Get Ahead

5 books to help you be smarter and more successful at work from Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and more

Share
Evgenyatamanenko | Istock | Getty Images

Finding the time, or motivation, to read a 300-plus page book after an exhausting workday is no easy feat.  But reading is one of the best, most affordable ways you can become a better, happier version of yourself. 

"Reading is one of the most affordable personal growth tools we have at our disposal," Lucía García-Giurgiu, a life coach and holistic psychotherapist, tells CNBC Make It. "There is so much valuable knowledge you can learn from books and put into practice in your own life …. And eventually, that knowledge becomes wisdom, it becomes second-nature."

Many of the world's most successful business leaders, from Bill Gates to Warren Buffett, are proud bibliophiles, citing reading as an important habit for sparking creativity and broadening your understanding of the world.

Consider these five inspirational, non-fiction titles for your winter reading list, which have been recommended by Gates, Buffett, and other influential leaders: 

'The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance'

By W. Timothy Gallwey

Recommended by Bill Gates 

This 1974 title is "the best guide to getting out of your own way," according to Gates, who, in a recent post on his blog GatesNotes, said that he's read this book "several times" and gives it to friends. 

Gallwey, a successful tennis coach who once played at Harvard University, explains the importance of "the inner game" in tennis, which he says is "is played to overcome all habits of mind which inhibit excellence in performance," including "lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt, and self-condemnation." 

Gates said that Gallwey's insights "subtly affected" how he showed up to work throughout his career at Microsoft. 

"For most of us, it's too easy to slip into self-criticism, which then inhibits our performance even more," he wrote on GatesNotes. "We need to learn from our mistakes without obsessing over them."

He continued: "For example, although I'm a big believer in being critical of myself and objective about my own performance, I try to do it the Gallwey way: in a constructive fashion that hopefully improves my performance."

'The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success'

By William N. Thorndike 

Recommended by Warren Buffett 

In "The Outsiders," Thorndike, a co-founder and a managing director of the private equity firm Housatonic Partners, analyzes the career paths of eight CEOs who took a radically different approach to management and highlights the specific traits that put them and their companies on winning trajectories. 

These companies include General Cinema, Ralston Purina, Berkshire Hathaway, General Dynamics and Capital Cities Broadcasting, to name just a few.

This "is an outstanding book about CEOs who excelled at capital allocation," Buffett wrote in his 2012 letter to shareholders. "It has an insightful chapter on our director, Tom Murphy, overall the best business manager I've ever met."

'Conflicted: How Productive Disagreements Lead to Better Outcomes'

By Ian Leslie

Recommended by Adam Grant 

In "Conflicted," Leslie, a British journalist, offers a masterclass in how to disagree with people productively, drawing on advice from some of the world's best hostage negotiators, divorce mediators, diplomats, therapists and police negotiators to reveal "how we can communicate better and find common ground," Grant wrote in a March 2021 LinkedIn post

Each chapter offers tips for how to re-frame a tense argument, whether it's at home or in the workplace, into an opportunity to enhance creativity, communication and connection. "It's a gripping book on how to resolve the conflicts in our lives," according to Grant. 

'The Power of Starting Something Stupid'

By Richie Norton

Recommended by Brené Brown

The secret to success lies in sometimes doing things that others might perceive as stupid, according to Norton. The entrepreneur argues that "stupid is the new smart," re-defining the word as the ability to overcome self-doubt, trust your innate sensibilities, and take risks in your career. 

Norton's "playbook" offers readers "real solutions to getting unstuck" in their careers, Brown writes on her website, adding that the book got her attention "in the most uncomfortable way" and made her "re-examine some old gremlins."

"The Power of Starting Something Stupid" teachers readers how to make their dreams come true — even the ones that feel stupid at first — including a step-by-step guide for building a network, learning to be brave, and overcoming obstacles like lack of time or money.

'How to Win Friends and Influence People'

By Dale Carnegie 

Recommended by Barbara Corcoran 

This classic title, first published in 1936, is one of the bestselling business books of all time, and one of Corcoran's "favorite" reads that she often goes back to for advice, she once tweeted in 2018. 

"It's a must read for anyone in business," she added. 

"How to Win Friends and Influence People" is divided into four parts:

  1. Fundamental to handling people
  2. Six ways to make people like you
  3. How to win people over to your way of thinking
  4. How to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment

Corcoran especially likes the advice that Carnegie, a pioneer of the self-improvement genre, offers on building your people skills and, at work, building strong, healthy relationships with your teammates so you can collaborate better, she told Entrepreneur in 2018.

"It's a powerful book that especially gets young people's heads on straight," she said.

Check out:

7 CEOs on the 'innovative' and 'timely' books everyone should read this winter

3 books that will change your mindset about work and success, according to a career coach

Bethenny Frankel shares her No. 1 tip for success: 'Procrastination is the thief of time'

Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter

I talked to 70 parents of highly successful adults: 4 phrases they never used while raising them
VIDEO2:0102:01
4 phrases parents of successful adults never used when their kids were young