Tech CEOs: This Year’s Favorite Books

While writing my posts, I have a chance to talk to many CEOs.  Often I will ask them what books they have read recently. If anything, this gives me a chance to check out what’s good in the market. Let’s face it, there are thousands of books that come out every year (which has accelerated because of the self-publishing revolution).

Then what are CEOs reading now? Well, I’ve put together a list. Here’s a look:

Leading at the Speed of Growth: Journey from Entrepreneur to CEO

Tien Tzuo, CEO and co-founder of Zuora:

I hesitate to give away a great secret, but “Leading at the Speed of Growth,” by Katherine Catlin and Jana Matthews, is absolutely mandatory for anyone involved in a high-growth organization. Your job changes dramatically as your company expands, and this book does a great job of identifying all the relevant priorities, skill sets and red flags by growth stage. Plus, all the personal stories from entrepreneurs in the trenches are really great. Even though it’s almost twenty years old, it’s still incredibly relevant in light of all the IPO and M&A activity we’ve been seeing lately. When you’re running a subscription-based business model, you find yourself dealing with a lot of growth-based “nice problem to have,” and this book helps answer those problems.

The Tyranny of Metrics

Sridhar Vembu, CEO and founder of Zoho:

The Tyranny of Metrics by Jerry Muller is the book I enjoyed most this year.  We live in times when metrics and data have been elevated to God-like status. This book is an excellent antidote. Metrics matter but cannot substitute for human judgment.  Goodhart’s maxim says when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. Anyone who has tried to institute measure and manage systems for people discover this all too soon, if they keep their eyes open. People game metrics.  That is why that ineffable quality known as good judgement is indispensable in a manager. I tell my managers that if we could reduce all management to metrics, we would need no human managers at all, and there goes my CEO job!

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World

Kate Dewald, CEO of Oncue:

At its core this book is about adapting to changing times and how to build an organization for the future. Full of real-life examples this book explains the essentials for scaling high performing teams. It provides practical advice and anecdotes for getting disparate groups to work together for a common goal.

The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership

Vineet Jain, CEO of Egnyte 

Bill Walsh was not just a profound leader of the San Francisco 49ers organization, but he was a profound leader in life. Nearly all of the principles he applied to coaching could be applied to my leadership of Egnyte. One principle that has always stuck with me is this, “Others follow you based on the quality of your actions rather than the magnitude of your declarations.” This speaks volumes about setting the tone for the culture of your organization. As a leader, I must put forth my best effort and show the rest of my company the level of effort and professionalism I expect from them. I cannot expect my team to operate at a high level if I am showing up late to meetings, being distracted by my phone, or taking extended periods of time out of the office. This principle proved to be a real affirmation for me.

And one other principle that I took to heart and have since adopted for our team at Egnyte is this: “There is no guarantee, no ultimate formula for success. It all comes down to intelligently and relentlessly seeking solutions that will increase your chance of prevailing.” This principle applies to everything we do throughout the entire company, from HR to finance, to marketing and sales. We do not simply look for one right answer and move on, we relentlessly pursue the best possible ways we can provide value to our customers and never settle for mediocrity. In return, our customers trust us and believe in us to always be doing what is best for their business, which leads to our ultimate success as a company.

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike

Stacey Epstein, CEO of Zinc:

When we look at hugely successful businesses like Nike, it’s easy to assume that it was high growth and smooth sailing from the get go. I loved Phil’s candor and masterful storytelling as he took us through the journey of the company. The challenges they faced, from competition to manufacturing to legal battles to cash flow, even as they were thriving, made some of my own CEO challenges seem trivial. And his highlighting of the key people in the journey reinforced the importance of loyal, passionate talent. Ultimately, it was Phil’s determination and relentlessness that made Nike what it is today, and I felt more inspired after every chapter.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Stephanie Lampkin, CEO of Blendoor:

The most successful among us are those that have a strong sense of their internal locus of control. Inherent talent or intelligence won’t get you far if you don’t have an optimistic disposition about your ability to control the fate of your life. This has helped get me through a lot of challenging moments amidst fundraising, building a product and a team. There are so many externalities that get in the way of accomplishing these goals such that it seems easy to attribute it to one’s own inherent weaknesses or incompetence. It requires a daily consciousness of ‘grit’ to get to persevere.

Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs

May Habib, CEO of Qordoba:

I literally took the playbook and adapted the principles the next day, and it’s been 3 quarters now of much more transparency and accountability across our teams (sales, marketing, product, engineering, customer success).

The data shows that tracking what matters actually works. A study referenced in the book showed that people who wrote down their goals and shared them with others attained 43% more of their objectives than people who didn’t record them. In fast-growing startups, it’s essential, foundational work to record and track progress to objectives.

The book outlines Doerr’s approach to OKRs — or “objectives and key results,” the framework first developed by Andy Grove at Intel, where Doerr was a young recently-minted MBA, and then famously applied by Larry and Sergey at Google, where Doerr was famously an early board member. The power of OKRs comes down to 4 things, which Doerr calls “superpowers”:

  • Focusing on and committing to only the most essential priorities
  • Aligning the organization against those priorities in a transparent way
  • Tracking progress for accountability
  • “Stretching for amazing” – what it means to exceed the objectives outlined

Definitely a must-read for anyone looking to supercharge a 2019 planning process.

Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions

Clara Shih, CEO of Hearsay Systems:

It describes, in plain English, important computer science concepts and applies them to everyday life. Even having studied computer science in college and grad school, it has helped me live life more efficiently and effectively by thinking about what algorithms, which are really just recipes and best practices, could apply to everything from cooking and shopping to parenting, organizing your kitchen, and making time for friends and your spouse.

Our brains use algorithms unconsciously all the time to formulate “gut” feelings and make quick decisions with incomplete data. It’s a great read for techies and non-techies alike!

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