The 5 Books Each Entrepreneur Ought to Learn in 2021
2020 was a challenging year for everyone, and entrepreneurs are no exception – we faced a unique set of challenges that few other generations of founders have experienced building a business. In the face of a pandemic that sees many people rethinking how they work (or whether they can even do it), concerns for the health and wellbeing of employees, and a global recession affecting venture capital financing, it was the start of businesses and leading startups has never been so difficult.
At this time of year, I always enjoy looking back at the books I’ve read in the past 12 months and thinking about the lessons they will teach leaders in the year ahead. I read around 30 books in 2020 so it was difficult to pick my top five – but here are some that caught my eye as an entrepreneur:
American History: Conversations with Master Historians by David Rubinstein
Living at such a turbulent time in history can cause many of us to forget that we will not be the first Americans to survive troubled times. Many leaders before us have built companies, countries and movements during massive upheaval, and we will learn a lot from them.
In The American Story, David Rubinstein interviews top historians about some of the greatest leaders in United States history, including John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr. In these interviews, Rubinstein explores how these key figures led our country through key moments in the history. His interviews offer many lessons to today’s entrepreneurs on how to be a successful leader in times of crisis and change.
One of the key lessons I learned from this book was that trial and error and consensus drove the creation of the United States and helped shape the first few decades of our nation’s history. And that process took time: the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, but it took the government another 13 years to put the constitution into effect. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t compare starting a business to starting a country, but The American Story shares many important lessons for entrepreneurs, such as: B. the search for different perspectives and the fear of failure or the unknown. These lessons can be hard to remember as your business owner is trying to get your business or project off the ground.
Dreams of El Dorado: A History of the American West by HW Brands
Silicon Valley residents, myself included, often forget that California only became a state 170 years ago. In this book, HW Brands walks us through the California Gold Rush, the Oklahoma Land Rush, and many other events in western US history. The El Dorado dreams are an important reminder of the entrepreneurship that drove the exploration and development of the west side of the country. This spirit is omnipresent to this day.
For example, the author examines how the gold mining industry grew from a small organization to a large, industrialized company – a reminder that even the smallest startups can overcome challenges and grow into large, successful companies.
Leadership in turbulent times by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Leadership in turbulent times is a must for founders every year, but especially in 2021. Goodwin examines whether leaders are born or made and what impact adversity has on leadership growth. She studies the experiences of U.S. Presidents Abraham Lincoln (apparently I was very interested in stories about President Lincoln this year), Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson to teach how to greet and support opposing opinions Regarding strategic issues collects goals.
One lesson from President Lincoln that particularly appealed to me: We all need to find time and space to reflect. There is a lot going on this year. Business owners need to make sure they take the time to think about the bigger picture, the challenges to be solved, and how their teams can work better together. Time is incredibly valuable, so don’t be fooled. Block the time on your calendar, go for a walk and get some fresh air. Make sure you have the time and space to reflect.
Dear Chairman, Boardroom Battles and the Rise of Shareholder Activism by Jeff Gramm
Dear Chairman is a must for founders of startups who dream of going public. Delving into the history of boardroom battles and the rise of shareholder activism over the past century, Jeff Gramm reminds readers that investors and management are not always aligned. Through in-depth insights into critical boardroom conflicts over the past 100 years, Gramm offers aspiring entrepreneurs important insights into how to deal with these conflicts.
One of my key takeaways from this book: If you plan to get your company public, you need to maintain voting control over your company. This is the only way to achieve your vision in the long term.
Born standing up by Steve Martin
When we think of people who embody the spirit of entrepreneurship, comedians and actors don’t usually come to mind. But in Born Standing Up, Steve Martin proves to be an entrepreneur through and through. In this autobiography, Martin tells the story of how he got into and eventually left the stand-up comedy business. Martin started his first job at Disneyland at the age of ten and shows how he grew his career from little magic shows to one of the most famous comedians in recent history.
Startup founders can learn a lot from Martin’s journey into comedy. Throughout the book, you will see that the key to its success was a constant commitment to excellence, unwavering originality, and most importantly, the confidence to know when it was time to leave.
If you’ve recently started a business or are on your way to getting there in 2021, these books should be on your reading list. One of the most important aspects of building a successful startup is leadership. These books provide valuable insights into the process.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.