Strategy, Legal & Operations

Christmas gifts for busy business leaders: Top 5 audiobooks

What do you buy for busy business leaders at Christmas?

Time would be a wonderful gift if it was possible! There’s so much to do when it comes to running a business but it’s also important to keep learning.

I’ve found an awesome business hack for my mind – it’s something that worked well for me and could be ideal if you want to buy Christmas gifts for business leaders that could help focus their mindsets and improve their strategies.

I’d always struggled with reading business books.

Not reading – I love reading.

But I read to relax and fall asleep, so I could never bring myself to give these precious moments over to thinking (even more) about work.

Then one day, I had an epiphany: why not try audiobooks?

I picked one from a list of business books I’d been given and advised to read, and immediately I knew that I’d managed to hack myself.

Now I could listen and learn when I was driving or at the gym – previously unproductive time suddenly held value. Anyone who runs a business can empathise with finding a new efficiency!

Here are five audiobooks (or books if you prefer the physical version) that I recommend if you want to developing your thinking around your business – or want to give as a Christmas present.

Get A Grip

What’s the book about?

This is the book that got me on to the track of all that follows in this article.

Get A Grip is a (fictional) business story about a lady who suddenly finds herself with a business that is really hard work, not making much money and struggling to make progress.

She feels stuck and tired and unsure what to do.

Her fortunes change when she’s introduced to a consultant who helps her put in place some tools and processes that bring the business back into line.

How did this book help me?

Get A Grip helped me to understand that my business was harder work than it should be and that I wasn’t being an effective leader or manager for the team.

At the time, I had the feeling that I was tied to four horses that were all running in random directions.

Sometimes they all ran in the same direction and we made progress but often they were pulling in opposite directions and that was creating stress in the business and for me.

Above all, the book made me realise that I was being foolish by failing to learn from others who had been before me and found effective ways to run and grow businesses.

It gave me the resolve to change that.

Lessons you can take away

  • Make time to develop a strategy that you can actually use to help run the business.
  • Review your organisation’s structure to make sure everyone is clear on how they contribute to the overall progress of the business.
  • Develop key performance indicators (KPIs) that your leaders can really use to assess the health and performance of the business – and implement the tools (such as accounting software) that give you the KPIs automatically.

Get A Grip is by Mike Paton and Gino Wickman.

Scaling Up

What’s the book about?

Scaling Up is the natural sequel to Get A Grip.

Where Get A Grip was a story, this is a practical guide to implementing the methodology behind the story, going into more detail and in a more structured way.

How did this book help me?

Scaling Up reinforced the thinking and ideas from Get A Grip in a way that gave me a clear roadmap for how to improve my business.

It’s not such easy going as Get A Grip and in fact I did buy this one as a hard copy to refer back to because there are lots of templates, diagrams and guides that are better in hard copy than to listen to.

Lessons you can take away

  • Learning how to use the tools and processes that have been developed by others is often a better idea than trying to invent your own all the time.
  • The skills you need to work ON the business are sometimes even harder and more important than the skills you need to work IN the business.
  • Take time to translate advice and ideas into actual artefacts for your business, don’t just think about them.

Scaling Up is by Verne Harnish.

Great By Choice

What’s the book about?

Pitched as a scientific research study, Great By Choice is one of a series of books by a team of authors who look at how organisations thrive.

Great By Choice picks a specific economic period and compares similar businesses in the same sector that performed very differently over that time.

The authors use a nice mix of stories (both business and not) to illustrate the study’s findings. Most of it is genuinely interesting and pretty easy going.

How did this book help me?

Great By Choice made me think a lot. It’s incredibly dense in terms of insight and sticky ideas, such as the ’20 mile march’, ‘fire bullets then cannonballs’ and ‘SMaC (specific, methodical and consistent) recipe’.

I was reassured by learning that Bill Gates was famously paranoid and spent much of his time worrying about the threats to Microsoft.

I was inspired by the examples of discipline that underpinned the successes of explorers and climbers in life-or-death situations and my desire to try to fix everything all at once was tempered by the authors’ finding that the most successful companies were usually those who actually changed at a conservative pace.

Where other books I’ve read have given me invaluable practical advice, Great By Choice was more of an inspiration and thought journey that both reassured me and gave the feeling of a recipe book-style guide to running the business.

Lessons you can take away

  • Combine discipline, a true understanding of risk and empirical evidence to guide your daily business decisions.
  • Develop your own SMaC recipe to help you assess decisions about strategy and change.
  • While you can’t affect how lucky/unlucky you are, you can absolutely influence your ability to respond.
  • Innovation is nothing without the ability to execute too.

Great By Choice is by Jim Collins and Morten T Hansen.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

What’s the book about?

To understand the book, you must first understand who Ben Horowitz is, as the book draws a lot on his personal journey.

He’s a co-founder of one of Silicon Valley’s most respected venture capital firms and co-founder of Loudcloud (later Opsware), which he sold to Hewlett Packard for $1.6bn (€1.3bn) in cash.

Where other books give practical advice, sound theoretical models or insights into leading a team, The Hard Thing About Hard Things focuses with laser vision on the things that can make leading and running a business super hard in very specific ways.

Such as how to manage your own psychology with a whole company depending on you; how to fire or demote your friends; whether it’s OK to hire from your friends’ businesses; and just how hard the journey is.

How did this book help me?

Listening to this book was a kind of therapy for me. Even just hearing someone say out loud that it can be really hard to do the things I’m trying to do daily was an incredible emotional crutch.

Ben’s business experiences are of such a different scale to my own that in some ways it put my own challenges into perspective and made them feel more manageable.

But there were plenty of stories and examples that were directly applicable and getting Ben’s insight on how those challenges have played out for him over his professional life was invaluable.

The book also left me feeling more forewarned and prepared about challenges I haven’t faced yet but likely will.

Lessons you can take away

  • Even if you run a business according to the very best practical and theoretical advice, you can never remove the human and emotional challenges that come with that journey.
  • It can be incredibly stressful to start and lead a business so if you know someone that’s doing that, don’t underestimate the importance of emotional support.
  • Other people have done what you’re trying to do and far more, seeking their advice and insight is an incredible worthwhile thing to do.

The Hard Things About Hard Things is by Ben Horowitz. 

Homo Deus

What’s the book about?

This is definitely a ‘zoom out’ kind of read from a business perspective – and a book I’d read out of personal interest/pleasure as well as for business and professional development.

It’s a sequel to Sapiens that is billed as a brief history of the future for humanity.

Author Yuval Noah Harari takes his skills as a historian and applies them to looking forward to the next 30 years or so and asks how the trends and challenges of today could play out.

It’s on my list of business book recommendations because I believe that as the world changes faster and ever faster, it’s important for any entrepreneur or business leader to challenge themselves to imagine the role their enterprise might have in that future.

The first half of the book felt a bit slower while the author covered off the foundations of the premise.

The second half was where the book shone for me, zooming out and helping me to see the present in context and to think about the future.

How did this book help me?

Homo Deus excited and inspired me.

I’m a closet futurist and optimist, so I find comfort in zooming out of daily challenges and allowing my mind to wander about our place in history and the legacy we should seek to leave.

Not insignificantly, it gave me justification to listen to something I enjoyed but which was also super valuable for strategic thinking about my work.

When personal and business interests intersect like that, it’s a particularly enjoyable experience.

Lessons you can take away

  • We don’t spend enough time thinking about the future.
  • When we do think about the future, we’re often confined by our imagination instead of applying logical and rational extrapolation.
  • It’s invaluable to have your assumptions about the future challenged.
  • We live in a time of great change and understanding the choices we’re making now is super important for all our futures.

Homo Deus is by Yuval Noah Harari. 

Which books would you recommend to your fellow business leaders or send them as Christmas gifts? Let us know in the comments below.