9 Books to Read for First-Time Executives

A stack of hardcover books on executive leadership, with one open on top, set against a dark background.

A good book is the best way to broaden your mind. If you’re stepping into the role of a C-suite position, there’s a good chance you’ve done your fair share of reading. To prepare for your new role as a leader, it’s not a bad idea to pick up a book on leadership or add a few to your reading list. Here are nine books sure to make a significant impact on your ability to lead, grow and succeed in the C-suite.

Shoe Dog

What better way to start off this list than with a book written about one of the greatest stories of CEO success in the modern age? Shoe Dog is a memoir from Phil Knight, the creator of Nike. It tells the story of how the brand came to fruition, the barriers it broke and the decision-making behind the exploding success of the Nike empire. From Nike’s decision to sign Michael Jordan to the first-ever sneaker deal, to the rollout of Nike as a global brand, this is an inspiring story (and a quick read) for any new executive on the come-up.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

Being in charge is difficult. Frustrating. Time-consuming. As soon as they step into the C-suite, leaders meet new challenges that don’t stop until the day they step down or retire. The key to a long tenure as an executive is learning how to weather these challenges and create your own successes from them. In this book, author Ben Horowitz offers a no-reservations look into what new leaders can expect and how to meet these challenges head-on.

Ego Free Leadership

There’s no place for ego in leadership, and it can quickly become the downfall of leaders who lean on hubris to posture their success. Instead, Brandon Black offers constructive wisdom to new leaders: put your ego aside. This book is about how to overcome unconscious tendencies to resist change, embrace and learn from criticism and, ultimately, squash your ego. The text covers a case study of Encore Capital, which serves as a great example for any new executive stepping into an interim role or a company undergoing restructuring.

The Power of Habit

Great leaders all have one thing in common: an intense sense of habit. Some wake up at 4am every day (even weekends). Others take 30 minutes a day to meditate. No matter the habit, the key to success in leadership is finding good habits and sticking to them. Written by award-winning business author Charles Duhigg, this book explains what, why, how and when to develop great habits that translate to exceptional leadership. It’s also a great read for personal success!


Agility and the ability to pivot are becoming must-have traits for leaders. You can’t stay set in your ways or you’ll fall into antiquity. Leadershift explores the ability of great leaders to assess, reassess and adapt to evolving situations—be they large-scale economic shifts or small internal company obstacles. Author John Maxwell explains the importance of contingency planning and optionality, and how leaders who can act with quickness and confidence stand to influence the success trajectory of their company. It’s a must-read for up-and-coming CEOs in our post-pandemic world.

The Innovator’s Dilemma

Conventional wisdom says, “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” Unfortunately, that often means waiting until something is broken to act. Companies need to be at the forefront of change and innovation, to create the next best thing before the current solution wears out. From pharmaceutical drugs to automobiles, this book covers the importance of continuous innovation, and how executives can lend themselves to the betterment of products, systems and processes. Author Clayton Christensen encourages new C-suite leaders to create their own destiny by controlling the direction of the market.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

What makes someone succeed? What drives a person to plow through obstacle after obstacle, to overcome their own limitations and find success no matter what? These are the types of questions Angela Duckworth asks in Grit. Her text profiles everyone from marines to football players, to intellectuals, to understand the psychology behind perseverance—and whether it’s a measurable trait. Executive leaders who come to understand the measure of grit will find themselves learning to harness mental fortitude as they approach new challenges.

The Complexity of Cooperation

Everyone approaches a problem in different ways. And while this can make for a variety of solutions, it can also create friction when people don’t see eye-to-eye—even when pursuing a common goal. This book takes a deep dive into how to address miscommunication stemming from perception. It’s a must-read for CEOs with diverse teams, and will show you the power of agent-based modeling: a technique that finds common ground and shared solutions to problems. If you’re stepping in to lead a team that just can’t seem to cooperate, this book needs to be first on your reading list.

Thinking, Fast and Slow

Written by a Nobel Prize-winning economist, this text is drier than others on this list—but it might just be the most insightful. Daniel Kahneman’s book explains how people think: both their emotional System 1 responses and their analytical System 2 outlook. It’s a must-read for executives to hone their understanding of why people act and react the way they do. The book lends itself to situations involving subordinates, business transactions, personal decision-making and more. If you want to become a better, more thoughtful decision-maker, this book deserves your full attention.

Each of these books offers unique insight and perspective into the challenges and expectations of executive leaders. Use the takeaways you glean from them to introduce a new standard of excellence for yourself, your employees and your company.

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