Editor's note: This article ran in the October 2011 edition of Dairy Herd Management.

Books that will propel your businessMany of us have been inspired by books over the years.

Great pieces of literature like “The Catcher in the Rye” or “The Grapes of Wrath” will remain in our memory bank and serve as a point of reference for future events.

Business literature is the same way. It can inspire us to be better leaders and see new opportunities.

We asked two people whose opinions we respect to tell us which books have inspired them the most when it comes to business.

A person of influence
Books that will propel your businessFor Hank Wagner, dairy producer from Oconto Falls, Wis., it was difficult to pick just one book. But he did narrow it down to the books written by his favorite author, John C. Maxwell.

“John has touched my life, my business, my family, and every other life that touches mine through his books,” Wagner says. “It seems so odd to talk passionately about a person who has taught me so much yet I have never met him!”

And, if he had to pick a favorite book from John C. Maxwell, it would be “Becoming a Person of Influence.”

“This book has helped me learn how to influence others,” Wagner says. “I have set a personal goal many years ago to not just live, but to live with purpose — a purpose that involves having a positive influence on the lives of others.”

The book is an essential primer on understanding others, being a good listener, and helping people reach their potential.

On page 103, it outlines these priorities when dealing with other people:
• The least important word: I.
• The most important word: We.
• The two most important words: Thank you.
• The three most important words: All is forgiven.
• The four most important words: What is your opinion?
• The five most important words: You did a good job.
• The six most important words: I want to understand you better.

Other Maxwell books
Even though “Becoming a Person of Influence”  is his favorite book from John C. Maxwell, Wagner also recommends “Winning with People.”

“When I grew up on the farm, I watched my dad do everything by himself,” Wagner says. “Today, we have employees, consultants, and numerous other people that have a hand in the outcome of our businesses. Therefore, we cannot just be good with cows or machinery to operate a successful business; we must also know how to work with people,” he says.

“Winning with People” is one of the books that has helped him in this regard.

Finally, there is John C. Maxwell’s book, “Thinking for a Change.”

“I am a thinker and every business needs a thinker,” Wagner says. “Thinking can totally alter the outcome of a business,” he adds. “It will free us from the prison of doing things simply because we have always done it that way; it will usher in better, faster, smarter, more efficient ways of doing things.

And, if someone is not a good thinker, good news; he or she can be trained to be a better thinker, Wagner says. “Thinking for a Change” is one book that can help.

Full steam ahead
Books that will propel your businessBob Milligan, senior consultant with Dairy Strategies and professor emeritus at Cornell University, says his favorite book on business is “Full Steam Ahead! Unleash the Power of Vision in Your Work and Your Life,” by Ken Blanchard and Jesse Lyn Stoner.

“Of the two to three hundred farmers and agribusiness professionals who have read the book for programs I have done, I can’t remember anyone saying it was a waste of time,” Milligan says. “It is an easy read. It is especially appropriate for our current situation where the greatest missing ingredient in most businesses, organizations and governments is leadership. And, leadership starts with vision.”

The book describes a woman named Ellie who goes to work at an insurance company and immediately gets into a dialogue with her boss and co-workers about the company’s purpose, which is not just to provide insurance but rather to provide financial peace of mind. And, that led to a discussion of the company’s core values and vision.

What business are you in? Is it simply to milk cows or are you providing safe, wholesome a hungry world? And, what are the underlying values for your business? Knowing these things can help you gain a sense of where your business ought to be headed in the future. Hence the title, “Full steam ahead!”