Summer Reading List: Improve Yourself With These 5 Business Essentials


Whether you’ve just finished another year at school or are fully-immersed in a full-time job, I beckon you to spend at least some time this summer at the beach, cottage, campground or park buried in some great books.

As a new grad or student, it’s often an intimidating and daunting experience to work with a team of seasoned professionals and manage to hold your own, let alone stand out. One way you can achieve this is by being well read.

While you may be lacking in real world experience, you can leverage some of the best concepts, ideas and strategies to work at the top of your game – well before you’ve hit your tenure mark.

Here are my Top 5 choices for improving yourself at work and in business, including an overview of why you should read them and what you’ll take away.

So read and enjoy – or challenge – any of these picks, just make sure you take some time to dust off your library card and get reading this summer.


What The CEO Wants You To Know

“Using business acumen to understand how your company really works”

By Ram Charan

What the CEO Wants You to Know

The Draw

The appeal of What The CEO Wants You To Know for the new grad is that it provides a comprehensive overview of business concepts in an easy-reading style, and presents you with all of the key business knowledge you should have when you first jump into the work force.

Regardless of your industry or position, understanding your business and how your company makes money, not just how to do your job, is a key to success.

Ram Charan draws on years of business advising and management coaching experience to deliver this message and breaks down the principles of business in an engaging and straight forward way.

The Take Away

Your take aways from this book will vary depending on your own personal background. A business major may find it simplistic, but pretty much everyone else will find value in the comprehensive information that is presented in the book, and be able to apply that knowledge to improve their own understanding of business and personal performance.


Getting Things Done

“The art of stress-free productivity”

By David Allen

The Draw

If you’ve ever experienced the looming fear of a rapidly-approaching paper or project deadline, you are familiar with the issue of procrastination and how the inability to get things done can cripple even the brightest student or employee.

In Getting Things Done, David Allen outlines concrete methods for time management that will allow you to increase your productivity through easy-to-follow process maps and methods that are not complicated to implement but which will make big changes to your productivity.

The Take Away

Many people make to-do lists, but not many of us are able to translate these lists into actionable items and, as a result, we never reach the end of our ever expanding to-do lists. David argues that by following a structured system of organization, you can clear your mind of the stress that continually pops up from incomplete items and focus better on the work at hand. This improves both your ability to complete work on time and also work on a more engaged and productive level.

As someone who has had an active to-do list since the age of seven, I have personally seen a big improvement in my ability to focus and finish items on my to-do list.


How To be Exceptional

“Drive leadership success by magnifying your strengths”

By John Zenger, Joseph Folkman, Robert H. Sherwin Jr., and Barbara Steel

The Draw

How To Be Exceptional is on this list because it presents a compelling leadership development method that runs counter to much of the information that is currently prevailing in the business world. Although it’s geared toward leaders, I think it’s applicable for new grads becaus,e in my experience, being newer in your field can mean you default to focusing on improving your weaknesses instead of highlighting your strengths when it comes to development.

Instead of focusing on those things we know we do great, we focus on building competencies we may be lacking, thereby missing opportunities early on to really showcase the natural talents we have. This is not to say you shouldn’t strive to improve your overall skills, but outside of a “fatal flaw,” the authors demonstrate through concrete research that focusing on improving your strengths will better serve you to move from ordinary to exceptional.

The Take Away

In the words of the authors, “what made a leader great was the presence of strengths, not the absence of weaknesses.” This book will highlight for you the importance of magnifying your strengths by introducing the concept of cross-training in order for you to develop similar competencies to the skills you already do well.

And for those of us who may be unsure of what our strengths and weaknesses are, the authors suggest that completing 360-degree feedback surveys can help you identify these. Outside of a formal feedback program, new grads are usually in a great position to continually solicit feedback from your peers on your performance and you can use this information to fill in the gaps.


So Good They Can’t Ignore You

“Why skills trump passion in the quest for work you love”

By Cal Newport

The Draw

I’d be interested to see a statistic on how many of us Gen Ys believe we should follow our passion when selecting a career. I think this number would be pretty high, but what if we had it wrong? What if following your passion isn’t the best career advice after all? Perhaps the alarming number of young people unable to find jobs in their chosen fields should tell us a story we haven’t heard yet.

This is why So Good They Can’t Ignore You is a great read. It presents the flip side of choosing a career based on what one may be passionate about. Cal argues that by creating a “craftsman mindset” as opposed to a “passion mindset,” one can clearly see what needs to be done and build the skills necessary to grow career capital that will help you translate your skills into valuable work, thereby providing you with the ability to create your dream job.

How many of us have tried to answer the ominous question of “what am I meant to do?” while not focusing on building concrete skills that will help us launch a real career?

The Take Away

Before you start to think this is a “Debbie Downer” book that’s going to rain on your passion parade, remember that most people are not born knowing what they want to do. You have no crystal ball that will tell you which job you will love the most or which career you will succeed in, and in the interim many people waste years working in dead-end jobs trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up.

The book provides concrete takeaways that you can apply in your own life to help you build your skills and career capital even when you are struggling to translate your passions into career choices.


The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People

“Powerful lessons in personal change”

By Stephen R. Covey

The Draw

Perhaps one of the best-known business books of all time, Stephen Covey has built an empire on helping people become more productive. The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People is a book that presents real, concrete concepts (with only a dash or two of the new-age, hippie stuff) that you can utilize to increase your effectiveness in your role.

The Take Away

This is not a book you read once and put away; it’s a reference guide as much as it is anything. Much of the benefit comes from continually reviewing the key principles set forth in the book and ensuring you’re on track. For new grads and students, The 7 Habits can lay the groundwork for working through so many of the issues you will encounter throughout your career and sets the stage for becoming a successful, effective leader.


For more great reads on improving yourself in business, check out:

  • Flow by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi
  • How To Be A Star At Work by Robert E. Kelley
  • How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive by Harvey B. Mackay

Photo credit: Sarah Browning