Successful CFOs aspire to keep learning. While a CFO might not need a new certificate or capability to excel in their roles, there is always more to know — particularly in the rapidly evolving business environment in which today’s financial leaders operate. Reading up on the latest or most enduring wisdom across the areas of business, finance, leadership and well-rounded human development can be one of the most effective ways to stay ahead of the C-level curve.
28 Top Books for Every CFO
Most CFOs come out of universities with degrees in accounting, finance, business, economics or management, but the pursuit of broader, lifelong learning in topics related to business strategy, financial management, risk management and leadership is critical to their sustained success. Investing time in reading — whether it’s a longtime bestseller about financial leadership or the latest book that their C-level peers are passing around — offers a significant return for CFOs and other finance leaders. To that end, we’re providing a list of some of the more valuable books for CFOs to add to their bookshelves — whether the goal is to stay current with business and finance trends, build leadership muscles, round out knowledge in other areas that inform effective finance leadership or just enjoy some quality leisure reading because, hey, everyone needs a break.
Books related to business and financial strategy, digital transformation and innovation, business planning and risk management can serve as a bedrock of knowledge and inspiration for modern, strategic CFOs. Following are a variety of options — from newer books to longtime bestsellers — that offer a broad and solid foundation of insight for finance leaders.
The 80/20 CFO: How to Make Strategic Transformations in Your Company
By Janice Berthold and Suzy Taherian
Is there any organization today that doesn’t want to transform? The only problem for CFOs is that there’s no clear how-to for achieving that. Not to worry: This book — beloved among CFOs — offers best practices for earning the credibility and trust necessary to foment change in business. Even better, it offers a sense of community for financial leaders charged with the often lonely role of the business police. Read this one for guidance on building relationships with key stakeholders and creating alignment for change, an element of the evolving role of CFOs.
Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors
By Michael Porter
It’s an oldie but still a goodie, according to successful CFOs. And for good reason. Porter offers insight into the strategic financial plans that have succeeded across industries. The author explains how five basic competitive forces determine the ultimate profit potential, no matter the industry.
The Strategy-Focused Organization: How Balanced Scorecard Companies Thrive in the New Business Environment
By Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton
In 1992, Kaplan and Norton introduced the concept of the “balanced scorecard,” which makes strategy a continuous process that everyone is responsible for in their roles. In this boardroom bestseller, they share results of the more than 200 companies that have implemented the approach. It’s a performance management framework that many CFOs across sectors love.
The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail
By Clayton M. Christensen
The world of business innovation lost one of its foremost forward-looking thinkers in 2020, but Christensen lives on in his most important work. The Harvard Business School professor and founder of business consultancy Innosight introduces the idea of disruptive innovation. CFOs who want to help their firms disrupt themselves before they are disrupted will do themselves a favor by reading this seminal work — if they haven’t already.
The Successful CFO
By Tony Tripodo
Valuable business tomes by successful financial executives are few and far between, so grab this one for that reason alone. Tripodo, named “CFO of the Year” in 2014 by the Houston Business Journal, offers his insight on what it takes to deliver as a CFO in today’s increasingly complex and competitive business environment. The 40-year veteran shares his lessons learned on how to influence and enable corporate success in the finance role.
Good to Great
By James C. Collins
Collins hit it big with this book in 2001, which may seem like several lifetimes and a few major global disruptions ago. Yet its truth endures. The idea that organizations must overcome a culture of complacency to transform — and details on how they do that — remains as relevant as ever.
Fit for Growth: A Guide to Strategic Cost Cutting, Restructuring, and Renewal
By Vinay Couto, John Plansky and Deniz Caglar
This book from PwC’s Strategy& consultancy is a bible for sustainable profitable growth. Case study examples and research illustrate how senior executives and middle managers can not simply survive turbulent times but also drive fundamental changes that deliver value to their organizations long term.
The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
By Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Once there was a time when the types of “black swan” events that Taleb describes — highly improbable, unpredictable and impactful, but ultimately more predictable in hindsight — were singular. No more. Taleb’s book, which offers a new way of thinking about disruption, deserves a read (or a reread) by any finance leader navigating today’s uncertain business environment.
Future Ready: How to Master Business Forecasting
By Steve Morlidge and Steve Player
Coming out in the wake of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, “Future Ready” was a call to arms for business forecasting. Since its publication, the importance of anticipating and addressing potential disruption has only grown. CFOs looking for clearly laid out strategies and tactics to master the process of forecasting will find them here.
Risk: A User’s Guide
By Stanley McChrystal and Anna Butrico
Following his 2015 tome “Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World”, the former commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force last year released this book on mitigating risk. Whether on the battlefield or in a boardroom, there’s a common thread among those who fail to address risk: They focus on the probability of something happening rather than the interface by which it might be managed. McChrystal and his co-author offer a system for detecting and responding to risk built around monitoring 10 dimensions of control.
There is certainly no shortage of leadership guides for business executives, but finding the ones that resonate — and help address key areas of growth — is key. The role of CFO has undergone an evolution, and below are some of the most well-received leadership books, covering ground from sustainable growth and negotiation, to selling and decision-making, to building emotional intelligence and increasing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
Growing Pains: Building Sustainably Successful Organizations
By Eric G. Flamholtz and Yvonne Randle
That this is the fifth edition of Flamholtz and Randle’s guide to scaling success indicates just how difficult successful growth continues to be for organizations. Considered by many to be a definitive guide to the subject, the latest version provides insight for leaders of organizations of all sizes on understanding the stages of growth and their challenges, measuring growing pains and development, and deploying tools and processes for long-term success.
Getting More: How You Can Negotiate to Succeed in Work and Life
By Stuart Diamond
Diamond, Emeritus Practice Professor at the Wharton School of Business, has taught more than 40,000 people in 60 countries about negotiation and cultural diversity. Here he shares the best of what made his class one of the most popular both on campus and among Fortune 500 leaders. Based on research that shows how emotional intelligence, perception, cultural diversity and collaboration produce four times as much value as old-school notions of conflict and power, the book offers practical advice for negotiating in any situation.
Three Steps to Yes: The Gentle Art of Getting Your Way
By Gene Bedell
It’s not a far leap from better negotiation to the art of persuasion. It’s the difference between a good idea and one that an organization actually executes. Marketer Bedell offers an approach to getting others on board with your ideas while maintaining your principles, personal relationships and dignity. His three-step plan instructs readers on how to meet their own needs as well as others, be credible and trustworthy, and communicate persuasively.
The Emotionally Intelligent Leader
By Daniel Goleman
Psychologists Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer conjured up the term “emotional intelligence” (EI) in 1990 to describe a form of social intelligence that includes “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action.” But Goleman, in a series of Harvard Business Review articles and a 1995 bestseller, argues that EI outweighs cognitive intelligence as the best predictor of business success. Here CFOs can read three of Goleman’s most popular HBR articles. (For more emotional intelligence content, there’s also the original book on the topic, which remains a bestseller for a reason: “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.”)
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
By Patrick Lencioni
Business leaders have responded to Lencioni’s storytelling approach that uses a parable to illustrate the most common human tendencies that tend to take teams down: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results. Just as importantly, he offers concrete takeaways for preventing or overcoming these common issues.
Distributed Teams: The Art and Practice of Working Together While Physically Apart
By John O’Duinn
Talk about timely. O’Duinn published this book, based on more than a quarter century of working in distributed organizations, in 2018, but it seems tailor-made for 2022. The author shares his personal experiences and those of others to distill key lessons learned about managing and collaborating from a distance.
Beyond Digital: How Great Leaders Transform Their Organizations and Shape the Future
By Paul Leinwand and Mahadeva Matt Mani
Finance leaders seeking solid leadership tips for the evolving digital age can take inspiration from this book to help define a bolder purpose and transform their organizations. Two leading strategists detail the seven leadership imperatives for transforming companies in the digital era — which requires more than just digitization.
Belonging: The Key to Transforming and Maintaining Diversity, Inclusion and Equality at Work
By Sue Unerman, Kathryn Jacob and Mark Edwards
There’s no leader not thinking about how to improve DEI in their organizations, and this book offers actionable insight. The authors provide strategies for successfully launching effective diversity initiatives, building a more agile and engaged workforce by promoting healthy disagreement and increasing comfort with hard conversations and difficult changes.
Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts
By Annie Duke
Poker-champion-cum-business-consultant Duke offers her unique take on making decisions amid uncertainty. No good decision will yield the best results every time, she says, and there are always conditions outside of your control. The key to long-term success then, Duke argues, is to think in terms of placing bets. Here she shows us how that’s done.
Consultative Selling: The Hanan Formula for High-Margin Sales at High Levels
By Mack Hanan
Hanan has earned fans far beyond the sales function in C-suites around the world with his book on a win-win approach to selling anything that yields mutually beneficial outcomes and relationships. Check out this book for his formula for becoming a trusted consultant.
The New Strategic Selling: The Unique Sales System Proven Successful by the World's Best Companies
By Robert B. Millar and Stephen E. Heiman with Tad Tuleja
Speaking of win-win, these authors literally coined the phrase a few decades ago. This updated version of the 1985 classic that transformed marketing and sales offers more modern takes on its original insight and advice. You’ll learn how to identify the four real decision-makers in every company, how to prevent sabotage by an internal deal-killer and how to make a senior executive eager to see you.
CFOs will have their own particular interests and passions and, as such, may have very individual preferences when it comes to leisure reading. Following we offer some books that are likely to appeal to a spectrum of CFOs in the areas of self-care, personal development, achievement and human relationships.
Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being
By Martin E.P. Seligman
One reviewer called this “a relentlessly optimistic guidebook on finding and securing individual happiness.” And who couldn’t use some relentless optimism in their life these days? Dr. Seligman’s research on optimism, motivation and character sheds light on how to lead a good life, which has implications for almost every area of our lives as individuals and in community with others.
Thinking, Fast and Slow
By Daniel Kahneman
Kahneman has been on bestseller lists with this book for more than a decade. In it he outlines the two ways human beings think: one is fast, intuitive and emotional, while the other is slower, more deliberate and more logical. Understanding how they shape our decisions and how the wrong type of thinking can lead to problems, such as overconfidence in boardroom decision-making and the inability to accurately predict what will make us most happy in the future, is eye-opening. Kahneman shares what he has learned about how to overcome the most common decision-making mistakes.
Questions Are the Answer: A Breakthrough Approach to Your Most Vexing Problems at Work and in Life
By Hal Gregersen
Gregersen explains why unlocking better answers to our most difficult quandaries, whether in our personal or professional lives, comes down to asking better questions. A good question unlocks innovation. But how do you ask better questions? The author spoke to hundreds of creative thinkers to find out and dispels their wisdom here.
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
By James Clear
It’s a pretty well-established fact that the best way to break a bad habit is to replace it with a new one. But just how to do that successfully is at the heart of many of our most human struggles. Enter Clear, James Clear, one of the world’s foremost experts on habit formation. This book offers useful tips for building good habits, breaking bad ones and making the kinds of behavioral shifts that can transform lives.
Alpha Girls: The Women Upstarts Who Took on Silicon Valley’s Male Culture and Made the Deals of a Lifetime
By Julian Guthrie
Award-winning journalist Guthrie has unearthed the stories of four groundbreaking women of venture capital who had previously been overlooked. As New Yorker contributor Ken Auletta writes of this book: “We don’t just read of but feel the outrageous and often clueless male slights and insults, the double standards and blatant sexism endured by women in the blustery, male-dominated world of Silicon Valley. Yet Alpha Girls leaves you awed by their resilience and their professional feats.”
Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making
By Tony Fadell
Fadell led the teams that created the iPod, iPhone and Nest thermostat — to name just a few. He distills lessons learned from his highest highs and lowest lows (and there were some devastating failures) into five- to 20-page chunks. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to reinvent the wheel, he maintains. Fadell shares that some of the most important ingredients for innovation are time-tested leadership and management approaches.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
By Charlie Mackesy
For something altogether different and moving, spend some time with British illustrator Mackesy and his tale of love, hope and friendship. Featuring 100 of Mackesy’s color and black-and-white drawings, the book’s foundational premises — the power of asking for help and the importance of kindness — are much needed medicine for challenging times.
Today’s CFOs must be able to read more than a balance sheet to succeed. As finance leaders take on increasingly strategic and collaborative roles in their organizations, expanding their knowledge becomes critical. The books above are a great place to start to explore topics related to business strategy, digital transformation, leadership and more.
CFO Books FAQs
What should a CFO read?
Today’s CFOs must be able to read more than just balance sheets to succeed. As they are called to take on increasingly strategic and collaborative roles in their organizations, CFOs must become well-rounded business leaders. There are some great books specifically for finance leaders, such as “The 80/20 CFO: How to Make Strategic Transformations in Your Company” and “The Successful CFO”, but CFOs will benefit from a wide range of books aimed at today’s business leaders on the topics of strategy, decision-making, risk management, innovation, leadership, emotional intelligence and more.
What books do CFO read?
CFOs enjoy a wide range of books related to business and strategy, finance and leadership. For leisure reading, some unscientific polls have suggested that finance leaders enjoy biographies and history.
How does reading books help CFOs and other finance leaders succeed in their roles?
Keeping on top of the latest thinking and trends in a variety of business, finance and leadership topics enables CFOs and finance leaders to bring best practices, broad business knowledge and leadership capabilities to bear in their roles as C-level officers. CFOs who spend time reading new and popular books in these categories are more conversant in business strategy, decision-making, risk management, innovation and leadership. They are also able to motivate greater performance within their finance functions, communicate and collaborate with their leadership teams and contribute to overall business success.
What knowledge and skills are most important for a CFO to acquire and maintain?
The most effectives CFOs are able to collaborate and communicate with their C-level peers and boards, execute business and finance strategy at a high level, align their teams to those strategies and engage and inspire their finance organizations. The majority of CFOs will have an educational background in finance, business, economics or management, but the pursuit of broader, lifelong learning in topics related to business strategy, financial management, risk management and leadership is critical to sustained success in their roles.