One common question we field is recommendations of books to improve either bank performance or personal performance. Since many bankers likely have a self-improvement goal in their New Year’s resolutions, we wanted to put out our recommendations right from the start. To do this, we teamed up with Jack Hubbard, Managing Partner of the Modern Banker, to bring you our collective favorites. These books span a range of banking topics but emphasize second-order thinking, productivity, building client relationships, and innovation.

The underlying theme of all these books is that process matters, and successful outcomes result from a quality process. Each of these books was read, analyzed, and hand-chosen among hundreds for their effectiveness in improving performance. Each book applies to any banker in a management position who faces a customer in the branch or field or any banker thinking about improving organizational performance.

Best Banking Books: General Self-improvement and Productivity

  • Atomic Habits, by James Clear: This book is one of our collective favorites that we have read and re-read regularly. We strive to improve 1% every day and compound that learning into small positive changes that yield tremendous results.
  • The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement (30th Edition), by Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox – When they say don’t judge a book by its cover, this is an example of where that troupe comes from. This fictional novel with an ugly cover is a fast-paced and entertaining story of a plant manager desperately trying to improve operational performance and his marriage. Within the story are multiple lessons on dealing with the theory of constraints, choosing key performance indicators, organizational dysfunction, management, and leadership. The book also contains the best appendix that you will ever read.
  • The Effective Executive, by Peter DruckerBankers have hundreds of things to work on during the day, but choosing the right challenges is the key to success. This is the ultimate book on how to be effective, and Peter Drucker highlights five habits that lead to quality decision-making and effective performance.
  • Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depends on It, by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz – A 24-year veteran of the FBI and lead hostage negotiator, Chris Voss provides nine fundamental principles that every banker should know before they negotiate anything. This book probably had the largest and fastest impact on our bottom line as we could use many of these lessons immediately, resulting in better negotiated outcomes.
  • A Year of Thinking Differently, by Allison Netzer – This is the most unique book we have read. It has excellent life and business messages covering the ability to create change and how to think about situations from a new perspective.
  • Heart Spoken, by Elizabeth Cottrell. This book takes you back to communication before emails and how to stand out with the written word. Elizabeth is the Chairwoman of First Bank in Virginia and provides a formula for writing notes to clients, prospects, and employees to create an emotional connection.
  • The Art of Achievement, Silver Anniversary Edition, by Tom Morris –  This book is an outstanding classic by a great American Philosopher who has written over ten bestselling books. Tom Morris has distilled the best advice from history’s great thinkers and layered his analysis to develop a simple, seven-part framework to lead any banker to success. Tom is your guy if you ever need a fantastic speaker for a bank event.
  • The Negativity Fast, by Anthony Iannarino – This is the newest book on this list. Anthony is the most thoughtful consultant on the planet and will teach bankers to lead with positivity as they harness negative emotions to make lasting changes for the better. Explore the power of gratitude to transform your mental outlook and discover how to reframe the negative events at the bank and your life to become stronger and more resilient. Anthony has written eight bestsellers and offers an inspiring take on leadership. This book will be needed by bank CEOs in 2024. It’s research-based, with a good buzz out in management circles.

Best Banking Books: Banking Strategy & Organization

Best Banking Books: Innovation and Change

Best Banking Books: General Banking & Organization

  • Successful Lender’s Field Guide, by Chris Nichols, Ed Kofman, and Rick Ruso – Yep, this recommendation is a shameless plug for our own book that details commercial loan business development, credit management, and loan structuring techniques.
  • Competing Against Time: How Time-Based Competition is Reshaping Global Markets by George Stalk – This is another favorite of both Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs. This book changed how we think about bank product design and customer satisfaction by using “time-on-task” (we wrote about it HERE) as a customer experience metric.
  • Team of Teams, by General Stanley McChrystalIn banking, we need to think along the lines of a traditional organizational structure. This hierarchical top-down structure can be limiting in a bank that wants to move at the speed of its customers. To get more out of the organization, this book offers a new management and organizational structure to make your bank more adaptable and robust. We used these concepts to respond to PPP and use this structure as we respond to various challenges, including process improvement and innovation.
  • Generative AI for Leaders, by Amir Husain – This guidebook is an excellent intro to bank management teams to understand generative AI’s opportunities and risks better. No single technology since the cloud has impacted banks as much as gen AI, and this action-filled book helps bankers create a vision for their organization.
  • Banking Regulation in the United States, by Carl Felsenfeld and David Glass – While this is the “pager-turner” that the title portends, the book is still one of the best general overviews of how and why banks are regulated. The authors provide a history and context for modern regulation and a resource for future reference. If your job is to manage a bank, develop new products, or handle the retail aspects of banking, this book is a handy reference guide to provide regulatory depth to keep you out of trouble.

Best Banking Books: Bank Human Capital and Culture

  • Remarkable: A Leadership Parable, by David Salyers – Granted, David is on our Board, so we are biased, but this one book is single-handedly responsible for influencing our culture. Through the humorous story of Dusty, leaders will discover how to build a culture that inspires team members. Addressing the three dimensions of culture–values, beliefs, and behaviors–Remarkable! introduces readers to the Four Maxims of Value Creation: creativity, positivity, sustainability, and responsibility. It shows leaders the most effective ways to cultivate these qualities in their team members and how to craft a corporate culture where people can thrive.
  • Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside of Them, by Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini – If your bank has become timid and bloated, this book is what you need. The authors make a quantitative argument about how and why to restructure the culture of your financial institution to increase employee satisfaction and productivity.
  • Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, by Joesph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, Ron McMillian, Al Switzler, and Emily GregoryThis bestseller classic is often required reading for bank managers (as it is in ours). This new edition, put out in 2021, helps improve communication to lead to the desired result. The lessons herein are critical to help bankers strip away the ego of both parties and objectively identify the problems to move the relationship forward.
  • Talent Wins: The New Playbook for Putting People First, by Ram Charan, Dominic Barton, and Dennis Carey – Typical talent-planning and HR processes are designed for predictable environments, traditional ways of getting work done, and organizations where “lines and boxes” still define how people are managed. As banks have become more fluid–and business strategy is no longer about planning years ahead but about sensing and seizing new opportunities and adapting to a constantly changing environment– banks must deploy talent in new ways to remain competitive.
  • CEO Mastery Journey: 7 Breakthrough Practices to Propel Successful Leaders to Greatness, by Sudhir Chadalavada – To manage a dynamic organization filled with employees below 30 years of age, bank managers need new tools. Sudhir has been a bank CEO coach for two decades, and while he writes for the CEO audience, the lessons apply to all managers to impact a bank’s culture. Creating a greater purpose, building high-trust teams, creating alignment, and holding all accountable are all practically covered.

Best Banking Books

Best Banking Books: Client Relationship Building and Selling

  • The Unsold Mindset, by Colin Coggins and Garrett Brown – This tome is Jack’s “best sales book of 2023.” The book has won several awards, and its messaging is perfect for bankers. A WSJ bestseller, this book captures the essence of ethical selling – whether it is selling your bank, idea, or yourself. The authors distill a counterintuitive approach that will likely change your professional trajectory.
  • Selling from the Heart, by Larry Levine – This is an excellent story with a focus on authenticity and eliminating the empty suit concept. Bankers tend to promote and sell with logic, and this book shows how to leverage social media and social selling to develop an emotional connection with employees, prospects, and clients.
  • A Mind for Sales: Daily Habits and Practical Strategies for Sales Success, by Mark Hunter – You can’t sell well unless you get your mind right. This book reenergizes customer-facing bankers to reframe their thought patterns and respect the sales process in order to build the mindset for success.
  • To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others, by Daniel Pink – Dan has written many good books, including Drive and A Whole New Mind. This is an excellent book about sales and fits the relationship mold bankers need. Pink draws on a rich trove of social science for his counterintuitive insights. He reveals the six successors to the elevator pitch, the three rules for understanding another’s perspective, and the five frames that can make your message more transparent and more persuasive.
  • Insight Selling: Surprising Research  on What Sales Winners Do Differently, by Mike Schultz and John Doerr – Schultz and Doerr share the surprising results of their research on what sales winners do differently and outline precisely what banks need to do to transform their teams to win more business against competition. The authors introduce a simple three-level model based on what buyers say to tip the scales in favor of a bank, detailing why customers buy and the power of using follow-up and value versus product pitches early in the sales process.
  • Fanatical Prospecting: The Ultimate Guide to Opening Sales Conversations and Filling the Pipeline by Leveraging Social Selling, by Jeb Blount – Great ideas on a solid, systematic way to prospect, an act which most bankers hate. This book is one of the most comprehensive books ever written about prospecting and should be required reading for anyone who needs to meet sales goals.
  • Trust-Based Selling, by Charles Green – Charlie wrote The Trusted Advisor, and this last book has formed the basis of what many banks have based their sales process around.

Best Banking Books

Best Banking Books: Banking Leadership       

  • Call Sign Chaos, by Jim Mattis and Bing West – Covering direct leadership, executive leadership, and strategic leadership, General Mattis, the former Secretary of Defense, and Bing West, former Assistant Secretary of Defense, talk about one of our favorite leadership topics – intent – and shows bankers how to adapt their leadership style to fit the mission.
  • Extreme Ownership: How the U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, by Jacko Willink and Leif Babin – These lessons from the battlefield can apply to any organization or unit.
  • Leaders Eat Last & Start With Why, by Simon SinekThese are two excellent books that discuss how to transform a leader’s vision into action.

Putting This into Action

If you have other favorites, we would love to hear about them. Bankers can use this list for self-improvement in an ad hoc fashion or formalize the process as we do. For us, we often have internal teams choose one book per quarter to read collectively and then discuss the applicability of the lessons to a particular goal. This not only helps with accountability and retention but also is enlightening to hear different ideas on how you can put the lessons into action for your organization.



Tags: , , , , , , Published: 01/03/24 by Chris Nichols