There’s no denying that a master’s degree in business administration has cachet. Too bad that cachet takes a few years to achieve, comes with a hefty price tag and, these days, offers no job guarantees or business success. Wouldn’t it be a nicer route to become a master of business through interesting career moves and investments, personal connections, great talks, classes and events, and a handful of enlightening business books that share powerful lessons?
Let’s start with the best business books. We’ve broken down 10 MBA lessons, and for each one there is a corresponding must-read book to add to your reading list. Call it business school in 10 books. It won’t earn you an MBA, but it will give you an education in business success.
1. MBA Lesson: Leadership
Read: 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, by John C. Maxwell
Being a business leader requires being a great leader in general. There are many wonderful books that take on the subject of leadership, including the classic On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis, The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership by Steven B. Sample. These 21 irrefutable laws, however, read like a course on the subject. This favorite business book includes historical, real-world lessons in leadership and lists the attributes that great leaders possess. See how your strengths stack up, as well as the weaknesses you should work, on as a business leader.
2. MBA Lesson: Innovation
Read: Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton M. Christensen
Great business minds must be innovative. But in our quick-change world, staying innovative can be just as challenging for both the budding entrepreneur and the well-established CEO. Written in the 1990s, this book examines the question of how and why even well-managed, successful companies can get blindsided by innovation. He coined the term “disruptive innovation,” which means he’s the one to thank for the subsequent overuse of the word disrupt. More than 15 years later, disruptive innovations happen every day, and Christensen’s ideas are not only prescient, they remain just as relevant in today’s business world.
3. MBA Lesson: Pricing and Costs
Read: The 1% Windfall, by Rafi Mohammed
Even if you’ve never given much thought about how pricing works, this business book with completely blow your mind. Turns out, even incremental changes in price can be the answer to everything from sales slumps to increased competition. See if you catch yourself paying closer attention to small shifts in what you pay for things.
4. MBA Lesson: Corporate Culture
Read: Delivering Happiness, by Tony Hseih
Of course Tony Hseih is happy. His first business sold to Microsoft for $265 million, then he went on to lead Zappos to a successful sale to Amazon for more than $1 billion. But part of his success was spreading happiness through a can-do corporate culture. His book tells the tale of his early days as an entrepreneur, and offers details on how the right culture leads not only to purpose but profits for visionary companies.
5. MBA Lesson: Competition and Strategy
Read: Playing to Win, by A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin
It’s rare to find a book of case studies that also happens to be a page-turner. Written by Lafley, a former Procter & Gamble CEO, and Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, the book delivers business academia and real-world experience in one. Through P&G and other corporate stories the book illustrates strategic hits and misses. Don’t miss the tale of Oil of Olay.
6. MBA Lesson: Networking
Read: How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
Ask anyone why an MBA is so powerful, and an answer you will inevitably hear is “for networking.” To be sure, you may run into a lot of different types of campus, but if you want to network like a pro, you should crack Dale Carnegie’s 1936 classic on making the most of every situation and turning everyone you meet into a potential ally.
7. MBA Lesson: Concepts and Jargon
Read: The Portable MBA, Fifth Edition, Multiple contributors
Still, it helps to talk the MBA talk, and know the meaning of the terms you are using. This handy resource is just the thing to take you through the MBA curriculum like accounting, economics, ethics, enterprise risk management, and so on. Make sure to grab the Fifth Edition, which was updated within the last five years and includes recent examples.
8. MBA Lesson: Communication
Read: Pitch Perfect, by Bill McGowan
A self-designed MBA will need to teach you how to talk as confidently as you think. This great business book will take you through countless situations and show you how to communicate your way out of them. Once read, you will critique every Powerpoint you see that doesn’t play by McGowan’s unforgettable rules (e.g. The Scorsese Principle, The Past Sauce Principle).
9. MBA Lesson: Analysis
Read: Good to Great, by Jim Collins
Why Some companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, is the subtitle of this wildly popular book. It looks at startup companies that didn’t start out as juggernauts and yet, over time, grew into greatness. Through a study of 28 businesses and a ton of data, you will learn that not every company needs a superstar CEO or a game-changing technology to become a successful business entity.
10. MBA Lesson: Time Management and or Work Life Balance
Read: The 4-Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferriss
Business school does not teach you how to balance your business and personal life, that’s up to you. But if there was a class that focused on the life part of work life balance, it would probably cover a lot of the powerful lessons in Tim Ferriss’s book. Like eliminating 50% of your workload, low information diets, and taking mini retirements.
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Now that you have the books, find out more about our great talks, workshops, and events at GA.