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With every new year comes my new book recommendation list.
As you know, I am in constant pursuit of expanding my knowledge. I read books and articles, watch educational videos, and listen to insightful podcasts. My goal is to discover new perspectives and gain a better understanding of what I already know. As such, I don't limit myself to strictly business books. Many of my recommendations are of books that cover psychological aspects of how we think and operate as human beings.
All of these books have one thing in common – they will help you become a better consultant.
Struggling to find the time to read? Well, first of all, make sure to check out my article on this exact problem: You Will Always Have a Time Problem as a Consultant Until You Do This. Secondly, you will find some great advice in this HBR article on various ways to read more books. One of those tips: read books from a curated list 😉
So let's start, shall we?
It’s about building the unstoppable momentum needed to rise above competitive barricades in business, in our careers, and in our lives.
When I launched my newsletter mid-2020, Mark Schaefer's book – Known – was the book I recommended in the very first edition. I now would like to introduce you to another book by Schaefer – Cumulative Advantage – that is just as brilliant and full of fantastic insights and case studies.
The book explains how the world is stacked against us in significant ways and small. When marketing our services, our goal is to be heard, to be known, to have our message resonate with the right audience.
This is where Schaefer’s book comes in. It’s about building the unstoppable momentum needed to rise above competitive barricades in business, in our careers, and in our lives. From identifying the initial advantage, to creating a vast awareness about your projects, to nurturing powerful connections – this book is as practical as it is inspiring.
This cumulative advantage concept has always been triggering me and I wrote about it, calling it the ‘the content flywheel’ and ‘the collateral visibility effects’.
How to capitalize on this new ‘authority’ era that we’re entering and future-proof your agency/consultancy
“If your agency's future is tied to making stuff, then you're destined to be on a perpetual financial roller coaster,” argue McLellan and Woessner. In this brilliant book, they dig into the success factors of striving as an agency in the era of authority.
Not anyone can be called an ‘authority’ or a ‘thought leader’. True authorities are those who write with a great deal of expertise on a very narrow subject. Such experts are afforded the highest level of confidence and trust. Their level of expertise is undeniable. As a result, they don’t compete on price.
In their book, McLellan and Woessner explain how to capitalize on this new ‘authority’ era that we’re entering and future-proof your agency/consultancy. A must-read for every consultant and consultancy owner!
How the most successful CEOs, athletes, scientists, and artists were able to push past what was considered “possible” and stretch their capabilities
I started a new business from scratch, twice in the middle of a crisis period: in 2008 – in the midst of the financial crisis, and in 2020 – when the pandemic hit the world.
The reason why I chose this book is because I like the idea behind it so much: nothing is really impossible - even realizing your wildest dreams (or starting a business in a crisis period) - with the right mindset, a fanatic learning attitude, with a lot of ‘thinking outside the box’ and with trying to get in the flow quickly.
That happened to me twice and despite difficult times, I got traction quickly. You can do that too. This book can help you with that tremendously.
Kotler brilliantly presents his findings and learnings from studying how the most successful CEOs, athletes, scientists, and artists were able to push past what was considered “possible” and stretch their capabilities. He approached the subject from the neuroscience perspective, taking scientific interest in what allows some people achieve peak performance.
This book is a formula that any one of us can apply to our work to lead fulfilling, balanced professional lives and grow our consulting business.
This book is full of powerful modern-day and historical examples of regular people achieving their peak performance through grit.
To me, this book belongs to the ‘same family’ as these other two books I already summarized: Peak by Anders Ericsson and The Art of Impossible by Steven Kotler.
This book is a New York Times bestseller, and I can 100% see why. Angela Duckworth is a psychologist, and she uses her training, education, and outstanding achievements to show that success doesn’t come from talent. You don’t have to be a “genius.” Success stems from a unique combination of passion and long-term perseverance – she refers to these qualities jointly as grit.
This book is full of powerful modern-day and historical examples of regular people achieving their peak performance through grit.
What I love about this book is how multi-applicable it is. You can use the lessons learned from this book and apply them to every aspect of your life: as a consultant trying to grow your business, as a parent, and as a life-long learner.
Rethink everything you do and reduce it to its essentialism-state
“As high-achievers, we’ve been conditioned to believe that the path to success is paved with relentless work. That if we want to overachieve, we have to overexert, overthink, and overdo. That if we aren’t perpetually exhausted, we’re not doing enough.”
For those who know me, this is not the first McKeown's book that I recommend. Check out ‘Essentialism’ - another amazing read. On my (sometimes) long car travels, I’ve been listening to the Essentialism audiobook. It has fascinated me and it has helped me to continue to rethink everything I do and reduce it to its essentialism-state.
Overcoming FOMO is about learning to weigh the costs and benefits of your choices, prioritizing your decisions, and listening to your gut.
We all like to think of ourselves as decisive people in control of our lives, right? We are consultants. It’s our job to be experts, to advise, to help others make decisions.
Heh, if only…
We are overwhelmed by choices in pretty much every aspect of our lives and, oftentimes, saying yes to one choice means saying no to all the other choices. And that can be a paralyzing thought. That’s why McGinnis’ book is a must-read. He brilliantly deconstructs the fear of missing out and provides a fresh look on overcoming the anxiety of making a decision. Overcoming FOMO is about learning to weigh the costs and benefits of your choices, prioritizing your decisions, and listening to your gut. This is an inspiring and practical read.
We want to keep our options open, yet we want the feeling of purpose, of community, of belonging. A very difficult equation.
Sometimes I come across awesome books. Little treasures to read. This is such a (brand new) book.
We are stuck in “Infinite Browsing Mode,” explains Pete Davis in this brilliant book. We have cultivated and are a part of the culture of indecisiveness. Whether it’s browsing through Netflix options for hours, trying to figure out what to watch, or jumping from one opportunity to another, we are restless. He breaks down the paradox of our modern culture. We want to keep our options open, yet we want the feeling of purpose, of community, of belonging. A very difficult equation, also for consultants.
This book is ‘the extension’ of Davis' awesome 2018 Harvard graduation speech, which I strongly recommend watching. It’s a deeply inspiring 9 minutes video, you should go there if you are also struggling to narrow the focus of your consulting work.
The book is full of examples from history, modern-day culture, and psychological analysis. Davis studied the “long-haul heroes” – people who committed themselves to a single place, a single profession, or a single cause – and made it to the other side. What an eye-opening read!
Tools to help easily execute ideas, become an expert negotiator, attract the attention of those around you, scale promising ideas, and improve leadership
At this point, you probably recognize the name – James Altucher. This is the third book by this best-selling author that I recommend to my audience. What can I say, after reading his 'Reinvent Yourself' and 'The Power of No', I was hooked.
Once again, Altucher brilliantly deconstructs the mindset that holds us back in life and in our professional careers. “Straight, clear-cut career trajectories no longer exist. Industries disappear, job descriptions change, and people’s interests and passions evolve,” he explains. The way to navigate this significantly less stable landscape is to learn how to approach change and crisis.
In this book, Altucher offers tools to help easily execute ideas, become an expert negotiator, attract the attention of those around you, scale promising ideas, and improve leadership. These skills will take your career to new heights “at a speed that everyone will tell you is impossible.”
A scientifically proven five-step plan to find and eliminate the root of anxiety, depression, and intrusive thoughts in your life
Our mental well-being is often an afterthought as busy consultants. As long as it doesn’t deteriorate to the level of depression and other mental disorders with strong manifestations, we tend to take things like high stress, anxiety, and toxic thinking as just a given. As long as it doesn’t interfere with our ability to function, right? Wrong.
Our mental health, just like our physical health, requires daily upkeep to minimize the risk of more serious problems down the line. “We shouldn't settle into this mental mess as if it's just our new normal,” urges Dr. Caroline Leaf in her fantastic book that – and I can’t emphasize this enough – every single person should read.
What makes this book such an amazing read is its achievability. Dr. Leaf provides a scientifically proven five-step plan to find and eliminate the root of anxiety, depression, and intrusive thoughts in your life. Mindfulness is not enough. We need to engage in strategic mind management. For those who know me, I love that! Mind management. Cool!
This book breaks down the notion of noise, how we, as humans, are highly susceptible to it.
Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner, is a psychologist and economist renowned for his work on the psychology of judgment, decision-making, and behavioral economics. As many other people, I’ve deeply enjoyed reading Kahneman’s previous book ‘Thinking Fast And Slow’ – an amazing book.
“Wherever there is human judgment, there is Noise,” explain these brilliant authors. They explore how not only different people reach different decisions in identical situations, but how the same person can make a different decision depending on which part of the day it is.
Why? Because of noise. Kahneman, Sibony, and Sunstein show that noise impacts our decision making in pretty much any field – medicine, law, economic forecasting, forensic science, bail, strategy, performance reviews, and personnel selection. Yet, individuals and organizations are unaware of noise and its damaging impact.
This book breaks down the notion of noise, how we, as humans, are highly susceptible to it, how it impacts our judgment, and, most importantly, what we can do about it to improve our decision-making process.
A highly practical guide to time management, which ultimately starts with embracing your limits.
You know how much I love Adam Grant’s writing and way of thinking. He describes Oliver Burkeman’s book as “the most important book ever written about time management.” Wow!
What I truly appreciate about this book is that it dismantles this myth of time management – wrongly assuming that, one day, you’ll get everything done if you just have the right system. Forget it.
That’s what I always teach to my clients and readers – you can’t possibly sustain the most brilliant time management system if you fail to say no to opportunities, people, and activities that do not fall in your narrow focus.
I keep repeating: there are 3 significant components to successfully managing your time:
Burkeman’s book is a highly practical guide to time management, which ultimately starts with embracing your limits: “dropping back down into reality, defying cultural pressures to attempt the impossible, and getting started on what’s gloriously possible instead.”
Burkeman explains the importance of “getting meaningful things done,” whether in our professional or personal lives. And that's the new perspective of this book. We don’t have time to do everything. We only have 4,000 weeks to live if we live till we’re 80. But we do have time to do the important things.
The book is about more than just scaling your business. It’s about developing the ability to notice opportunities
Masters of Scale: Surprising Truths from the World's Most Successful Entrepreneurs is a book by a co-founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman. In it, Hoffman explains the key to scaling a successful business. It’s not talent. It’s not your network. It’s not even a strategy. Sure, all of these things play a role, but that’s not the secret ingredient. It’s an entrepreneurial mindset. This mindset, Hoffman argues, can be cultivated.
The book is a result of Hoffman’s podcast, Masters of Scale. On it, he engages with fellow entrepreneurs, visionaries, and founders, trying to go beneath the surface and understand what contributed the most to their success. The book, co-written with his executive producers June Cohen and Deron Triff, is a powerful summary and analysis of what type of mindset powers business growth, turns an idea into a successful business, and helps create products and services that address relevant problems.
However, the book is about more than just scaling your business. It’s about developing the ability to notice opportunities, it’s about curiosity, risk-taking, and perseverance. What a truly inspiring reading!
When tackling problems or working through complex projects, we need to think outside our brains.
An acclaimed science writer, Annie Murphy Paul argues that when tackling problems or working through complex projects, we need to think outside our brains. “A host of “extra-neural” resources—the feelings and movements of our bodies, the physical spaces in which we learn and work, and the minds of those around us—can help us focus more intently, comprehend more deeply, and create more imaginatively.”
She backs up her claims with extensive research in the fields of neuroscience, cognitive science, and psychology, plus observations of the practices of educators, managers, and leaders who are already reaping the benefits of thinking outside the brain.
I love this book because of how fresh and unique its perspective is. It’s a completely different way of understanding how our minds work. What makes this book a must-read is the fountain of practical advice it offers that we can start implementing in our thinking right away.
Here’s a fascinating TED talk by Annie Murphy Paul on what we learn before we are born.
Self-awareness is a skill, and, like any skill, it can be developed.
Most of us - especially consultants - feel pretty confident that we know ourselves – what we like, dislike, what motivates us, our strengths and weakness, etc.
Well, if you read this book, you will discover that there might still be some uncharted territory about the way you think, why you do or don’t do certain things, and how you view the world.
In her book, Tasha Eurich explains the research that backs up the fact that self-awareness is the foundation for high performance, smart choices, and lasting relationships. However, she points that that many of us aren’t as self-aware as we’d like to think.
The good news, as Eurich explains, is that self-awareness is a skill, and, like any skill, it can be developed. She explains the different types of self-knowledge that truly self-aware people possess, the challenges to self-awareness, how to deepen our insights into our passions and blind spots, how to identify things that are holding us back, etc.
This book is a fountain of knowledge. I can’t recommend it enough!
A three-part framework to strategically connect with your target audience.
One of my articles explains that growing a consulting business should rely on a multi-pillar approach, where building and engaging your network and professional relationships is only one pillar.
My firm belief is that reliable, systematic growth requires a robust system that applies to your network and the networking activities you engage in. There needs to be a straightforward system that allows you to quantify your efforts and the ROI of those efforts.
This is why I loved James Carbary’s book: Content-Based Networking: How to Connect with Anyone You Want to Know Instantly.
As Carbary explains, “Content-based networking allows you to reverse-engineer relationships with the exact people you want to know. Instead of relying on lucky encounters and random in-person events, content-based networking allows you to connect with anyone, at any time, and from anywhere in the world.”
In his book, Carbary teaches a three-part framework to strategically connect with your target audience. Content and thought leadership are at the base of that framework.
This is a highly practical guide and definitely a must-read for every consultant.
Those with less power can challenge established structures to make them more balanced, to create real change.
“Everyone has a resource to offer, so everyone can have access to power,” write brilliant researchers and professors Julie Battilana and Tiziana Casciaro.
In their book, they explain that the word ‘Power’ is often perceived as a dirty word, something used to manipulate others. However, refusing to attain power means we’re simply giving it up for others to have.
Furthermore, power is something that can be attained by anyone. It’s not about wealth, connections, or professional standing. It’s about strategically developing “the ability to influence another’s behavior.”
Battilana and Casciaro reveal how those with less power can challenge established structures to make them more balanced, to create real change. This is the type of knowledge that us, as consultants, should be tapping into. Whether it’s in the context of client relations, creating a certain culture in our organizations, or changing the existing culture in large firms, knowing how to aggregate and use power is a valuable skill that can help both in our day-to-day operations and in achieving long-term goals.
How businesses that sell services and products to other businesses can thrive on thought leadership.
Sharing your expertise in an authority-led business development approach is key to success in consulting. I’ve explained this in detail in this article. It doesn’t matter whether you are a solo consultant or a leader/partner in a consultancy (small or big), thought leadership is not a feel-good term anymore, but a legitimate growth strategy.
In the book, Robert Buday defines the term ‘thought leadership’. He uses his 30+ years of experience and research in the field to show how a smart thought leadership strategy propels individuals and organizations to the status of ultimate experts, innovators, and industry leaders.
More specifically, it discusses how businesses that sell services and products to other businesses can thrive on thought leadership. It takes the lessons learned at some of the best firms in the world at selling expertise – consulting, accounting, law, financial services, and technology firms – and makes them practical for every B2B firm.
This is a highly practical, relevant, and inspiring read. I urge you to add it to your reading list for the holidays.
Read this book to better understand how to capture customer intelligence and insights to translate them into value that you consistently put out for your target audience.
Value-ology: Aligning sales and marketing to shape and deliver profitable customer value propositions is a book that every consultant must keep on their desk.
“It has never been easier to produce great marketing content and sales collateral. And yet, 90% of the content that marketing produces is NEVER used by sales. Why not? Because it’s not relevant to the audience or the prospect doesn’t even know the content exists. Furthermore 58% of deals end up in “no decision” because Sales has not presented value effectively.” THIS! In one of my articles, I talk at length about the fact that most consulting USPs are made of useless, self-centered bragging and that this needs to change! Instead, I argue, consultants should embrace UVPs – unique value propositions.
Furthermore, you can’t think of marketing, sales, and consulting functions as somehow separate and you, as a consultant, detached from the sales and marketing functions.
Being a consultant – a.k.a., an expert – is not just about offering your expertise when you are paid for it by a client. It’s also about using your deep knowledge to attract the right audience in the first place. It’s about showcasing your value. Even if you work for a medium or large consultancy with dedicated sales and/or marketing teams, you are the driver of how your expertise is communicated to the target audience. After all, your consulting positioning has the single biggest impact on your prospects' buying decisions.
I strongly recommend reading this book to better understand how to capture customer intelligence and insights to translate them into value that you consistently put out for your target audience.
Stop measuring progress in terms of gaps – how far away you are from achieving the ideals we’ve set for ourselves. Measure it in terms of gains – how far you've come from your previous self.
The Gap and The Gain: The High Achievers' Guide to Happiness, Confidence, and Success is a thought-provoking book, a must-read for every consultant. Why? Because it reframes how we think of success, which is so important.
We all have our goals, our ideals that we want to achieve. Sullivan and Hardy explain that many of us measure our progress in terms of gaps – how far away we are from achieving the ideals we’ve set for ourselves. They suggest, instead, measuring our success in terms of gains – how far we’ve come from our previous selves.
This ‘thinking in gains’ is such a crucial distinction. We often lose our drive and experience burn-out because it feels like we’ve been moving towards a particular goal for too long, yet the ideal is still out of reach. This is a demotivating feeling. Step back. Don’t focus on where you are going when evaluating your achievements. Look at how far you’ve come. Look at the progress you’ve made between the starting point and now. You will be amazed by everything you were able to achieve. Now THAT is motivating!
I am an avid reader. I constantly reframe my mindset towards a more happy, balanced way of living. And I am still amazed to discover that something so simple can make such a big difference.
Hello, I’m Luk Smeyers and I’m guiding consultants through the journey of growing their business by helping them transform into visible authorities. I have been in consulting businesses for almost 20 years, in very different roles: as European CHRO in a global consultancy, as a startup founder in an analytics consultancy, and as a leader in a 'Big 4' consultancy, post-acquisition of the startup. I had the privilege of achieving global visibility as a consultant and I never had to sell, persuade, or negotiate as a result. I have now bundled all those experiences, expertise, know-how, research, reading, successes, struggles, and failures from managing and growing that visibility in the past years.
The Visible Authority is a brand of:
Luk Smeyers BVBA
Offices in Leuven (BE) and Munich (DE)