It should shock no one that after 15 years at Amazon I have a long list of recommended reading. And yes, if you buy these books from the links here, I’ll get an Amazon Associates fee, usually 4% to 8% of the purchase price. Any proceeds beyond our technology costs will go to the Washington Trails Association, but what I really care about is that you read (or listen to) either something that expands your toolkit of skills.
The most fundamental thing that sets a top performer apart is relentless self-improvement. While no one book will instantly transform your career, the weight of continual investment in yourself will make all the difference over the arc of a career.
The books that have had the most impact on my leadership style in recent years come from The Arbinger Institute. They have put out three titles in a series:
I’ve recommended Leadership and Self Deception to many people. Those who have read it always find that it influences their leadership style. The key concept in the book is about how we deceive ourselves in our interactions with others, undermining our ability to truly work with them. This may sound very abstract or even a bit woo woo, but if you want to get a clearer view of your own leadership style, this is my number one recommendation. The second book goes in a different direction and deals with conflict resolution. It is a great book, but less directly about career growth. The third book is really a broader, deeper explanation of the first. So, read Leadership and Self Deception, and if you like it, go deeper with The Outward Mindset.
It is fair to say that The EZ Coach is in part a result of these two books. I also want to give full credit to David Valencia (see more about him in the recommended coaches section) for introducing me to these books.
The books that have had the most impact on my execution ability are those by Chip and Dan Heath, a pair of brothers. They have written four books so far and I believe are just about to release a fifth
This list is not in the order they were written, but in the order I recommend them. Specifically, Decisive is about the science of decision making, and reading it will allow you to actually make better decisions both personally and professionally. Switch is about leading change, and will allow you to better inspire teams to new directions.
I recommend all the books, but I’ve posted the process from Decisive on my office wall and try to use it for every important decision. If you want to read just one book to improve your ability to deliver good results at work, I would start here.
Important note: Nothing about Leadership and Self Deception or Decisive is specific to management. They are completely applicable to professional.
No book list for professionals is complete without “the classics:”
- The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey. The seven habits covers the foundations of personal behavior to be, as the title says, highly effective at work.
- The One Minute Manager, by Ken Blanchard. Ken is the father of Situational Leadership, a key concept for how to work with others who are at different stages of expertise, from novice to master, in a given skill. As a bonus, this book is very short and can be read in a couple of hours.
- Peopleware, by Demarco and Lister. An older book now, it was pioneering in the space of understanding the dynamics of taking care of a team of people in the modern workplace.
- The Goal, by Eli Goldratt. The authoritative book on the Theory of Constraints, and how to optimize any process for maximum throughput. It is set in an industrial context, but easily applied to technology businesses and software development.
- What Color Is Your Parachute?, by Richard Bolles. The classic book on both how to identify what kind of work best fits you and how to find a job when you need one.
Sometimes you need to invent completely new ideas or disrupt existing thinking. Over the past twenty years I’ve used the book, A Whack on the Side of the Head, and it’s related Whack Pack, by Roger von Oech to achieve this. Roger’s book, a bit like Decisive, gives you a toolkit for a task. Decisive helps you make better decisions; Roger’s book helps you generate the ideas and options to feed into your choices.
Part of true success is knowing why you do what you do. This matters deeply, because long term no one can do their best work doing something they hate. You may have to work for money, but most professionals today are in high enough demand that, with effort, they can shift jobs, companies, and even careers. We all only get one life – don’t waste it doing work you can’t stand. With this in mind, two books:
I believe that I Moved Your Cheese is the more powerful book, but to get the full benefit, you need to read Who Moved My Cheese first. The good news is that both of these books are very short. You could actually read both back to back in a dedicated evening.
It is a new world, where there is an active effort to engage all members of the workforce equally. It will take a lot more than one book to achieve this, but a good starting place, written by a highly successful technology leader, is Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg.
In 2010, I contributed to the Ownership leadership principle at Amazon. Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win provides multiple intense examples of taking ownership and how it is core to success.