“Which business books should I read?” is a frequent question I hear while I consult and coach. Of course, it’s a trick question that any self-respecting coach would answer with another question. What do you want to improve in your work, business or life? Are you more of a thinker or a doer? Options, like bestseller lists, are infinite.
What you should read depends on where you start and where you want to get, and few books are a good fit for everyone. Sadly, marketing and publishing are better-funded than the authors themselves, and inundated readers either buy dozens of works they never open, or wish choices to hell. But don’t despair: choosing your business reading is like any other complex choice you make. Here are my suggestions.
Reading a badly chosen book on professional success is an intimidating experience. The reward for your hard-earned money and precious reading time can be a profound feeling of inadequacy. Its’ as if the author tried to convince you you’re doing everything wrong. That, of course, isn’t the way to self-improvement, and changing the book makes more sense than changing your character.
The truth is that with hundreds of business volumes published each week, you can find scores of titles insisting on any method as well as its opposite. Books can change your life, but since reading is like having a great conversation, you need to be as picky with volumes as you are with people. How can you tell whether the latest business bestseller is a bully or best friend?
“Every weakness is the flip-side of an unused talent.”
Awareness: Who is it for?
Most books on business success are written with a specific type of reader in mind. Few authors admit that. Some aren’t even aware, but you should read according to your talent type. Out of sheer luck you might be a speedy extrovert and fall in love with The One Minute Manager, or have a weakness for process and go to bed with The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. If you find the described role models annoying or intimidating, don’t blame yourself — move on to something more suitable. If the book seems to elaborate on your deepest beliefs and desires, you’re between the right pages.
Skills: Fit, focus and variety
When you read for success, I believe in the applicability of two types of business books. First, those that rely on proven science, and thus apply to all humans. The Leading Brain falls into this pocket, as do Gallup classics by Marcus Buckingham and others. Second, some authors explicitly write to a specific talent type, assuring a near-bespoke fit. Quiet and Deep Work are two brilliant examples for socially reserved business people. Dale Carnegie’s annoyingly popular volumes are for superficial extroverts, as are The 4-Hour Work Week or any Malcolm Gladwell book you pick up at the airport. I suggest to alternate between the two types so that you both see the big picture and get practical advice.
Habits: Put it to practice
Reading great business books is so much fun that we forget why we started: to improve business. Once you finish with one, follow your college BFF’s advice and digest a bit before you jump into another adventure. What was the most practical advice you got from that book? How can you put it to use on a daily or weekly basis? (Anything rarer than that will be lost to distraction.) Make brief notes, pin them somewhere in sight and apply them a few times until they either become new habits or you move on to the next challenge.
Download a free PDF copy of The Flip Your Talent Guide to Turning Weaknesses into Strengths, with exercises and tips to harness your core talent.