With the holiday season upon us and the start of a new year just around the corner, many professionals begin to think about professional and personal development. A common thread I’ve experienced through my work with entrepreneurs and business leaders, and woven through the pages of many business books I’ve devoured, is self-edification. Many successful people read a lot. Whether you are looking for a good read for yourself or a gift for the professional in your life, perhaps my list of life-changing books will inspire thoughtful ideas.
How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is my all-time favorite. Often classified (and sometimes dismissed) as self-help, this is a must-read for anyone who interacts with others. As a college adjunct in the Communications, Arts and Humanities Department, I learned quickly that few students will read, let alone purchase, assigned textbooks. This was especially true in my Interpersonal Communication classes. After one semester, I ditched the textbook, which I thought subpar anyway, and used this 1936 classic as the basis for instruction and classroom activities. As relevant today as it was nearly 100 years ago, How to Win Friends prepared my students for life—professional and personal.
My students thoroughly enjoyed it, and who wouldn’t? Carnegie was a master storyteller who packed practical how-tos in every tale. I have read this book at least a dozen times and learned something new, or was reminded about my own failings, each time. Consider just a few (below) of the thirty principles outlined in Carnegie’s classic. These can also be found in Carnegie’s Golden Book, which you can download here.
- Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
- Become genuinely interested in other people.
- Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
- The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
- Show respect for the other person’s opinion. Never say, “you’re wrong.”
- Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
- Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I wish there was a guide for dealing with _____ [fill in the life event],” the Book of Sirach, is that guide! An Old Testament book written sometime between 200 and 175 B.C. by a sage who lived in Jerusalem, the text was translated into Greek by the author’s grandson sometime after 132 B.C. This is a wisdom book found in Catholic Bibles. You do not need to be religious to benefit from its insights, nor will you get Catholic cooties by reading it.
Truth be told, despite being a cradle Catholic, I had not read Sirach or much of the Bible until The Bible in a Year podcast with Fr. Mike was launched in 2020. I’m on my third go-round with this podcast. Again, you don’t need to be Catholic, Christian, or religious to appreciate and benefit from these sources, so please, stay with me.
Here are a few nuggets of wisdom from Sirach:
- Regarding communication – “Be swift to hear, but slow to answer” (5:12).
- Regarding public life – “Sow not in the furrows of injustice, lest you harvest it sevenfold” (7:3).
- Regarding associates – “Every living thing loves its own kind, every man a man like himself” (13:14).
“When we argue our limitations, we get to keep them.” I had this quote in my head for years and would remind myself of it during times of self-doubt. It wasn’t until about 2008 that I figured out its origin.
I had embarked on a journalistic venture I called “The One Book Project.” I set up interviews with about a dozen successful business owners and simply asked, “If you could recommend just one book to a budding professional, which would it be and why?” Some named the business book they had read most recently, others cited titles I hadn’t heard, but the title that grabbed my attention was Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a classic by Richard Bach. I chuckled inside because I had remembered reading that book circa sixth grade.
Chuck Piola, dubbed the King of Cold Calls, was a client of mine. A brilliant man, he once told me he had A.D.D. and that it was the greatest thing in the world because “I always have a bunch of televisions playing in my head simultaneously. I see things most others can’t.” He was describing the reason for his visionary approach to success, his excitability, and his boundless energy. Plan A was always the plan. Anything else would have gotten in the way.
“So, why Jonathan Livingston Seagull?” I asked. “Because he never gave up,” Chuck responded.
Thirty years after I had first read Jonathan Livingston Seagull, I found myself ordering a new copy from Amazon. Reading it as an adult, I understood why Chuck found it so inspirational. Here’s the kicker, though, I learned that Richard Bach was the author of one of my favorite quotes, “If we argue our limitations, we get to keep them.”
Though released just over twenty years ago, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … And Others Don’t by Jim Collins might also be considered a classic. It’s certainly a must-read for anyone responsible for teams of people. Collins outlines a plan for scaling an organization through the management of constant change. Let’s face it, if you’re not changing, you’re not growing. Paraphrasing Collins, “Get the right people on the bus, and put key people in the right seats.”
Collins also introduced the world to the BHAG—big harry audacious goal—and how to reach it. Good to Great is both motivational and practical. Applying Collins’ principles could be life-changing for you and your organization.
Okay, please indulge me momentarily, as I must include my own title in this list. Impact: Deliver Effective, Meaningful, and Memorable Presentations, my pocket guide of public speaking tips, is the culmination of years of study, practice, and coaching. I wanted to provide a simple resource for busy professionals and a supplement to instructional material for students.
Here are a few gems:
- Prepare as though your reputation depends upon it because it does.
- Check your expectations. One hundred percent audience buy-in is not realistic. Shoot for one hundred percent respect.
- When presenting before a live audience, know that you are the focal point. PowerPoint is simply a visual aid, not a teleprompter. Use it sparingly.
As a reference book for the communicator’s toolbox, Impact might not qualify as directly life-changing, but when you know how to harness public speaking opportunities, your life will change for the better.
Here are a few additional favorites from my business book collection:
- Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek
- Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
- The Elements of Style, William Strunk
- The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell
- Eat Mor Chikin: Inspire More People, Truett Cathy
- Secrets of Closing the Sale, Zig Ziglar
- The Greatest Salesman in the World, Og Mandino
… and from my personal development collection:
- The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren
- Gut Check: Confronting Love, Work, & Manhood, Terek Saab
- Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill
- The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
- The Secret, Rhonda Byrne