Get expert advice on every topic you need as a small business owner, from the ideation stage to your eventual exit. Our articles, quick tips, infographics and how-to guides can offer entrepreneurs the most up-to-date information they need to flourish.

Subscribe to our blog

Influential CEOs and executives share their favorite books on leadership

Posted by Shivali Anand

March 23, 2022    |     7-minute read (1336 words)

A great book can be the ideal companion, source of inspiration or form of relaxation whether you prefer the feel of a hard-bound book or prefer to listen to the audio version.

If you’re looking for your next great read, The World Economic Forum has compiled a list of leadership books that "taught, challenged and inspired minds at Bank of America, IBM, Unilever and more." Below is a recap of their recommendations.

1. Brian Grazer's “A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life”

Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, highly recommends this book. According to Moynihan, the author reveals how curiosity is essential in overcoming challenges because it allows you to stay open-minded rather than assuming you know all the answers. This New York Times bestseller provides a fascinating look into the curious conversations that led to Grazer's creation of some of the world's most recognizable films and television shows.

2. Dean Acheson's “Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department”

– Dean Acheson, who served as secretary of state during Harry Truman’s presidency, was instrumental in the postwar construction of several global structures. Acheson got through that period with boundless energy, determination and a near-complete lack of understanding of the challenge he was up against.

According to former Ambassador Tom Shannon, “Our modern era also brings uncertainty, but we sometimes have a better sense for certain challenges before us and these memoirs can be an inspiring take on grappling with difficult times.”

3. Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu's “Made for Goodness: And Why This Makes All the Difference”

– According to Tariq Al Olaimy, CEO and founder of 3BL Associates, this is his go-to book. The authors describes the horrors of South Africa's HIV/AIDS crisis and the trust and goodness that persisted. “It is a remembrance for me of believing in the goodness of human beings,” Al Olaimy explains.

4. Sogyal Rinpoche's “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”

– Leena Nair, Unilever's chief human resource officer, highly recommends this book. It serves as an introduction to Tibetan Buddhist teachings and encouraged Nair to ponder both life and death and purpose and meaning in the wake of COVID-19.

5. Adam Grant's “Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success”

– Rich Lesser, CEO of Boston Consulting Group, endorses this book, which he first read early in his term as CEO. Lesser says he considers the concept of putting others' achievements first to be inspirational and crucial to BCG's goals. Lesser provides each managing director and partner a copy of the book, and it even inspired a special reading club session with his executive committee.

6. Doris Kearns Goodwin's “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”

– This book looks at Abraham Lincoln's cabinet, a collection of opponents and rivals who became allies owing to their admiration for the president. “What you get from that is that even though you have enemies, even though you have competitors, if you work together with them, you can achieve some great things,” says David Rubenstein, co-founder of The Carlyle Group.

7. Blair H. Sheppard's “Ten Years to Midnight: Four Urgent Global Crises and Strategic Solutions”

– PwC Network's global leader for strategy and leadership, Sheppard discusses some of the most pressing world issues based on conversations with a diverse group of people, ranging from international leaders to taxi drivers.

Regardless of their backgrounds, respondents in “Ten Years to Midnight” expressed universal worries about issues such as financial inequality and technology’s disruption. The book also explains how these issues led to four major crises, analyzing each one and proposing sometimes counterintuitive solutions.

According to PwC's global chairman Bob Moritz, the book helped the firm refine its strategic thinking and find new ways to act. “To me, it was a great opportunity to encapsulate the challenges and then really get to the next steps of what we do,” he said.

8. Clayton M. Christensen's “The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations out of Poverty”

– This book exposes the limitations of conventional economic development models, which are often top-down in nature, and proposes a new framework for economic growth based on entrepreneurialism and market-creating innovation.

Lindiwe Matlali, the founder of Africa Teen Geeks (Africa's largest computer science NGO), is dedicated to reshaping opportunities across the continent by fostering a pipeline of new developers, engineers and entrepreneurs through technology education. Matlali is passionate about promoting entrepreneurship and she believes Christiansen's approach to design is crucial in helping people all over the world reshape their future.

9. Ken Langone's “I Love Capitalism!: An American Story”

– Ernst & Young CEO Carmine Di Sibio recommends this book, which encompasses the story of the Long Island native who became a director of the New York Stock Exchange, a world-class philanthropist and the co-founder of Home Depot is explored. The book illustrates the various possibilities that capitalism can provide, says Di Sibio.

10. Jim Collins' “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't”

– Based on facts and figures, this book examines how major business challenges can only be overcome with great people and a great culture. “The fact that you are attracting talented people is the biggest determinant of whether you're going to be able to build a great enduring company. As they grow, the company will grow,” says Carlos Brito, former CEO of AB InBev.

11. Fiona Reynolds' “The Fight for Beauty: Our Path to a Better Future”

– This book unearths the economic and political forces that have shaped the countryside and the history of Britain's belief in the importance of the beautiful landscapes. Polly Courtice, the former founding director of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, says she enjoyed learning more about the conflict between nature and the economy. The book also moved her because she grew up in South Africa and developed an appreciation for the world's beauty around us.

Courtice believes that while some of the battles we're fighting aren't new, the scope is more extensive and the risks are greater now. She says, “if we don't recognize that, we have to live in harmony with the natural world.”

12. Michael Sandel's “The Tyranny of Merit: What's Become of the Common Good”

– This book examines society's obsession with success and how it can be a surprising source of divisions and inequality. “It's an analysis of the dark side of meritocracy,” Dario Gil, director of IBM Research, explains. Winners in this system may have an exaggerated sense of their own importance. In contrast, losers, who are denied access to specific paths to success, such as degrees and other credentials, may be dismissed as undeserving.

13. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett's “The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger” – The recommendation of organizational psychologist John Amaechi provides a fresh perspective on why greater economic equality is the hallmark of successful societies.

14. Sook Nyul Choi's “Year of Impossible Goodbyes”

– Audrey Choi, Morgan Stanley's chief sustainability officer, provided this book recommendation. It tells the story of her mother's childhood in North Korea during World War II when the Japanese occupied her country. Choi, born and raised in the U.S., believes the book provides a unique perspective on the nature of the opportunity and how advancement is becoming increasingly elusive in many parts of the world.

15. Anne Case and Angus Deaton's “Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism”

– Debra Whitman, chief public policy officer at AARP, looked into this book while writing a book on the second half of life and discovered several surprise swings in life expectancy, including the fact that men in the top 1% of income live 15 years longer than men in the poorest 1%. These statistics demonstrate how income inequality has paved the way for life inequality, resulting in disparities in the amount of time people can spend with their families on Earth. According to Whitman, this “under-the-radar” concept of life inequity has influenced our politics and comprehending it can help anyone understand how many people see their future.

Learn how we can put more time back in your day.