Your Reading List for Business Life Success

brad-pitt-youngThere are lessons to be learned by looking at Hollywood’s success stories.

An actor’s life is chronicled on film. As movie goers, we gradually witness how actors successful or unsuccessfully manage their brand over time. While I’m not a fan of  his work, I do admire how Brad Pitt has managed his career, over the past twenty years.

Is Pitt’s success based on luck or talent? Probably, both. Chances are, Pitt carefully constructed his personal brand image and core competencies, based on what the market demanded.

When I mentor younger workers, I give them the following list of books in key content areas: creative thinking, principles for success, career management, and business image.

I’ve been buying business books for years, but these are the business books that I always go back to or refer to friends and direct reports. If you are interested in carefully constructing your brand image, knowledge, and skill set, then check out this list of business books.

Winning by Jack Welch
Jack’s book Winning provides workers with valuable information on the key success characteristics that any smart company is looking for. In fact, his 4-E and 1-P Framework should be your mantra, your manifesto. You can’t go wrong with aspiring to have positive energy, energize others, have an edge, execute, and have passion.

just-enoughJust Enough : Tools for Creating Success in Your Work and Life by Laura Nash, Howard Stevenson
Just Enough gives you the wise summary of why we do it. Why we work like maniacs in our jobs, trying to be the super human that can have it all. Just Enough tells us that we can’t have it all. It realistically provides the framework to understand that business life is about trade offs.

We want happiness, achievement, significance, and legacy. But what can we really accomplish? Just like the cliche that love is a pie and there are only so many slices to go around in large families, we only have so much to give to work. What we give to work decreases what we give to our personal lives. The choice is how much.

confidence-kanterConfidence : How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End by Rosabeth Moss Kanter

For those of you who were in sports or other competitive activities, Confidence will resonate with you. I’ve believe that team sports are the perfect socialization conditions for workers, especially managers and leaders. We have to know our role on the team, as a team player or as its captain. The responsibilities of both roles are taught in sports. We learn how to interact through communication during losses and wins. This books studies the effect of winning streaks on confidence. I recommend the book because its important for workers to know how to tap into their confidence, during times of uncertainty like starting a new job or managing a department for the first time.

The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People: What Scientists have Learned and How You Can Use It by David Niven
While this looks like a silly self-help book, 100 Simple Secrets actually provides the studies along with the short, to the point suggestions. It provides insights into often overlooked areas like “speak slowly” to common sense reminders like “boredom is the enemy.” A simple, easy, cheap read. Why not? It’s also a feel good book.

Why Not? How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small by Barry J. Nalebuff, Ian Ayres
Amazon’s review sums up Why Not well, “Yale professors Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres engage readers in an intriguing oxymoron. They believe invention can be automated. Why Not? outlines a populist high-octane approach to creative problem solving. “We aspire for this book to change the way people think about their own ability to change the world.” I buy a lot of books that allow me to be better and more efficient in my work. I especially enjoy creative thinking books. This one is a keeper. My favorite is “would flipping it work?” Of course, Heinz should have flipped their ketchup bottles years ago. But it wasn’t “flipped,” until a couple of years ago.

thinkingvisuallycoverThinking Visually: Business Applications of 14 Core Diagrams by Malcolm Craig
I’ve always use mind mapping to think through ideas or projects. Thinking Visually expands on that idea with thirteen additional core diagrams. Excellent read for workers, who are in technology like product managers, business analysts, developers, etc. Of course, anyone who thinks for a living is most likely looking for any new tools to make their thinking easier. This is that book.

The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels by Michael Watkins
The First 90 Days is the book to read before transitioning into a new job. You don’t have to be a new CEO or VP to appreciate this book. If you pitch yourself during your interview as using this approach to manage your first 90 days, you are close to securing the job. It demonstrates you believe in managing performance and holding yourself accountable. It also reinforces that your runway is short. After 90 days, you better be contributing to the company rather than still learning.

power-of-focusThe Power of Focus : How to Hit Your Business, Personal and Financial Targets with Absolute Certainty by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Les Hewitt
The Power of Focus gives you ideas on how to document that first 90 days. The template alone is worth the read. The proposed master plan may give you ideas on how to hit your personal targets too.

Harvard Business Review on Managing Your Career (Harvard Business Review) by Harvard Business School Press
HBR paperback series are invaluable, especially HBR on Managing Your Career, which gives you eight articles across your career management continuum. The chapter called “Managing Your Boss” may seem basic, but for those workers starting out, this is a good introduction to that basic principle. It also gives workers the opportunity to think about a second career, the possible dream.

1001 Ways to Take Initiative at Work by Bob Nelson
I know this 1001 Ways to Take Initiative at Work sounds selfish and self-serving. But, it offers ideas for newbies who need to learn what initiative is and how to do it. It offers the How-tos of taking initiative not just the “volunteer to do the market analysis that no one has bandwidth to do.” It would also take you through the steps on how to do it.

How to Be a Star at Work : 9 Breakthrough Strategies You Need to Succeed by Robert E. Kelley
Definitely an old school book now, but this How to Be a Star at Work defines “rock star.” With such an over-used term, it’s easy to forget what they really are and to become one. Every knows they want to hire and everyone hopes that people will see them as one. Either way, being a worker that aspires to being a rock star.

nice-girls-corner-officeNice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois P. Frankel
Women have unique challenges. Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office outlines how women sabotage their upward mobility, recommending how to avoid it. Simple things like “decorating your office like your living room” may sound ridiculous, but it’s point that shouldn’t be overlooked. The author’s advice is a good one. “The decor of your office should be consistent with the kind of firm in which you work.” It’s not your living room. Of course, there are other more valuable tips, but this book is a good primer into the ways women may be sabotaging themselves.

Lions Don’t Need to Roar : Using the Leadership Power of Personal Presence to Stand Out, Fit in and Move Ahead by D. A. Benton
A classic business image and people skills book. I’ll always use Lions Don’t Need to Roar as a reminder about how to make a first impression. It also have other useful tidbits of information like how to fit in, how to lead, or how to get ahead.

brad-pittYou’ve Only Got Three Seconds by Camille Lavington and Stephanie Losee
Another business image book, but You’ve Only Got Three Seconds is still a good primer on the subject. The number one message: you’ve only got three seconds to make that first impression. Use those seconds well, make it purposeful.

Like Hollywood talent, proactively construct and manage your personal brand image and core competencies, based on what the market demands. It’s all up to you to take charge of your image at work, rather than passively letting others define you.


  1. It’s as if you read my mind. Very timely post Lori! Yesterday, I was just thinking that I should look around in the new layout for a list of recommended reading. (I seem to recall the old site structure had that).

    “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” was highly recommended to me several years ago, and I never got around to it. Since I’ve been following your blog posts, I’m more interested than ever is reading business success books.

  2. Thanks Lisa! I’m slowly getting content back into the Smart Lemming, trying to update old with a new context. I’m glad to see someone else uses books as a secret to their success! Have a great weekend!

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