14 Book Club Ideas for Personal and Professional Development

Jun 1, 2018 · 9 min read

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the brain.

Joseph Addison

Successful professionals find ways to keep themselves on the cutting edge in their respective fields. They participate in timely discussions, develop relationships with peers and mentors, stay abreast of industry news and research, and they read.

A book club can be a great way for your staff to push themselves to continue to learn. At Classy, several of our departments participate in quarterly book clubs in order to:

  • Learn more about a prospective strategy
  • Gain a fresh perspective
  • Reenergize our team
  • Bring teams together to share takeaways
  • Stay up to date on industry best practices

Browse the following list for your next book club selection. Here are 14 books we recommend for professional and personal development.

1. StrengthsFinder by Tom Rath

In a Nutshell: To uncover your team members’ individual strengths, have everyone take the online assessment and then dive into this book for details on 34 possible themes. Each description also includes action items and tips for working with those who have that strength.

Favorite Quote: “When we’re able to put most of our energy into developing our natural talents, extraordinary room for growth exists. So, a revision to the ‘You-can-be-anything-you-want-to-be’ maxim might be a more accurate: You cannot be anything you want to be — but you can be a lot more of who you already are.”

Read This if You: Want to gain insight on your natural talents, how to foster them, and how to communicate them to others.

2. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

In a Nutshell: Our lives are full of different habits, whether we’re conscious of them or not. While habits can’t be broken, they can be changed. This book explores personal and organizational habits to illustrate how we can manipulate them and change their outcomes.

Favorite Quote: “Typically, people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.”

Read This if You: Want to learn how to create deep and fundamental change on a personal or organizational level.

3. Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy

In a Nutshell: Famous for her TED talk on “power poses,”Amy Cuddy shares the science behind how your physical posture influences your mind, and how it can be used to combat fear.

Favorite Quote: “When our body language is confident and open, other people respond in kind, unconsciously reinforcing not only their perception of us but also our perception of ourselves.”

Read This if You: Want to learn how small tweaks in your everyday life can help you develop the most confident version of yourself.

4. Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

In a Nutshell: Sinek shares his findings on leadership after studying several iconic influencers. His model outlines how leaders need to express their “why” in order to build a successful organization or movement.

Favorite Quote: “All organizations start with WHY, but only the great ones keep their WHY clear year after year. Those who forget WHY they were founded show up to the race every day to outdo someone else instead of to outdo themselves. The pursuit, for those who lose sight of WHY they are running the race, is for the medal or to beat someone else.”

Read This if You: Want to understand how to pulse-check your own motivations and organization and inspire your community to take action.

5. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

In a Nutshell: This book explores how creative endeavors are often stalled by our own self-doubt. Get insight around how to tackle this obstacle and achieve your goals.

Favorite Quote: “Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

Read This if You: Have ever felt like something is holding you back from your calling and creative goals — and you’re ready to overcome it.

6. Innovation and Scaling for Impact: How Effective Social Enterprises Do It By Christian Seelos and Johanna Mair

In a Nutshell: This book uses research to interpret how successful social enterprises tackle the world’s problems. Using case studies, Seelos and Mair provide models for success that demystify buzzwords like “innovation” and “scalability.”

Favorite Quote: “Important change and fundamental improvements often result from individually unremarkable small steps over long periods of time.”

Read This if You: Want actionable strategies that will help your organization make a larger impact.

7. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown

In a Nutshell: Brown discusses her research on vulnerability and how to embrace it in order to live your best life.

Favorite Quote: “Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

Read This if You: Want to understand how vulnerability is actually one of your greatest tools to forge meaningful connections in your personal and professional lives.

8. Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, Braden Kowitz

In a Nutshell: Three design partners at Google Ventures bring you a five-day process to take your idea from initial concept to testable prototype.

Favorite Quote: “We’ve found that the magic happens when we use big whiteboards to solve problems. As humans, our short-term memory is not all that good, but our spatial memory is awesome. A sprint room, plastered with notes, diagrams, printouts, and more, takes advantage of that spatial memory. The room itself becomes a sort of shared brain for the team.”

Read This if You: Want a practical tool for testing ideas and creating successful solutions.

9. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

In a Nutshell: Allegedly responsible for carrying “thousands of now famous people up the ladder of success,” this timeless classic presents advice on how to effectively interact with others in your personal and professional life.

Favorite Quote: “Personally I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms. So when I went fishing, I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted. I didn’t bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or grasshopper in front of the fish and said: ‘Wouldn’t you like to have that?’ Why not use the same common sense when fishing for people?”

Read This if You: Want to learn how to make people like you and how to influence their own thinking in a natural way.

10. Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh

In a Nutshell: CEO of Zappos Tony Hsieh shares how focusing on the happiness of others brought him fulfillment and success in life and in business.

Favorite Quote: “Branding through customer service over the years, the number one driver of our growth at Zappos has been repeat customers and word of mouth. Our philosophy has been to take most of the money we would have spent on paid advertising and invest it into customer service and customer experience instead, letting our customers do the marketing for us through word of mouth.”

Read This if You: Want to learn more about how to develop a company culture and ethos that drives your organization’s success.

11. Turn The Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders by L. David Marquet

In a Nutshell: Navy officer David Marquet explains how the traditional leader-follower model failed in his command. He illustrates how empowering individuals at every level to be a leader is best for the health of the organization.

Favorite Quote: “The leader-leader model not only achieves great improvements in effectiveness and morale but also makes the organization stronger. Most critically, these improvements are enduring, decoupled from the leader’s personality and presence. Leader-leader structures are significantly more resilient, and they do not rely on the designated leader always being right. Further, leader-leader structures spawn additional leaders throughout the organization naturally. It can’t be stopped.”

Read This if You: Seek to build a more engaged team that takes responsibility for their actions and is armed with the knowledge to make their own decisions.

12. The Obstacle is The Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday

In a Nutshell: Taking inspiration from the ancient Greek philosophy of stoicism, this book discusses how we can let go of that which we can’t control. In doing so, we can change the way we view obstacles in our path and actually learn to be empowered by them.

Favorite Quote: “All great victories, be they in politics, business, art, or seduction, involved resolving vexing problems with a potent cocktail of creativity, focus, and daring. When you have a goal, obstacles are actually teaching you how to get where you want to go — carving you a path. ‘The Things which hurt,’ Benjamin Franklin wrote, ‘instruct.’”

Read This if You: Struggle to move forward in the face of seemingly insurmountable problems.

13. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis

In a Nutshell: Lewis explores how the general manager of the Oakland As developed a strategy to win in the Major Leagues with one of the smallest budgets in the league. The short answer? Statistical data.

Favorite Quote: “There was but one question he left unasked, and it vibrated between his lines: if gross miscalculations of a person’s value could occur on a baseball field, before a live audience of thirty thousand, and a television audience of millions more, what did that say about the measurement of performance in other lines of work? If professional baseball players could be over- or undervalued, who couldn’t?”

Read This if You: Want to learn more about how making data-driven decisions can drive the success of your organization.

14. The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World by John Elkington, Pamela Hartigan

In a Nutshell: This book provides a look at a new breed of entrepreneur — disruptive, “unreasonable” people who are challenging traditional practices to solve global problems.

Favorite Quote: “Being unreasonable is not just a state of mind. It is also a process by which older, outdated forms of reasoning are jettisoned and new ones conceived and evolved.”

Read This if You: Want to feel inspired by and learn from the individuals currently shaping the world and its markets.

To prioritize continued learning at your organization, select a book, decide how often you’ll meet, draw up discussion questions, and get ready to engage in conversations that strengthen the collective know-how of your team.

Anything we missed? Let us know your recommendations in the comments below.

Ellie Burke, a former farmer, writes for the Classy Blog, and also loves writing young adult science fiction and fantasy.

The Classy Blog

Where social entrepreneurs go to learn and grow


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Since 2011, Classy has enabled millions of people across 300K individual campaigns to help fund more than 1,800 organizations.

The Classy Blog

Where social entrepreneurs go to learn and grow

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