Every year, I say I’m going to quit reading business books. That was not the case, but the quality of what I read was excellent. I read 41 books and listened to another 47 bringing me to 88 total books, a bit far from my goal of 100 every year.
I Read My Favorite Book More Than Once
I rarely give other authors or CEOs too much credit. That’s because I watch too many peers fall into idol worship. So, I do everything I can to protect myself from authority bias, the tendency to attribute greater accuracy to the opinion of an authority figure.
Despite this deeply-held conviction, Alan Mulally is now officially my favorite CEO, although he is retired.
Mulally not only experienced turnaround success at Boeing but at Ford too. I don’t understand why this humble leader appears under the radar in some circles and is possibly one of the most underrated CEOs based on discussions I’ve had with other business owners. Whenever I bring him up, I generally get, “Who’s that?” Or is that because Columbia, Missouri, is a hick town after all?
I learned about my new business hero by reading and listening to American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company. I also listened to the book twice during the second half of 2017.
My favorite trait of any high-performing CEO is humility, and you can see it in his interview with Jay Leno, who also read the book.
I became so enamored with Mulally that I read Working Together by James P. Lewis. Mulally wrote the forward to this out-of-print book, which comes the closest to outlining Mulally’s Business Process Review (BPR) based around working together as a holistic team.
I still wasn’t finished. I still wanted to learn more. Mulally was a historian who cared about the Ford legacy and the origins of the Detroit automaker. Like Mulally, I needed more. So I also devoured the book The Whiz Kids by John Byrne, who obtained his journalism degree in my own backyard, the University of Missouri.
I still wasn’t done with learning about Ford. I also read My Forty Years with Ford. I admire Henry Ford for what he accomplished, but I cannot say that I respect him as a person. I’ll let you make that decision, but he was a life of tragedy and sadness, although he probably never saw it that way.
My second favorite book was Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower by Cynthia Cooper. Special thanks to Bruce Reed, the CFO of PracticeLink, for suggesting this title.
From Worst to First by Gordon Bethune was the second book I read in 2017. I couldn’t put it down either. Every consultant should read this book.
We Are Market Basket had a feel-good component, but seeing a family business implode was also disturbing due to more-than-petty differences. Great book if you want to see core values in action. I’ve already given away a couple of copies of it. This is a title I’ll revisit in the future.
I finally got around to listening to Good Profit by Charles Koch. This should be on every CEO’s reading list.
The Lords of Strategy by Walter Kiechel reads more like history in the first half, so I’m inserting it in this section. I’m lukewarm with my opinion on this title. It’s not a how-to book. However, if you find yourself in the strategy and planning room, this book will give you a broader perspective on strategy.
I understand the writing process enough to know I’m not great at it. Still, I enjoy reading about the art and science of writing. Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes was funny, witty, and insightful. This was probably my most highlighted book of the year.
I read Stephen King’s 11/22/63: A Novel a couple of years ago–I couldn’t put it down. Accordingly, I’m now a fan of King’s masterpiece On Writing. This was my third listen, and I’ll keep listening to it annually.
Small Business Growth
I’m tired of reading E-Myth-like books on small business growth.
I still force myself to read or re-read certain titles to figure out what books to give to prospects or audience members at live events. Here are a couple more to add to your growing list in this worn-out genre:
- Build a Business, Not a Job by David Finkel (also the author of Scale)
- Making Money is Killing Your Business by Chuck Blakeman
I had already read the Blakeman book but wanted to read it again to see how much it aligned with Finkel’s book. Lots of overlap.
Have you ever read a book you know you’ll pick up again? That’s the case with William Cohen’s A Class with Drucker: The Lost Lessons of the World’s Greatest Management Teacher. This is now the third Cohen book I’ve read because I also read Druker on Marketing–it’s a shame that most marketers will never pick this up. Finally, I read his book The Art of the Strategist, which I’ll re-read.
I don’t think I ever finished Talent is Overrated when it came out. I was not disappointed reading it from cover to cover.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read The Management Myth by Matthew Stewart. I read it and listened to it, too. It’s a book I revisit annually. Every consultant should read this. While you’re at it, read The Halo Effect too.
Principles by Ray Dalio. Is this the best book written in 2017 that nobody read or didn’t finish? Well, I finished it, but it took like forever to do so. Good book. I’ll wait a year to determine if it’s a great book. My only qualm is that it’s too long. If you are a CEO or a senior leadership team member, you at least need to read the first few chapters.
I have no earthly idea how I found Steal Like an Artist. All of us are in the creativity business.
Revisiting the Past
Last year, I made the decision to start reading some of my favorite books from the 1990s. One of those books was Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future by Joel Barker. Wow, that guy was ahead of his time. I was not disappointed with my second reading.
I limit myself to one sports book yearly, so I’m picky. If you like this genre, you will find Dinner with DiMaggio a big hit (sorry for the pun, and I’ll say it 56 more times).
I broke my rule and squeezed in a second sports-related book. I dare you to read or listen to Unscripted by Ernie Johnson without being moved.
Since I really like this guy’s blog writing and his books, he gets his own category. For both titles, this was my second time around. I’m trying to think who shouldn’t read these books. I’m drawing a blank. Here are the two titles that will not disappoint:
- Deep Work
- So Good They Can’t Ignore You
The second book above led me to another decent title, Born Standing Up by Steve Martin.
I love reading history, but this genre typically includes books that are 500 or more pages. The Whiz Kids mentioned above was longer.
Since I only listened to one book in this category, I have about 3 cued up in my Audible collection that I’ll listen to in early 2018.
Not counting The Whiz Kids, my lone title in history was Monash: The Outsider Who Won a War. Do I recommend it? Every Aussie should know this man, a hero during the First World War. Like many great men and women we read about from the past, he came from humble beginnings, was driven, and had a way of drawing out the best in others. Yet, he was a flawed hero. If I ever visit Australia, I want to learn more about him.
Remember what I wrote about earlier wanting to quit reading business books? That means reading more fiction and classic literature. I have a long way to go. But I did get a few titles completed:
- Earlier in the year, I asked my kids about their favorite books when they were young. All of them mentioned The Phantom Tollbooth. Am I officially the only CFO to have read this book? We’ll see. In 2018, I’ll be reading A Wrinkle in Time.
- Before We Were Yours was another book that was hard to put down. I gave copies to my wife and daughter. Be prepared to experience a mix of emotions ranging from sadness to anger.
- Bonfire of the Vanities was my first Tom Wolfe book. Loved it. I had heard about the movie and never watched it when it came out. If you like and appreciate good storytelling, Wolfe created a timeless gem.
- A Man Called Ove was hilarious. I’ve already given copies of this away. Two of my kids loved it.
Ending the Year on a Good Note
The last book I listened to deserves an honorable mention. Sarah of E-Myth, move over. Michael Gerber would have made millions consulting the founder of CD Baby, Derek Sivers.
The author tells how he started and almost crashed his growing business more than once in the fun read Anything You Want. The audio version is less than two hours.