I wanted to end the year by sharing books I liked reading this year across various topics like technology, business, success and leadership among others. Most of them are business books which is my preferred genre. Here are the 35 books I liked reading in 2020. At the end of the article I share the books I liked right from 2015 till now.
Leadership in War by Andrew Roberts – The historian produces a quick leadership primer selecting 9 leaders for his analysis. I liked the one on Napoleon, Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. Napoleon’s presence on the battle field lifted soldiers and he was known for his speed. He also never wasted any time. Churchill believed it was his destiny to become prime minister in 1940 and embodied courage at every point of his life. The lessons are interesting and applicable for leaders from every arena.
How I Built this by Guy Raz – This was a breezy read and the main points for entrepreneurs to note are to be open to ideas, overcoming fear, leaving the safety zone safely, doing your homework, bootstrapping and building a buzz around their product. It has many worthy examples and is inspiring.
Invent and Wander by Jeff Bezos – This has the wonderful writings of Jeff Bezos which I found interesting. One recurring theme is he believes in thinking long term. This is the key to his success as a leader. Second is curisoity the ability to keep on learning and being on the cuttting edge of the technology revolution. The ability to have a child like sense of wonder is the reason he is still thriving and leading successfully.
Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World by Fareed Zakaria– This is especially relevant considering the times we live in. The only certainty is uncertainty. He also makes the case for creativity to be the one space where humans will win over machines. With technology ruling the world and a lot of talk about universal basic income I think the human ingenuity will become more important if we want to thrive in the new normal.
Uncharted by Margaret Heffernan– This is similar to the earlier book and again makes the case that most experts predictions have gone awry. There is no step by step guide to navigate the uncertainty but the one that is certain is that we are entering uncharted terrority. How we deal with change will determine how we navigate the tides of uncertainty.
Conscious Leadership by John Mackey– The founder for Whole Foods makes a strong case for leading with purpose. Purpose is the holy grail of all achievers. His other principles include leading with love, acting with integrity, finding win-win solutions, and innovating. It is all about creating value.
The Practice by Seth Godin– Seth Godin is at it again. I have read most of his books and this one was pretty good as well. His main point is we are all artists and we can bring our magic to the world. He says don’t be attached to outcome and follow the process. Overcome fear by shipping your work and then with practice you will start shipping even when you don’t feel like it. We are all artists and all of us can be creative. There is nothing called writers block and you can learn to overcome your resistance. The other books I like of his are Linchpin, Tribes and Purple Cow.
Creativity by John Cleese – This is a really quick read but inspiring. The main thesis is all of us can be creative. Creativity is simply finding something new from an already existing problem. It also means thinking of new ways to do things or anything that is different from the norm. THe only thing that stops our creativity is our belief that creativity is some mystical thing that is bestowed only on great artists. We are all creative even when we find a shorter route to get somewhere.
Leading without Authority by Keith Ferrazzi and Noel Weyrich– This is a good practical guide on leading in the 21st century. The crux of the book is that leadership is not about position or title or hierarchy. The key word used here is co-elevation and co-creation. This is where all the silos are broken between the folks on the team, everyone engages with each other without fear of rebuke, building psychological safety and engage in purposeful co-creation. It is a good view on leadership.
Unleashed by Francis Frei and Anne Morriss– Leadership is not about you. This theme is recurring in all the leadership books. It is all about unleashing the potential in others and they should be able to lead in your absence as well. It is all about building trust, establishing strategy and having a wonderful culture. Leadership is about empowering others as a result of your presence and making sure the impact continues in your absence. The other key is to build belonging within the organization where everybody feels included and cared for.
Manifesto for a Moral Revolution by Jacqueline Novogratz – Her main goal with the book is to make the case that you can achieve more by serving others. She speaks about something called moral imagination which is all about having empathy with other’s problems. The other key is to define your success. Another key concept is something called listening to voices unheard which is all about hearing the voices directly from the poor people. You also need to have the courage to act. It was an interesting book.
The Stoic Challenge by William B. Irvine – This is a good practical guide on stoicism and considering the current circumstances it might be a good addition to your psychological repertoire. For example, let’s say your flight gets cancelled how do you react. Of course, we can blow up and allow that to completely rule our next few hours or we can just say hey this is a test of how I respond. The way we interpret the event ultimately determines how we feel. Another thing I liked is think of anything as the last time you do it. The death bed test is one of the best tools where you think how grateful you are to be alive and to have everything. This is also called negative visualization where you imagine the things you take for granted is not there how would you react. This is one of the keys to calmness. Overall breezy read.
The World by Richard Haass – This is a book to have for the rest of our lives. The best part is it is not boring. He starts explaining about all the world wars and how the major countries performed. So, first part is all about history. Second part is going through the major geographical regions. Then he goes through Globalization, Terrorism, Nuclear Proliferation, Climate Change and other important topics. Finally, he talks about government and its sovereignty. This will help us understand the world better. Another good book on the subject is World Order by Henry Kissinger.
No Time for Spectators by Martin Dempsey – This is an excellent book on leadership. He has done it in the real world and understands what it takes to lead teams. He starts with the first chapter about being a good follower. The next chapter is on the importance of character. Some of the things discussed are trust, loyalty, charity, justice and courage among others. Another good leadership learning is to be passionately curious. One more thing I liked was be quick but don’t hurry. Overall good book on leadership.
Entrepreneurial Leadership by Joel Peterson – This covers a lot of ground on leadership. The first key is building trust. One of the things he says is to run towards the fire. Wherever there is a problem that’s where leaders should be. Determine what values you want to lead by as the unexamined life is not worth living. He also says we should have a personal life and he generally refused to work on Sundays. The next step is to have a mission. Set MAD goals (measurable, attainable, doable). There is some good advice on hiring and firing. Finally, there is a wonderful chapter on decision making which I liked a lot. This is all about delivering results as a leader.
Restoring the Soul of Business by Rishad Tobaccowala – This was totally inspirational to me. One of the best business books I have read in recent times. There are excellent ideas on how business cannot be just about spreadsheets. Meaning is very important to having people engage in their jobs. Leaders who are humble, inspirational, empathetic, honest and vulnerable will win. There are also some ideas on how to build a personal brand including developing a niche and having a story that resonates. I liked some ideas on time management as well. The key is to eliminate the non-essential activities and focus on the few things that are very important to you. Overall a thoroughly inspiring read.
Joy at Work by Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein – I have read her others books The life changing magic of tidying up and Spark joy. The key lesson from her books are to eliminate everything that is not sparking joy. So, take an item maybe a book or a dress and if it doesn’t spark joy remove it. This is all about freeing up your space for new things to enter. Now she along with her co-author have come with ways to neat your workplace. The key is the tidier your workplace is the better you will perform and the happier you will be. Again, lot of us are working in open spaces so some of this may not be applicable to us. However, the ideas on decision making and working from home is applicable. The first step is to set aside time for tidying. Then decide to tidy by category. Finally decide what to keep and what to discard. There are also some rules on running tidy meetings like show up, listen, come prepared, speak up and put away your smartphone. There is also an exercise to find what sparks joy in your work. Overall worth the read and remember a messy environment taxes the brain.
Think Like a Rocket Scientist by Ozan Varol – Always keep an open mind and question the status quo. Launch your moonshot and of course you must decide what your moon shot first. Real practical analogies here and useful counter intuitive information to take your life to the next level. The vision of JFK to put a man on the moon before the decade was out turned our well due to the triumph of a certain thought process of rocket scientist which turned the impossible to possible. Rocket scientists turn the failures into triumphs and constraints into advantages. The first stage is launch which is designed to ignite your thinking, second stage is accelerate which is propel your ideas and finally achieve which includes both success and failure. One of the keys to thinking is to identify your uncertainties. Determine what the worst-case scenario is and determine to reduce the impact. The importance of first principles is stressed here which means you switch from being a cover band to being an original.
The Vision driven leader by Michael Hyatt – Jack Welch said “Good business leaders create the vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion. Leaders create and cast vision, inspire and motivate, weigh and take risks, and focus on the long term. You need some alone time to create your vision, you need to think long term, believe the best is yet to come, imagine tomorrow and paint a wonderful picture. A mission is who you are, a vision is where you are going, strategy is how you get there and values the kind of people you are along the way. John F. Kennedy had the most audacious vision. He said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
Blowing the Bloody Doors Off by Michael Caine – This was totally inspirational to me. Michael gives his story and lot of helpful tactics for us to do well. He said initially he knew that he wasn’t going to be a hero type of actor but he said whatever part was given to him he performed it with aplomb. Even if you have the smallest role in a movie give it your best shot. You are always auditioning wherever you are. It is a total inspiration for me to read this
A Great Fit by Tom Murry – This was a quick read on how to succeed in your career. Some of the points I liked was forgive and forget. Don’t dwell on the past, get moving and help others. You need both taste and charisma to reach the top. Take it from someone who has led Calvin Klein. Confidence+Creative Freedom+ Vision is taste. Enjoy what you do and bring enthusiasm to everything you do. Branding is a hot topic in business circles and it is important to manage your personal brand. Some of the ways you can develop a positive attitude is also discussed here. Check out this post. 10 Ways to Have a Great Attitude in 2020
The Leader’s Greatest Return by John C. Maxwell – One more book by John Maxwell and that itself is astonishing. I have read several his books and this is equally good. The bottom line of leadership is not to just have followers but to enable and empower them to become leaders on their own. It is an excellent primer on how to develop leaders at all levels. One of the keys of course is to be a great listener.
Welcome to Management by Ryan Hawk – I liked his podcast on leadership and wanted to check this book out. It is amazingly well written and one of the best leadership books I have read recently. The first step is to lead yourself. This involves a lot of self-discipline. One of the things Ryan says is important is to wake up early, exercise and be a learning machine. The second step is to build your team. Of course, this is the first who principle. Who you have in your team determines where you drive your leadership to. There are also great tips on what to look for when you hire someone. Some of them include work ethic, creativity and resilience among others. Finally lead your team to success. This has excellent personal examples as well on how to tell your story as well. We must learn to speak on our feet and communication skills is of paramount importance to be a great leader.
The Future is faster than you Think by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler – I liked their earlier books on Abundance and Bold. This book contains everything from flying cars to block chain to machine learning. It is an all stop shop for all future technologies. It also tackles complex topics like education and climate change. Well worth a peak for sure. Some of the topics discussed are quantum computing, AI, Block chain, Augmented reality and Virtual reality.
You Haven’t Hit your Peak Yet by Harvey Mackay – Harvey Mackay has been around for some time for sure. He has written some blockbusters earlier most of which I have read. This book is very inspirational for sure. These are the building blocks needed for success in any field. We need to be able to deal with adversity, have a great attitude, good people skills, be creative, focus on customer service and be a good leader. This book will surely keep you motivated for the long haul. Yes, none of us have hit our peak yet. The only way to hit our peak is to be super disciplined in our lives.
Upstream by Dan Heath – I have read his other books written with Chip Heath namely Switch, Made to Stick, Decisive and The Power of Moments. This is all about preventing problems before they occur. It is an interesting premise. There are three obstacles you need to overcome. First is Problem blindness: “You can’t solve a problem that you can’t see.” Second is Lack of ownership: “This isn’t my problem” You have got to own the problem to solve it. Third is Tunneling: “I just can’t deal with that right now.” There are a lot of examples here which make the stories interesting. There are seven questions that need to be work on to solve problems upstream. They are how to get early warning of the problem, how to know you are succeeding, how to avoid doing harm, who will pay for what doesn’t happen, how to unite the right people, how to change the system, and where to find a point of leverage.
Powershift by Daymond John and Daniel Paisner – His earlier books like The Power of Broke and Rise and Grind were motivational as well. This one is not different either. It is fast paced and inspirational. There are three main themes in the book. First is influence, second is negotiation and third is make a deal. You must decide exactly what you want before you can do anything. Decide how you want your life to look in 5 years, 10 years and 15 years. Make sure you have clarity before doing anything else. In terms of negotiating it is important to do your homework and again clarity on what you want is the key. Always think win-win when you engage in any negotiation. It is also imperative that you are clear on what your brand stands for and making sure you broadcast the message correctly.
The Catalyst by Jonah Berger – His earlier books namely Contagious and Invisible Influence were pretty good. The main message from “The Catalyst” is that persuasion isn’t as effective as changing minds. There are 5 strategies he goes through with examples in this book.
1. Reactance: People don’t like to be pushed so start asking questions that start with why, how, and what.
2. Endowment: People don’t like change. Change your focus on the costs of not changing.
3. Distance: When someone shares an opposite opinion of yours consider asking for less.
4. Uncertainty: People are always looking to cap the downside of risk. Find ways to remove or eliminate risk. Make things a little easier to give it a shot.
5. Corroborating Evidence: This is related to risk. Consider having multiple sources before any evidence is presented.
Designing your work life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans– I reviewed their earlier book Designing your Life. This is all about finding meaning in your current work. Most of the work force is disengaged. Everyone deserves a creative and interesting job. You should learn to think like a designer. Always be curious, keep trying new stuff, re-frame problems, in design thinking it’s always a process, and always ask for help. What makes life meaningful and happy is to have relationships who you love and who loves you. The authors give three questions to ask for ensuring you are doing good work. The questions are “What did I learn? What did I initiate?, and Who did I help?
Clearer, Closer, Better by Emily Balcetis – We are into the third month of the year and this book might be a good one to consider why we are not progressing on our goals. The problem is we set goals that are impossible to reach and we give up soon. You should find the sweet spot of where you would have challenging goals but not impossible to reach. She says you need to materialize which means being clear on what is status of goal and how much farther is left to achieve the goal.
Contagious You by Anese Cavanaugh – This is an excellent book on leadership. It has also been selected to be one of the best business books of 2020. It is worth a peek for sure. I had reviewed her earlier book Contagious Culture here Contagious Culture. There is a concept which she has called Intentional energetic presence. For every interaction, you can ask what your intention is, what impact you are having and the energy you are bringing to it. The key to the whole book is we should engage in self-care and we are contagious with our emotions and energy. All of us can be more aware of the effect our emotions and energy has on others. You can read my review here. Contagious You
Life’s Great Question and It’s not about you by Tom Rath – Both books were a quick read on how to find your true purpose in life. The main theme is life is not about you but what you do for others. To put it another way it is about how you make others feel in your presence. It also asks the readers to focus on strengths. The takeaway is to find purpose in whatever work you do and connect to a higher calling. Here is my review. It’s not about you and Life’s great question
Leadership is a language by David Marquet – He wrote another wonderful book Turn the ship around. This one is equally good. There is a lot of focus on collaboration which is the key to leadership success. The first step is to control the clock to ensure your time is spent on the right things and it is first step towards better collaboration. The next step is collaborating which is all engaging in debate and ensuring dissent is not penalized. Commitment follows collaboration and this involves discretionary effort. The next step is complete which is a sense of progress and accomplishment. We all feel great when we complete projects and are making progress. The final is improving which is all about learning everything you can about what happened and reflect to make sure we make things better.
Leadership Strategy and Tactics by Jocko Willink – I have read his other books as well including Extreme Ownership. There is some overlap between the latter book and this. Here is my review of Extreme Ownership. Extreme Ownership. Cover and Move is the first principle discussed here. The main point of this principle is team work. Ensure the team is clear on the mission. Give clear objectives to your team and ensure the team morale is high.
The Values Compass by Dr Mandeep Rai – If you are interested in learning about the world this book is wonderful. The author has taken 101 countries as an example of how purpose, life and leadership are implemented in each country. Of course, we can skip chapters as well and just read about the countries we are interested in.
There you have it the 35 books to keep you engaged and inspired. Thanks for reading this post. The views expressed here are my own and do not represent my organization.
Here are the books I liked reading for the last 5 years