1. The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success by William N. Thorndike Jr.
What makes a successful CEO? Most people call to mind a familiar definition: a seasoned manager with deep industry expertise. Others might point to the qualities of today’s so-called celebrity CEOs – charisma, virtuoso communication skills, and a confident management style. But what really matters when you run an organization? What is the hallmark of exceptional CEO performance? Quite simply, it is the returns for the shareholders of that company over the long term.
In this refreshing, counterintuitive book, author Will Thorndike brings to bear the analytical wisdom of a successful career in investing, closely evaluating the performance of companies and their leaders. You will meet eight individualistic CEOs whose firms’ average returns outperformed the S&P 500 by a factor of twenty – in other words, an investment of $10,000 with each of these CEOs, on average, would have been worth over $1.5 million twenty-five years later. You may not know all their names, but you will recognize their companies: General Cinema, Ralston Purina, The Washington Post Company, Berkshire Hathaway, General Dynamics, Capital Cities Broadcasting, TCI, and Teledyne. In The Outsiders, you will learn the traits and methods – striking for their consistency and relentless rationality – that helped these unique leaders achieve such exceptional performance.
2. Think Like a Rocket Scientist by Ozan Varol
Former rocket scientist turned law professor, Ozan Varol shares his habits and strategies to make the impossible actually doable. With fascinating anecdotes from the history of science and NASA, Varol makes keen observations about how you can change your mindset and approach problems in new ways. Despite the shameless self-promotion, the insights from the book still made this one of the best nonfiction books of 2020 that I’ve read.
3. Humor, Seriously: Why Humor Is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life (And how anyone can harness it. Even you.) by Jennifer Aaker, Naomi Bagdonas
There exists a mistaken belief in today’s corporate world: that we have to be serious all the time in order to be taken seriously. But the research tells a different story: that humor can be one of the most powerful tools we have for accomplishing serious things. Studies show that humor makes us appear more competent and confident, strengthens relationships, unlocks creativity, and boosts our resilience during difficult times. Plus, it fends off a permanent and unsightly frown known as “resting boss face.”
Top executives are in on the secret: 98 percent prefer employees with a sense of humor, and 84 percent believe that these employees do better work. But even for those who intuitively understand humor’s power, few know how to wield it with intention. As a result, humor is vastly underleveraged in most workplaces today, impacting our performance, relationships, and health.
Aaker and Bagdonas unpack the theory and application of humor: what makes something funny and how to mine your life for material. They show how to use humor to make a strong first impression, deliver difficult feedback, persuade and motivate others, and foster cultures where levity and creativity can thrive—not to mention, how to keep it appropriate and recover if you cross a line.
4. The Empathy Edge: Harnessing the Value of Compassion as an Engine for Success by Maria Ross
Ross shows why your business needs to cultivate more empathy now and shares the habits and traits of empathetic leaders who foster more productivity and loyalty. She gives practical tips, big and small, for how to align your mission and values and hire the right people, cultivating a more empathetic―and innovative―workplace culture. Finally, she gives you the goods on building your empathetic brand in an authentic and proactive way, and shows how doing so results in happier customers, innovative work cultures and increased profits.