We’ve talked podcasts. We’ve talked TED talks. Now on to the written word!
There are thousands of business books out there – each one promising to turn your organization around, make you a better frontline leader, or revolutionize the way you do business. But how do you know which books are worth your time?
We’ve gathered together nine of the best books for frontline leaders. Check out our general picks below, or flip to our industry-specific selections for leaders in retail or foodservice and hospitality.
3 books every frontline leader should read:
The Front-Line Leader: Building a High-Performance Organization from the Ground Up
Author: Chris Van Gorder
Length: 208 pages / 6 hours 32 mins audiobook
In brief: Van Gorder started his career as a police officer, became a hospital security guard, and is now the President and CEO of Scripps Health. During his tenure, he has overseen a dramatic turnaround, taking the San Diego health system from near bankruptcy to being recognized as one of the most prestigious in the US.
Why it’s worth your time: Van Gorder’s message definitely fires us up: leaders need to get to know, value, and understand their frontline team members. This is how businesses build accountability, inspire staff, and drive results. Full of practical advice, Van Gorder looks at both large scale strategies and everyday actions that make a difference.
Key Quote: “When frontline workers are part of any solution, they own it every bit as much as leaders do. Everyone benefits – the organization, workers and, most of all, customers.”
Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
Author: Kim Scott
Length: 246 pages / 11 hours 55 mins audiobook
In brief: After a long career in the tech world (including stints at Dropbox, Apple, Google, and more), Kim Scott has seen some of the most common management pitfalls: obnoxious aggression, manipulative insincerity, and ruinous empathy. In Radical Candor, Scott offers up a management philosophy based on building personal relationships, being willing to challenge people when needed, taking feedback on your own performance, and investing in others’ growth.
Why it’s worth your time: No one ever said being a manager is easy, and it can be particularly challenging in the high-stakes environments that frontline leaders work in. Whether you want to improve your own management skills or support your line managers to build strong teams, Radical Candor offers a consistent approach to building a winning workplace culture. Not convinced? Scott has gone on to found a successful corporate training company that has worked with leaders around the world.
Key Quote: “At Apple, as at Google, a boss’s ability to achieve results had a lot more to do with listening and seeking to understand than it did with telling people what to do; more to do with debating than directing; more to do with pushing people to decide than with being the decider; more to do with persuading than with giving orders; more to do with learning than with knowing.”
Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t
Author: Simon Sinek
Length: 368 pages / 9 hours 23 mins audiobook
In brief: Simon Sinek is a trained ethnographer, business expert, podcast host and author. His Ted Talk was on our list of must-listens for leaders so it’s no surprise that we’re fans of his book. The book is based on an idea that Sinek heard from a Marine Corps general: “Officers Eat Last.” More than just a symbolic gesture, Sinek shows how this demonstrates a commitment at the top to those serving beneath you.
Why it’s worth your time: Sinek’s book will challenge you to think about your role as a leader: how far are you willing to go to build trust and ensure the safety and security of your team? Sinek uses case studies from successful organizations to demonstrate how organizations where leaders create a “circle of safety” are able to build teams that will go the extra mile.
Key Quote: “When a leader embraces their responsibility to care for people instead of caring for numbers, then people will follow, solve problems and see to it that that leader’s vision comes to life the right way, a stable way and not the expedient way.”
3 books every retail leader should read:
The Nordstrom Way to Customer Experience Excellence: Creating a Values-Driven Service Culture
Authors: Robert Spektor and breAnne O. Reeves
Length: 225 pages / 6 hours 14 mins audiobook
In Brief: Now in its third edition, The Nordstrom Way has been a business must-read since it was first released in the ‘90s. Robert Spektor has written and studied Nordstrom for more than thirty years, and alongside his business partner and co-author, breAnne O. Reeves, has updated this classic for the digital age. But don’t worry, you’ll still learn the secrets to how Nordstrong has built its legendary reputation for customer service (hint: it’s all about the employee experience).
Why it’s worth your time: The most recent edition of the book includes insight from Nordstrom’s leaders on how to adapt to a world in which customers are used to the seamless ease of digital shopping and have come to expect convenience, speed, and the personal touch in all their retail experiences. We love the focus on empowering frontline staff with the digital tools they need to offer excellent service.
Key Quote: “Recognition is powerful, as long as it’s authentic and specific. Whatever their level on the inverted pyramid, employees want to feel needed and valued.”
Resurrecting Retail: The Future of Business in a Post-Pandemic World
Author: Doug Stephens
Length: 258 pages / 7 hours 58 mins audiobook
In Brief: Doug Stephens is a leading retail futurist whose long career in retail leadership roles have informed his three best-selling books on retail. His latest, Resurrecting Retail, explores the impact the pandemic has had on the retail industry while also looking to the future.
Why it’s worth your time: It’s no secret that the pandemic has upended much of the retail business. Stephens examines how consumer behavior has been reshaped over the past two years and offers retail leaders a roadmap for adapting and thriving in a radically changed retail environment.
Key Quote: “So how should business leaders prepare for an uncertain and largely unprecedented future? Some maintain we can’t predict the future at all. I wholeheartedly agree, nor should we try to predict the future. But that doesn’t mean we can’t prepare for it.”
Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman
Author: Yvon Chouinard
Length: 272 pages / 7 hours 59 minutes audiobook
In Brief: Yvon Chouinard is a rock-climber, environmentalist, and founder of global outdoor brand, Patagonia. In his memoir/business book, Chouniard shares the philosophy that has made Patagonia a global phenomenon. This includes dedication to creating a people-focused workplace, with policies that fly in the face of conventional wisdom (including plenty of flexibility to go surfing!).
Why it’s worth your time: Chouinard calls himself a reluctant businessman and his company an “un-business.” Needless to say, his ideas won’t be for everyone. But his book is a rallying cry for finding your company’s purpose and values and then embedding them into every part of your business. And if nothing else, you can marvel at the extraordinary life Chouinard has led!
Key Quote: “Patagonia’s image is a human voice. It expresses the joy of people who love the world, who are passionate about their beliefs, and who want to influence the future. It is not processed; it won’t compromise its humanity. This means that it will offend, and it will inspire.”
3 books every foodservice and hospitality leader should read:
The Heart of Hospitality: Great Hotel and Restaurant Leaders Share Their Secrets
Author: Micah Solomon
Length: 238 pages / audio unavailable
In Brief: Who would you most like to sit down with to hear how they built a winning hospitality business? Isadore Sharp of the Four Seasons? Double five star chef and hotelier Patrick O’Connell? Or maybe Ritz Carlton’s President and COO Herve Humler? Luckily, customer service expert Micah Solomon has talked to these hospitality titans and more and distilled their wisdom into an entertaining and insightful book on how the biggest names in the business have created their success.
Why it’s worth your time: This book is a comprehensive look at what it takes to succeed in the hospitality industry. From company culture, to hiring and onboarding, to creating a winning customer experience, this book is full of practical examples and up-to-the-minute insights.
Key Quote: “Here’s how I’d summarize the attitude of great hoteliers, restaurateurs, and other hospitality professionals… If we did it for our first guest we’ll find a way to keep doing it for our millionth, without rushing or cutting corners, without doing anything to make that guest feel any less than fully valued in our eyes.”
Delivering the Digital Restaurant: Your Roadmap to the Future of Food
Authors: Carl Orsbourn and Meredith Sandland
Length: 264 pages / 7 hours 21 mins audiobook
In brief: Carl Orsbourn and Meredith Sandland are both veterans of the industry who have turned their attention to the digital future of the food industry. Like Resurrecting Retail, this book explores the current challenges and opportunities faced by the restaurant industry and is rich with insider knowledge and thought-provoking ideas.
Why it’s worth your time: This book is meticulously researched, drawing on data and sociological knowledge, as well as the expertise of the authors. Leaders in the food industry know that digital disruption (and the impacts of the pandemic) mean that it’s time to adapt or die. This book offers a practical roadmap on how leaders can innovate and adapt. What’s more Orsbourn and Sandland share ideas for business both large and small, making this a valuable read for anyone in the restaurant world.
Key Quote: “People take pride in sharing their food philosophy and personalizing their order. Ordering online expands our restaurant options and personalizes our choices with a few clicks. More than ever before, restaurants need to understand diverse lifestyles and viewpoints to be involved in the dialogue of what matters most to their consumer base.”
Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business
Authors: Danny Meyer
Length: 336 pages/ 5 hours 33 mins audiobook
In Brief: A giant of the New York food scene, Meyer shares how he built his business empire. From opening his first restaurant at 27, to running the Union Square Hospitality Group, to founding the fast food phenomenon Shake Shack, Meyer has proven again and again that he knows what it takes to succeed in a notoriously cutthroat business. This is both a memoir of a remarkable career and a valuable business book that leaders in hospitality and beyond can learn from.
Why it’s worth your time: If you want to understand how a successful restaurant gets built, the classic book is a must-read. In it, he shares his philosophy of Enlightened Hospitality, which he credits to his success. The core principles are: creating a meaningful employee experience, building strong relationships with suppliers, connecting with local community, and delivering an outstanding experience for guests.
Key Quote: “In the end, what’s most meaningful is creating positive, uplifting outcomes for human experiences and human relationships. Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.”