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The 6 Best Books Every CEO Should Read

Hopefully now that life and business are getting back to normal, you’re settling back into a routine that balances some well-deserved self care with a focus on getting your teams to align on your company vision.

Learning in particular probably took on a very different meaning during the pandemic, as you and your leadership team worked to make a safe and effective pivot. Now, the 2.0 version of your business needs its CEO to start taking in new information and synthesizing a wide variety of ideas into a bold new vision for long-term success.

That’s where CEO books come in. Below, we provide our recommendation for the best books on CEO leadership that can help make your learning time more productive. Read through our list of the best books CEOs read so you can take your company to new heights.

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink
One of the best CEO books is written by former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink, who believes that the greatest obstacle a leader faces is their own ego. Willink’s combat experience taught him that when leaders stop passing around blame and start taking responsibility for everything in their world, their teams do the same and problems get solved.

As a CEO, taking responsibility for both progress and setbacks is essential to growing your company. The last thing your employees want is a leader who shifts the blame to another team or employee instead of taking ownership]. After all, you’re the CEO, which means you’re the person your company depends on.

In addition to taking extreme ownership, Willink laid out 12 key leadership concepts that he learned as a Navy SEAL and has been able to apply to business. Among these concepts are having a clear mission that you believe in, managing your ego by continually learning and accepting feedback, letting teams work together to accomplish a goal, and creating a soundproof plan. By applying these concepts to your skillset, you’ll be able to lead with confidence.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink

Another book CEOs read is by Daniel Pink, a multiple New York Times bestselling author on business, creativity, work, and behavior. When most CEOs think about how to motivate their teams, they weigh the carrot versus the stick. Pink suggests a different approach: empower your team members so that they feel like they’re in control of their daily responsibilities, their careers, and their lives.

Rather than rewarding good behavior and punishing bad, Pink points out other elements of motivation, including mastery, autonomy, and purpose. Focusing on these factors can help boost a person’s innate drive to become more productive.

Pink finds that at our core, humans possess intrinsic motivation that makes us eager to create and make the world a better place. As a CEO, however, it’s more about biological and extrinsic motivations—it’s about finding ways to make employees feel empowered at their job and truly believe in the work they perform.

Remember not to solely focus on tapping into a worker’s intrinsic motivation by giving them autonomy and purpose. Extrinsic motivation, such as rewards for great performance, can still go a long way in creating a productive workforce. If you’re looking for ways to motivate your staff, Pink’s CEO book provides the answers and examples you need to light a fire under your employees.

Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs by John Doerr

Venture capitalist John Doerr was an early investor in Google. His Objectives and Key Results system (OKRs) helped young entrepreneurs Sergey Brin and Larry Page identify the specific, measurable actions that would help their company hit key targets and achieve BIG growth. If you’re looking for one of the best CEO books of all time, this is it. In Measure What Matters, Doerr describes the four elements of the OKR system.

First, you must focus on specific initiatives that can make a significant impact on your business, while putting the less important ones on the back burner for a later date. This way, leaders can zero in on the programs that can make a real difference in their organization.

The second element of the OKR system is having the ability to align and connect. This means being open and transparent about your goals. Everyone must share their objectives and how they fit into the organization’s overall game plan, which means they must work with other teams and communicate effectively.

The third element is that key objectives must be tracked. With objectives and results that are driven by data, leaders can more efficiently measure progress through periodic check-ins and continuous reassessment.

The final element to an efficient OKRs system is having the ability to motivate your team to help them achieve more than they thought possible. To motivate staff, it’s important to set attainable yet lofty goals that can help you take your business to the next level.

The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling

The 4 Disciplines of Execution provides a framework for leaders to follow that helps ensure the most important work gets completed. This CEO book is great for leaders looking for ways to boost productivity and ensure goals are accomplished.

“The 4DX” are:

  • Focus on the wildly important: Pick a single goal, dubbed a Wildly Important Goal (WIG), to focus on by brainstorming with your team and creating a list of the top goals to go after. Then, agree on one goal to tackle and make sure it’s attainable but challenging.
  • Act on lead measures: Once you have your goal defined, focus on activities that drive results, including lag measures, such as the WIG you’re trying to achieve, and lead measures, which are sub-goals that help you reach your WIG.
  • Keep a compelling scoreboard: In order to stay engaged, your team needs to see their progress. As you embark on your journey to achieving your WIG, make sure to keep an updated scoreboard that tracks results and notifies the team whether they’re on track. This way, they’ll stay motivated and engaged throughout the entirety of the project.
  • Create a cadence of accountability: To ensure you accomplish your WIG, set up weekly meetings where team members gather and discuss progress to hold individual team members accountable for their tasks, solve problems, and ensure you’re on the right path.

Committing to these disciplines will inspire both CEOs and their key team members to adapt their behaviors to get results that matter.

Getting Naked: A Business Fable About Shedding The Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty by Patrick M. Lencioni
Lencioni’s Leadership Fables use fictional storytelling to dramatize how businesses can overcome significant obstacles. In “Getting Naked,” a boutique consulting firm is acquired by a larger company and teaches its new owners important lessons on generating customer loyalty.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t by Jim Collins
The book we’ve recommended the most at CEO Coaching International, and the one that’s popped up the most in our blogs and podcasts, is Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t by Jim Collins. Collins and his research team spent years studying good companies that became great and identified some commonalities, including a laser focus on core competencies and a commitment to hiring the best talent.

But ultimately, the leap Collins describes has to be taken by the CEO. It’s only when the CEO learns to let go of ego, embrace humility, and build resilience that a company of any size can learn to Make BIG Happen.

One concept Collins brings up in his book on CEO leadership is “First who, then what.” To accomplish a goal, it’s important to start by asking, “Who?” not “What?” Deciding “who” on your team is going to help you move forward rather than backward before determining what you want to accomplish can ensure you’re on the right path to success. Collins looked at employee compensation and found that when it comes to compensating executives, it’s not how you compensate them, but which executives deserve compensation in the first place.

There’s a reason Good to Great is on our list of the best CEO books of all time. He outlines how you can create a system that gets the right people on your bus and keeps them there, so you can have a clear path to success.

Making BIG Happen

If you’re looking for a CEO book to help you take your company to new heights, order Making BIG Happen. Mark Moses and team go over CEO Coaching International’s proven system that helps CEOs and their businesses succeed. From executive coaching to entrepreneur coaching, CEO Coaching International has the tools and resources that can help you Make BIG Happen.

About CEO Coaching International

CEO Coaching International works with CEOs and their leadership teams to achieve extraordinary results quarter after quarter, year after year. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 1,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries and 45 industries. The coaches at CEO Coaching International are former CEOs, presidents, or executives who have made BIG happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $10 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. Companies working with CEO Coaching International for two years or more have experienced an average revenue CAGR of 31% (2.6X the U.S. average) and an average EBITDA CAGR of 52.3% (more than 5X the U.S. average).

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