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17 Best Books Every CEO Should Read

Looking for the best books about CEOs, for CEOs, and by CEOs? Read this article to discover our 2023 list of 17 must-read books for executives!


Did you know that the average CEO has just two hours of downtime each day, according to The Harvard Business Review? Yet, most of them read five books every month. That’s a total of 60 books a year! 

Allocating time towards self-improvement and business insights can be highly beneficial for business leaders and their companies, but time is of the essence.

To save you from the stress of deciding which books to read, we compiled a list of the best books for CEOs that focus on growth amid an ever-changing global economy. These books are aimed at both current and future CEOs and address leadership, the future of work, strategy, investment, and financial intelligence.

Key Points

  • Books written by and for CEOs can help top executives gain the abilities and perspective needed to lead organizations toward success.

  • Some top-rated books for CEOs include A Promised Land by Barack Obama, Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown, and The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins.

  • Many aspiring CEOs would like to read all 17 books listed in their entirety. However, you may find yourself strapped for time and wanting to get all this information quickly. But there’s a solution! The Headway app allows you to gain unlimited access to 15-minute book summaries, so you can get the main ideas from hundreds of books in no time!

From CEO best practice guides to executive memoirs, here is a list of 17 must-read CEO books to help develop top leadership skills.

1. A Promised Land by Barack Obama

A Promised Land is a memoir by Barack Obama that tells the story of his rise to the highest office in the United States. The book details first-person insider access and insights from the 44th president's journey into politics. The memoir includes parts of personal and national history, inspiration, and leadership philosophy.

Obama covers concepts like rising to the responsibilities of leadership, overcoming daunting obstacles, and retaining a sense of humor and optimism in the face of struggle. A Promised Land is a primer for readers in graceful leadership, advising aspiring greats on the best ways to build a meaningful legacy.

2. Remote Work Revolution by Tsedal Neeley

This CEO book is one of the first of its kind to provide evidence-based answers on how to navigate the transition to remote work. Harvard Business School professor Tsedal Neeley provides a blueprint on how to maintain a dynamic, motivated team in a digital environment using actionable steps and interactive tools. 

Neeley spent over a decade studying international companies and decentralized teams, and she applies the results of this research to the COVID-19 era. The book is written using a well-defined roadmap and clearly demarcating lessons. It also includes a condensed action guide at the end. Remote Work Revolution is a top read for CEOs and leaders moving forward into the post-pandemic world.

3. The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger

The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company is one of the most acclaimed recent CEO books by a famous business person. Robert Iger reveals valuable perspectives gained from a decade and a half as the CEO of Disney, one of the most popular, profitable, and beloved companies in the world. 

The author elaborates on central wisdom such as “betting on talent,” “the power of respect,” and “if you don’t innovate, you die,” backing up each belief with experience. This CEO book champions values such as optimizing, decisiveness, fairness, and courage, offering a blueprint for legendary leadership.

4. The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham, Jason Zweig, and Warren E. Buffett

The Intelligent Investor is globally praised for its proven strategies. Benjamin Graham, an experienced investor himself, has been a great inspiration for many CEOs seeking investment opportunities. This guide, written in collaboration with investment gurus Jason Zweig and Warren Buffett, has been referred to as the investment advisory of the 20th century.

The Intelligent Investor: The Definitive Book on Value Investing has been updated and adjusted according to the latest developments and current markets, resulting in a complete and comprehensive topical book on investment. The book can be used as a guideline for CEOs interested in investing, or it can provide tips and tricks to CEOs that are already experienced in the field but are looking for more in-depth information.

5. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Thinking, Fast and Slow explores two approaches to thinking. One approach is more emotional, immediate, intuition-based judgment, and the other is more thorough, conscious, and logical. Each method has appropriate applications and fits particular situations. 

Kahneman explains each style of thinking, delving deep into highly-pertinent business themes like over-confidence and decision-making. A CEO needs to be the central brain of an organization. Thinking, Fast and Slow helps executives strike the right balance between feeling and reasoning, assisting leaders in managing their own mindsets and converting employees to their wavelength.

6. Developing the Leader Within You 2.0 by John C. Maxwell 

When it comes to finding the best books for aspiring CEOs, John C. Maxwell is a good one to start with. He is an internationally recognized leadership expert, teacher, and author, who has sold 26 million copies of his books across the globe in 50 languages. 

This book is the second, updated version of the worldwide bestseller Developing the Leader Within You, published in 1993. Drawing on his own experiences as a leader for over 40 years, Maxwell provides invaluable insights and advice that aim to multiply your impact. According to Maxwell, great leaders are made by their ability to empower others, not by their ability to accumulate authority. He bases his argument on the ten principles of leadership, creating a comprehensible, well-structured guide for every business leader. 

 7. Invent and Wander by Jeff Bezos and Walter Isaacson

The majority of the best CEO biographies trace the full life journey of executives. Invent and Wander does exactly that by collecting writings, advice, and guidance from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. 

The book collects Bezos’ most impactful correspondence and speeches from 1997 to the present, piecing together the revolutionary founder’s philosophy and keys to success one memo at a time.

8. The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins

The First 90 Days is considered one of the best books for future CEOs, offering a systematic plan to optimize your first 90 days as a CEO. Watkins explains how to hit the ground running by planning your goals after the first day, week, month, two months, and three months. 

Watkins states that it is crucial to match strategy to situations, and this is exactly what this book aims to explain. Using a range of management strategies, Watkins describes how to develop a clear roadmap when entering a new role. He uses common example situations to demonstrate how to apply theoretical matters in real life. 

 9. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

 Business greats like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates praise Shoe Dog as one of the best CEO memoirs. The book tells the tale of Nike founder Phil Knight, tracing his journey from humble beginnings to the head of the prolific shoe company. 

Knight presents an honest view of his hurdles, detailing the odds he overcame and the relationships he forged along the way to build one of the most influential brands in the world. The book is an especially apt read for aspiring entrepreneurs in search of level-headed, non-romanticized advice.

10. Financial Intelligence by Karen Berman and Joe Knight

According to Forbes, only 22% of Fortune 100 CEOs began their career in finance. Yet, all CEOs across all countries and industries must have a working knowledge of the financial data that makes up their company. If most corporate firms are measured by numbers, leaders must understand how their decisions affect these numbers. 

Berman and Knight have trained thousands of leaders in acquiring financial literacy. They examine the key components of corporate finance, balancing out theory with practical examples of business models. Not only does this CEO book break down financial jargon into comprehensible terms, but it also teaches rational decision-making when it comes to financial reporting. 

11. The Leader’s Guide to Unconscious Bias by Pamela Fuller and Mark Murphy with Anne Chow

Awareness of implicit and unconscious bias is vital to being a fair and respected leader. The Leader’s Guide to Unconscious Bias explains that, while most bias is unintentional, leaders who actively choose to discover their unconscious bias are significantly more likely to be trusted by their employees and clients. 

By using the extensive experience of writers as diversity analysts and thought leaders, Fuller has created a toolkit for executives looking to improve both themselves and their companies by opening their minds and behaviors. This book deserves a place among the best books for CEOs as it encourages positive change as diversity and indiscrimination become priorities in the workplace. 

 12. The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova

Unlike the other books in this list, The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win is a book about poker. At its core, poker is a game that centers around reading people accurately and maintaining an air of composure and mystery. These are all behaviors that CEOs must also emulate in boardrooms and offices. 

The Biggest Bluff is a master course in human psychology and the art of persuasion told through the lens of one woman’s ascent through the world of professional gambling.

13. No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram by Sarah Frier

In No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram, Reporter Sarah Frier takes readers on a journey inside the Instagram organization, tracking the company from inception to becoming an app behemoth. The book outlines the founders’ vision and mission as well as draws on the perspectives of societal figures to define the impact Instagram has made on modern life.

Instagram continues to be one of the most influential companies in the world, and it is helpful for any leader or CEO to understand how it works. The end result is a primer on how to launch, maintain, and grow a revolutionary company.

14. Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall

Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World challenges common wisdom about work that leads to frustration, conflict, and disengagement. This CEO book unpacks typical misconceptions, such as that company culture determines success more than individual team strength. Buckingham and Goodall offer more realistic analyses backed up with facts and examples. 

Nine Lies About Work tackles topics such as goal-setting, feedback, and employee loyalty.

15. The Outsiders by William Thorndike

What defines your success as a CEO? The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success details a different approach to success. Thorndike explains financial success can come through consistency and relentless rationality. It emphasizes the compelling, rational way of eight executives whose road to a substantial return on investment was outstanding but controversial.

Their success was mainly a result of investing and evaluating the performance of interesting businesses. The Outsiders covers the stories of eight CEOs whose firms’ average returns outperformed the Standard and Poor's 500 (S&P 500) by a factor of twenty. 

 16. Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone is a guide to having the courage to stand up in the face of criticism or dissent. Brown teaches readers how to be empathetic and open yet honest and strong. She explores how to discover and defend your principles. This CEO book is an introduction to authentic leadership and aims to help readers find true belonging through self-reflection and spiritual exploration.

17. Buy Then Build by Walker Deibel

This CEO book offers valuable advice on becoming a successful acquisition entrepreneur based on the experience of seasoned investor Walker Diebel. Diebel has co-founded three startups and acquired seven companies, all enhanced by research and data. 

Buy Then Build: How Acquisition Entrepreneurs Outsmart the Startup Game provides guidance ranging from long-term financial strategies to effective communication with brokers, covering all the key steps in acquiring your own company. In the context of a highly competitive market, where 534,000 businesses are started in the US every month, his advice offers a viable alternative to starting your own business.

Read The Best Books For CEOs Faster With Headway

Whether you already run your own company or are just looking to found a startup and become a CEO, you probably don’t have much free time on your hands. If you already work 80 hours a week and wonder how to fit reading into your schedule, you’re not alone! And the Headway app may be just what you need to reach your goals. This is because Headway provides concise summaries of the best books for CEOs and executives that take only 15 minutes to read or listen to. Download the Headway app and start your journey toward becoming an even better version of yourself today!

Frequently Asked Questions

What books do CEOs read?

Many CEOs gravitate towards memoirs and nonfiction bestsellers. The reading habits of executives vary depending on guiding philosophies, management style, and industry. However, a few books that many famous CEOs regularly recommend include Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, A Promised Land by Barack Obama, and Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown.

What are CEO books?

CEO books are books written for or by executives. Some of these works are profiles of famous figures, while others serve as guides and philosophies for high-level leadership. These books may come in the form of biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, self-help books, philosophies, manifestos, inspirational readings, or instructional guides.

How do CEOs benefit from reading books?

As a CEO, reading the right books can be critical in optimizing the performance of your company. Being a CEO is not just about reaching the top position; it is about thriving and continuing in your role once you get there. One of the most effective ways of doing this is by learning from the mistakes, successes, and insights of others. 

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