8 of the Best Business Books to Spark Discussion at Your Company

Reading thought-provoking business books can act as a catalyst for the sort of reflection all business leaders (and their employees) should be doing. What, then, are the best business books that can help you develop effective strategies, lead better, innovate your products or services, and help you enhance operational excellence at your middle market company?

While opinions may differ, here are eight business books that have stood the test of time. If you haven't already read them, it might be time to add them to your reading list.

1. "Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence," by Daniel Goleman

"Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision, or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal: Great leadership works through the emotions." So says Daniel Goleman, the man who literally wrote the book on emotional intelligence. To call Goleman's ideas influential would be understating it: His work has revolutionized the way we think about intelligence, making this book a must-read for all savvy business leaders.

2. "Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In," by Roger Fisher and William Ury

For the last three decades, this classic negotiation manual has helped millions of people reach better agreements that enhance relationships. Fisher and Ury offer a proven, step-by-step strategy for coming to mutually acceptable agreements in every sort of conflict without letting emotions get in the way. The authors evaluate every negotiation by three criteria: "It should produce a wise agreement if agreement is possible. It should be efficient. And it should improve, or at least not damage, the relationship between the parties."

3. "On Becoming a Leader," by Warren Bennis

Bennis's book about effective leadership starts from the inside, with self-understanding, and works its way out from there. As Bennis explains, "Leaders are people who are able to express themselves fully. By this, I mean that they know who they are, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how to fully deploy their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses. They also know what they want, why they want it, and how to communicate what they want to others, in order to gain their cooperation and support."

4. "Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors," by Michael E. Porter

This book has transformed the way businesses think about and develop strategy. Porter's lucid, easy-to-understand analysis introduces his three generic strategies, which revolve around lowest cost, differentiation and focus. He explains how competitive advantage can come from relative cost and relative prices and presents a whole new perspective on how profit is created and divided. In the decades since its publication, Porter's framework for predicting competitor behavior has transformed the way that middle market companies view their rivals and adapt to markets.

5. "In Search of Excellence: Lessons From America's Best-Run Companies," by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr

Long before the concept of company culture became wildly popular in business thinking, Peters and Waterman urged middle market companies and other businesses to "figure out your value system: what your company stands for. What gives people pride?" The pioneering authors show how excellent companies have atmospheres that retain talented people, promote transparency and information sharing, and insist on informality in communications. Peters and Waterman also describe the importance of physical space in facilitating a collaborative working climate.

6. "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don't," by Jim Collins

This book closely examines a number of companies that successfully transitioned from "good to great" and methodically compares them with companies that were unable to make that same leap. The author discovers several key factors that support the good-to-great transition. Being brutally honest is one such factor, since understanding problems is the first step toward resolving them.

7. "The Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business," by Clayton M. Christensen

Christensen's "theory of disruption" has been massively influential. This book explores how market disruption has happened in areas such as personal computing, heavy industry, print media, and more. Christensen's theory asserts that disruption takes root on the low end of the market, the periphery where customers go unserved or underserved, and then moves toward the center to ultimately erode the position of incumbent market leaders.

8. "The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses," by Eric Ries

This book has changed the way companies of all sizes think about building and launching new products. Following Ries's approach will help make your middle market company more efficient in its use of capital and better leverage human creativity. Inspired by lessons from lean manufacturing, Ries calls for rapid scientific experimentation and effective methods to shorten product development cycles, measure actual progress, and learn what customers want. Ries's book mainly preaches practices that will allow your middle market company to have greater agility and the ability to quickly learn and implement these lessons.

Do you have anything to add to our list of best business books? Let us know by commenting below.

Boston-based Chuck Leddy is an NCMM contributor and a freelance reporter who contributes regularly to The Boston Globe and Harvard Gazette. He also trains Fortune 500 executives in business-communication skills as an instructor for EF Education. Circle him on Google+.


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