I fervently believe in the notion that in order to be successful, you must become an avid reader and insatiably curious about how the world works. Whether fiction or non-fiction, reading provides you with wisdom to approach problems differently.
For example, a 300-page biography that takes you a few weeks to read could save you significant time if you learn to avoid the mistakes others have made (I try to read at least one biography per month). There is value and insight to be gained through this process by investing a little time and effort.
The practical real-life, on-the-job lessons that can be practiced and learned, the thinking that may spark new ideas, and the skills you will acquire will be invaluable in your career and beyond.
Colleagues often ask me if I’ve read any self-improvement, strategy, or leadership books that have impacted me in a positive way. The answer is yes, and my philosophy is simple: if a book changes or influences my way of thinking, it’s an essential. Admittedly, I have perused many books and identified hidden gems along the way.
In my experience, “millennials” either find self-development books laughable, or are voraciously trying to devour every one they can get their hands on (I am guilty of the latter). Nevertheless, guidance is often requested so I try to do my best to steer hungry contemporaries in the right direction.
If you are a veteran or just starting out, and are looking for career, social, or personal guidance, my recommendation is to start with a solid foundation. This can be accomplished with a small time investment that will reap large dividends.
The list below will start your journey, eventually directing you to more books until you are completely down the rabbit hole – and remember, you are in charge of your own improvement!
1. The Magic of Thinking Big – David J. Schwartz
Set your goals high and think positively in order to achieve them. Never underestimate your own abilities or overestimate others. Always bring enthusiasm and optimism to everything you do. Never forget to invest in yourself and look at every setback or failure as an opportunity for personal growth.
The greatest takeaway from this book that helped me was Schwartz’s mantra on fear: in order to cure fear, take massive, deliberate action, and invariably be confident in your decision.
“Believe it can be done. When you believe something can be done, really believe, your mind will find the ways to do it. Believing a solution paves the way to solution.” – David J. Schwartz
This is the first book I read in my quest for positive self-development. Published in 1937, this classic, timeless book on how to become an influential, persuasive, and likable leader is still very relevant today.
Warren Buffett credits his rise to success as a direct result of reading the book and using the advice, training, and practical applications. It’s a great book to start with on your journey towards becoming a successful and effective leader.
3. Marcus Aurelius: Meditations – Translated by Gregory Hays
The best book on stoicism I have ever read. The ultimate guide for discipline, personal responsibility, morality, self-motivation, ethics, strength, and humility. I suggest reading the book with a notebook or stack of index cards, so you can jot down all of the important maxims that Aurelius lives by.
Think about it: in 170 AD, the most powerful man in the world sat down and wrote lessons and mantras to himself for becoming a better person. What I find most remarkable is the fact that the book has stood the ultimate test of time, and you have a plethora of wisdom at your fingertips. You should read this book now.
4. Xenophon’s Cyrus the Great: The Arts of Leadership and War – Translated by Larry Hedrick
“Still the best book on leadership” according to the father of management theory, Peter Drucker. This book follows Cyrus the Great’s multi-year military campaign in an easy-to-follow journalistic fashion. The book provides relatable examples on how to become a well-loved, benevolent leader through building friendship, loyalty, trust, and admiration.
A common theme that kept me pondering throughout the book: when Cyrus is successful, all of those around him are successful, and always share in the glory. This is the best biography written of Cyrus the Great, also known as “the father of human rights.”
5. The 4-Hour Workweek – Tim Ferriss
This book will change your life by changing your way of thinking and your perspective on “how things should be,” in regard to what the consensus considers a normal workweek.
“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.” – Tim Ferriss
6. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life – Walter Isaacson
I couldn’t help but include one of my all-time favorite biographies of Benjamin Franklin on the list. So much can be learned from this book such as the history of the birth of the United States of America and Franklin’s integral role in it is fascinating.
The reader also gets many lessons in how Franklin practices self-development, and constantly tried to improve himself on a daily basis. For example, Franklin created a system to measure his weaknesses. He wrote down all of his weaknesses and tracked his behavior against them. At the end of each week, he would reflect on his progress and would change the order of the behaviors he still needed to work on to become a better and wiser person.
7. Outliers: The Story of Success – Malcolm Gladwell
10,000 hours. Yes, 10,000 hours is the amount of time and deliberate practice one needs to put in to be world-class in an area of expertise. Start clocking hours!