From the time we first learn to scan pages and supercharge our imaginations through literature, books become both an escape and an inspiration. And as we grow from children with big dreams to adults with big ideas, our bookshelves become more focused. In addition to having solid mentors, books can serve as experts for ambitious entrepreneurs who and seek to carve out there own path and enjoy reading between the lines of best-sellers. So we asked 21 successful female leaders to share the one motivational book that inspired them more than all the rest. From fiction and non-fiction to business and self-help, there’s surely something on this list to get your spark your interest, too.
“It really enhanced my ability to become a great leader. A specific quote that comes to mind and was meaningful to me is that ‘the culture of a company is the behavior of its leaders.’ Execution is: a discipline and integral to strategy; is the major job of the business leader; and must be a core element of an organization’s culture. I make sure to keep this in mind with every facet of the business and my relationships with my team. This book truly resonated with me as I’m a doer: ‘Know your people and know your business’ and ‘follow through’ are elements I follow on a daily basis.” —Lisa Collier, CEO and President of NYDJ
“I truly related to Ed’s [the author] journey from creative to CEO. As a founder, you don’t go into your business wanting to be CEO, you want to create. Learning to become a leader is a long and often difficult process. Creativity, Inc. taught me valuable lessons about hiring, hierarchy, communication, and company culture. I learned that failure is okay as long as you learn from it and acknowledge it. I learned to enjoy the process of managing and growing my team with the best people for the job and then letting them run. This is one of the best books I have read on business!” —Risa Barash, CEO of Fairy Tales Hair Care and TBH Kids
“It is all about the Law of Attraction and the belief that positive or negative thoughts bring positive or negative experiences into a person’s life. It’s about inner connections and your true purpose. Most people believe in positive thinking and what it can attract, but some people do not realize that negative thoughts can also attract things. Being a thoughtful leader can help me on how to approach an idea or a difficult situation, or shift my negative thought about something into a more productive solution. I like to surround myself with — and attract positive people — so it works for me, especially in my career. I know that no matter what happens — whether it’s good or bad — it was supposed to. I will either learn from a situation or ride that wave of opportunity, and to me that is growth and comfort.” —Deb Monti, Creator of Milvali Extensions & Academy
“I first read this book while I was working in venture capital and appreciated that a book like this one had been written to show the less-than-glamorous side of what it means to run a company. Running a company, especially one that you inherit, is hard. Some of the hardest things I’ve had to do — like firing an executive — have been made easier knowing that I can reference specific chapters in Horowitz’s book that offer comparable stories and actionable advice to get through it. There are plenty of books written by entrepreneurs whose success stories are uplifting and inspiring, but this quote from Horowitz’s book captures what I appreciate most about his no-BS, real talk: ‘Every CEO likes to say she runs a great company. It’s hard to tell whether the claim is true until the company or the CEO has to do something really difficult.’” —Tawny Holguin Toci, CEO of Social Print Studio
“This book was published in 1936, and it’s more relevant now than ever. In a world where there are endless yet shallow potential ‘connections’ via social media, there are simple yet powerful reminders in this book that bring you back to the basics to create true connections with people by being a good listener, asking questions, being considerate, and having empathy. In the end, we are only human and want to connect with and do business with people who actually care about us. Understand, forgive, and have self-control. These are concepts that are not only vital in business but in our friendships, marriages, and even for simple one off daily interactions.” —Degelis Tufts, CEO & Founder of TribeTokes
“This is one of those books that I’ve read over and over in my life and still manage to discover new ways to appreciate it. Reading this book taught me the importance of not holding yourself hostage to the opinions of others and speaking up for yourself, especially as a woman. In choosing to carve my own path as an entrepreneur, I’ve had to be unafraid to take risks and not allow what others might think of me hold me back. As a woman in business, I have to be bold, speak my mind and defend my opinions. Hurston’s book played a big part in why I choose to be unapologetically me.” —Lulu Cordero, CEO & Founder of Bomba Curls
“I was deeply impressed by her commitment to activism and making the world a better place, and I was humbled by her approach to it. I loved how much she valued individual interactions — for example, she talked to taxi drivers to hear their latest thoughts on issues and really knew the importance of people sharing their personal stories to change minds. While she was great on an individual level, I also loved that she focused her efforts most of all on systemic change. She also was ahead of her time in terms of thinking about intersectionality. All of these lessons are things I’ve tried to incorporate in my own life and work.” —Kate Huyett, the CMO of Bombas
“While I certainly enjoyed the book when I read it in college, I was more inspired by the conversations we had about Shelley and her radical thinking that led to the creation of the book. At the time, I was an unsure, timid freshman that so desperately wanted to fit in and so afraid of standing out for the wrong reasons. Reading about this brave woman in the 1800s who wrote about a mad scientist ‘playing god’ — a topic that still ruffles critics — was so amazing to me. I signed up for a women’s literature class the following semester and became a fanatic. I am drawn to authenticity and original thinkers but more specifically women who are risk takers. Studying these women has inspired my own path to finding and accepting my authentic self.” —Jamee Fred, Co-Founder and CMO of TrueSpace.
“‘Resilience is the strength and speed of our response to adversity — and we can build it. It isn’t about having a backbone. It’s about strengthening the muscles around our backbone.’ This is one of my favorite quotes from this book. I recently finished it, and it had some fantastic references for business and life in general. In business and in life, there are always going to be stumbling blocks, turning points, and tough decisions to make. I believe that the ability to recover and move forward determines your level of general happiness, well-being and success, however you measure it. A reminder that resilience can be built and strengthened is a lift for me, especially when things are tough.” —Adina Jacobs, Co-Founder and Head of Product at STM Brands
“It started in Mexico, on a road trip I took with some friends in my beat-up 1979 Dodge Colt. We drove to Puerto Vallarta as a last hurrah after undergrad and before I was to head to University of Virginia for law school. We decided to stay in Mexico until we ran out of money. During this trip, I read this book and would later realize how deeply the book’s message resonated with me. Sure enough, we ran out of money and had just enough to fill the car with gas and for all of us to have a candy bar each for the 1,800 mile trip back to Utah. One person in our group convinced us to stop by Best Friends Animal Sanctuary on our way back, and the rest of us reluctantly agreed. The very moment I drove into the magnificent red rock canyon, which is home to the Sanctuary, I recalled the message from the book: ‘The essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path, and, above all following our dreams,’ and realized this is my dream. I called my dad to break the news about not going to law school, and the rest is history.” —Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society
“I really loved the way the book was written — it was very down to earth yet extremely uplifting, and I think I read it cover to cover without many breaks. Hsieh writes in a way that he is telling you his thoughts, emotions, and decision-making, and I could really relate to him. He describes his childhood and his path with Zappos as CEO. Zappos was once a brick-and-mortar shoe store! He discusses his ideas and challenges to make Zappos the culture and customer-centric company that it is today. I read this when it first came out in 2010 and really had no idea that it is mandatory reading now in business classes. It really is so inspiring that it created its own way of viewing business and customer service. It certainly made me want to go out and make something happen.” —Kat Burki, Founder and CEO of Kat Burki Skincare
“This was an emotional shock to my system. Whatever I had anticipated from reading this book, it delivered more — and in ways so unexpected. Malcolm’s own personal journey was so inspirational in and of itself, and his messages of pride and idealism was unlike anything I had ever read. This book gave me a new perspective on how I behave and engage on a daily basis with those around me, which has immensely changed my life for the better. The storytelling is very raw and honest, detailing his transformation and self-discovery through the lowest lows, to incredible highs. Reading about his experience inspired me to tap into my own inner strength, grit, confidence, and compassion — all qualities that have certainly been helpful to me while running a business.” —Angela Sutherland, CEO & Founder of Yumi
“I was gifted a copy of this by a dear friend, and I was captivated and enamored not only by the concept of a book based on the power of an idea, but also the very poignant quotes, gorgeous paper, and beautiful illustrations. I could pick this book up any day of the week and read it with a different situation in mind. It taught me to trust my instincts and made me realize that you don’t always need to have all the answers — something I’ve applied creatively to my work as a designer and also to our business and team. Every time I read this book, I feel beyond inspired. It triggers me to open my mind to a new perspective. Over the years it has given me the courage to follow my own ideas and perhaps run a business in a nonconventional way, to take risks on change, and to challenge logic that often kills good ideas.” —Jodie Fried, Co-Founder of Armadillo & Co
“This is a narrative of short stories and life lessons by Oprah Winfrey. Through her travels, television talk show, and conversations with people from all over the world, she has a lot of wisdom to share. Each story narrates a lesson and a different takeaway of what Oprah ‘knows for sure.’ I hung on every word, discovered so much through her retelling the experiences of what she learned, and found myself at different points of the book nodding in agreement, having my own ‘ah-ha’ moments crying and laughing.” —Vanessa Phillips, CEO of Feel Good Foods
“This was written by Ernest Hemingway at the end of his career and purported decline of his life. However, the inspiration of this book comes not only in the magical and celebrated manner in which Hemingway combines words, expresses feelings, and tells stories, but also in the youthful certainty and hopefulness that permeates the memories of his younger years in 1920’s Paris: ‘If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.’ All my life, I have been blessed to know and experience many a moveable feast. Memories of splendid places I have lived or known continue to go with me even after I have experienced them and have moved away. Hemingway’s words inspire me. He was not always the most admirable person, and he lived his life and took his life in a way that most would find somewhat shocking. But he crafted sentences that I am compelled to read and re-read for their ability to evoke delight and sorrow, joy and horror, hope and despair with seemingly no effort or pretense. At the end of his illustrious career, he penned a memoir that makes no apologies, manages to see humor amidst bitterness, and suggests hope and promise for a future yet unrealized.” —Deborah Carter, Co-Founder of Trove CBD
“This book was life-changing for me. It’s a powerful tell-all about Welch’s journey as a leader, including his failures. He prepares you for the roller-coaster experience ahead, where you’re going to make mistakes but will ultimately be able to look back and feel like you did something important — and have a legacy you’re proud of. He demystifies insecurity by posing really straightforward questions of his employees: ‘How would you be good at this? How would you build the company of the future?’ I admire that leadership style — it’s so simple. When I read his reflections on what he has accomplished and what he’s learned in retrospect, it makes me more confident that I can do it. The experience of building anything and the privilege of being a leader comes with so much responsibility and inevitably so many failures. I don’t know if the job of a leader is necessarily to get over those failures — you’re not supposed to just push them aside and not learn from them — but it’s about not letting failure define you.” —Katia Beauchamp, Co-Founder and CEO of Birchbox
“I love the idea that anyone can, in fact, make their dreams come true once setting their mind to it. I continue to take risks every day and have found that doing so has led me to some of my greatest successes. I constantly encourage others to do the same and go after the things that they believe in, regardless of their circumstances. It is so important believe in yourself and follow your dreams, no matter how big or small they are.” —Crystal Etienne founder of Ruby Love
“I literally use to read four books per week on my quest to learn as much as possible about running a business. I was dumbfounded at how reading too much and listening to so-called business experts has caused confusion and chaos, not only in my life but lots of people. In fact, me and my super-intelligent friends were all victims of the ‘know it all’ syndrome. Then, one day I transformed, my metamorphose moment occurred in all of three hours while reading this book, written in the early 1930s. After months on months on months of toiling in the blazing sun, the owner allowed other influences to drown out his inner voice. Allowing frustration and resentment to grow. Instead of listening to his soul, he listened to the voice of his ego. He quit the gold mining business and sold everything for the fraction of the cost. The new owner — despite being fed lots of negative information about the business — was happy to enter in and take over. He wasn’t the smartest man but he was a man of faith and took over a failing business because his inner voice was guiding him. Long story short, the new owner stuck gold within days! They were only three feet away. What this book taught me, and why this is my favorite story, is because the lesson is simple: Learning to trust yourself and listening to your inner is extremely important and too much outside influence will cause you to doubt yourself. Courage is far more important when running a business than just being smart.” —Tiara Zolnierz, co-founder of EnrichHER
“I read this book for the first time right after 9/11. The author shares how we can learn to relate to the most difficult moments in our lives, even when we are overwhelmed with what might feel like tidal waves. This was the first book I’d read that actually introduced me to the idea that life, people, and situations will always be imperfect. We can either let the circumstances of our lives make us angry, fearful, and resentful, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder, more compassionate human beings. We always have a choice.” —Patricia Karpas, Co-Founder of Meditation Studio & Head of Content for Muse
“What I love about this book is that it instills a discipline of pausing before acting or reacting to a situation. Working in the fast-pace world of digital media — which evolves so quickly — everyone is working incredibly fast and making quick decisions that don’t necessarily translate to the best result. In order to build meaningful media experiences, you have to take a deeper look at the patterns and you need to be objective. That means taking a moment to pause and truly analyze a situation. And this lesson also goes beyond career advice. Learning to zoom out of a micro view and look at the big picture is a great tool to acquire in any situation. It keeps you out of the weeds and focused on what really matters.” —Sargi Mann, EVP, Digital Strategy & Investments at Havas Media
“This read is the autobiography of Cheryl Cecchetto, the woman at the helm of the company that has produced dozens of galas for the Emmys, Academy Awards, and hundreds of other star-studded events. Aside from getting to be a fly on the wall for juicy Hollywood stories, this book captures the essence of everything it means to be a true entrepreneur and is chock-full of lessons. It explains how to play to win and work with big corporate clients — only with the zing of Hollywood grandeur and hilarity. Having it all planned that your life will go one way, but then following your God-given gifts to huge success in another. Living a big, enormous life. Figuring out how to handle the dumpster-fire debacles you just couldn’t make up if you tried. Whenever I need to laugh, to be inspired to create something new, or to remember none of this really matters anyway, I go to my shelf and pick a chapter from this book.” —Angelique Rewers, CEO of The Corporate Agent
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