The best books on execution

12 authors have picked their favorite books about execution and why they recommend each book.

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By Laura Huang,

Book cover of Edge: Turning Adversity Into Advantage

I can’t recall the last time I read a business book in less than a week’s time. Laura’s book is so well written that I didn’t want to put it down. I loved this book so much, that I made it a point to meet the author. Laura Huang shows that success is about gaining an edge: that elusive quality that gives you an upper hand and attracts attention and support. She teaches you how to find a competitive edge when the obstacles feel insurmountable. Having met Laura, I can tell you she writes exactly how she speaks. Great book. Grab a copy.

Who am I?

I’m one of the world’s leading experts on the maximization of talent, who is the author of six books on leadership and talent. I’m also a LinkedIn Top Voice in Leadership and Workplace, and one of the few people who was a guest on The O’Reilly Factor, with Bill O’Reilly, who left the show unscathed.

I wrote...

Can We Talk?: Seven Principles for Managing Difficult Conversations at Work

By Roberta Chinsky Matuson,

Book cover of Can We Talk?: Seven Principles for Managing Difficult Conversations at Work

What is my book about?

Having difficult conversations at work is a necessary discomfort. Instead of avoiding these conversations with our boss, colleagues, or direct reports, you need a strategy that won't leave you feeling like you were being talked at or ignored.

The key to solving this problem starts and ends with changing the conversation. Recognizing that it takes two people to engage in meaningful conversation, Can We Talk? outlines what each contributor needs to do to achieve the best possible result. Illustrated with scenarios from everyday work situations, the author offers guidance on how to create the right conditions for a meaningful discussion as well as defining the seven key principles (confidence, clarity, compassion, curiosity, compromise, credibility, and courage) that enable both parties to gain a deeper understanding of what the other person may be thinking and establish their point of view more clearly.

First Things First

By Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, Rebecca R. Merrill

Book cover of First Things First

Covey is internationally acclaimed for The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. However, I have a penchant for his also famous First Things First, a gem with visceral concepts that stick like honey in the brain. 

For example, the brilliance behind “Quad Two”—shorthand for items and to-dos that are important yet not urgent. Because they are not pressing, the things (and people) that matter most often get waylaid—propelling us into a life missing our passions and aspirations. Only cropping back up when they do become urgent—such as neglecting health until we can’t fully function.

And who can proceed in life unchanged following his introduction of the “Big Rocks” concept. I won’t do a spoiler alert. Let’s just say it merges prioritization with a singletasked focus.

Finally, I’m a sucker for the thoughtful worksheets nestled throughout First Things First.

Who am I?

“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” - Goethe. As Singletasking notes, we’ve become relentlessly disrespectful of the people and experiences right in front of us. Reversing this is a mission of mine. Nothing seems more important than redirecting our lifelong attention to what matters most. As an international author and speaker about both Singletasking and personality styles, I’m convinced paying attention to and honoring each other is the key to a meaningful life and deep relationships.

I wrote...

Singletasking: Get More Done one Thing at a Time

By Devora Zack,

Book cover of Singletasking: Get More Done one Thing at a Time

What is my book about?

Too many of us have become addicted to the popular, enticing, dangerously misleading drug of multitasking. But you can beat it, while improving your life in the process.

Singletasking marshals convincing neuroscientific evidence to prove that you really can’t do more by trying to tackle several things at once—it’s an illusion. There is a better way to deal with all the information and interruptions that bombard us today. Singletasking explains exactly how to clear and calm your mind, arrange your schedule and environment, and gently yet firmly manage the expectations of people around you so that you can accomplish a succession of tasks, one by one—and be infinitely more productive. Singletasking is the secret to success and sanity.


By Ram Charan, Larry Bossidy,

Book cover of Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done

I had to include one book about how leaders actually get work done. This classic by Bossidy and Charan shows how to link together people, strategy, and operations, the three core processes of every business. Leading these processes is the real job of running a business, not merely formulating a “vision” and leaving the work of carrying it out to others. Execution highlights the importance of being deeply and passionately engaged in an organization and why robust dialogues about people, strategy, and operations result in a business based on intellectual honesty and realism. I love this book for its practical, “how-to” approach that many leaders, including myself, have used as a blueprint for building a highly functioning team, department or organization.

Who am I?

After a career as an HR and learning & development executive at PepsiCo, AOL, and Capital One, I founded Arneson Leadership Consulting to provide coaching, talent management, and leadership development solutions to corporations and non-profit organizations.  I have a passion for helping leaders develop to their full potential and believe all leaders have the capacity to learn and grow. But development doesn’t just magically happen – you have to be willing to work at it. Whether it’s taking a course, gathering 360 feedback, or reading a best-selling book, the best leaders know they must never stop learning.

I wrote...

What Your Boss Really Wants from You: 15 Insights to Improve Your Relationship

By Steve Arneson,

Book cover of What Your Boss Really Wants from You: 15 Insights to Improve Your Relationship

What is my book about?

The most important work relationship you have is with your boss; no one else has as much power to make or break your career. You need this relationship to be positive, but sometimes the boss can be difficult or hard to read. In this pragmatic and accessible guide, top executive coach Steve Arneson shows how to find the answer to fifteen essential questions that will help you understand your boss’s leadership style and motivation. Vivid real-world examples demonstrate Arneson’s advice in action and show clearly how this process can be used to gain a more meaningful, productive, and enjoyable work life. 


By Anders Ericsson, Robert Pool,

Book cover of Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

There are three legs to the creativity stool: craft, timing, and distribution. When I started researching creativity, I assumed that craft was heavily reliant on natural born talent. K. Anders Ericsson is the leading academic in the field of talent development. This book makes clear a surprising, but important point: natural-born talent is probably at best grossly overstated, and probably non-existent. We can learn world-class levels of talent if we have the right access to time, resources, and motivation.

Who am I?

I have been addicted to reverse engineering things since I was a kid. I wrote The Creative Curve to reverse engineer the science of creativity. What could academic research teach us about creativity? If we talked to some of the world’s leading creatives, what would they tell us? My goal is to help readers unlock the part of them (that, as I argue, we all have) that is creative. When I’m not writing, I invest in tech startups that I think will leverage the principles from my book. I live in New York City with my mischievous, but incredibly adorable corgi Maven. 

I wrote...

The Creative Curve: How to Develop the Right Idea, at the Right Time

By Allen Gannett,

Book cover of The Creative Curve: How to Develop the Right Idea, at the Right Time

What is my book about?

Overturning the mythology around creative genius and revealing the science and secrets behind achieving breakout commercial success in any field. Including interviews with everyone from the Broadway team behind Dear Evan Hansen, to the founder of Reddit, from the Chief Content Officer of Netflix to Michelin star chefs, The Creative Curve reveals the four laws of creative success and identifies the common patterns behind their achievement.

Strengthsfinder 2.0

By Gallup, Tom Rath,

Book cover of Strengthsfinder 2.0

Knowing yourself can be difficult, but essential for success as a founder. Instead of focusing on our weaknesses, Rath argues that we should double down on what makes us unique and he provides us with the tools to discover those strengths. We wear many hats as startup founders, so by understanding our own strengths, we can be more effective leaders and build a more balanced team.

Who am I?

I’m a serial entrepreneur who’s built and sold several startups. I’ve been helping non-venture-backed startup founders since 2005 and now I run the first startup accelerator for bootstrappers, called TinySeed. I’ve invested in 57 startups, but I don’t believe the only way to start a SaaS company is to raise money. I host the most popular podcast for bootstrappers, called Startups for the Rest of Us. I also run the most well-known conference and online community for non-venture-track SaaS founders, called MicroConf.

I wrote...

Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer's Guide to Launching a Startup

By Rob Walling,

Book cover of Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer's Guide to Launching a Startup

What is my book about?

Start Small, Stay Small is a step-by-step guide to launching a self-funded startup. If you're a developer, this book is your blueprint to getting your startup off the ground with no outside investment.

This book intentionally avoids topics restricted to venture-backed startups such as: honing your investment pitch, securing funding, and figuring out how to use the piles of cash investors keep placing in your lap. There's nothing wrong with pursuing venture funding and attempting to grow fast like Amazon, Google, Twitter, and Facebook. It just so happened that most people are not in a place to do this.


By Alex Soojung-Kim Pang,

Book cover of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less

The objective of a minimalist, anti-materialist, simple life is to open ourselves up to whatever “something greater” the universe has in store for us. Drawing on rigorous science and historical evidence, Alex Pang helps us understand how the act of slowing down helps bring us closer to that something greater. As a farm kid, I was raised in a culture that embraced overwork and shunned slowing down. So learning to have a simpler life meant I had to buck that culture and develop an understanding of how rest benefited my brain and well-being. 

This book helped me move my business to a place where all owners and employees enjoyed more freedom and lower stress, and where greater fun and creativity unfolded.

Who am I?

I’m an entrepreneur, chef, homeschooler, and third-generation farmer living in the northern Catskill mountains. With that many passions, I had to remove all other distractions from my life so that I could put my attention on what mattered most. My writing has been featured in The New York Times, National Public Radio, and national television. During the growing season, I broadcast The Hearth of Sap Bush Hollow podcast, chronicles and lessons from a life tied to family, community, and the land. You can also taste my cooking by coming to my restaurant, Sap Bush Cafe, on Saturdays, 9-2 (I’m too busy living the good life to be open the other days).

I wrote...

Redefining Rich: Achieving True Wealth with Small Business, Side Hustles, and Smart Living

By Shannon Hayes,

Book cover of Redefining Rich: Achieving True Wealth with Small Business, Side Hustles, and Smart Living

What is my book about?

Redefining Rich is the ultimate quick (and funny) go-to guide to help you get started on a life where less is more, whether you want to start your own business, live off the land, quit a job, or just build a life more resilient and pleasurable than your current rat race.  Drawing on research & personal experience, it shows readers how to identify their core quality-of-life needs and dreams, then build a personal, family, and economic survival strategy that works for everyone in the household.

Talent Is Overrated

By Geoff Colvin,

Book cover of Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else

What is the difference between world-class performers and others? If you are thinking innate talent, you are wrong!  There are many people who are born with astounding gifts however some never aspire to greatness. Talent certainly does come into play however it is deliberate practice that is the key.

Deliberate practice is defined as being effortful in nature. The main goal is the improvement of performance rather than enjoyment and is often performed without immediate reward. This book discusses this concept in extreme detail.

What this means is that those of us, if committed to practicing perfect, have the chance to build talent even if we were not originally born with it.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know that if you are learning a new skill, and you practice repeatedly, that you could become as great at that new skill as someone who is talented naturally? That’s why I love…

Who am I?

I’m passionate about these topics is because I'm a world-renowned dog trainer and an elite agility competitor. In both of these activities, I need to know my learning theory as well as how to break behavior into tiny pieces. When counseling canine behavior clients, I teach them these skills as well. My hope is that if they learn how their dog's brains work, they might make more of an effort to teach their dogs more cooperative skills. There are so many activities that people and dogs can share, one such being agility! People love to teach it (form of play) and the dog's confidence grows, as many as the obstacles are introduced.

I wrote...

Click to Calm: Healing the Aggressive Dog

By Emma Parsons,

Book cover of Click to Calm: Healing the Aggressive Dog

What is my book about?

Positive Answers for the Aggressive Dog. The dog that bites. The dog that attacks other dogs. The dog who may not survive his own aggressive behavior. What can be done to help these dogs? When Emma Parsons, canine behavior consultant, discovered that her own dog was aggressive, she developed innovative and effective strategies to calm, alter, and re-shape his reactive displays, and those of her clients' dogs.

Smarter Faster Better

By Charles Duhigg,

Book cover of Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity

While productivity and creativity might seem like strange bedfellows at first, this book taught me plenty of ways to think differently and to optimize my work with others. Since much of the best marketing is done in or by groups, effective group dynamics are key. This book also underscores how important it is to add processes, rules, and planning to seemingly unstructured work habits to make them more efficient. (I’m looking at you, nebulous “brainstorms” with no clear goal or code of conduct.)

Who am I?

You know how most young kids go through a phrase where they ask “why” about everything, and then they ask it again, and again, and again? Well, I never really outgrew that. I studied journalism because it gave me permission to be curious about new things every day, and to ask experts “why.” Marketing gave me a new way to chase my curiosity: Why are people clicking this ad, opening this email, following that social account or searching for that phrase? I’ve helped 30% of the Fortune 100 answer the questions about why their content is working, or isn’t, and my first book, The Content Fuel Framework: How to Generate Unlimited Story Ideas, was born from my introspective curiosity about how my own idea generation process worked. 

I wrote...

The Content Fuel Framework: How to Generate Unlimited Story Ideas

By Melanie Deziel,

Book cover of The Content Fuel Framework: How to Generate Unlimited Story Ideas

What is my book about?

In The Content Fuel Framework, trained journalist and award-winning content marketer Melanie Deziel shows you how to maximize your creativity by systematizing it. This simple framework catalyzes the brainstorming process, making idea generation effortless and nearly automatic. No more writer's block. No more asking "what should I post?" No more waiting for that "big idea" to show up in its own time. 

Never before have we consumed as much content, in as many forms, and in as many places as we do now. This means marketers, creators, and anyone who communicates with an audience is under more pressure than ever to deliver unique content, consistently. How can you fill all those web pages, social feeds, blogs, and newsletters, every single day?

The Whatifs

By Emily Kilgore, Zoe Persico (illustrator),

Book cover of The Whatifs

Cora has a bad case of the whatifs, whimiscal bug-like creatures that follow her everywhere. They fill her head with worries like “what if the dog runs away?” or “what if I forget my homework?” The whatifs become almost unbearable as Cora prepares for her big piano recital. What if no one comes? What if she makes a mistake? But through the help of her friend, Cora learns there are also happy whatifs. A good introduction to replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. 

Who am I?

I am a children’s book creator and a parent. Raising an anxious child can be challenging. Events that many children find fun and exciting can be overwhelming and scary for your child. Seemingly small changes in their daily routine can throw some youngsters into a swirl of emotions that is upsetting to them and to those who love them. When I was searching for picture books to help the young worrier in my life, I looked for books that acknowledged their distressing feelings while giving them some strategies with which to cope with their overwhelming emotions. That premise became the theme of my Maud the Koala book series. 

I wrote...

Much Too Much Birthday (Maud the Koala)

By J.E. Morris,

Book cover of Much Too Much Birthday (Maud the Koala)

What is my book about?

Maud the Koala is excited. Today is her birthday and she is getting ready for her big party, after all, big birthdays are the best birthdays. Right? But Maud’s mother has some concerns when she discovers Maud invited 56 children to her backyard celebration. As the crowd builds, Maud starts feeling dizzy and slips behind a bush to find some peace and quiet. In the shrubbery, she finds Simon who is also overwhelmed by the hubbub. Slowly Maud and Simon reengage with the party at their own pace. Socially anxious children will relate to Maud and Simon as they realize big crowds aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.


By Christopher Small,

Book cover of Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening

This book explores music in a delightfully refreshing way where the author considers music essentially an activity and develops his concept of ‘musicking’ or ‘doing music’ in all its various ways. He gives much confidence to those who may think ‘they are not very good at music’ to take part in a much more enthusiastic and practical way. It’s a lovely way in to the exploration of this wonderful art.

Who am I?

Paul Harris is one of the UK’s most influential music educationalists. He studied the clarinet at the Royal Academy of Music, where he won the August Manns Prize for outstanding performance in clarinet playing and where he now teaches. He is in great demand as a teacher, composer, and writer (he has written over 600 books); and his inspirational masterclasses and workshops continue to influence thousands of young musicians and teachers all over the world in both the principles and practice of musical performance and education.

I wrote...

You Can Read Music: The Practical Guide

By Paul Harris,

Book cover of You Can Read Music: The Practical Guide

What is my book about?

This is a practical workbook for anyone who has ever wanted to read music notation. It explains the process in clear manageable steps and blows the myth that reading music is difficult right out of the water. It is ideal for anyone wishing to develop this ability whether they are entirely new to reading music or someone who wants to improve and perfect their skill. It works for both players of any instrument and singers. By the end of this book, you will be able to read and understand music notation - you don’t even need a musical instrument!

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