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25 Books the Most Successful Microsoft Leaders Read and Do

25 Books the Most Successful Microsoft Leaders Read and Do

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This is a list of 25 of some of the best books that the most effective Microsoft leaders read and do.   They don’t just read the books.  They actually learn the material.  And more importantly, they actually do what’s inside. 

I mentor a lot of people, and I have a lot of mentors.  The list below is a compilation of the key books that keep coming up time and again, that really make a difference in the success of the most successful leaders at Microsoft.

If you want to lead at a higher level, these are the books that help you take your game to the next level …

25 Books that the Most Successful Leaders at Microsoft Read:

  1. Blue Ocean: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant, by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne
  2. Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers, by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur
  3. Consumption Economics: The New Rules of Tech, by J.B. Wood, Tood Hewlin, and Thomas Lah
  4. Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
  5. Dealing with People You Can't Stand, Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner
  6. Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman
  7. Flawless Execution, by James D. Murphy
  8. Get Them on Your Side, by Samuel B. Bacharach
  9. Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance, by Marcus Buckingham
  10. Good to Great, by Jim Collins
  11. Influence without Authority, by Allan R. Cohen and David L. Bradford
  12. Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler
  13. Leadership and the One Minute Manager, by Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi
  14. Leadership on the Line, by Martin Linsky and Ronald A. Heifetz
  15. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  16. Managing the Design Factory, by Daniel G. Reinertsen
  17. Six Thinking Hats, by Edward de Bono
  18. Thank You for Arguing, by Jay Heinriche
  19. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey
  20. The Art of the Long-View, by Peter Schwartz
  21. The First 90 Days, by Michael Watkins
  22. The Future Belongs to Those Who Are Fast, by Jim Carroll
  23. The Leadership Challenge, by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
  24. The Perfect Resume, by Tom Jackson
  25. What Got You Here, Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter

I kept the list above simple and trim so you can scan it fast.    Below I provided some brief notes on each book, to help you better understand why these are the books that really make a difference:

  1. Blue Ocean: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant, by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne – How to compete by changing the game and going to where there is no competition.  Rather than compete on features, compete on new experiences, and scenarios in an entirely different arena.   I’ve seen Microsoft leaders use this approach to innovate in their process or their product, and to change the game rather than chase after the competition.
  2. Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers, by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur – How to adapt your business and organization to harsh new realities, and changing drivers, forces, and trends in the market.    The beauty of this book is it puts your business model down on paper.  Even if you know what it is, don’t assume others do, or understand it at the same level.  I’ve consistently seen magic happen when people share models.
  3. Consumption Economics: The New Rules of Tech, by J.B. Wood, Tood Hewlin, and Thomas Lah -- How to respond to the Cloud platform, change your business model, and flow business value to your customers.   If you build, ship, or shape products, or lead teams that do, you really need to read this book so understand how your world changes, as the world around you changes.  The cloud platform is an inflection point.  You can embrace it, or, to put it in a Darwin standpoint -- “Adapt or die.”  Survival of the fittest is real when you’re exposed around the world on the Web.  Flowing unique value aligned to your strategy and melded with user demand is the key to success.
  4. Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler – How to make it safe to have the tough conversations, keep things real, and collaborate more effectively, especially when there is a lot on the line.  I’ve seen people that master this, completely change their game in work and in life.  The beauty is it’s contagious, and the principles, patterns, and practices are sticky.  The vocabulary of Crucial Confrontations is a great way to reshape organizational trust, and authentic communication, and to help people connect in ways that bring the best information and knowledge forward.
  5. Dealing with People You Can't Stand, Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner – How to bring out the best in people including yourself, and master interpersonal skills.  Learn a very simple model for understanding why people do what they do.  I’ve seen Microsoft leaders instantly perform at a higher-level by understanding the key causes of interpersonal conflict, and what to do about them.  The book is prescriptive in how to change behaviors in yourself, as well as provides specific guidance on dealing with patterns you encounter with other people.
  6. Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman – How to master the five essential skills of emotional intelligence: handling relationships, managing emotions, recognizing the emotions of others, self-awareness, and self-motivation.   Emotional intelligence is one of the areas that either holds people back or propels them forward.  You can be the best thought leader or people leader, but without the emotional intelligence, you will hit a glass-ceiling.  I’ve seen Microsoft leaders focus on emotional intelligence and open new doors in their career, and accelerate their personal growth, and improve their experience on a daily basis with those around them.
  7. Flawless Execution, by James D. Murphy – How to deal with overload, how to learn and respond as a team, and how to share a vision, and streamline more effective execution.  The real beauty of this book is how it shows you how to take what the Air Force has learned about extreme execution, and translate that into the workplace.  Whether you are dealing with overwhelm or overload, or simply need proven practices for sharing visions, building a high-performance team, and streamlining your execution this book is a gold-mine.
  8. Get Them on Your Side, by Samuel B. Bacharach – How to get people and organizations working with you instead of against you.  The beauty of this book is that it provides a system for building your network and gaining support for you and your ideas.  It’s not a touchy-feel-goody book.  It’s a simple book that exposes how coalitions are formed, and how people win support, or lose friends, and build enemies.   Microsoft leaders that have to build their network beyond their immediate teams and organization especially benefit from the knowledge in this book.
  9. Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance, by Marcus Buckingham – How to bring out the best performance by having people do what they do best.   This is a big deal when it comes to Microsoft leaders who bring out the best in people and create high-performance teams.
  10. Good to Great, by Jim Collins -- How to apply the Hedgehog principle to your organization and blend what you are passionate about, what you can be best in the world at, and what drives your economic engine.  The big deal here is that several Microsoft leaders have used this book to help shape highly effective execution engines, and organizational cultures.   Specifically, they have created learning organizations that embrace excellence, execution, and empowerment.
  11. Influence without Authority, by Allan R. Cohen and David L. Bradford – How to get things done through others that don’t report to you or aren’t in your organization.  Learn how to effectively get buy-in and support from people that you need, that you have no authority over.  How to get smart people to sign up for work vs. vote with their feet, and walk away.
  12. Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler – How to use the Six Sources of Influence to drive significant change.   This book is truly a breakthrough in terms of providing an effective model for systematic change.  Change leadership is a skill that the most successful Microsoft leaders do well.  This book dives deep into the mechanics and how you can use the proven methodology and practices to drive and shape great changes.
  13. Leadership and the One Minute Manager, by Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi – How to use Situational Leadership to adapt or adjust your leadership style, based on motivation and ability of those you manage or lead.  Many Microsoft leaders that fail have a one-size-fits-all approach to their management style.  They come across as micro-managers or clueless managers.   What the most successful Microsoft leaders do is dial-up or dial-down their level of directing, and their motivating, based on what people actually need or want.   You can’t lead if people won’t follow, and people will only follow you if your leadership style is effective for them.   The beauty of Situational Leadership is that the model is simple and intuitive.  Once you see it, it makes sense, and you can instantly improve your ability to lead and manage people.   The reverse is true – what you don’t know, can and will hurt you (and the people you manage or lead.)
  14. Leadership on the Line, by Martin Linsky and Ronald A. Heifetz – How to balance conviction and connection, and drive the big, hairy changes and challenges.    This is one of those rare books that actually tackles the tough stuff.  Even better, as you read it, you can relate, because the stories and experiences demonstrate depth and insight.   It’s a powerful book.  I’ve seen several Microsoft leaders rise to new levels by learning and practicing the art of Leadership on the Line. 
  15. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath --  How to tell and sell ideas with six principles of sticky ideas: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories.   If none of your products or features seem to stick, you might just find out why.   I’ve seen some of the sharpest Microsoft leaders, up their game by telling and selling sticky ideas in the hall, and inspiring people around visions that have legs.  Made to Stick is also a great way to get others telling and selling your story for you and gain the benefit of “word-of-mouth” marketing.
  16. Managing the Design Factory, by Daniel G. Reinertsen – Shows you a methodical approach to consistently hit the "sweet spot" of quality, cost, and time in developing any product.  This is probably one of the most insightful books on organizational design, and streamlining execution.   It’s hard-core.  It exposes and explains many of the common bottlenecks, and it provides very insightful and actionable ways to take your organizational game to the next level.  Not as many Microsoft leaders know about this book, but the ones that do have a tremendous advantage in how they shape their execution capabilities.
  17. Six Thinking Hats, by Edward de Bono – How to switch perspectives, leverage perspectives, and deal with conflicting views and viewpoints using the Six Hats: Black Hat – the “devil’s advocate”, Blue Hat – the organizing view, Green Hat – the creative side, White Hat – the facts and figures, Red Hat – the emotional view, Yellow Hat – the positive side.   I’ve seen Microsoft leaders use this both to improve their own ability to look at a problem from multiple views and viewpoints, and to help others do the same.  It’s a great book to help you balance out any weaknesses in how you make decisions.  It’s also a great way to help reduce conflict during heated debates and intense decision making, where strong opinions are in the air.
  18. Thank You for Arguing, by Jay Heinriche – How to argue without anger.  Learn how to explore ideas, challenge assumptions, and stay connected while doing so.  Learn how to avoid common influence pitfalls, and learn how to avoid common logic traps.  There are people who argue by trying to yell the loudest.  And there are leaders who argue by asking the right questions the right way, while staying calm, cool, and collected.
  19. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey – How to improve your personal effectiveness in work and life with the 7 habits:  Habit 1: Be Proactive, Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind, Habit 3: Put First Things First, Habit 4: Think Win-Win, Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood, Habit 6: Synergize, Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw.  The power of this book is that it’s a foundation for personal growth and greatness.   You can always identify the effective Microsoft leaders that have read the book and live it.  They actually focus on what’s important, and they respond versus react or over-react to things.  They fight less fires because they keep priorities straight, and they are able to communicate what counts.
  20. The Art of the Long-View, by Peter Schwartz – How to use scenarios to plan and prep for potential changes to reality.  Rather than bet on one reality, the idea is to prepare for multiple potential realities and be ready to respond with skill.  It’s an oldie, but a goodie, especially now.  While many leaders just focus on how to survive the changes, others learn how to thrive, and embrace the changes.   The Microsoft leaders that do the best are the ones that anticipate and plan for the possibilities.  This keeps them ready for anything.   This book is your key defense (and offense) for “disruptive technology” and “disruptive innovation.”
  21. The First 90 Days, by Michael Watkins – How to survive and thrive in a job transition.   This is really more than just about transitions.  It’s really about being super effective as a leader in an organization.  It’s hard-core and amazing insight.   I’ve seen leaders at all levels instantly change their game by adopting some of the key principles, patterns, and practices in this book.  One of the most important insights in the book is how to go about mapping out your network, and building a more effective team of personal advisors, including technical Advisers, Cultural Interpreters, and Political Counselors.
  22. The Future Belongs to Those Who Are Fast, by Jim Carroll – How to use what’s happening in the market and around the World to be better, faster, cheaper, and more relevant in the emerging digital economy and the changing landscape.  This book really provides great insight into how to think about the blending of the technology trends into business verticals.   For example, could you be a car manufacturer and not wonder what you can leverage from Google’s self-driving cars?   Could you be in health, and not pay attention to what some of the biggest software companies are doing that’s relevant?  Big data, BI, and analytics present significant challenges and opportunities … and those who are fast, will exploit them.   The most effective Microsoft leaders I know, are in the know, when it comes to trends, seeing patterns, and priming the pump for new possibilities.
  23. The Leadership Challenge, by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner – How to lead at a higher level.  The most effective Microsoft leaders demonstrate the five practices of leadership from The Leadership Challenge:   1) Model the Way, 2) Inspire a Shared Vision, 3) Challenge the Process, 4) Enable Others to Act, 5) Encourage the Heart.  It’s truly a great and powerful book on the art and science of leadership.
  24. The Perfect Resume, by Tom Jackson – How to drive your career. While this is a great book on how to create a more effective resume, it’s really a book on how to design and drive your career around a meaningful work-life.
  25. What Got You Here, Won't Get You There, by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter – How to give up and let go of things that can hold you back as you climb the ladder.  It’s really about how to change your paradigms and mental models to be more effective as you change roles and positions.  It’s a guide on how to let go, so you can grow.

Additional Resources
If you’ want more extreme lists on the best books that help you improve your success in work and life, check out these book lists:

  • Great list - thank you JD!

    Let me ask you something. I'm sure you've come across the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) concept. It seems to be very popular - many books say it's essential for success. Is it? Domino's famously _had_ the USP of "30 minutes or it's free." Did Pizza Hut, Papa Johns, Little Caesars or the billion independent places, who are also successful, need a USP?

    I'm working with a business owner - he sells dresses for little girls online - he's desperate for a USP. I can't help thinking he's wasting his time trying to find one. By definition, a USP is unique - that is, difficult to find. Then when he finds it, how long until somebody copies it? Then it's just an SP. Or, if he finds it, who says anybody will care about it?  

  • Interesting list. I haven't heard of most of these books before. I liked this selection.

  • @ Tom -- Thank you!

    I'll need to elaborate a bit here because USP is an key topic, and challenging to do well.

    Interestingly, the USP concept is in The Perfect Resume.

    On the customer/user side ...

    A USP done well, plants you in the minds of customers in a special position, so that you don't have to compete as a commodity.  For example, "Dresses for Daddy's little girl" would be different than just "girl's dresses." And that would be very different than "What the cool girl's wear."  Starbucks sells "the experience" since there's only so much to do with a commodity like coffee.

    On the producer side ...

    When you create an effective USP, it should be on strategy, meaning, you're unique strengths.  Especially, the ones that can't be easily copied.  For example, on a blog, an authority, or voice, or experience separate you from the pack (which is why it's important to be bold.)

    Sometimes, as a producer, you can stand out by focusing on your process versus your product like, "hand-crafted" or "precision-engineered", etc.  

    Another clear way to stand out is to use the brand.  One way to find and reinforce the brand is identify three attributes you want to be about.  For example, quality, choice, style.

    The key books that help with USP and brands are:

    - Blue Ocean (helps you find your strategic profile/differentiator)

    - The 21 Immutable Laws of Branding (Clear and concise samples of USPs)

    - Married to the Brand (Very surprising insights into what you can do with brand to build customer loyalty and charge for value, not compete on price)

    Brand and USP help you stay out of the commodity game, even when you interview and have to tell and sell yourself to stand out from the crowd.

    The goal is to "own" the category, have pole position in the customer's mind, and if the category is taken, then narrow the focus (You can't beat Amazon at books, but you can beat them at "best business books" -- divide the category.)

    I think the key insight here is that you can differentiate your process, your product, or the experience ... and all the strategic difference helps you protect your position in the customer's mind.

    Sidenote -- I was trained early on in strategic differentiation ... and I'm still learning.

    @ Roberto -- If you make it through these books, you will very much have a strategic advantage over those that haven't read them.  They are an extremely powerful collection and you will find synergies across the books ... in other words, they are very much "better together."

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