Drink Deeply from Good Books

When legendary college basketball coach John Wooden graduated from grammar school, his father gave him a graduation gift.  That gift was a $2-dollar bill and a card with a poem on one side and 7-rules to live by on the other.  One of those rules was to drink deeply from good books.

Below are 23 of my favorite books on performance and human potential:


Principles: Life and Work  – I’ve long been a fan of author Ray Dalio.  I was reluctant to read this book because I thought it would heavy on his investment principles.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is much more about his principles in life.  I suggest this book for its pragmatism and its focus on helping you to create foundational principles in your own life.


Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think – Pioneer Peter Diamandis wants to change the world.  And, he believes we can do that by raising the standard of living in under-developed countries.  But, even if you don’t want to solve world hunger, improve education, and ensure women’s rights around the world I encourage you to read this book.  It will make you think bigger about what is possible for you, and why you have to be counter cultural to do it.


Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives  This is a book for coaches.  In fact it is my number one must read for everyone engaged in the coach industry, but it is really a book about discovering and achieving potential.  Written by Karen and Henry Kimsey-House this book is used in dozens of professional development programs.  It will transform your coaching, leadership and communication skills.


Co-Active Leadership: Five Ways to Lead – Another book by Karen and Henry-Kimsey House.  And, just as their book Co-Active Coaching created a new way of thinking about the coaching industry, this book has the potential to revolutionize leadership.  The premise is that we are leaders, and at any given time we make the choice to leader or not, and can intentionally choose which dimension of leadership we take on.  Co-Active Leadership will soon replace top down leadership in many organizations.


You2: A High Velocity for Multiplying Your Personal Effectiveness in Quantum Leaps  Written by Price Pritchett.  This short book challenges you to eliminate incremental thinking and embrace exponential thinking.  Develop goals that will help provide a quantum leap in achievement.  What if you challenged yourself  make a Quantum Leap.


The 80% Approach   Written by Dan Sullivan, this book will help you take all of the resources you currently have and help you use them more productively.  Once you’re focused on your unique ability, you’ll be better equipped to help your clients focus on theirs.


The Breakthrough Principle of 16x: Real Simple Innovation for 16 Times Better Results  Take The 80% Approach, combine it with You2 and eliminate anything that isn’t critical and you get The Breakthrough Principle of 16x.  Written by Richard Koch, this short book is a handbook on how to tap into the 80/20 Principle to increase effectiveness and achievement.


The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich – The title of this book is misleading.  It is not about working less, it is about designing the life you want to live and a way to fund that lifestyle.  Author Tim Ferris encourages you to identify what is really important in your life, and spending your time, energy and resources on the 20% of things that really matter to you.


Smartcuts: The Breakthrough Power of Lateral Thinking – This is a book about working smarter and faster.  It is not a book about finding shortcuts.  Author, Shane Snow describes shortcuts as rapid short-term gains that attempt to limit hard work.  They are rarely sustainable.  Smartcuts are shortcuts with integrity.  It’s not about limiting hard work, it’s about thinking differently and working smarter to achieve more.


One Word that will Change Your Life  Written by Jon Gordon and Dan Britton.  This book is about focus and self-exploration.  A great guide to helping people (and yourself) find purpose.  I read this book and do the exercises every year on my birthday, to create a focus word for my year.


Building a Story Brand: Clarify Your Message So Your Customers Will Listen – This is a must read for all business owners.  And, I strongly encourage those who work for others to read it to.  Whether you own the business or provide the service, your brand is an important aspect as to why customers buy.  Donald Miller shows you how to use the power of story to identify what your customers really want, and how you can best serve them.


Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us – If you have the desire to change things, the willingness to lead, and the ability to connect you can build a tribe that changes the world.  As in most books written by Seth Godin, the author encourages you not to follow the crowd, but to be true to yourself and your desires.  And, when you do you’ll find that you have opportunities to mobilize an audience.  It won’t be easy, but it is easier than you think.


Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time – This is a book about Agile project management, but it is so much more.  Jeff Sutherland is the creator of Scrum, an adaptation of the method that many Silicon Valley startups use to design, create and deliver their projects.  In this book, he and his son J.J. Sutherland lay out a simple, step-by-step process you can use to adapt this system to increase and improve your productivity in just about every area of your business and your life.


Sacred Hoops

This is a book about basketball, except that it isn’t.  This is a book about coaching, except that it isn’t.    This is a memoir of one of the top NBA coaches of all time, Phil Jackson.  In it, you’ll learn how to direct people to act with a clear mind, to act without over-thinking, to be aggressive without anger.  You’ll learn to respect competition and adversity, to live in the moment, calmly focused in the midst of chaos and to put the “me” in service of the “we.”  It is not a book about basketball or coaching.  It is a book about life.  It is a book I’ve read many times and will read many more.


The 12-Week Year: Get More Done in 12-Weeks Than Most do in 12-Months  Written by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington.  This is a book about productivity.  Moran and Lennington take the athletic training principle of periodization and apply it to achievement in all areas of life. I’ve worked personally with Brian Moran, and have seen first hand how the principles in this book will accelerate the pace of achievement.  This is another of the books I read at least once a year.


The 7-Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change – This is a timeless classic written by Stephen Covey.  Like Ray Dalio’s Principles, listed above, this book suggests identifying the values and principles in your life and using those as guideposts for how you live and work.  I suggest reading one habit a month, and spending the month working on each habit.


Smart Talk for Achieving Your Potential: 5 Steps to Get You from Here to There  Written by Lou Tice.  This is a hard to find book.  And, you’re not likely to find many reviews.  That said, it is one of the best books I’ve read on the power of human potential and how to tap into it.  This book encourages you to be authentic, progressive and effective.


The Emigrant Edge: How to Make it Big in America  Written by Brian Buffini, an Irish Immigrant who came to the United States with $92 in his pocket and became a rags-to-riches story before founding the largest business coaching and training company in North America.  This book explores seven common traits of the most successful immigrants — and how anyone can apply them to their goals and dreams. 

Note: I’ve worked for Brian Buffini since 2006.  I would recommend this book, even if I didn’t work for him.


Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization – You’ll notice several books on this list by basketball coaches.  The principles used in athletic coaching transfer to so much of what it takes to be a high-performer.  So, when one of the greatest coaches of all time writes a book, it pays to read it.  In this book, you’ll find legendary basketball coach John Wooden’s 12-lessons on leadership and his Pyramid for Success.  This book is co-authored by Steve Jamison.


Success is a Choice: Ten Steps to Overachieving in Business and in Life

Written by Rick Pitino.  This book starts with the premise that everyone can achieve things they never thought possible and that most people continually undersell themselves, routinely settle for less than they deserve, and grow conditioned to thinking that they can’t attain the goals they set for themselves.  Pitino shares his lessons on how to spur his people on to achieve far more than is expected of them.  He systematically overturns this negative conditioning and replaces it with ten concrete steps to building a winning life.

Note: Over the past few years Rick Pitino has found himself embroiled in some controversies inconsistent with what he teaches in this book.  That doesn’t make this book any less valuable for anyone who coaches people.  In fact, I think it proves that success is a choice, and he may have made the wrong choices.


The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs that Energizes Great Performance  – More and more demand is exceeding our capacity and undermining our energy, focus, creativity, and passion. Nearly 75 percent of employees around the world feel disengaged at work every day. Written by Tony Schwartz,  The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working offers a groundbreaking approach to reenergizing our lives, so we’re both more satisfied and more productive.  It suggests that we focus on the whole person: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.  Schwartz offers a systematic and scientific approach to high performance.



One Small Step that Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way

Too many people want massive change, right now.  While that type of change is possible, it isn’t often lasting.  The best way to change is through continual improvement.  Kaizen is the art of making great and lasting change through small, steady steps.  It is a gentle but potent way to effect change.  In this book, Robert Mauer will show you how to neutralize fear by circumventing the brain’s built-in resistance to a new behavior.   It outlines seven small steps to lasting change, including Thinking Small Thoughts, Taking Small Action and Solving Small Problems.  The book is rooted in the philosophy that,  “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”


Unlocking Potential: 7 Skills that Transform Individuals, Teams and Organizations  Written by Michael K. Nobody wants to be managed; we want to be led and coached.   In this book, Michael K. Simpson lays out the skills necessary to lead and coach inside and outside of an organization.    This book is a comprehensive tool for optimizing productivity, profitability, loyalty, and customer focus. It will help you energize, galvanize and inspire your clients and other relationships.


Disclaimer: Some of the links in this section are affiliate links.