The 15 Essential Books for CEOs

The major constraint in a CEO’s skill development is their speed in recognizing patterns and adopting successful models. It’s often possible to shortcut this process by reading the right book. Many 10X CEO®s have achieved significant personal breakthroughs because they read the right book at the right time.

But there are too many books and not enough time. Some of the famous bestselling business books make for interesting stories, but the most valuable books are the ones that deal with a critical area of a business and provide a “best practice” framework that a CEO can adopt, and often spread throughout his or her organization.

CEO Effectiveness

The Goal – Eliyahu Goldratt (1984) – This very quirky (and charmingly/annoyingly dated) book set in a manufacturing plant contains the single most important CEO insight I’ve seen, which is to focus your energy on identifying and unlocking the primary constraint of the business. Any problem that is not connected to the primary constraint, while it may feel good to solve, doesn’t do anything to move the business forward. You can’t be a 10X CEO® until you grasp and live by this insight.

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life & Work – Chip and Dan Heath (2013) – The track record for executive decisions is regrettably bad.  Or instance, 80% of acquisitions don’t make money.   How can this be?  It turns out that most decisions, even multi-million dollar ones, don’t use a process that prevents bad decisions.  This book illustrates a clear, easy to follow framework that helps CEOs and executives make better decisions in business and in life.

Peak – Chip Conley (2007) – This book may be the best of all in describing the CEO’s overall view. It provides a useful and clear framework for how a CEO can add value to customers, employees, and owners. This book is not very well known but is much more useful to entrepreneurs than the best sellers (Good to Great, The Hard Thing about Hard Things, etc.).

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Connected World – Cal Newport (2016) – This book identifies two types of work: “deep work”, which is focused on producing a focused, valuable outcome and “shallow work”, which are the routine meetings, email, and Slack threads that dominate CEO life.  Most CEOs spend 80% (or more) of their time in “shallow work”.  Spending 50% or more of your time on “deep work” on the right priorities is the most certain path to multiplying your effectiveness.

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time – Jeff Sutherland (2014) – How to apply Scrum to executive functions.  “Deep Work” describes what to do for CEOs, this book describes the how.  We now have 10X companies applying Scrum to non-IT functions, and they’ve dramatically increased throughput, quality and speed as a result.

Customers & Markets

Monetizing Innovation – How Smart Companies Design the Product Around the Price – Ramanujam and Tacke (2016) – Understand your customer’s “willingness to pay” before you write a single line of code.  80% of product/engineering efforts are wasted.  Applying this framework will ensure your product/engineering efforts will actually pay off.  Also…”Tuned In: Uncover the Extraordinary Opportunities that Lead to Business Breakthroughs” by Stull, Myers, & Scott (2008) is a sound clear process for asking customers the right questions.

Switch – How to Change Things When Change is Hard – Chip and Dan Heath (2010) – People resist change.  It’s risky and the outcome is uncertain.  But innovation depends on large groups of people stepping into the unknown in search of a new and better way.  This book presents a workable framework for undertaking new but difficult possibilities.

Answering The Ultimate Question – How Net Promoter Can Transform Your Business – Richard Owen and Laura Brooks (2008) – A number of 10X companies use Net Promoter Score (NPS) to give a true reading for their level of customer delight.  This book gives a detailed model of how to actually glean the right information from NPS and how to use it to increase both delight and increased revenue from existing customers.

The Challenger Sale – Taking Control of the Customer Conversation – Dixon & Adamson (2011) – The most important book on selling ever written for complex enterprise sales.   Any CEO that understands and masters these techniques will almost certainly win the battle, especially in highly competitive environments.

Seizing the White Space – Business Model Innovation for Growth and Renewal – Mark W. Johnson (2010) – This is book is similar to “Blue Ocean Strategy” but is a little more practical.  Its concept of “job to be done” is a very specific approach to creating highly valued offerings.  The book’s framework is very clear and useful.

Building a High Performance Culture

Who: The “A” Method for Hiring – Geoff Smart & Randy Street (2008) – This book is the successor to “Top Grading” and is more broad, practical, and simpler to implement.  It breaks down the hiring process to 4 key steps: (1) Source (2) Scorecard (3) Select (4) Sell.  Any company that correctly implements these concepts will have a leg up in attracting and selecting the highest quality talent.

Boundaries for Leaders – Why Some People Get Results and Others Don’t – Dr. Henry Cloud (2013) – “There are always five “right” plans.  There are a lot of ways to get there.  The real problem is getting the people to do what it takes to make the plan work.  That is where you win or lose”.  That quote is the essence of the book.  Why do some groups of people get things done and others don’t.  This book is part philosophy and part framework.  But it will force you to see your CEO leadership style in a different light and give you the tools to improve it.

Leadership and Self-Deception – The Arbinger Institute (2010) – A profound book that has the power to really change the talent environment in your business and also deepen your personal relationships. In every personal interaction you have the choice to view the other person as a person…or as on object (means to an end). This book explains the powerful ramifications of that choice.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Patrick Lencioni (2002) – This is one of the best “leadership in a box” book I’ve read. Understanding and practicing these concepts will immediately improve how you lead teams. It’s very easy to read and understand so it can be passed throughout the company as “the way we do things around here”. Interestingly, the other Lencioni books have great titles but are not as valuable.

Rhythm: How to Achieve Breakthrough Execution and Accelerate Growth – Patrick Thean (2014) – There are very few books about how companies actually execute (or not).  This book has improved the execution capability of all of our Member CEOs that have applied it.  It’s logical, clear, and it works.  Also the 4 Disciplines of Execution by McChesney, Covey, and Huling is a much better goal system than OKRs.  The first 25% of the book is all you need.


These books incorporate some of the most valuable knowledge that exists about being a high growth CEO.  If you understand and apply the concepts in these books, you will have an unfair advantage over the 99.9% of CEOs who are trying to figure these things out on their own.