In September, we celebrate International Literacy Day. Reading and learning from others is an important part of my professional development, and in the spirit of the day, I’m sharing four books that may be useful for small business owners.   

1. Good to Great by Jim Collins 

Starting a small business is challenging. Not every company is built with the perfect foundation to guarantee greatness. While a strong start is of course preferred, Collins advises how businesses can make the leap to greatness. 

Collins’ Good to Great study identifies four key learnings between companies that make the leap to greatness and those that do not. My recommendation for leaders running a small business looking to achieve the greatness Collins describes is to embrace Level 5 Leadership. Level 5 leaders are incredibly ambitious, but they focus their ambition on their business rather than themselves.

I have always been an ambitious person, but it was this book that taught me how to harness this trait to improve my leadership. Focus on becoming a great company and becoming a great leader will naturally follow. This is a value we live at The UPS Store through a culture that teaches our retail owners that focusing on what is best for their store is the best thing they can do as a leader.

2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

For me, the most valuable of Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” In practicing this habit, I have become a more effective communicator.

Don’t assume you know all the answers. Every interaction, no matter how big or small, is an opportunity to learn. As small business owners and entrepreneurs, seek first to understand - prioritize listening - and in doing so you’ll discover new lessons and ways of thinking.

I make a conscious effort to practice this habit in business meetings, while discussing new ideas or receiving constructive feedback. It’s easy to fall into a routine way of thinking. Hearing different perspectives, especially when they contradict your own, helps you grow. It is crucial for small business owners to stay open to new ideas and ways of doing things.

3. Dave’s Way by Dave Thomas

If you are looking for an inspirational read, look no further than Dave Thomas’ autobiography. Thomas’ journey in mastering the restaurant business offers a valuable lesson for entrepreneurs and small business owners - trust your gut!

In the beginning of his career, Thomas was given an opportunity to buy a stake in failing restaurants, if he made promises to turn them around. Although he was advised by several people not to take this chance, Thomas saw this opportunity as his best path to ownership. He would go on to make the restaurants successful, and they would eventually become the first of a popular food chain. 

It is important that small business owners consider advice from those around them, but balance this with the confidence to trust their gut (easier said than done) and take risks when the moment is right.

4. Pizza Tiger by Tom Monaghan and Robert Anderson  

To round out this list of recommendations for small business owners, Monaghan’s autobiography features quotes that taught me a lot about business. Monaghan shares:

  • “I’ve always believed that the best plan is something you came up with through trying and failing.”
  • “...There’s nothing wrong with making a mistake, providing you learn from it.” 

These quotes give me a sense of reassurance when I feel uncertain. Running a business is not easy and does not come without shortcomings. But these moments present us the opportunity to learn from our mistakes to strengthen our leadership and our businesses.

If this past year has taught us anything, it is that we do not have all the answers. A commitment to lifelong learning is paramount for small business owners. Support your local bookstore and purchase these books to help you on your leadership journey.