Brian Goulet, owner of The Goulet Pen Co., led his fledgling fountain pen company from two employees (himself and his wife, Rachel) in 2008 to a thriving business with 40 employees 10 years later.
So basically, Goulet knows a thing or two about being a leader—and a good one at that. While there were multiple factors that helped him succeed as a small business leader, one stands out: He believes that every successful business owner should make it a habit to read.
“Leaders are readers,” he says. Business books are priceless knowledge, advice, and inspiration at your fingertips, but with all the bestseller lists out there, how do you know where to begin?
Though Goulet says it’s important to find guiding voices that align with your personal values, we all need somewhere to start. So we got Goulet to list the business and leadership books he found most helpful on his entrepreneurial journey, along with what advice they’re most useful for:
Start running payroll and benefits with Gusto
This is a great playbook for small businesses and covers leadership topics like staying consistent when managing change. Goulet found this book particularly useful when he had around 12 team members. “This book was very influential for me and my budding leadership. Dave covers practical, hands-on small business leadership practices that are a good fit for businesses oriented towards strong culture and caring for their people. It’s great for those who have no structure in place,” he says.
Lencioni covers how to build your leadership team and find the right “meeting rhythms.” This basically means you clearly define the scope of your meetings and schedule them when it makes most sense to discuss the topic. For example, you won’t talk about long-term revenue strategies in the same meeting where you bring up needing to order more coffee. This means you don’t have to change gears so much.
This book will teach you how to find your vision, purpose, and values. “Simon provokes thought with his ‘Golden Circle’ concept and gets to the heart of why people should care about what you do,” says Goulet. “It can help you get to the root of why it is you do what you do—and explain it to others in a meaningful way.”
Brown offers lessons about vulnerability, shame, empathy, and the softer skills you’ll need as a leader. Goulet adds that “all her books are incredible.”
‘Traction’ is another super tactical playbook for running a small business. Goulet found it helpful for topics like structuring a meeting cadence and the different roles that are required in a company as it grows. It is especially geared towards small teams and startups.
This is Goulet’s go-to for financial advice: “This is an extremely practical book for anyone with a small startup in the $100,000 to $5 million revenue range,” he says. “It covers a lot of the pitfalls of finances and business tactics that trip up owners and founders in the early years, and it helps put structure in place,” says Goulet.
You’ve probably heard of this one. It talks about how important it is to love what you do. It’s also full of tips for building your brand. “Gray is super motivating and gives practical advice around marketing and startups. His book is the reason I started producing video content—which is the main driver of my company’s success today, 10 years after I first read it,” says Goulet. Read more about how Goulet built his YouTube brand here.
Hseih says a happy culture leads to a more profitable business, and he teaches you how to successfully define your values. “It motivated me to establish a mission statement and company values,” says Goulet.
Goulet recommends this one because it focuses on thinking of your business as a system you manage, rather than something built around a single individual’s ability to accomplish a task. Gerber applies the idea of “franchising” even outside of franchise businesses; this can be helpful when thinking about scaling a business beyond the founder.
This work is a handy reference for new and current leaders who want to develop their skills. Maxwell’s down-to-earth leadership principles, combined with relevant examples and his experiences from multiple organizations, make this book an authority in the leadership space.
This is a good one for trade crafts. Learn all about pricing and branding your own creations. “It is great for freelancers and startups wondering how to price their work. This would be a good tandem read with ‘Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits!,’” says Goulet.
Maxwell opens with the premise that the purpose of leadership is to produce more leaders and to help each person move toward the highest level of achievement they can reach. Then he lists and explains the five levels of leadership that he has seen and experienced.
‘Small Giants’ is an inspiring list of case studies ranging from two-person shops to small restaurant chains employing hundreds of people. Burlingham focuses on small companies that pursue greatness outside of traditional growth, exploring what makes these businesses tick and how they became formidable without exploding and ruining their culture.
‘Essentialism’ talks about personal growth—specifically, how to simplify your life, your thinking, and your purpose to cut out all the extraneous “stuff” that continually distracts us.
This is perhaps Lencioni’s best-known work. It also addresses building your leadership team but delves into identifying dysfunction among team members. Goulet describes it as well-written, realistic, and “more of a leadership/management book. This is good for anyone working in a group that has to make strategic decisions together,” he says.
Allen’s Getting Things Done method is a system for personal organization and productivity. The book teaches you how to organize your tasks using simple lists and structures. “It focuses on building a system that helps you stay organized,” says Goulet. “I’ve used my system for five years and am still benefiting from David’s guidance.”
A good book can be a convenient, time-friendly, and relatively inexpensive tutor—you can read it anywhere and at your own time and pace. Goulet got a lot of his business ethics—and tactics—from books. Like him, you and your business could benefit by learning from the best.