A young professional’s reading list

A mentor of mine once suggested to me that if you read seven books on any given topic within a fairly short period of time (about three months, if I remember right), you are an expert on that topic.

I’m always amazed at how little reading happens in the professional world. Reading helps you get ahead. 

I was recently asked to compile a list of essential business books. I considered focusing on my area of expertise, marketing, or even gearing it toward enrollment management, but I instead decided to focus on a broad, conceptual idea of how the modern working world works. My thinking is that so many business books quickly become dated; these are classics that have stood the test of time because they have quality instruction.

What books would you add to this list?

The Four Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals
By Chris McChesney, Jim Huling and Sean Covey

Read this first. While its level of detail can at times be a bit overwhelming, 4DX draws the line between successful teams and stagnant ones. The book’s focus is how to develop, implement and measure effective goals that achieve your institution’s aims. A must read for new managers looking to create a culture of accountability.

The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done
By Peter Drucker

This may be the only business book you’ll ever need to read because it teaches you how to think about your work. Don’t let the word “Executive” in the title stop you – Drucker’s definition is almost certainly different from yours. This essential book teaches you how to make decisions, prioritize your work and manage your time.

Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service
By Theodore B. Kinni

No one knows customer service like Disney does, and this guide on the topic is brief, effective and can be molded to fit almost any organization. If you’ve recently been put in charge of campus visits or any other student-facing aspect of your enrollment management operation, this should be first on your bookshelf.

Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style & Purpose
By Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee

David Ogilvy famously recommended his staffers read Writing that Works: How to Communicate Effectively on the Job, but I think Nicely Said is more relevant for today’s times, or perhaps a great supplement to the dated WTW. This excellent guide outlines the basics of digital communication and provides a base as you learn about digital marketing, content strategy and web writing.

Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Usability Approach to Web Usability
By Steve Krug

This is the pioneering book in web usability, which only becomes more and more relevant by the day. I encourage you to supplement your reading about user experience with as many good books and articles as you can, but this is a great place to start. The conventions that govern modern digital communication are explained here.

Creating the Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney
By Lee Cockerell

This is the second book by a member of the Disney organization, but when you’re as successful as Disney for as long as Disney, it's worth paying attention. Creating the Magic is essentially a how-to guide for treating people well in the workplace (something that is sadly in short supply these days). This book is instructional in its tactics, but deeply moral in its aim.

Web Analytics 2.0: The Art of Online Accountability and the Science of Customer Centricity
By Avinash Kaushik

Are you still paying attention? This is a tough one, but it’s an investment worth making. Avinash Kaushik makes the case for how to create, manage, watch and consider analytics and data in the modern digital age. This is a life raft from data paralysis. Absolutely essential reading.

BONUS BOOK: Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman
By Yvon Chouinard

Patagonia stakes its reputation on having high standards, and founder Yvon Chouinard explains why in this book. Surfing says what other business books simply do not: Some things aren’t about money or numbers – they’re just the right thing to do. Patagonia is an imperfect company that still has much to work out, but the essential tenets of these philosophies are important in any business. Plus, the photos are great.

Darren White is the principal consultant at D. White & Company, LLC, a higher education marketing & management consulting firm. Want to set up coaching and professional development for your team? Set up an appointment for a free consultation today.