's life. The novel almost forced me to look back on my own life and reflect--to see what I can filter out of my life to make it better and more successful moving forward. The novel produced a lot of emotions as it is informative yet sad but also contains strong elements of power and love."
--Simone Falco, chef and owner of Rossopomodoro
11. Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton
"This book describes the chaos of a growing startup like nothing else I've read--the dynamics of the founders and team, warts-and-all. Credit Twitter for hustle and hard work, but at the end you might just conclude they had a product so compelling they succeeded despite themselves, and think "thank #$@ we're not like Twitter! Wait...I wish we were!"
--Matt Caywood, cofounder of TransitScreen, a real-time display of transportation options helping make cities more efficient and sustainable
12. The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins
"[This] is a great book to help you integrate into a new company. Unlike a lot of leadership books, Mr. Watkins provides many practical ways to ensure you set the right expectations with your new manager, have clear lines of communication and hold yourself accountable. Regardless of where you are in your career or whether you're an individual contributor or a manager, this book provides clear and applied strategies and tactics to help you develop a plan to drive results in the first 90 days and beyond. [It's] not a book with a beginning and end. It's more like a survival guide that you'll reference throughout your career."
13. Good to Great by Jim Collins
"This is a book I read during my time at Stanford Business School. It offers great perspectives on how to think outside of the box and aim for something much bigger than conventional businesses. Many businesses are good businesses, but not great businesses. In order to build disruptive businesses, we need to be brave, have big ideas, and surround ourselves with extremely talented people. This book encouraged me to pursue something that's much bigger than myself and gave the courage to explore entrepreneurship and create something from zero."
--Siqi Mou, founder of HelloAva, a beauty chatbot that recommends skincare products through a fun, easy process that leverages big data and human expertise
14. The Toyota Way by Jeffrey Liker
"I read [this book] when we were in very early stages of operations at The Farmer's Dog, and it taught me that no process is ever perfect and that there's always room for improvement. In other words, never become complacent or happy with the status quo."
--Brett Podolsky, cofounder of The Farmer's Dog, a fresh pet food company delivering customized, human-grade dog food to consumers' doors
15. The Warrior Elite by Dick Couch
"Captain Couch gives an amazing insider's perspective into some of the hardest military training in existence today: Navy SEAL 'BUDs,' where the majority of elite students won't make it through. This book taught me more about resilience than anything else I've read or any class I ever took. Sometimes, all the ADHD tips, tricks, and hacks in the world aren't enough to focus on the task in front of me. When I turn to The Warrior Elite, I find the strength and fortitude needed to get the job done."
--Peter Shankman, founder of ShankMinds: Breakthrough, a private entrepreneur community with members from around the world and hosts the top-rated ADHD podcast Faster Than Normal
16. Altered Traits by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson
"[They] demystify the benefits of mindfulness and show us how best to apply the practice in our own lives. They also take on urban myths and misconceptions about what, exactly, mindfulness is and what we can do to focus our attention, train our minds, deal with stress and tap into our emotional intelligence. High-achievers will enjoy exploring the science of meditation in this book, as it is evidence-based. It also focuses on what is most meaningful in life, including how meditation affects compassion, empathy, and emotional self-control--necessary competencies that can disappear when a healthy achievement drive turns into overheated ambition. When we reach that point, effectiveness at work suffers, as does our health and our families. This is when meditation and a sound mindfulness practice can truly help us in work and life."
--Dr. Annie McKee, author of How to Be Happy at Work and senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania where she teaches and directs the PennCLO Executive Doctoral Program
17. Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet by Jesse Itzler
"It is rare to find a book that is both hilariously funny yet also provides important life lessons. Jesse's adventures in inviting a SEAL to move in with his family demonstrate his willingness to try anything and challenges the reader to do the same. Further, his story is an amazing example of pushing through when times get tough and always finishing what you start. This is a book that you will find hard to put down once you start reading!"
--Ashley Thompson, CEO of 50 Strong, American manufacturer of high-quality water bottles
18. Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie
"I love this book because it highlights the importance of providing something of value and how that can lead to a successful business. Blake's down-to-earth and occasionally humorous account of his journey to start and grow TOMS is inspiring. As a founder who also bootstrapped my way, it has acted as an excellent reminder that if your product is helping people, then it is worth it to stay the course. Founding and growing a new business can be overwhelming. In an environment that is increasingly digital, I find tremendous value in maintaining a notebook that is specifically for my open to-do items. I take twenty minutes every morning as I drink my coffee to update my list of things to get done for the day. The exercise of checking off tasks that have been accomplished and writing new ones, keeps me focused and prioritizes where I need to spend my time."
--Stacia Pache, CEO of itBandz, which provide all day stay-in-place knee pain relief
19. Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
"Written by two ex-Navy Seals turned business consultants, the entire purpose of this book is to drive home a single idea: The leader of a team (or company) is fully responsible for every failure. This won't be the most informative or exciting book you read but it does a great job of showing the truth and importance behind this idea. If an employee fails at a task it's because the leader failed to properly train, communicate, implement, or even hire the right person. The leader is responsible for every outcome and must take full ownership of every failure. This book teaches you how and why to take ownership of your team's failures and illustrates the concept with some thrilling war stories and mild business anecdotes."
--Chris Clearman, founder and CEO of Matador, a lifestyle brand specializing in high-quality travel products distributed in thousands of stores worldwide
20. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
"[It] captures the dark humor and absurdity of Army life and the banality of combat and death in wartime. I re-read it after many times while serving in Iraq. The wartime experience of Heller as told through his fictional doppelgänger Captain John Yossarian rang as true to me as my own experience. I read almost no fiction, yet Catch-22 will always be my go-to book."
--Marc Alacqua, CEO of Signafire, a data analytics platform for risk management
21. Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed
"I knew I loved Cheryl Strayed from the first chapter of her memoir Wild that recounts her trek along the Pacific Coast Trail many years earlier. Her wisdom and wit struck a chord with me and I felt like I had journeyed many miles with a good friend. But it's her book Brave Enough that I claim as my favorite. With just one quote on each of its 135 pages, it's engaging in very short bites or as one cover-to-cover meal. Her words resonate with me in new ways with each reading and always offer an important perspective on life and work, or simply make me laugh out loud. I also love the way it's packaged... roughly five by seven inches, a size that feels good in my hands. It's got a bright green hard cover with a simple ribbon for a bookmark. And it's typeset in a font named Gotham. Seems custom made for a New York City woman with a passion for good design."
--Melinda McLaughlin is CMO of Extreme Reach, the cloud technology platform for TV and video ad workflow and talent and rights management
22. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
"[It] has provided me with a True North with regards to my focus as a leader. It reminds me that as a leader, my most important contribution to the team is to constantly articulate a clear vision for what can be and how we get there. If I'm true to my vision, beliefs, passion and motivation, the right path to follow along the journey is crystal clear."
--Cal Lai, CEO at Ask.Vet, a "virtual urgent care" service that lets people text licensed vets for answers and save thousands in unnecessary vet bills.
23. Give and Take by Adam Grant
"In a noisy world, where most people are about 'me first,' the way to stand out and succeed is simple. Just simply ask, 'How can I help you?' That small question will help you create win-win situations like a true giver, instead of win-lose situations like a taker."
--Patrick Ip, cofounder at Unity, a Silicon Valley-based startup that uses AI to power micro-influencer programs at scale
24. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
"This is a must-read by any founder. [It] shares great advice and anecdotes about bringing a new product to market through a process driven by experimentation and fast, frequent customer feedback. The learnings are as relevant to our company four years in, as when we first started."
--Mike Winn, CEO and cofounder of DroneDeploy, a cloud platform for commercial drones
25. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
"The mistake we make as leaders is believing that work and life play by different rules. [This book] highlights the principles I try to keep in focus every day. I strive to honor these agreements, and Ruiz's framework helped shape how I apply them in my career."
--Josh, Chief Operating Officer of Innit, an "Eating Technology" company behind the world's first platform for the connected kitchen
26. A Piece of the Action: How the Middle Class Joined the Money Class
"Very few books today are ambitious enough to take on a topic as complex as the history of consumer financial services, and make it vividly interesting. In this multi-threaded story book, the author traverses the genesis and development of nearly all of the financial products we, the American consumers, know of today--credit card, money market fund, mutual fund, and more. Through historical lenses, it depicts a chronology of what has come before us in this vast industry, and what could become the future."
--Yinan Du, CEO of the 2-4% APY high-interest mobile banking app Beam