Leaders are readers and readers are leaders. That is the mantra that mentors used with me for as long as I can remember. In business coaching a similar frame is as relevant today, and perhaps more so given the pace-of-life, that we slow down enough to read. We benefit from giving ourselves time to think and essentially have a conversation with ourselves. 

Whether when mentoring, speaking about executive business coaching, or describing my personal philosophy behind Leader’s Cut, the question often arises, “what books do you recommend.” And while I always have a current favorite, there are four timeless classics that I tout as foundational for business success.

My recommendations are based on four aspects of leadership: 1) the awareness required for personal accountability, 2) the impact of having the wrong person in the wrong seat, 3) the facts of motivation, both your own and that of your team, and 4) the impact of communication. Here are the top 4 books to level up your business in 2021.

#1 The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

The Four AgreementsThe 4 agreements are: 1) be impeccable with your word, 2) don’t take anything personally, 3) don’t make assumptions, and 4) always do your best. Don Miguel Ruiz has written this quick and powerful read to set the tone for personal accountability and integrity. This was recommended to me by my Uncle Richard as the ideal framework for controlling what we can control, taking accountability for the two things we can control (what we think and what we do), and for achieving a healthy mindset toward others. As a business coach in Northern Arizona introducing myself to new people nearly every week, this is a wonderful icebreaker to know one another in a more meaningful way. 

In business coaching companies the four agreements book is a philosophy of positive intent, self reflection, and personal responsibility.  To me it’s a constant reminder that focusing on what I say, to whom I say it, with what intent, and the effort I expend are the things that challenge me to be in a constant growth mindset.


#2 The No-Asshole Rule by Dr. Robert Sutton

The No Asshole RuleBob Sutton, organizational psychologist and professor at Stanford University, wrote this amazing book after the popularity of one of the most read articles of all time in the Harvard Business Review. Business coaching services nearly always include, at a minimum, conversations around hiring, training, development, and retention of top talent. Therefore, this book is on the must-read list as Bob quickly helps the reader see the devastating impact that the “asshole” has on the team, the leader, and ultimately the organization. Often we surface disconnects in core values during an EOS Implementation™; frequently the disconnect between a team members’ performance and their egregious behavior is a real test of integrity. Leaders find themselves tolerating bad behavior as a trade for stellar performance. Bob helps us understand the context of that decision as it impacts our team, our business and ourselves as leaders. 

After reading this, you will struggle less when expecting every member of the organization to live the core values you’ve put in place through a deep understanding of what “ends justifies the means” can do to your team and company.


#3 Drive by Daniel H. Pink

Drive by Daniel H. PinkBusiness denies what science knows. So says Dan Pink in his classic book, Drive – the authoritative book on what actually motivates people as opposed to what we think does. Of all the philosophies that draw resistance, this has to be chief among them. Why? Because human beings love to stick with what they believe even in the face of evidence that it may not be true. For instance, during a business coaching engagement, we may quickly discover that our motivation problem is a function of poor leadership, unconcerned managers, and lack of personal connection. The knee-jerk response is to either refer to a lucrative bonus program or to suggest implementing one. Unfortunately, money does not motivate, but rather it satisfies. Don’t believe me? Grab a copy of the book or at least start with Dan’s phenomenally popular Ted Talk.   

Doing the hard work of leadership, motivation is a function of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. There are specific examples of senior leaders showing me copies of this book, claiming to understand those concepts and then declaring their micromanaging ways as the secret of their performance success. There are far more examples of successful business coaching engagements where we created the structure to support every team member in their journey toward autonomy, mastery and purpose leading to shattering of previous ceilings.


#4 Verbal Judo by George Thompson

Verbal Judo by George ThompsonOn more than one occasion a leader has uttered something like: “can’t they just do as I ask?” Or perhaps something more subtle: “how many times do I need to explain this?” You see where this is going? There is a natural inclination to be in a state of ‘doing’, which is quite important to moving forward. But if you and your team are not clear about direction, you may all spend a great amount of time moving quickly … in the wrong direction. Much of this can easily be eliminated with clear, concise, and powerful communication.

Dr. Thompson uses the five universal truths to set the condition for responding versus reacting: 1) people need to feel respected, 2) people want to be asked rather than told, 3) people need to know why, 4) people desire options rather than threats, and 5) people desire a second chance to do better. Just as the Four Agreements set the tone for mindset, Verbal Judo sets the tone for proactive, considered communication. You can think of this  as a way to narrow your energy to be impactful every time. This is the answer to, “how many times do I have to …”. Pause, consider, plan, then speak. Use the energy of conversation in the direction of positive growth.



Investing the hours to read The Four Agreements, The No-Asshole Rule, Drive, and Verbal Judo will set the standard for you to level up your business in 2021. Each dimension of success is addressed: internal mindset, motivation, team-building, and communication; there is no circumstance, business challenge, economic impact, or other goal not tackled by getting a grip on every dimension. This is how you get durable results while enjoying the journey.

Ken Kilday is the CEO/founder of Leader’s Cut: The Ken Kilday Coaching Experience. Ken is an entrepreneur himself who designed, built, launched, and rejuvenated successful businesses and now he takes great joy in helping other businesses find success through Executive Business Coaching and as an EOS Implementer®. Ken works with owners of businesses of all sizes to implement actions, evaluate success, and adjust to new, improved habits and actions to produce repeatable and predictable outcomes independent of changing business cycles. Now is the time to start working towards your 2021 business goals by hiring a business coach for 2021. Most profitable small businesses have a business coach they work with. Contact Ken to schedule a 15-minute Meet & Greet and discover how business coaching services can help you get a jump start on 2021 NOW!


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