Do You Remember Your First Business Book?

by Alli Polin on April 4, 2014

Leadership and learning go hand in hand starting with your first business book

I had just graduated college and was sitting around the pool at my apartment complex days before starting my job at a big consulting firm.  I reached into my pool bag and opened the first business book I had ever purchased or read out of a classroom setting, Reengineering the Corporation.  I’ll bet many of you can guess what year that was since I’ll bet you too were reading this groundbreaking work from Michael Hammer and James Champy.

While I don’t remember every concept and reengineering is no longer a buzz word that we hear everyday (thank goodness!) I do believe that first book influenced the way I see business and leadership even today, over twenty years later. Rethink the way you’re organized, rethink the way you’ve always done it in search of something better, fresher and more meaningful to compete in today’s ever-changing world.

I go through cycles with reading and have discovered over the years, that when I’m not reading books, I begin to have stress creep into my life, edging out patience.  I’m getting ready to go on vacation and tons of books are coming with me on my iPad and in my suitcase.  I’m looking forward to reading day and night (and playing a lot in between!)  I’m bringing business books and fiction work too and can literally feel how excited I am to dive head first into worlds and ideas all born out of someone’s courage to put pen to paper or, more accurately, fingers to keyboard.

When I moved to Australia, I moved from a large house with a generously sized library to a very small home with two book cases; one for the children and one for the adults.  Lining my modest shelves I have photo albums, cook books, work files and one shelf of some of my favorite books that I couldn’t bear to leave behind, sealed in a box, in a dark storage facility, waiting for my return.

In my opinion, books are meaningless when they only line our shelves and take up space.  Books come to life through the relationship between the author and the reader as we enter a special pact of trust, curiosity and a willingness to go on a ride somewhere new together.

Among the usual suspects, I have Goleman, Fine, Kotter and Covey that have travelled with me across the ocean making the choice of my favorites a challenge.  After a quick debate, here are my top three books on my shelf that have folded pages, notes in the margin and are often found in my hands late at night long after I should be asleep.

(These are NOT affiliate links but will take you to Amazon so you can check them out.)

Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne

It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, you can be strategic about innovation and create a new market space where you can escape the bloody red waters of the competition.  Case studies and a practical guide to identifying your organization’s future all rolled into one exceptional book.

The Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute

A heart in conflict is a heart at war and this book shows us the path to a heart at peace.  The door to change is found in our relationships, not in steadfastly sticking to our ideals and self-made rules of right and wrong.  An easy read that will draw you in and teach you without hitting you over the head along the way.

Live is a Verb by Patti Digh

I’m passionate that our stories and experiences are what make us human and teach us about life and leadership on a daily basis.  Patti Digh shares her stories while encouraging each one of us to live life filled with mindfulness and intention.  A truly inspiring read.

Your turn.  I have precious little space on my shelf but tons of GBs on my iPad…  What are your favorites?  Is it still that first business book?  If you were moving overseas and could only take a select few, what would make the cut?

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

John Thurlbeck April 4, 2014 at 6:53 am

Hi Alli

As always I love your thinking and your writing and I agree entirely that leaders are readers! Whilst on holiday recently I read three books on leadership, thinking and social media!

Never Mind The Bosses by Robin Ryde preached a huge side swipe at deference in the workplace and its negative impact … and I am now actively furthering my thinking and practice around this subject as a consequence!

I also voted today for your blog … and hope you win! There’s a massive entry list, so I’m hoping your quality will win the day!

Have a brilliant weekend!

Kind regards

John 🙂


Alli Polin April 4, 2014 at 9:47 am

I’m not familiar with Robin Ryde’s work so thank you for introducing it here! Sounds like a great book and one that should make it on my iPad soon!

Thanks so much for voting for me in Australia’s Best Blogs 2014. It’s definitely intimidating scrolling past 999 other great blogs to place a vote. I’m sure it is stiff competition!



Karin Hurt April 4, 2014 at 7:02 am

Corporate Cultures by Deal and Kennedy…. was the first leadership book I bought out of school. I loved it!


Alli Polin April 4, 2014 at 9:47 am

I don’t know it but I’m searching on Amazon now…

Thanks, Karin!


Carl April 4, 2014 at 8:57 am

Hi Alli, I’m right there with you – having a book (or two) going is a given for me and I’m glad you mentioned reading fiction as well as non. I know many who won’t ‘waste’ time on fiction. For me the fiction feeds my creative spirit.

One of my favorite series is “The Hangman’s Daughter” by Oliver Pötzsch. A series of historical fiction accounts from Bavaria in the mid-17th century.

As far as leadership books, I recently started “Leadership and Self-Deception”, after reading a strong endorsement. 🙂

Best regards and enjoy your holiday!


Alli Polin April 4, 2014 at 9:48 am


I’m a huge fan of fiction and like you, it absolutely feeds my creative spirit. I love to get lost in the stories.

I’m so glad to hear you’re reading Leadership and Self Deception! Definitely one my all time faves. Can’t wait to hear what you think.



Jon Mertz April 4, 2014 at 9:23 am


I remember Peter Drucker early on along with Search for Excellence. Both set a great stage forward in leadership principles. More recently, Dr. Henry Cloud’s Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality has had a big impact on me.

There are many names and insights along the way and the essential thing to do is keep reading and keep learning. A great leadership way….



Alli Polin April 4, 2014 at 9:50 am

I feel like I hear about Henry Cloud at every turn… Clearly a sign I need to become more familiar with his work and read his writing. Thanks for suggesting Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality.

A world without books would be a sad one indeed!

Many thanks, Jon!


Terri Klass April 4, 2014 at 9:27 am

Yes, yes, leaders are readers! We need to continually grow and learn in order to be current and understand how leadership is constantly evolving.

During my MBA program, I read and studied all the gurus from Maslow to Kotter to Drucker to Champy. I love Rosabeth Mosss Kanter’s The Change Masters and The Speed of Trust by Stephen Covey. And my all time favorite is Patrick Lecioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of A Team. Oh and of course- Jim Collin’s Good To Great and Great By Choice. These are all classics.

My new gurus are Seth Godin and Daniel Pink.

Too exciting a subject for me!!

Thanks Alli for starting off my Friday with energy!


Alli Polin April 4, 2014 at 9:52 am

Terri –

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is amazing! I’ll never forget the first time I got to hear Patrick Lencioni speak about it at a conference. I’ve used that book many times to spark my thinking and work and it’s one of those with many notes and highlights and underlines that shows my love.

There are so many wonderful books to read that all it takes is asking for recommendations and knowing what lights your fire. Thanks for sharing some of your favorites!


Joy Guthrie April 4, 2014 at 10:07 am

I have more than 10k books Alli. Asking me to pick favorites is just wrong! I appreciate your list & will check them out. The book I’m most likely to give someone else is The Art of Possibility by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander. Happy vacation and happy reading.


Alli Polin April 4, 2014 at 10:10 am

WOW, Joy! 10K! I have a TON of books in storage but nowhere near that many!

An endorsement from you goes a long way. I’ll be checking out The Art of Possibility this week! Thanks so much!


Susan Bowen April 4, 2014 at 11:02 am

Hi Alli,

I agree with your “Leaders are Readers” mantra and often quote those words to others. My bookshelf is full of books – to the point that I am wondering if I have to go to the Dewey Decimal system card catalog to be able to find “the” book I am looking for at any moment. (Now – the Dewey Decimal system dates me!)

I can’t remember my first business book. But I do have many favorites that would cross the ocean with me. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Covey). Warren Bennis’ On Becoming a Leader. I am enjoying Chip Conley’s Emotional Equations these days. I like his approach to breaking emotions into their component parts allowing the reader to then focus on one piece or the other. Of course, Kotter, Collins, Buckingham, and Lencioni are favorite authors also.

Thanks for sharing your top 3. I have not read any of these, but now look forward to
“diving in”. Amazon does seem to be my best friend!

Thanks for offering your thoughts!


Alli Polin April 4, 2014 at 11:08 am

Thanks for sharing some of your favorites, Susan! It’s as if you can see my bookshelf here in Australia! 7 Habits and On Becoming a Leader definitely made the trip!

I’ll bet if I wrote this post tomorrow, I’d have another top three… love all of my books and look forward to continuing to get inspired by new authors and thought leaders.

If it makes you feel better… I totally know the Dewey Decimal system!

Thanks, Susan!


Samantha April 5, 2014 at 11:28 am

Gosh Alli. I don’t remember my FIRST book but my all time favorite still happens to be a rather UNconventional one written by a POET! : )

The Heart Aroused: Poetry and Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America by David Whyte

That book totally rocked my world in terms of bridging the gap between the often cold and clinical ‘realities’ of the work place and the problem with having to often times, leave our own hearts and souls out of it.

He speaks in a language many can understand and knows how to do it in a way that can disarm without setting off a ton of ‘triggers’. I greatly admire him as a thinker/writer and how he is able to ’emote’ as well.

He also draws from famous poems like Beowulf … draws parallels and analogies to illustrate our journey into the unknown places we must go to reconnect with our true selves and revive our souls and creativity in our lives and the workplace….including an entire on finding your voice.

It’s a phenomenal book! One that can be read annually and each time it is read, you walk away with something entirely NEW because although the words may not have changed, our seasons in life do. Our circumstances. Our own complexities and growth. So different things in different chapters will jump out at what seems to be just the right time!

I can’t say enough about it! : )


Alli Polin April 7, 2014 at 9:54 am

Sounds incredible! I can’t wait to read it! Your endorsement goes a long way with me, Samantha 🙂

Love books that I can read and re-read and continue to learn and grow as a result. It may be old content but somehow continues to have a fresh impact on our lives. The sign of an exceptional book!

Thank you for sharing!!


Chery Gegelman April 5, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Hey Alli!

Vacation sounds great! I hope you have a blast and get lots of reading done!

When we moved across the pond, my books were one of the requirements. I inventoried them before the move – just in case, and have the iPad – just in case. …But the books made it, and I’m in them frequently!

My very first business book… Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. It was a simple read – but filled with important truths and was just the hook I needed. Barnes and Noble’s Leadership and Business section is like a magnet for me, I can’t walk-in without going by that section, and I rarely leave without a stack of new books to read.


Alli Polin April 7, 2014 at 9:52 am

Chery – You have no idea how much I miss Barnes and Noble! I was a regular in the Leadership and Business section too. I’m actually sad that the B&N in my town in the USA has closed since my move… will not be the same without it. Equally sad, in my current town the one small bookstore that I would frequent also recently closed. Guess you and I are not the only ones that tend to read a lot on our iPads.


LaRae Quy April 5, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Great question, Alli! You’ve got me going through memory lane…

One of the first books that had a real impact on the way I looked at life was “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig.

One of my favorite business school books was “The Ropes to Skip and The Ropes to Know” by Richard Ritti.

So many good books out there…and another one to come, soon 🙂


Alli Polin April 7, 2014 at 9:50 am

I remember Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance! Had not thought about it in years!! I’m not familiar with Ritti’s book but it sounds like a good one just from the title. Will definitely be going on my reading list. Also… YES!! another wonderful book for leaders everywhere yet to come in 2014!


Tracy Shroyer, PhD April 6, 2014 at 9:32 am

I have started 3-4 business books and still have my bookmarks in them. In the past I was an avid reader, but that has slowed over time due to other obligations. I have a large bag in my home office with books I need to get reading, but have not had the motivation to yet. A few weeks ago, a manager in the office I work gave me a book that I started reading last night and found interesting – I’m about a quarter through it (which is a lot for me to take time to sit down and read lately). It is “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable” by Patrick Lencioni. So far, so good and I hope to finish it within the next week or so 😉

I am planning to take a couple weeks off in June and get to some more reading!

Great post, Alli! I voted for your blog too and hope you win 🙂


Alli Polin April 7, 2014 at 9:48 am

Thanks, Tracy for your support of my blog!

I find it hard to make time to read as much as I would like too. I’ve been away from my routine for three days and have read 400 pages and it feels GOOD!

I love the Five Dysfunctions of a Team – find it spot on and practical too. Hope you’ll follow up with your take too. Good one to make the time to read!


Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™ April 6, 2014 at 7:21 pm

Great question Alli! I don’t remember the first one I read. However here are some favs:

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Covery (This may have been my first.)

“The Greatest Salesman in the World” by Og Mandino (which is not a sales book it’s about life!)

Getting to Yes by William Ury (excellent book on negotiation!)
Getting Past No by William Ury
The Power of a Positive No by Ury

Five Minds for the Future by Howard Gardener

Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

Who Moved My Cheese (because of the work I do)

Million Dollar Consulting

Now Discover Your Strengths


Alli Polin April 7, 2014 at 9:47 am

Thanks for sharing, Kate! Great list! I’m familiar with most (and moved with many of these titles that I just could not bear to put into storage). I have not read William Ury’s work but I will now!

Many thanks!


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