5 Books Team Leaders Must Read in 2021

When Elon Musk was asked how he learned to build rockets, he said:

“I read books”.

Like Warren Buffett, who claims to read around 500 pages a day, Musk is a true definition of bibliophile. Books have always been important to Musk. It motivates him as a child, introduces heroic figures as a young adult and helps him learn rocket science while launching SpaceX. Speaking of Warren Buffet as one of the most successful investors in history, he credits many of his great money decisions to his voracious reading habit. The CEO of Berkshire Hathaway answered the key to success, pointed to a stack of books and said:

“Read 500 pages like this every day, That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

– Warren Buffet

Reading is a key habit that ultra successful people have in common. It has many benefits but often under-appreciated as an essential component of leadership development. According to research published in Neurology, the habit of regular reading can slow the process of brain function and memory decline that comes with age. By reading regularly, you’re not only increasing your brain power, but also improving your communication skills (as reading broadens your vocabulary) and helping you develop empathy.

Reading makes you more human. It makes you better at understanding and connecting with others. All of which are difficult yet essential skills for a leader to successfully manage others. Take it from Bill Gates who reads about 50 books per year which breaks down into 1 per week or Oprah Winfrey who has called reading as her personal path to freedom. For those who want to lead, you must read.

“Not all readers are leaders but all leaders are readers.”

– Harry S Truman

Leadership is one of the most valuable skills in all of business. Almost anybody can benefit from these skills when it comes to inspiring and influencing people. Reading gives leaders knowledge they need to make innovation and improve their business performance. If you want to boost your creativity, it’s important to read as many different types of books and literature as possible.

Here’s a curation of five must read books for team leaders. Let’s dive straight into the lists!

Start With Why by Simon Sinek

Leadership expert, Simon Sinek is best known for his Ted Talk, ‘How Great Leaders Inspire Action’, which is the third most watched Ted Talk on Ted.com. In this book, Sinek uses The Golden Circle Theory to explain how leaders can inspire cooperation, trust and change in a business if they start with why.

The first interesting take away from the book, mentioned by Brendan Brooks, a business strategic thinker based in Newcastle, Australia, is how Simon explained the difference between manipulation and inspiration. In the sea of marketing messages where we are often persuaded to purchase this and that, manipulation may lead to transaction but not very often to loyalty.

Sinek suggests that business leaders need to focus on WHY they do what they do– as their ideal starting point to inspire loyalty. Take an obvious example from Apple’s marketing messages. Why does Apple produce its product? Their products are inspired to change the world. Both performance and designs are key drivers of the Apple brand and its ongoing success. Through innovation across a range of products, Apple leaves the competitors with no choice but to market on the basis of WHAT their product does differently. Brooks believes that differentiation does not inspire loyalty.

He learned from Sinek that a strong WHY talks to our inner values and beliefs, which is more fascinating than our wallets. It grows trust and security in our decision making and encourages us to choose a product that supports these feelings. If business leaders can’t communicate their WHY then all that is left is the WHAT and the tools of manipulation.

“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.

Smartcuts: The Breakthrough Power of Lateral Thinking by Shane Snow

A New York City based journalist and Web entrepreneur, Shane Snow believes that lateral thinking is about approaching problems from new or non obvious directions. It’s a useful tool that acts as an essence of almost every breakthrough in history– from the arts, to science, to business. Smartcuts primarily focuses on busting old myths and scrapping conventional wisdom that most of us follow to be successful. Snow combines the case study of Elon Musk, Barack Obama, electronic music artist Skrillex and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer to show that lateral thinking can be applied across any medium. From the interview with Forbes, Snow said:

“Skrillex and Musk have track records of huge successes, multiple times, across multiple industries/genres. Their repeat wins defy conventional theories about luck’s role in success, and should give us hope that we have more control over our destinies than culture tells us we do. Both of these guys owe their successes to pattern recognition and moving themselves to the right place at the right time. In the book I talk about exactly how that happens, and what specific processes they go through to ‘hack’ serendipity. Musk has a few other habits that I’ve found transformative for my own business, as well.”

Virtual Culture: The Way We Work Doesn’t Work Anymore by Bryan Miles

Bryan Miles is the CEO of BELAY, one of the biggest and most successful virtual assistant staffing companies around. BELAY boasts a staff of over 600 people all of whom work remotely.

Bryan not only has tons of experience running in remote companies but through BELAY, has achieved #1 rank among the small businesses with the best culture by Entrepreneur and CultureIQ. All of that without anyone stepping foot in an office. When talking about books for team leaders, we had to include Bryan’s book.

Through Virtual Culture, remote team leaders can learn from Bryan’s experience on building and managing company culture for remote teams. Bryan has a reality check for you: the future of Business is virtual. This book highlights how working in a remote setting can make a company and employee happier. Productivity appears from people accomplishing their tasks in a timely, professional, adult manner, not always from mandatory daily attendance in the traditional office setting. When leaders recognise and respect employees’ time inside and outside work hours, giving them the autonomy to work from home or anywhere capable, companies will retain amazing talents. A forward thinking leader that embraces the future of work can create a result-oriented virtual work culture which is a key driver of remote team success. Here’s a favourite takeaway from Virtual Culture:

8 characteristics of a good virtual employee:

1. Results orientated

2. Motivated self starter

3. Values working hard at “home”

4. Values flexibility and autonomy

5. Natural problem solver

6. Openly communicative

7. Sympathetic to audience (coworker/client)

8. Organisation Red flags:

  • No dedicated workspace
  • Lack of basic technical skills
  • Easily distracted/not self-motivated

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Readers report that Cal Newport’s ‘Deep Work’ is a life changing book. According to some audience reviews in Goodreads, the key takeaways in this book is hard to swallow pills but if you try to change your life to achieve depth, the results are breathtaking. To be remarkable at the work you do, to gain recognition for it, you’ll need to adopt a different strategy entirely. Newport called this strategy a “deep work”.

A New York Times bestselling author and a computer science professor at Georgetown University defines the concept of deep work as:

“Professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”

Deep work is not the form of habit that naturally fills your day. Conversely, if you don’t have intention for how you spend your time, your work hours slip away towards activities that Newport refers to as “shallow work”. Through this book, you’ll learn hard things quickly and apply that knowledge to produce works that’s exceptional.

“the ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”

The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun

Tech.co recommends Scott Berkun’s The Year Without Pants for remote team leaders who are interested in growing forward-thinking company culture, particularly a culture that gives employees freedom and independence but remains productive. Berkun’s story uncovers insights on creativity, productivity and leadership from the kind of workplace that is the future of work, in fun and entertaining ways. The Year Without Pants shares the secret of WordPress.com’s phenomenal success from the inside.

Scott Berkun is a former Microsoft veteran who worked as a manager at WordPress, leading a team of young programmers developing new ideas. The force behind WordPress is Automattic whose 120 employees work remotely and gives a similar impact on the future of the internet as Google, Amazon and Facebook do. Berkun’s experience at Automattic has shown that work doesn’t have to be meaningless and it doesn’t have to be serious. By making the culture result first orientated, people are empowered to have flexibility on when and where to work.

“Most people doubt online meeting can work but they somehow overlook that most in person meetings don’t work either – Scott Berkun”

Final Words

History and present times show us that the successful leaders who innovate and influence the world are also avid readers. Leadership is a psychological role that needs technical knowledge, people skills and constant exercise to stay effective, which is why reading is a key habit for all leaders. We hope the successes of others is enough to jump-start your lifelong reading habit.

We’d love to hear your favourite reads and how they have changed your perception 😊.

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