Forbes: Ten Of 2017’s Best Books For Leaders Will Put You Ahead Of The Competition

From billionaires to CEOs, and from neuroscientists to navy SEALs, the authors of some of the best business books of the year offer plenty of invaluable advice for entrepreneurs, managers, leaders and aspiring change-makers. These 10 insights from 4,000 pages of books will put you ahead of the competition in 2018.

  1.  Principles: Life and Work

By Ray Dalio (Simon & Schuster)

Dalio, a hedge fund billionaire, didn’t start out that way. He was an ordinary kid and “a worse-than-ordinary student.” Forty years after starting a hedge fund out of his New York City apartment, Dalio shares his success secrets in 560 pages. Although Dalio’s company, Bridgewater Associates, has received attention for its commitment to radical transparency, another “radical” observation caught my attention in Dalio’s book: Be radically open-minded.

We’re living in an age that is, quite possibly, the most disruptive era in civilization. Every individual, every company is experiencing the dramatic effect of technological advances. According to Dalio, open-minded people will be in a better position to see around the corner. Close-minded people don’t want their ideas challenged, says Dalio. By contrast, open-minded people “approach everything with a deep-seated fear that they may be wrong.” Good decisions aren’t necessarily the ones that stroke your ego. A good decision is what’s best for you and your company. “People who change their minds because they learned something are winners, whereas those who stubbornly refuse to learn are the losers,” writes Dalio.

    1. Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone

By Satya Nadella (HarperBusiness)

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s book shares two common themes with Dalio’s. Both books are endorsed by Bill Gates and both encourage leaders to keep an open mind. Nadella credits the book Mindset by Carol Dweck for inspiring a change in this own growth as a leader. “It changed my life,” he writes. Nadella says that leaders should always be curious. According to Nadella, “the learn-it-all” will always do better than “the know-it-all.”

  1. Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography

By Richard Branson (Portfolio)

One of the highlights of my year was spending time with billionaire Richard Branson for this column. In my favorite chapter from Finding My Virginity, Branson tells the story of Virgin Australia airlines, the business pitch that fit on a beer coaster. Branson’s advice for all entrepreneurs and leaders who want to improve their communication skill is the best tip I’ve ever heard: “If your pitch can’t fit on a beer mat, a napkin, or back of envelope, I’d rather listen to someone else’s pitch that can fit. Most good ideas can be expressed very quickly.”

  1. Leonardo da Vinci

By Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster)

Walter Isaacson’s bestselling book about Leonardo da Vinci isn’t a ‘business’ book, but Isaacson’s insights into how Leonardo and his previous subject, Steve Jobs, approached the creative process contains valuable insights for all leaders. Isaacson says one of the factors behind Leonardo’s stunning creativity is that he lived in Florence at a time when people from different disciplines and diverse talents “intermingled.” Steve Jobs attempted to create a similar type of environment for ideas to flourish. According to Isaacson, “Ideas are often generated in physical gathering places where people with diverse interests encounter one another serendipitously. That is why Steve Jobs liked his buildings to have a central atrium and why the young Benjamin Franklin founded a club where the most interesting people of Philadelphia would gather every Friday. At the court of Ludovico Sforza, Leonardo found friends who could spark new ideas by rubbing together diverse passions.”

  1. The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters

by Emily Esfahani Smith (Crown)

The author has written about culture, psychology and relationships for a wide variety of publications ranging from The Atlantic to The New York Times. Esfahani Smith structures the book around four pillars of meaning: Belonging, purpose, storytelling and transcendence. It’s not as “new age” as the title might suggest. There are actionable insights for leaders who want to motivate teams. She argues that the world is full of employees who get “bogged down in paperwork and other day-to-day tasks, and sometimes lose sight of their broader mission.” When people can reframe their tasks as opportunities to help others, their lives feel more significant.

I believe true leaders are those who connect the work that their teams do to a broader mission. In 2018, commit to showing your employees—in presentations, videos, and stories—how their daily tasks make the world a better place.

  1. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact

by Chip and Dan Heath (Simon & Schuster)

There may be power in meaning, and there’s also power in moments. The Heath brothers who wrote, Made to Stick, wrote a book this year that complements many of the themes in my Forbes column. Specifically, how brands and leaders can stand out among the competition. Chip and Dan Heath make the compelling argument that we remember experiences as “flagship moments.” In other words, we don’t recall every slide of a presentation. We don’t remember every detail of a dining experience. We don’t remember every step of our stay at a hotel. We recall short, defining moments that are both memorable and meaningful. When you think about creating experiences for your audience or customers, focus on building those moments that they’ll remember and share.

    1. Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction

by Derek Thompson (Penguin Press)

Thompson’s book also focuses on moments that people remember. In Hit Makers, Thompson, a senior editor at The Atlantic, examines the psychology of why people like what they like. “Products change and fashions rise and fall. But the architecture of the human mind is ancient,” he writes. Thompson builds the argument that hit makers (in music, literature, art, marketing, brand building), create moments by marrying the old with the new. “Exposure breeds familiarity, familiarity breeds fluency, and fluency often breeds liking. But there is such a thing as too much familiarity…Instead, the most special experiences and products involve a bit of surprise, unpredictably, and disfluency.”

Here’s the takeaway for leader/communicators. If you’re going to pitch a new idea, don’t make it so radically novel that it’s unfamiliar to your audience. Instead, pitch an old idea with a “slightly new” twist. People love to be surprised.

  1. The Leading Brain: Powerful Science-Based Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance

by Friederike Fabritius and Hans W. Hagemann (TarcherPerigee)

The authors are German neuropsychologists who challenge leaders to think about how people feel after they’ve interacted with you. “Do they feel more important, more valued, or more appreciated? Or do they feel unimportant, inferior, or under appreciated?” It’s important, argue the authors, because from an evolutionary perspective, we all want to feel accepted as part of a group. In many cases—especially for sales professionals—elite status is as important (in some studies, even more important) as the size of their commissions. The authors suggest that leaders treat members of their team as valued players. “Treat your colleagues with genuine respect, and make sure they know that you truly believed they are valued…people want to feel important.”

  1. One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Teams

by Chris Fussell (Portfolio/Penguin)

Fussell knows leadership. He’s a navy SEAL and worked as General Stanley McChrystal’s aide-de-camp. Fussell learned that “A leader cannot simply command people what to do and expect them to wholeheartedly follow.” Leaders guide teams and influence their decision-making. Since I study and write about business storytelling, I was intrigued by the book’s chapters on “aligning narratives.” Fussell says that teams must have a unifying, empowering narrative, that rallies the team around one mission. He focuses on the role that social contagion plays in group psychology. In other words, a leader doesn’t need to get everyone to buy in to the corporate narrative. A leader only needs to inspire a small group of influencers with the enterprise to carry the idea forward.

  1. Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked

By Adam Alter (Penguin Press)

We sure love our smartphones. In the most recent studies that Alter cites, most people are spending between one and four hours on their phones every day—and many are spending far more time. Over our lifetimes, many of us will spend an average of 11 years checking email, texting, playing games, surfing the web, etc. I don’t know about you, but I want to use my time wisely and productively. After speaking to Alter and reading the book, I didn’t swear off digital screens entirely, but I did decide to keep track of my digital activities. The book is worth reading cover to cover. Alter said he jumped at the opportunity to speak with me over the phone because the very act “peels me away from the screen.” The screens are so addictive, even the professor who wrote the book on it has to be careful. It’s a powerful reminder that leaders need to be aware of how they spend their time.

If you’ve read any books that you think our readers would find valuable, let me know. After all, it’s more important to be a learn-it-all than a know-it-all.


This article was originally published on, viewed 28th Dec 2017

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