As founders and CEOs, we’re all always on the lookout for new articles, podcasts and books to read to help enrich us and to develop ourselves as leaders.

I asked my network to suggest the best business books for CEOs and founders to read, here are the top 20 from those suggestions.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things – Ben Horowitz

Ben Horowitz, cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley’s most respected and experienced entrepreneurs, offers essential advice on building and running a startup.

He gives the reader an inside view into his humble start as an engineer at NetLabs, and his beginnings working for his future venture and business partner Marc Andreessen. Horowitz really delves into the story behind Loudcloud, and then Opsware, which was born of Loudcloud.

As with much of the stories from Horowitz, nothing is sugar coated. He knows better than most that being a founder is paved with hardship, this book will certainly give you some of the advice you may be seeking as a leader.

Black Box Thinking – Matthew Syed

According to Syed, “[Black Box Thinking] is about the willingness and tenacity to investigate the lessons that often exist when we fail, but which we rarely exploit.”

“It is about creating systems and cultures that enable organizations to learn from errors, rather than being threatened by them.”

The basis of the book surrounds our mistakes and how success can only happen if we confront and embrace them.

The Lean Startup – Eric Ries

A book that you’ll likely have heard about which boils down to the thesis that when building a minimum viable product, remove any feature, process, or effort that does not contribute directly to the learning you seek.

Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman

For those interested in behavioural science and how the brain works, this is a must-read. The central idea is around two modes of thought: “System 1” is fast, instinctive and emotional; “System 2” is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. 

The book talks through the cognitive biases associated with each type of thinking, starting with Kahneman’s own research on loss aversion.

Bad Blood, the Theranos story – John Carreyrou

If ever there was a book that teaches you how not to run a venture funded business, Bad Blood is that one. Journalist John Carreyrou, at the time working for The Wall Street Journal, does a superb job uncovering the chilling truth behind Theranos, the mutli-billion dollar biotech startup lead by the eccentric Elizabeth Holmes.

A completely gripping story that has twists and turns throughout – you’d be forgiven if you thought this was a fiction novel. Some positive lessons to learn but mainly a bible of how broken the world of startups can be.

Shoe Dog – Phil Knight

A must read story about one of the biggest brands in the world, Nike. If you haven’t already read this, grab a copy and enjoy. In this candid and riveting memoir, for the first time ever, Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight shares the inside story of the company’s early days as an intrepid start-up and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic, game-changing, and profitable brands.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Partick Lencioni

This book, published in 2002 by Patrick Lencioni describes the many pitfalls teams face as they seek to “grow together”. It reveals the basics of teamwork using a leadership fable, a story of a technology company that is struggling to grow and find customers. Throughout the story the five dysfunctions of the team become evident; absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results.

Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Handbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell

Written by Eric Schmidt (formerly Google CEO), Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle, the Trillion Dollar Coach tells the story of Bill Campbell, whol played an instrumental role in the growth of several prominent companies, such as Google, Apple, and Intuit. Based on interviews with over eighty people, Trillion Dollar Coach explains the Coach’s principles and illustrates them with stories from the many great people and companies with which he worked. The result is a blueprint for forward-thinking business leaders and managers that will help them create higher performing and faster moving cultures, teams, and companies.

Scaling Up – Verne Harnish

Published in 2014 by Verne Harnish, Scaling Up talks through how a few companies make it, and why the rest don’t – as the subtitle would suggest. Based on the original ‘Mastering the Rockefeller Habits’ and looks at approaches taken by CEOs and executives that helped them navigate the increasing complexities (and weight) that come with scaling up a venture. The book is written so everyone = from frontline employees to senior executives – can contribute to the growth of a business. There’s no reason to do it alone, yet many top leaders feel like they are the ones dragging the rest of the organisation up the S-curve of growth – as discussed in our busy-ness post.

Leaders Eat Last – Simon Sinek

The concept around “Leaders Eat Last” is that leaders first take care of their people, and only after they can think of themselves. A team can only effectively face external threats when there are no internal threats, and it’s up to the leaders to eliminate those internal threats. The author, Simon Sinek, is a motivational speaker with many famous TED talks about leadership. This 45 minute talk explains the philosophies from ‘Leaders Eat Last’.

Accelerating Performance – Colin Price and Sharon Toye

Colin Price and Sharon Toye, management consultants and organizational behavioral experts, draw upon a library of data to create a blueprint companies can follow to change their cultures and accelerate overall improvement. 

They based their META framework – “Mobilize, Execute and Transform with Agility” – on the idea that businesses exist to fill customer needs, as well as to make a profit, and that they can best fulfill that mission by “reducing drag,” enhancing drive and improving organizational capabilities.

Getting Things Done – David Allen

Getting Things Done is a time management method, described in this book by productivity consultant David Allen.

The framework is set out for organising and tracking your tasks and projects. Its aim is a bit higher than just “getting things done”, though, its aim is to make you have 100% trust in a system for collecting tasks, ideas, and projects. Both vague things like “grow the business this year” and more specific things like “schedule call with Lucy about performance of the social media campaign”.

Good to Great – Jim Collins

Good is the enemy of Great’. This is how Jim Collins starts a compelling journey explaining the findings from his and his team’s half a decade researching how to make good companies great. 

In its essence, ‘Good to Great’ happens very rarely and it is because it is, frankly, difficult. In his research, Jim Collins, has found systematic phases through which any great company goes through and lays out a framework to get there.

Dream Big – Cristiane Correa

Dream Big is the story of the Brazilian Trio behind 3G Capital, who have investments in Burger King and Heinz. The book dives into how the trio made the switch from being financiers to building and growing operating businesses in the retail, food and beverage sectors.

Dream Big also contains a foreword from Jim Collins, author of the book above (Good to Great).

Factfulness – Hans Rosling

If you’re looking for something to give you some hope about the world – this is the book for you. The subtitle; ‘Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think’ is an enticing preview into the book by Swedish statistician Hans Rosling.

For a more in-depth review, I’d recommend looking at GatesNotes, the blog of Bill Gates to read his thoughtful opinions of the frameworks set out by Factfulness.

Nudge – Thaler & Sunstein

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and‎ Cass R. Sunstein has a simple premise. Unlike classical economic theory, where people are fully rational and always do things in their best interest, we are really lazy, uninformed, and unmotivated. We make bad decision because we lack information, or space out, or are too stupid to investigate what descisions will make our lives better.

The point is very clear. We all have preconditioned manners of making decisions and instead of having to choose from thousands of options it makes more sense to nudge us to a more common ground than to leave us confused and frustrated. 

Zero to One – Peter Thiel

Written by one of Silicon Valley’s legendary entrepreneurs and investors, Peter Thiel, Zero to One talks about the great secret of our time is that there are still uncharted frontiers to explore and new inventions to create.

Drawing on his experiences from founding PayPal and investing in businesses such as Facebook, SpaceX and Airbnb, Thiel writes a book that “should be read not just by aspiring entrepreneurs but by anyone seeking a thoughtful alternative to the current pervasive gloom about the prospects for the world”.

It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want you to be – Paul Arden

The late Paul Arden, who was the Creative Director of Saatchi and Saatchi for 14 years, is considered one of the brightest minds in advertising. His book, ‘It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be’, published in 2003, is still very much relevant 17 years on.

Definitely more appealing for those doing creative work and for lifting your spirits, the short and sweet book will help you strive for excellence, have a vision, share your ideas freely and grasp opportunities.

Bhagavad Gita

Ben Johnson recommended the Bhagavad Gita because it has ancient wisdom, road tested through time is the most informative. 

And, whilst some things change quickly – like tech and management fads – other things change very slowly, like the human spirit. 

Ultimately, this is what CEO’s are working with; human spirit, whether theirs, their employees or customers. 

Understanding what we do, why and how is the only place to start, no?

Useful link: What can Entrepreneurs Learn from Bhagavad Gita

Hopefully, there are some interesting books here that you might not have heard of, or have been added to your list.