8 must-read books for entrepreneurs

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From hiring the right team and helping them work together to achieve the common objectives to building a great culture - it takes a lot of hard work and learning to create a company that stands out in the crowd. Often you might find your journey to be filled with fear and doubt and in such scenarios, you will need ideas and tools from those “who have seen it and done it” to navigate through the challenges. Here’s a rundown on 10 books on art and practice of leadership that will help entrepreneurs turn challenges to opportunities -

1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey: Having sold over 25 million copies, this book outlines 7 important habits that help individuals work together as a team and become more focussed, informed, and coordinated to achieve the business objectives.

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Habit 4: Think Win-Win

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

Habit 6: Synergise: Principles of Creative Cooperation

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw: Principles of Balanced Self-Renewal.

The book is jam-packed with nuggets of wisdom; but, there’s a particular chapter in Habit 3 that talks about time management, which we think is an area where many entrepreneurs struggle.

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(Source - The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

As an entrepreneur, you may often find yourself wrestling with problems all the time. But how many of them are urgent and not important? And how do you differentiate between urgent and important tasks? The time management matrix helps you better focus and prioritise your time on important things that really matter.

2. The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Chris McChesney & Sean Covey: A business is not about the CEO or the managers. It’s about each and every staff member executing the strategy at the level of excellence you expect.  This book offers a roadmap on how senior leadership can execute their strategic goals by introducing these disciplines.

Discipline 1: Focus on the Wildly Important

Discipline 2: Act on the Lead Measures

Discipline 3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard

Discipline 4: Create a Cadence of Accountability

The book suggests that “instead of hounding staff to do better”, how CEO and managers can manage the data better and keep a scorecard whether the team is losing or winning. From setting specific timelines for wildly important things to define daily and weekly measures, there are some practical gems of wisdom in the book. Instead of the conventional top-down accountability thinking, the book underlines the need for shared accountability wherein the team has a sense of accountability towards each other and not just the manager.

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(Source - The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals)

3. High Performing Entrepreneur by Subroto Bagchi: Anyone who is thinking of starting a business, should definitely read this book. From building your core team and writing a business plan to choosing the right investor and focusing on people, process, and technology, this book has got you covered. A particular chapter titled “A company is known by the customers it keeps” is packed with real-life insights on how to choose customers that will have a positive impact on the evolving personality of your growing organization. He outlines 4 factors that should help you decide whether a client is right for your company or not -

a. ‘Techno-managerial’ value a client brings to the client

b. Trust

c. A sense of equality in day-to-day dealings

d. A commercially win-win deal

4. Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make The Leap...And Others Don’t By Jim Collins: The first chapter begins with a universal truth and that is Good is the enemy of great’ Often businesses stop at being good — sales are good, customers aren’t complaining, and employees seem to be happy. These companies remain good but never become great. This research-backed book opens your eyes to some startling facts when it comes to good-to-great companies such as Technology and technology-driven change has virtually nothing to do with igniting a transformation from good to great. Technology can accelerate a transformation, but technology cannot cause a transformation.The good-to-great companies paid scant attention to managing change, motivating people, or creating alignment. Under the right conditions, the problems of commitment, alignment, motivation, and change largely melt away.

To make a good company great, you need leaders with certain characteristics. In the Chapter titled Level 5 Leadership, Collins tells you an interesting story about Darwin E. Smith, an awkwardly shy CEO with an iron will power, who transformed Kimberly-Clark into the leading paper-based consumer products company in the world. Collins describes Darwin E. Smith as a classic example of Level 5 leader who embodies all 5 layers of this pyramid.

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(Source - Good To Great)

5. Winning by Jack Welch: Jack Welch describes why winning in business is important in a crisp and clear way “…I think winning is great. Not good – great. Winning in business is great because when companies win, people thrive and grow. There are more jobs and more opportunities everywhere and for everyone.”

The book offers a roadmap for everyone from the entry-level staff to managers and CEOs who want to win in a fair and honest way. One of the talked about chapters in the book is titled Differentiation where Jack Welch explains it as “just resource allocation, which is what good leaders do and, in fact, is one of the chief jobs they are paid to do. A company has only so much money and managerial time. Winning leaders invest where the payback is the highest. They cut their losses everywhere else.”

The chapter on Leadership provides a great framework on how great leaders work

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(Source - Winning by Jack Welch)

6. Hire With Your Head By Lou Adler: Once you read Hire With Your Head, you will understand the difference between setting up a system to hire superior people and a system designed to simply fill in the positions. In the chapter titled Emotional Control, Adler explains why one should wait 30 minutes before making any decision about a candidate’s ability to do the work. It’s because first impressions based on superficial factors often result in hiring errors.

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(Source - Hire With Your Head)

If you can get past your negative first impressions, you’ll find some great candidates sitting across the desk from you. Adler says “Of the candidates I interview, 90 percent become very natural in 10 to 20 minutes using the fact-finding and performance-based questioning process we advocate. A 30-minute cooling-off period is a great way to get candidates to relax and for interviewers to regain their objectivity.”

7. Zero To One by ‎Peter Thiel: What’s better - creating something new vs copying a model that already exists? This book by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel explains the power of creating something new and how to build companies that create new things. Chapter 9 titled Foundations, sums it up aptly “a startup messed up at its foundation can’t be fixed.” He talks about -

● Foundation: choosing a co-founder is like getting married.

● Ownership, possession, and control: People who legally own a company’s shares + who runs the company on daily basis +who formally governs the company’s affairs - everyone needs to work well together.

● On the bus or off the bus: everyone should be involved full time

● Cash is not king + vested interests: start-ups don’t need to pay high salaries because they can offer something better, part ownership of the company itself.

● Getting the founding moment right.

8. Jack: Straight From The Gut by Jack Welch: Even before beanbag office culture became ‘cool’, it was Welch who cut loose the bureaucratic red tape and introduced a culture of informality at GE. In the book, Welch calls his leadership style ‘boundaryless’. By which he means letting others constantly know they are valued in the organisation. The book, an intensely personal story describing Welch’s journey in GE - from his early days in the company to him running GE.