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Non-fiction for leaders: eight must-reads

Which are the most referenced business books by UK’s entrepreneurs? Eight high-flying founders reveal their favourite leadership book, and why it could be a helpful read for SMEs hoping for similar success.

Last updated: 25 Jun 2019 6 min read

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1. How The Wise Decide: The Lessons of 21 Extraordinary Leaders by Aaron Sandoski and Bryn Zeckhauser

“This is one of the best business-related books I’ve read,” says Liz Earle MBE, founder of Liz Earle Wellbeing. “The book reminded me that the principles of good business remain the same, whatever the scale. This is important for SMEs to remember: produce a great product, deliver it with excellent service and build a culture of loyalty and respect – both internally with your own team and externally with your customers.

“Great brands are built by having happy customers who come back to buy more and tell others. This only happens with authenticity and a genuine commitment to the product you’re producing. It’s good to have this endorsed by other business leaders in all kinds of varied businesses around the globe.”

2. Finding My Virginity by Richard Branson

“This is one of my all-time favourite books,” says Jacqueline Gold CBE, CEO at Ann Summers, “and I can’t recommend it enough to business owners. The book offers great insight into how to build your business within a challenging market, something that’s increasingly important today for business survival.”

“I took away from it the importance of balance, and how to face challenges head-on. A successful business should have driven and hard-working employees, while not forgetting about fun and adventure – something that’s vital for SMEs to understand.

“Richard Branson suggests that the ideal framework for businesses is to not only know how to succeed but also to really understand why we do what we do. It’s crucial to have passion behind your purpose in order to have a successful business.”

3. Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action by Simon Sinek

“Sinek has a simple message: ‘Start with why,’” says Justine Roberts, founder and chief executive at Mumsnet. “Those that can effectively articulate their ‘why’ are most likely to develop loyal followers and long-term success.

“This book explains that people buy from or join a company because they believe in its values, not because of the quality of its products or services. In Sinek’s words: ‘People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.’ Customers and employees want to be part of a higher cause [your why], so you need to share yours and show how your products or service advance that cause.

“It also provides great guidance on how to scale a business and delegate – for people to be empowered to make sensible decision,s they need to understand why they’re doing things, not just what they’re doing, so as things change they can adapt their actions.”

4. Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups To Build A Thriving Organization by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright

“This book has been fundamental to me as a leader and I make sure everyone in our senior leadership team reads it,” says Bruce Poon Tip, founder at travel company and social enterprise G Adventures. “I describe our team as a tribe. So many companies say: ‘We’re like a family,’ which is admirable but not always accurate.

“To truly shift from a family to a tribe, we’ve had to make big changes, and this book has helped me to do that as a leader. Unlike families, tribes have natural hierarchies. Each person plays a specific part and understands his or her role in reaching the tribe’s higher purpose.

“This book has been fundamental to me as a leader and I make sure everyone in our senior leadership team reads it”Bruce Poon Tip, founder, G Adventures

“It’s important for companies to create and/or adopt clear frameworks to help define each employee’s role and to objectively assess their performance, and play to their strengths and purpose as an individual.”

5. Reboot Your Business by Stephen Sacks

“I’m not a big fan of the business-book genre, but Reboot Your Business stood out as entertaining and useful,” says Mark Ashton, founder and CEO at fashion group Little Mistress, which owns the Little Mistress, Paper Dolls and Girls on Film brands.

“It challenges the reader to reinvent their business for the 21st century and gives a step-by-step guide advising where and how to get funding in order to action the new business ideas. There are real and actionable takeaways that any business owner can use to easily enhance their own business. It certainly challenged me to reimagine how I can create new strategies for Little Mistress.”

6. Blink: The Power Of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

“In business I’ve always been told to ‘trust my gut’, and this book puts weight behind making quick decisions,” says Gerry Cottle Junior, founder at Rooftop Film Club and Social Fun And Games (SFG) Club.

“Gladwell challenges the way you think, using a host of examples and great anecdotal stories to back up his research about how quick decision-making oftenworks better than rational analysis.

“Reading this book enabled me to trust my gut even more than I do. As a business leader, you’re faced with big and small decisions daily and sometimes under high stress, so for me this book was a great insight into the decision-making process – it challenged me to examine my own thinking and search for new ways to improve it and make better decisions.”

7. Algorithms To Live By: The Computer Science Of Human Decision, by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths

“This book goes through some of the key concepts and algorithms from computer science and applies them to everyday situations,” says Ida Tin, co-founder of women’s health app Clue.

“It’s brilliant because it shows the relationship between tech and real life and how the patterns and formulae we see in coding, for example, are echoed throughout our daily experiences. In this age of big data, this book is a must-read for budding entrepreneurs because it’s as much about understanding people as understanding technology.”

8. The E-Myth Enterprise: How To Turn A Great Idea Into A Thriving Business by Michael Gerber

“This book really helps owners to take a step away from the daily detail of their business and think about the long term – how they can ensure that they can grow, rather than get stuck doing more work for less reward, which tends to happen surprisingly often,” says Charlotte Sheridan, founder of digital marketing consultancy The Small Biz Marketing Expert.

“I would highly recommend it for anyone starting out, or anyone who is finding it hard to expand as it gives so many practical relatable tips to make sure that your business has longevity.”

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Leadership and Management