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I have always been a voracious reader. In Middle School we received a summer reading list of over 50 books. We were instructed to read at least two of the books on the list before the end of the summer; I read them all.
In college, I started dabbling in nonfiction with personal development books like The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodrin. I couldn’t believe how immersive the experience of reading could be and how much my perspective and life could be shifted from a single book.
Since becoming a business owner and CEO, I have branched out from pure personal development into business and leadership books. In 2021 I made a commitment to 10x my growth, so I joined a business book club called Thought Readers and started reading multiple books per month (a combination of the books from the group along with books I discovered on my own).
A year after committing to becoming a student, my team is working together more effectively, I’ve launched an award winning podcast and we had our first 500k month (I go into more details on how we hit that huge milestone in this post). My leadership and my company are unrecognizable from what they were in 2020, and I owe so much of that to these books.
So without further ado, here are the top books that transformed my life and business in 2021. I hope you find them just as transformational!
1. Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time
by Jeff Sutherland and J.J. Sutherland
WOW! Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. I almost did just that with this book, and I would have seriously missed out. I took one look at it and thought it looked like another gimmicky productivity book. Pass!
Luckily, my friend Lisa Larter (who runs Thought Readers) pushed me to give it a chance. She said it had really helped with her team. While improving my individual productivity was not of interest to me, improving our team and culture was.
On a brisque, chilly morning walk, I started chapter one on the audiobook version. Almost immediately, I was laughing so hard I was practically crying. The first chapter outlined everything we had done wrong with a recent project in our company that had been dragging out for years, and said exactly what we could have done differently to get a better result. The irony of getting this information after the fact was humbling and hilarious and immediately had me hooked.
Scrum solved the two biggest issues I’d been grappling with as a CEO (there are no magic bullets… but Scrum is pretty close to one). The first issue was team morale and burnout, specifically how to make roles in the company more fun and creative and less repetitive. The second issue was profitability. With such a high touch, labor intensive service, how could we increase our productivity and profits without sacrificing the level of care each client received?
After learning about Agile and Scrum, I had total clarity on the direction the company needed to go to solve both of these problems. I searched for and hired a coach who specializes in implementing Scrum, and we are already feeling the incredible benefits in our team and company. Talk about a life changing read!
Note: As we get further in implementing Scrum and Agile in our agency, I will write more articles on what we’ve learned through testing and tweaking in case you want to implement the same concepts in your own business.
2. Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter
by Liz Wiseman
I read this book right after Scrum and I’m SO glad I did. This book is incredible and dovetails perfectly with the concepts of Scrum and Agile. This book is confronting and humbling in just the right ways, and totally changed the way I think about achievement and leadership.
In the book, Wiseman details her research on “Multiplier leaders,” those leaders who have an almost magical ability to get the most out of everyone they work with. She lays out the qualities of a Multiplier leader and how the reader can intentionally cultivate those qualities in themselves and their teams. She also goes over the opposite type of leader, the dreaded “Diminisher.”
Diminishing leaders may be brilliant as individuals, but their leadership brings out the worst in their teams and causes burnout and resignation. Most interestingly, she also goes over all the ways that well meaning leaders inadvertently become diminishing leaders (she refers to them as “accidental diminishers”).
As a result of this book, I realized I had been focusing on sales to improve profitability, when really I needed to look at my leadership. We had naively been adding more resources (people) to try to solve problems, rather than multiplying the people we already had with better leadership. This book is life changing in every way and we are now having all the leaders on our team read it!
3. Who Not How
by Dan Sullivan and Dr. Benjamin Hardy
This is an exceptional book with a title that doubles as a helpful mantra. When we are stuck on a problem in our business, you will frequently hear someone shout out, “WHO NOT HOW!” With those three words, we find ourselves quickly unstuck.
If you are someone with huge vision and big ambition, you need this book. The impact you are out to have on the world is simply bigger than anything you have the time or expertise to implement. If you limit your impact to just the things that you personally are able to do without help, you cap your potential and deny the world of your full contribution. This is the realization I had from reading this book.
I love vision, strategy and leadership. I do not love day to day implementation. My best thinking and thus my best contribution to the business always comes when I have enough time and space to think and create in real time. Overcommitting my time with too many tasks drags me out of my zone of genius, and leads to mediocre results and general misery.
Having so many ideas but such (comparably) limited bandwidth to implement used to make me feel overwhelmed. Then I read Who Not How, and I now have a clear framework to engage others in my ideas, collaborate and hand off ownership so that I can keep creating. If you have a big vision and know the overwhelming pressure of having more great ideas than you can physically pursue, you need this book!
4. The Gap and the Gain
by Dan Sullivan and Dr. Benjamin Hardy
I was very excited when this book came out because I am such a fan of Who Not How, and it absolutely delivered on my high expectations. The concept of The Gap and the Gain is that the main reason we are disappointed, both with our own performance and with the performance of others, is that we are measuring success incorrectly.
When we are “in the gap,” we are measuring ourselves or others from where they are currently to an aspirational goal. Since aspirations are constantly moving and changing, we always fall short when we look at where we are compared to this abstract ideal. This causes what Dan Sullivan refers to as “gap thinking” which leads to unhappiness and burnout.
I was struck by how much I engage in gap thinking not only in how I evaluate my own performance, but also in how I evaluate my team’s. While on the surface it’s a personal development concept, it’s a very deep leadership lesson that I absolutely love! The opposite of “gap thinking” is being “in the gain.” We are in the gain when we measure ourselves from where we were in the past to where we are now. I’m sure if you do that right now, you will instantly feel happier and more grateful. It’s magic!
By catching ourselves in the gap, and consciously moving towards gain thinking, we can be better coaches, friends, spouses, leaders and parents. This is a book I will definitely revisit multiple times.
5. Stumbling on Happiness
by Daniel Gilbert
I first looked into this one after hearing Daniel Gilbert’s excellent Ted talk. I found the talk funny and super interesting, and his book was the same way. Before I tell you about the book though, I want to make sure you understand what countless angry reviewers clearly did not; this book is NOT a manual on how to become happier.
This book is a masterful combination of research, storytelling, and dry humor. Gilbert outlines the research around happiness and why we are so bad at accurately predicting what will make us happy (or unhappy). If you find the brain interesting and find the fallibility of human logic hilarious, you will love this book.
As someone who has struggled with anxiety my entire life, the research showing that our worst fears won’t be quite as bad as we think was very comforting (as was the research showing that you will never be quite as happy on your birthday as you think you should be). Many of us go after big goals expecting that the success or money we achieve will make us happy. Understanding why it may not is strangely empowering.
The ROI of reading is simple; the growth we want to see in our businesses needs to start with our personal growth. Books don’t replace mentorship, therapy or the information you get from actually testing and trying things in your business, but they can change your business (and life) for the better. Happy reading! 🙂