The 5 most important texts for a business leader

These are the books, or in one case an essay, that I think every leader in a business should study. This is not an academic list paying homage to some MBA syllabus. Rather, if you want a business that has a healthy culture, that is profitable, that is sustainable, and that delivers real value, the concepts in these books are worth wresting with until you make them your own.

The perspectives within these texts overlap in powerful ways.

I purposely did not put them in priority order because I do really think a leader should read and use them all. They cover different areas and complement one another.

In The E-Myth Revisited, Gerber explains the difference between working in your business and on your business, how to grow your business in a way that promotes the details you deem important, why franchises work, and what to apply from that model to your own business. While it is written to a small business owner, the concepts readily apply to a business unit manager in a larger company.

The Advantage is Lencioni’s latest book, and is a detailed playbook for both a healthy leadership team and for carrying out clear strategy leadership across a company. Plus it ends with a sensible framework for making your sets of meetings much more effective.

What is Strategy by Porter is a classic essay on strategy, filled with case studies and definitions that clarify the field of strategy, a field thick with ambiguous buzz words. This essay is a lynchpin for understanding Lencioni more deeply and if you understand what Porter says, the next book on business models will become more clear as well.

Business Model Generation explains a vocabulary and template for reasoning about, building, and refining your business model. It makes sense, it seems complete, and when you apply it to your own business you will likely find strong alignments in certain actions of your business as well as gaps or areas in which you are wasting resources. If you’re going to master your business, you need to model it. This book makes it about as easy as it can get, and once I read this book I was quickly able to see how the ideas from Gerber, Lencioni, and Porter fit in.

Finally, it is practically cliché, but our people are our biggest assets aren’t they? In First, Break All the Rules, Buckingham & Coffman provide a clear framework and set of tools for being an exceptional people manager. Most organizations haven’t yet figured out the basic concepts laid out in this book, but they are important and fundamental. If you read one book on managing people, this ought to be the one.

Now, of course there are plenty of other worthy texts out there, and many should be studied in certain situations, but these are core texts.

If you’ve read these books, I’d love it if you would comment with your thoughts, and if you disagree, by all means post that too with your own recommendations!

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