Learn about leadership from stories

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Bill Gates just declared that his favorite business book is Business Adventures, by John Brooks. He’s been reading and re-reading that book for more than twenty years.

When someone as smart and successful as Bill Gates has been going back to a book for a couple of decades, it makes sense to figure out why. We should find out something about the best business books to read.

Business books are about three things

There are thousands of business books published every year. That’s a lot, but you can sort those thousands into three piles.

Some business books are about technology or business fads that come and go like the wind. Other books are about the state of business today, subjects that change slowly and steadily. And there are books that illuminate human nature, which doesn’t change on any time scale that matters.

Learn about human nature from business books

I’ve read a lot of books in my lifetime. The books on old technology are all gone. There are books about business issues from my earliest days in business, but I hardly ever go back to any of them.

The ones that I keep going back to are the ones that help me understand human nature. I’ve been re-reading several books like that for almost half a century. Business Adventures is one of them. Most of the books I return to use stories to draw me. It’s one reason I still re-read In Search of Excellence.

Those stories help me understand human nature in a way that a list of bullet points never can. But business books aren’t the only place to find stories that will help you understand human nature in business.

Cast your net wider with history, biography, and fiction

Don’t just read business books. Read history and biography for insight into how human beings meet challenges and deal with each other. Read story (as opposed to literary) novels that put you inside the head of another human being.


From Steve Lohr: With the Blessing of Bill Gates, an Unlikely Summertime Best Seller

“Microsoft’s co-founder has resurrected Business Adventures, a book published in 1969, and made it a best seller by declaring it his favorite business book.”

From Hanneke Siebelink: Why Great Leaders Read Books

“While the book lover in me does not believe that reading should be mandatory, Mr. Wang’s action made me reflect on the possible leadership advantages of cultivating reading habits. Can reading – and not just expert articles and business books but also novels, narrative history and well written biographies for instance – make people better leaders?”

From John Coleman: For Those Who Want to Lead, Read

“Business people seem to be reading less — particularly material unrelated to business. But deep, broad reading habits are often a defining characteristic of our greatest leaders and can catalyze insight, innovation, empathy, and personal effectiveness.”

From Annie Murphy Paul: Your Brain on Fiction

“Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.”

You may also enjoy my post: “How to write a book that people will read for years.

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