Imagine you were sitting in on an intimate conversation with Bill Gates as he and his good friend Warren Buffet spent the day sharing with you and a small handful of other ambitious people the secrets they had gleaned over a lifetime of extraordinary successes.

In September 2005, at the University of Nebraska, Bill and Warren did exactly that, spending the day with students and faculty sharing their insights and experiences, and answering questions from the participants.

One question, along with Bill Gates’ answer, has stayed with me over the past decade. The question was, “If you could have any one superpower, what would it be and why?”

What a great question. What answer do you think Bill gave?

His answer: “Being able to read superfast.”

He went on to explain how important it is if you want to be a leader and achieve that you be a lifelong learner. And reading is such a core part of that lifelong learning.

So today I wanted to challenge you–how are you doing with your learning? How many books are you reading each year? Not junk, escapist fiction, but real and substantive books that help you learn and grow?

Here is a list of my top 5 books to get you started. Three are directly about building and growing your company, one is about leadership in your business and in your life, and the final one is my favorite self-development book of all-time. All are available in print, ebook, and audio versions (no excuses here, if you’re not a reader then get the version and listen to it in your car or while you’re exercising).

  1. How Will You Measure Your Life (Christensen et al).
    This is one of my all-time favorite books. Christensen shares six “theories”, or organizing principles with which to use to see your business and your life more clearly. It contains profound insights and is a must read for all who want to enjoy real success in business and life. I suggest you take this book slowly, with a journal and pen in hand, and pause to write down your insights as you take Christensen’s “theories” and apply them to your business and your life.
  2. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t (Jim Collins)
    A business classic in which he shares the “Hedgehog Principle”, the “Stockdale Paradox”, “Level 5 Leaders” and several more intuitive and sharp insights to building a great company. If you haven’t read this book in the past five years, I encourage you to read it again. You’ll be so glad you did.
  3. Less Is More: How Great Companies Use Productivity (Jason Jennings)
    This was such a great book I don’t understand why more entrepreneurs have read it. (It was a NYT bestseller, but when I ask people at business conferences if they’ve read it, few hands go up. At which point I get excited and tell them they must get a copy right away.) The one section on your “Big Idea” and how to transform your business strategy into a cultural bedrock in your company so that it becomes a given that your company executes on your strategy was simply brilliant. If you own a business, or are a leader in a business, you’ve just got to read this book. That simple.
  4. Scale: Seven Proven Principles to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back (Jeff Hoffman and David Finkel)
    I wrote this book with my friend and co-founder Jeff Hoffman. It was our two year project to sum up in a structured way what a lifetime of building and scaling companies had taught us. The key insight you’ll take away is that not only do you not have to sacrifice your family, health, or life to scale your company, but in fact, the only sustainable way to grow your company is to reduce its reliance on you. The book makes this case in the first chapter then spends the next 11 chapters and 250 pages diving into the structured details of exactly how you accomplish this.
  5. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen R. Covey)
    Still the best self-development book I’ve ever read (and I’ve read it half a dozen times over the past two decades, always picking up new insights and reminders to be a better person.) All of Covey’s books are great, but this was my favorite.