12 Leadership Books That Continue to Inspire Entrepreneurs

October 19, 2017

10:50 am

If there is a single truth that can be tied to all growing organizations it’s that they are led by leaders, not bosses. These are the entrepreneurs who do more than seek fame and fortune, but have a mission and vision, and also know how to rally people around the cause. In today’s world, especially for startups, we have a growing need for strong leaders to not only lay down a vision, but continue to encourage more diverse workplaces.

So what books inspire, motivate, and change the way entrepreneurs lead their organizations? Here is what they think, in their own words:

Noah, Vance, and Hart

Lately I have been telling people that the following three Audible listens back-to-back provide a profound experience of the modern memoir: Trevor Noah’s brilliant retelling of South African apartheid through his own and his mother’s powerful personae; then JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, a powerful indicator of how our public life and discourse became what it has become; and Kevin Hart’s I Can’t Make This Up, a warm and hysterically funny story of coming of age in the challenged urban core.

– Don Katz, Founder and CEO of Audible

Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow

While attending an entrepreneur reunion at Stanford, I heard Chip Conley (founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality) speak about how he built a unique, winning culture in the topsy-turvy hospitality industry. Chip was able to inspire low-income workers by enabling them to find meaning even when scrubbing toilets. In his book Peak, Chip brilliantly applies Maslow’s hierarchy to create a pyramid of triangles for a company’s relationship with its customers, employees, and investors.

The Peak culture Chip defined – the one which we aspire to achieve at G2 Crowd – starts with heart and authenticity at the core. We serve customers by not only meeting their expectations but also their desires and even their unrecognized needs. This turns customers into evangelists. We take care of our employees by providing fair compensation, recognizing their brilliant contributions, and letting them find meaning in the mission of company. We take care of investors by ensuring not only that we have transactional alignment by offering them sufficient returns, but also being aligned in how we work together, and ultimately having them take pride in our mission and their investment in our company.

– Godard Abel, Cofounder & Executive Chairman of G2 Crowd

The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey

I love The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey because the storytelling conjures such vivid imagery of what Kenneth Blanchard is trying to communicate. The lessons of delegation, communication and fighting the urge to be an internal firefighter are timeless and are as applicable to an entry level employee as they are to the C-suite. I recommend this book to every young employee looking for something to help them get it.

– Todd Thibodeaux, CEO of CompTIA

The Toyota Way

I read The Toyota Way when we were in very early stages of operations at The Farmer’s Dog, and it taught me that no process is ever perfect and that there’s always room for improvement. In other words, never become complacent or happy with the status quo.

– Brett Podolsky, Cofounder of The Farmer’s Dog

Leaders Eat Last

We can’t change people, but as leaders we can change the workplace environment. I used to think work was about the work product. Leaders Eat Last reminded me that the work environment enhances the output of our employees so focusing on the emotional surroundings was as important if not more important than the task at hand. The book make the case that empathy is a seriously lacking commodity in the workplace and implores leaders to develop this muscle. Then finally, if you’re of a certain age, you were trained to deploy command and control tactics. Leaders Eat Last shines a light on the value of autonomy and creating a circle of trust with your employees.

– Danica Kombol, CEO of Everywhere Agency


I just finished reading #ASKGARYVEE by Gary Vaynerchuk. In the book, Gary definitely brings some current and practical advice to the table and there’s some value there for sure. He’s out there grinding and some of his takes are making me rethink a few of my habits. Gary is an entrepreneur who had the foresight to go beyond traditional methods and use social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to reach an untapped audience that continues to grow. The book showcases the most useful and interesting questions that he has addressed on his podcast show. Definitely check it out!

– Dan Roberge, President of Maintenance Care

Radical Candor

Reading Radical Candor by Kim Scott helped me become a more assertive and empathetic leader. My top three takeaways were: show that you care, give praise in public and feedback in private, and take care of yourself.

  • People will listen and react differently to what you tell them when they know it is coming from a caring place. This is why it is crucial to show those you are leading that you care about them with concrete actions, such as standing up for them, helping them grow and, if in the position to do so, implementing family friendly and other HR policies for improving work-life balance.
  • To help nurture those you are managing, get into the habit of giving praise in public and candid, constructive criticism in private. This will help provide positive reinforcement in the areas they are excelling and allow them the space to process feedback, that could at times make us feel vulnerable, in private.
  • In order to care for others, you must take care of yourself first so that you are in a healthy emotional and mental state to give. Taking this seriously, as simple as it might sound, is one of the best changes I have made in my life and it has positively impacted the energy and attention I can dedicate to my team.

– Sylvia Vaquer, Cofounder and Creative Director at SocioFabrica

Good to Great

Good to Great is a book I read during my time at Stanford Business School. It offers great perspectives on how to think outside of the box and aim for something much bigger than conventional businesses. Many business are good businesses, but not great businesses. In order to build disruptive businesses, we need to be brave, have big ideas, and surround ourselves with extremely talented people. This book encouraged me to pursue something that’s much bigger than myself and gave the courage to explore entrepreneurship and create something from zero.

– Siqi Mou, Founder of HelloAva

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Deep Work takes the position that mastering the ability to focus on a demanding task all the way through, without allowing yourself to get distracted, helps you more effectively process complex information and deliver better results in less time. This is a book I picked up because I felt my time and attention slowly getting out of balance, as I spent more of both on things that didn’t help me stay on the path to achieving my most important goals. I’ve adopted many of the tools in this book to realign my time management and become even more productive while still answering to the many demands I face daily as president of a startup.

– Andrew Fegley, President of Remarketable

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

Delivering Happiness showed me the importance of setting company values and focusing on delighting both employees and customers. Tony’s mistakes when leading as well as lessons on culture shifted me to empathize more across the board.

– Sydney Liu, Cofounder of Commaful

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

The Hard Thing About Hard Things is a must-read for all entrepreneurs. Horowitz addresses all sorts of challenges head-on, from demoting loyal friends to firing to controlling internal politics. His book taught me how to make decisions, sell them to others, and stick behind them, independent of the outcome. It drastically changed my leadership style.

It also has great advice on how to have the fortitude to quickly execute when your company is in trouble. I have managed companies through rough times, including times when the business could have folded. But with Horowitz’s lessons, I was able to turn them around into successful, fast-growing businesses.

– Craig Bloem CEO of LogoMix

How to Win Friends and Influence People

A book that has greatly impacted how I work with others is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence people. It has encouraged me to always compliment people on their ideas, and to incorporate them in my recommendations whenever possible. This helps make the scenario a team effort instead of a “I said, they said” discussion.

As a marketer, it’s important to learn about what a client needs for their business, and to provide advice to meet that need. No one wants to be told what they need to do. Everyone does however, appreciate an approach where we are equally responsible.

– Franco Aquino, CoFounder of REN Marketing

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Elliot is an award winning journalist deeply ingrained in the startup world and is often digging into emerging technology and data. When not writing, he's likely either running or training for a triathlon. You can contact him by email at elliot(@) or follow him on Twitter @thejournalizer.