8 must-read books every CTO needs to unlock their potential

By Tom Sturge

5 min read

As a CTO or technology leader, staying up-to-date with the latest trends, ideas and concepts in the industry is essential for business growth, product strategy, and teamwork. To help you expand your knowledge and skills, we have compiled a list of 8 must-read books for every technology leader.

These eight books cover a wide range of topics essential for technology leaders to understand. From effective communication to product strategy, these books provide valuable insights and practical tools to help leaders succeed in today's fast-paced and ever-changing business landscape. By reading these books, technology leaders can gain a deeper understanding of their challenges and develop the skills and knowledge needed to overcome them.

"The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries

Eric Ries is one of the most influential voices in Silicon Valley, and his book "The Lean Startup" is a must-read for anyone looking to launch a new product or service. The book emphasises the importance of testing assumptions and validating ideas through experiments and customer feedback. Ries suggests that startups can avoid failure by adopting a "build-measure-learn" approach, which involves constantly testing and iterating on their product until they find the right fit for their market.

Startups should focus on creating a minimum viable product (MVP) to test their assumptions and validate their ideas. Ries argues that this approach can help startups avoid wasting time and resources on features their customers don't need or want. Instead, by focusing on the core features that solve their customers' pain points, startups can quickly validate their ideas and adjust based on customer feedback.

"The Phoenix Project" by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford

A novel that provides a fascinating look into the world of IT operations and the challenges that arise when trying to deliver software products in a fast-paced and constantly changing environment. The book follows the story of Bill, an IT manager tasked with fixing a failing project at his company, and how he and his team use the principles of DevOps to turn things around.

The book's authors write, "The First Way is about the flow of work from Development to IT Operations to the customer. The Second Way is about the feedback loop from right to left, from Operations back to Development and Development back to business." Highlighting the importance of communication and feedback in creating a successful and efficient IT operation.

"The Hard Thing About Hard Things" by Ben Horowitz

"The Hard Thing About Hard Things" is a book that provides an honest look at the challenges that arise when building and scaling successful technology companies. Horowitz draws on his own experience as a CEO and entrepreneur to offer practical advice on navigating difficult situations and making tough decisions in a rapidly changing industry.

Horowitz writes, "The hard thing isn't setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. The hard thing isn't hiring great people. It is when those 'great people' develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things." Emphasising the importance of being able to make tough decisions, even when they are not popular or easy.

"Crucial Conversations" by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

Effective communication is crucial for any business leader, but it's vital for technology leaders who must manage teams of engineers and work collaboratively with other departments. "Crucial Conversations" offers a framework for having difficult conversations with colleagues, employees, and other stakeholders. The book provides practical advice for managing emotions, staying focused on the topic, and resolving conflicts in a way that strengthens relationships.

One of the critical insights of the book is that conversations become "crucial" when opinions differ, stakes are high, and emotions run strong. The authors argue that successful exchanges require high mutual respect and willingness to listen and learn from others. By using techniques such as "contrasting" (stating what you don't intend to communicate before expressing your view) and "mirroring" (restating what the other person said to confirm understanding), the authors provide a roadmap for productive conversations that can lead to better outcomes.

"Measure What Matters" by John Doerr

John Doerr is a legendary Silicon Valley investor who has backed companies such as Google, Amazon, and Intel. In "Measure What Matters," Doerr introduces the concept of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), a framework for setting and achieving goals. The book provides case studies from some of the world's most successful companies, including Google, Intel, and Bono's ONE campaign.

The book strongly emphasises that successful companies set ambitious, achievable goals aligning with their mission and vision. Doerr argues that OKRs help teams prioritise their work and focus on the most critical objectives. By setting measurable and time-bound goals, teams can track their progress and make adjustments as needed to ensure that they achieve their desired outcomes.

"High Output Management" by Andrew Grove

"High Output Management" is a classic book on management written by former Intel CEO Andrew Grove. The book provides practical advice for managers on how to run their organisations efficiently and effectively. Grove emphasises the importance of building a solid team, delegating responsibilities, and setting clear goals and objectives.

Grove's emphasis is on the value of one-on-one meetings with employees. He argues that these meetings are critical for building trust and ensuring that managers are aware of any issues or concerns their employees may have. Grove also emphasises the importance of effective communication, both within the organisation and with external stakeholders.

"The Innovator's Dilemma" by Clayton Christensen

"The Innovator's Dilemma" is a highly influential book on innovation and disruptive technology. Written by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, the book explores why successful companies often fail when faced with disruptive technologies and new market entrants.

One of the key concepts in the book is the idea of "disruptive innovation", which refers to the process by which new technologies and products initially compete in low-end markets before eventually disrupting existing markets. Christensen argues that established companies often fail to respond to disruptive innovations focussed on improving their existing products and technologies rather than investing in new and unproven technologies.

"Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" by Daniel H. Pink

In "Drive," Pink delves into the science behind motivation, arguing that traditional rewards and punishments are ineffective for generating long-term motivation and engagement in the workplace. Pink identifies three key components of motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose, and explores how leaders can create an environment that fosters these elements.

One of the book's key messages is that employees are more motivated when they feel a sense of autonomy and control over their work. Pink states, "The secret to high performance and satisfaction is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, learn and create new things, and do better by ourselves and our world." By giving employees more autonomy and control over their work, leaders can foster a sense of ownership and investment in their work.