As a business owner with a voracious appetite for learning, I have read countless leadership books about all things business strategy and management.
The best leaders I run into as a business strategy consultant are also avid learners. They are constantly striving to level up themselves and their teams so they can improve their business.
A business will not grow faster than its leader, and by extension, its leadership team. You don’t need to be an almost psychotic level reader like me, but there is some essential reading that will help you transform your team (and if you’re eager to be an active learner, I invite you to join the Incrementa Learning Community).
Get the Most Out of Any Book by Being an Active Learner
I once talked to a leader who read an incredible book per week. When asked what he took away from these books, he drew a blank. He wasn’t actually learning, he was reading to escape. Many business owners and leaders I’ve known over the years fall into this category. So, what should you be doing instead?
To get the most out of your reading time, you need to be an active learner.
Though I hated school, one of the most important lessons I (indirectly) took from it is how to learn. For most, reading does not mean learning. Learning requires you do something with the information coming in, creating context and actions for it.
No book will level you (or your team) up unless action is taken.
For me, here’s the process:
- Read the table of contents (this starts the brain categorizing the information so you retain more)
- Skim the chapter. Focus on the start, the headings, then the end.
- Read the chapter.
- After I’ve finished the book, I mindmap the major concepts.
- Decide on actions I’m going to carry forward. I track these and check-in for accountability.
That means you shouldn’t be reading a leadership book for pleasure. Active learning takes work with the intent of improving yourself. You need to do something with the information immediately to help it sink in and find action from it.
9 Leadership Books That are Guaranteed to Level Up You, Your Team, and Business*
(*IF you read them actively and take action.)
Best Books For Levelling Up Leadership
Turn This Ship Around by L. David Marquette
This story of a navy captain who took over the worst submarine in a fleet and made it into the best one is all about how to move from a command-and-control approach to a leader-leader model. This is an absolute must-read if you are looking to scale up your business.
Multipliers by Liz Wiseman
I’ve seen this book give people more ‘aha!’ moments than any other. The author is a researcher, so this book is not light reading, but it does a fantastic job of explaining the difference between leaders who multiply the genius around them and those who diminish the genius around them. You may be surprised by learning that things you think you’re doing to help your teams aren’t helpful at all! This book may sting the pride a bit, but when you read this book and discuss it with your leadership team, it will be transformational.
The Advice Trap by Michael Bungay Stanier
This is an easy yet important read. This work encompasses the author’s other book, The Coaching Habit and hammers home the point that our advice isn’t nearly as good as we think it is. This book will help you stop being an answer dispenser and encourage your team to think for themselves and become more accountable for their outcomes.
Best Books For Levelling Up Your Team
Who by Jeff Smart and Randy Street
This is the ultimate book on building an A-player team using a recruiting methodology called topgrading, which will guide you through how to hire top talent. By hiring A-players and learning how to assess talent and performance, my clients who use this methodology see outstanding results.
Deep Work by Cal Newport
Have you ever found that you’re not as productive as you like? Are you frustrated that you are constantly “too busy” to get important work done? Deep Work is one of the most important books for today’s distracted society. It describes how to build a habit of setting aside time to work on the most important things and strengthen your conversations so you can focus your attention and energy where it matters most. By leveraging what you learn from this book, you could probably double your productivity.
Atomic Habits by James Clear
I listened to the audio version of this book during a road trip years ago, and it was so important that I listened to it again on the way home. Our habits drive everything. This is the ultimate guide to getting better 1% at a time by shifting these habits in favour of being more productive. In this book, James gives you a simple formula to start building new, powerful habits to replace the ones that are not serving you so well.
Best Books For Levelling Up Your Business
BE 2.0 by Jim Collins
Jim Collins has written several amazing books that should be on a must-read list for all businesspeople. Good to Great is the bible and Built to Last is also indispensable. Many well-known frameworks (e.g. Scaling Up) are built on Jim Collins’ work. So why did I pick this one for my list? Because it takes lessons from his previous work and puts it in a single book that is more actionable. With this, you get the basic elements of his other books. If you like what you read, you can dive into his other books too to learn more.
The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni
This book centers around 6 key questions that every business needs to answer, and what to do based on your answers. This is the only one of his books that is not a business fable. Instead, it’s a recipe book. These are the questions we dive into deeply during our planning sessions with our clients. It’s essentially a primer for how to create clarity in your business.
Entreprenumbers by Spencer Sheinin
This is a book I recommend specifically for the small business crowd because almost every business under 4 to 5 million in revenue that I’ve worked with sucks at the financial side of the business. This book is designed to demystify the basics of getting really good insights from their financial information. It provides a bridge to communicate with the accountant to help them understand how to create those insights. After all, cash flow is king so you better know how to gather the numbers you need to ensure a financially healthy organization.
Leadership Podcasts for the Listening-Inclined
There are a couple of podcasts that I listen to that are very worthwhile for leadership teams to listen to. They provide extremely helpful information about the process of building great teams and growing your business.
The first is The Growth Whisperers, hosted by Kevin Lawrence and Brad Giles. While they’ve stopped posting new content, there’s over 100 30-minute podcasts that tackle a tool, a system, a process, or a challenge that they’ve run into with their hundreds of clients. It’s fantastic, hands-on learning from the most senior scaling coaches out there.
The other podcast I love is The Better Leadership Team Show with Mike Goldman. Business never grows faster than its leadership team. This info from a senior Scaling Up coach is about all the elements you need to build an A-player team and level up your leadership team.
If the books I listed here sound interesting to you, join our book club. We take on books like this on a quarterly basis and will help you develop active learning skills by immersing you in a thoughtful community to discuss what you learn and help you take action.