After reading hundreds of business and leadership books over dozens of years, I found that there are similar themes written differently and a changing focus based on the changing times. It makes sense. There is nothing new under the sun and each generation figures out old knowledge in new ways.

I get asked often what my top business books are or what books changed me. There are many books with little nuggets in them, and I like many books. The challenge with us all is how to manage business whiplash if you are book crazy and try to implement everything you read. Reading for ideas is valuable. Implementing all of them reduces clarity and momentum and means you have shiny object syndrome.

I like ideas, but I love the application. These books are big on both. It’s one thing to have a big idea. It’s another to have practical, applicable action that anyone can implement.

Because of what I do at Acumen, I get to talk to thirty business owners and CEOs a month via executive coaching and peer advisory councils.  I see themes in business that I wouldn’t normally if I were heads down running one company. These books are foundational for businesses of today. These books also influence how we operate Acumen.

Here are the five books we build our business on.

1.Foundation and Culture: Everybody Matters (Chapman and Sisodia)

Every company needs a foundation and a strong Why. Everybody Matters is the closest book to explaining why we are in business. Everyone is someone’s precious child. Our company vision and purpose, our treatment of employees, vendors, and clients all go through this lens. Without this, we are a bunch of people trying to make a buck. This is our Why and sets the tone of our culture.

2. Operating System: Traction (Wickman) with a side of Scaling Up (Harnish)

Once you know why you are in business, then you need to know how you will do business. Every company needs an operating system. We’ve found for simplicity and sustainability, Traction is the best method for the SMB market which we’d define as 1-100 Million in revenue. The one missing element in Traction is the finance component. As I’ve ranted before, finance needs to be a core value. For that reason, we have a side of Scaling Up for how to think about and handle cash.

3. People: The Ideal Team Player (Lencioni)

90% of your issues, challenges, and opportunities are people related. I don’t have extensive research on this. It’s just that’s how many conversations we have about the people component in business. This book makes a clear distinction and application of how to find what we’re looking for in people.

4. Servant Leadership: The Leadership Lessons of Jesus (Briner and Pritchard)

Servant leadership is easy to say and hard to do. Briner’s book has taken stain glass concepts into real-world plain glass action. If you want first principles of leadership, start with a giant of leadership, Jesus. Briner’s short chapters, relevant stories, simple action steps, and challenging questions help you integrate timeless wisdom into your leadership style in a real way that you can implement tomorrow without any giant program or budget.

5. Priority: Essentialism (McKeown)

This is a book for our time. There are many things to do, plentiful opportunity, and not enough people to do it all.  If you have on your “busy badge” and don’t know how to prioritize and say “no” personally and professionally then the best processes in the world won’t matter. A key organizational mindset today is that of laying aside the good for what is best. Essentialism shows you how.

I know there are those of you screaming at me right now that I forgot this book and that book. So, hit me up.

What five books have you built your business on? Why?

Send them to, and I’ll share the complete list in a later post.

Dan Cooper
Post by Dan Cooper
May 2, 2019
Dan Cooper co-founded ej4, a video-based online training company, in 2003, and was its CEO until selling in 2012. During his time with ej4, he grew the company from a startup to a nationally-recognized firm, serving clients including Pepsi-Cola, Dr. Pepper Snapple, Honeywell, Monsanto and Syngenta. Channel partners included SAP and Oracle. As of the 2012, ej4 was serving 1,000+ customers, delivering millions of program views, was highly profitable and debt-free. Today, he is the CEO of Acumen, a mastermind community platform built for CEOs and Owners of strong and growing companies. He and his wife, Ali, have three children and attend Cure of Ars church in Leawood, KS. Dan enjoys running, all things soccer — coaching, playing and watching —and burning all types of meat on the backyard barbecue grill.