The Written Words That Leaders Live By

November 19, 2013


As a young adult whose mother had recently passed away, Etsy CEO Kristina Salen walked into a bookstore and spotted a volume on the display shelf. She settled on the floor and ended up reading the whole book in the store. By the time she left, she was a different person.

The book was Hope Edelman’s “Motherless Daughters,” and Salen described it lifting a haze that had lingered since her mother had died.

I distinctly remember walking out of the store with a fast-beating heart and tingling fingers. Soon after, I quit my dead-end job, moved to New York City, and started actively living again.

Salen is by no means the only person who has upended their life or shifted their way of thinking after devouring a pivotal text. Fifty of LinkedIn’s Influencers, some of the leading minds in business, contributed posts that described just such a book for this month’s feature series, The Book That Changed Me. The result: A powerful list of narratives, featuring work from seminal to surprising, and maybe even a gift guide for the aspiring CEOs on your holiday list.

Books have a singular ability to transform us through nothing more than printed words, arranged so that they resonate perfectly with something you're going through. There’s no one type of book that holds the exclusive claim to this effect. The writing that shaped the minds of these successful professionals comes in a whole bevy of forms, including fantasy novels, epic poems, children’s books, biographies, design books and even an Influencer’s own senior thesis.

All of the books named in this series are worth checking out, but just as captivating are the Influencer’s personal connections to the stories. Here are a few tales of transformation via prose to get you started:

  • Glenn Kelman’s moving discussion of Siddhartha Mukherjee’s “The Emperor of Maladies” ties together the heartbreaking story of his own mother’s cancer with a wide-ranging on the importance of medical research and our collective obsession with new consumer technology.
  • Executive recruiter Jim Citrin was one of three Influencers that revamped their working routines after reading Steven Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” But he’s the only one who earned a book cover endorsement from Covey after applying those habits to a career writing about business.
  • Beth Comstock, GE’s Chief Marketing Officer, offers a nuanced take on the controversial Ayn Rand novel “The Fountainhead,” arguing that it gets some things about human nature right, but over time she has learned that its lessons don’t apply to the business world.
  • Author and investor Chris Schroeder makes the case that Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” far from being trite, offers some deep social commentary and powerful lessons.

Now it’s your turn: What book changed you, and how? Tweet it with the hashtag