The best business books that make you better without tasting like medicine

The Books I Picked & Why

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike

By Phil Knight

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike

Why this book?

Let’s face it; most business books are like medicine, we read them because we think they’ll make us better, but we really don’t enjoy them. Not the case with Shoe Dog. Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, spent serious time learning how to write from a fictional author. The book reads like a novel you can’t put down, you feel like you’re right there with Phil in the sweltering heat, selling sneakers out of the trunk of his car.  This book inspired me to write my book with the guiding principle that it “not taste like medicine.”


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The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

By Patrick M. Lencioni

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

Why this book?

We can find ourselves feeling helpless in a dysfunctional team situation. This book normalizes the experience and maps out a path for improvement. It’s written in a fictional-novel format that makes it fun and easy to read. The book describes how a leader helps get her team in shape, but anyone can make change. The core dysfunction is lack of trust, followed by fear of conflict. I have found that in my work, that building trust and competency around healthy conflict is absolutely key for organizations. I won’t spoil the other 3 dysfunctions, I’ll let you read it yourself!


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The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement

By Eliyahu M. Goldratt, Jeffrey Cox

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement

Why this book?

I read this book in my early twenties when I was still a programmer. It influenced my thinking so heavily that I kept finding myself drawn into process improvement. The Goal teaches Goldratt’s theory of constraints through a suspense novel. The main character, Alex Rogo, is put in charge of a failing factory and we follow his hero’s journey turning the plant around. Alex Rogo doesn’t use “best practices”, he finds a great mentor and seeks his own solutions. It’s a great lesson in critical thinking.  It’s inspiring and memorable to witness “eureka moments”, like when Alex solves his work problem while hiking with the boy scouts. This book is a joy, I’ve read it several times over the years and I always learn something new.


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The Servant as Leader

By Robert K. Greenleaf

The Servant as Leader

Why this book?

If you’re anything like me, you think you know what Servant Leadership means. It’s intuitive, people gravitate towards the term. But until last year, I hadn’t actually read the book where the term “Servant Leadership” came from. It’s a short book, more of a pamphlet really, coming in at only 64 pages.  I guarantee there are angles you hadn’t considered. For example, what responsibility do followers have in servant leadership? According to Greenleaf, when you follow a bad leader, you are responsible for the proliferation of bad leadership because a) you are sending a signal that to others that they should follow too and b) a signal to the leader that their style is working! We’ve all used the term “Servant leadership” and it’s time to go back and get it from the source.


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The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education, Third Edition

By W. Edwards Deming

The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education, Third Edition

Why this book?

Deming’s work is classic. He understood how messed up the corporate world was getting way back in the 1960s. But we Americans wouldn’t listen, so he went and helped Japan, and most notably, Toyota. It’s fascinating to read his work that was way ahead of its time and notice the things we are just starting to implement today. It’s also a great prophecy of what’s to come.


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