The Top 20 Professional Development Books for Success

This article gives you a glimpse of what you can learn with Shortform. Shortform has the world’s best guides to 1000+ nonfiction books, plus other resources to help you accelerate your learning.

Want to learn faster and get smarter? Sign up for a free trial here .

What is the key to success? What are some professional development books that will help you find your passion?

If your career is an important part of your life, you should take measures to always develop new skills and take on new challenges. Several professional development books introduce new ways to improve your work relationships, get promotions, and find happiness at your job.

Let’s take a look at several books that will benefit your career.

Books to Find Your Ideal Career

Many people go throughout their lives working dull jobs until they retire. With these books, you won’t have to worry about that. Read these professional development books to find the right career for you so you can actually enjoy working.


Do you feel uninspired at work? Do you dream of making a positive impact on the world but doubt that you’re good enough to do so? According to leadership expert Seth Godin, anyone can choose to create work that changes the world by becoming a “linchpin” whose unique skills hold their organization together. Godin asserts that becoming a linchpin is not only the path to a fulfilling life and career but also necessary for career security in today’s tumultuous job market.

In this book, Godin identifies what beliefs make up the “linchpin mindset” and explains the steps you can take to become a linchpin and start living your most fulfilling work life.

Bullshit Jobs

Have you ever held a job that you felt was pointless? You’re not alone. In Bullshit Jobs, David Graeber argues that many jobs in contemporary industrial societies provide no value to society at all. According to him, a culture of work for work’s sake and the necessity of jobs for distributing income have created a society of meaningless bureaucratic tedium. In his book, Graeber explains what pointless jobs are, why they are proliferating, and why they make workers so unhappy. 

David Graeber was an anthropology professor, activist, and self-identified anarchist. His book began as an op-ed in Strike! magazine that struck a nerve among working-class people, setting off a heated debate on the nature of work under 21st-century capitalism

Designing Your Life

Everyone wants to make a living doing meaningful work that aligns with their values and makes them happy. However, many people feel stuck in the wrong life doing unfulfilling work. They hope that once they find their “passion,” everything will magically fall into place. According to Stanford professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, this attitude hinges on the belief that there’s only one path to a meaningful life and limits your ability to experience joy and satisfaction. 

In Designing Your Life, Burnett and Evans argue there are multiple paths to career and life happiness—learning how to recognize and evaluate these paths increases your chances of experiencing satisfaction. They share principles from their popular life design courses to help you explore multiple paths and purposefully plan a balanced life in which you can truly thrive.

What Color Is Your Parachute?

In What Color is Your Parachute?, career expert Richard Bolles shares his revolutionary “parachute approach” to finding a job. This approach is twelve times more effective than sending out traditional resumes and doesn’t simply get you a job, it gets you a job you’ll love.

The parachute approach starts with self-reflection⁠—who are you, what do you like, what are you good at, and what do you value most? By figuring out what you want, instead of what the job market wants, you’ll set yourself on a path to career satisfaction and personal fulfillment.

Awaken the Giant Within

Many people assume their ideal life will never be more than fantasy, but in reality, you have the power to create the life you dream about. In this book, life coach and self-help guru Tony Robbins provides empowering insights and strategies to help you take control of every aspect of your life, from your emotions to your focus. In many cases, you can make transformational changes to your life through small adjustments, such as swapping out just one word in your vocabulary. 

In this book you’ll learn: 

  • How your bad habits are wired in your brain—and what you can do to change them
  • How to decode your negative emotions to find solutions to them
  • How you create your destiny every time you start a sentence with “I am…”

Managing Oneself

How can you build a successful career in which you collect accolades and achievements throughout your working life? Peter Drucker, the creator of many influential management theories, answers this difficult question in this compact careers manual. He believes the secret to success lies in managing yourself, acting as your own CEO, and maneuvering yourself into situations where you’ll thrive. 

Managing Oneself will teach you how to identify your strengths, shine a light on your inner values, and position yourself in a job where you’ll manage your own boss. Drucker rounds off his book by laying out how to have a second career that’s even better than your first. 

Start With Why

Although there are thousands of successful companies and leaders, only a few ever really change the world. What makes these different from the rest?

They start with WHY—the vision and mission behind their efforts. Starting with WHY yields benefits like a more inspired team, more loyal customers, and enduring long-term success. In Start With Why, learn how to discover your WHY and communicate it through your organization and to the outside world. 

Books to Find the Secret to Success

What is the secret to success? There’s not just one answer for that, but the books below can help you find the answers you need. Now that you know the type of career you want to have, these professional development books will help you excel in your field.

The Success Principles

Jack Canfield struck gold as a co-author of the best-selling Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, but it took years for him to achieve success. In The Success Principles, he details 67 principles to help anyone achieve their goals and dreams, based on his study and interviews with hundreds of successful people. The basic formula for success is to identify what you want, know that you deserve to have it, and use the book’s principles to get you there.

Principles include:

  • Taking responsibility for your life
  • Setting goals and visualizing success
  • Facing your fears
  • Forgiving others so you can move forward
  • Asking for and graciously receiving feedback
  • Appreciating your successes

Lean In

Lean In, by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, explores the professional, personal and societal hurdles holding women back from leadership positions in the workforce. The hurdles include discrimination, family-unfriendly policies, and a lack of help at home. To get more women into leadership positions and make true changes, Sandberg urges women to “lean in” to their careers, taking risks and being ambitious in their professional goals, while demanding more help at home. To do this, women must fight a lack of self-confidence and internalized gender stereotypes to forge fulfilling and rewarding personal and professional lives.


Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise explores how peak performers in music, athletics, and other fields develop their abilities. Through purposeful practice and the development of effective mental representations, nearly anyone can become an expert in whatever field they choose. The book shatters many illusions about expertise—chiefly, that it comes from genius or “natural” talent. Instead, it comes from rigorous practice and a willingness to improve slowly over time through a series of baby steps. By embracing these principles, you can become whatever it is you wish to be. Your future is entirely in your hands.

Deep Work

Like most people, you’re probably easily distracted by wandering thoughts or social media updates while trying to be productive. In Deep Work, Cal Newport teaches you how to develop your focus and resist distractions so that you can rise to the top of your field and drive toward your most important goals. He contends that focus is like a mental muscle: Through deliberate training, you can strengthen your focus and expand your mental capacity.

Newport explains why the ability to do deep work (work that requires intense concentration) is so important in our modern economy, and he shows how to make deep work a part of your life.

Unbeatable Mind

Is your mind strong enough to weather all storms you face in life? Are you struggling to achieve what you want most? In Unbeatable Mind, Mark Divine offers a guide to training your mind to be stronger so that you have control over your whole self and can maximize your success. Divine is a retired Navy SEAL Commander and best-selling author who shares his whole-person training to create millions of powerful leaders over the next two decades.

Divine’s book explores his system, which features five levels of personal development along with tips for how to traverse these levels, plus important tools for training your mind and developing mental toughness through meditative techniques. 

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

What is the key to success? It’s hard to tell when so much success advice is contradictory: Should you be kind, or is being nice for losers? Should you spend every waking hour at work, or focus on work-life balance? In Barking Up the Wrong Tree, peak performance expert Eric Barker examines the research on every option—and shares what he believes are the secrets to success.

In this book, you’ll learn why context is king—in other words, why the rules for success depend on who you are—and examine interpersonal relationships, reviewing the importance of kindness, networks, and your attitude toward success. Barker also presents his views on persistence and hard work, namely why you need to stick to some things and quit others, and how you can achieve the ideal balance of work and play. 


Many successful leaders and businesspeople are lauded as “great geniuses,” but psychologist Angela Duckworth argues that talent and intelligence matter less to success than grit: the personality trait behind perseverance, hard work, and goal-setting. In Grit, she explores what grit is, where it comes from, how it drives success, and how you can develop it. 

Duckworth is primarily interested in how to raise gritty kids, and her insights have inspired parents and educators around the globe since the book’s publication in 2016. However, she believes that adults, too, can develop grit, and she lays out specific, measurable ways to do so.

Her work has fueled debates about which matters more—talent or effort.

Organize Tomorrow Today

If you often find yourself overwhelmed by your task list and obligations, Organize Tomorrow Today can help. With sports and travel writer Matthew Rudy, authors Jason Selk and Tom Bartow teach you how to increase your productivity, maximize your time, and set yourself on the path to success. Combining backgrounds in athletics, psychology, and finance, Selk and Bartow have worked for decades as advisors and coaches in both the sports and business worlds. Their programs have helped countless athletes and business professionals improve their job performance and become some of the most successful members of their fields. 

In this book, you’ll learn how to prioritize and prepare for your tasks every day. The authors also discuss how you can improve your life through positive habits, evaluate your daily progress, and communicate effectively with yourself and others. 

The Alter Ego Effect

Do you ever wish you could deliver a speech like Martin Luther King Jr. or mow through your athletic opposition like Megan Rapinoe? Athletic performance coach and leadership advisor Todd Herman believes you can—by adopting an alter ego. In The Alter Ego Effect, Herman presents a systematic approach to performing at your best when it counts by creating, shaping, and implementing an alter ego who has all the strengths and abilities you need when the heat is on. 

Who Moved My Cheese?

We all experience change in our lives. It can be distressing or rewarding, depending on our approach. Who Moved My Cheese is a parable that demonstrates in practical terms how to handle change better and avoid pitfalls, by practicing a few key principles: anticipate and prepare for change, overcome fears, envision success, and enjoy change. By depicting simple, memorable characters and scenarios, the parable gives you a framework for responding to change successfully.

Awaken the Giant Within

Many people assume their ideal life will never be more than fantasy, but in reality, you have the power to create the life you dream about. In this book, life coach and self-help guru Tony Robbins provides empowering insights and strategies to help you take control of every aspect of your life, from your emotions to your focus. In many cases, you can make transformational changes to your life through small adjustments, such as swapping out just one word in your vocabulary. 

In this book you’ll learn: 

  • How your bad habits are wired in your brain—and what you can do to change them
  • How to decode your negative emotions to find solutions to them
  • How you create your destiny every time you start a sentence with “I am…”

Tools of Titans

In his epic 707-page Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss shares the habits and beliefs of 101 people at the top of their game, including tech investors like Chris Sacca and Peter Thiel, entrepreneurs like LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman and Evernote’s Phil Libin, superhuman athletes like Amelia Boone and Wim Hof, media figures like Edward Norton and Whitney Cummings, and more.

These are the principles that successful people use to achieve audacious goals, improve themselves, and be happier. The premise: if you can apply the lessons from this book, you can be more effective.

While the book is organized into 140 short chapters, each devoted to one person, we’ve pulled out the main themes across all the people. This lets you see the patterns of what the titans do—how they define life goals, how they think of good ideas, and how they try to be happier every day.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Many professionals get stuck at a certain level of success. For instance, they manage to climb to a middle-management position at their organization, but always get passed over for promotion to the executive level. Author and business coach Marshall Goldsmith believes that when a professional’s career stalls in this way, it’s usually because they’ve slipped into bad behavioral habits. In other words, they’ve started to treat their colleagues poorly.

In What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There, you’ll discover how you can reach your full potential by eliminating 21 harmful workplace behaviors. Learn how to rescue your reputation after you’ve treated your colleagues poorly, why learning to listen is crucial to professional success, and how becoming too goal-oriented can harm your career. 

Final Words

No matter what industry you’re in, every professional needs guidance to grow their career. With these 20 professional development books, you’ll have the tools you need to maximize your success.

Did we miss any professional development books worth reading? If so, leave your suggestions in the comments below!

The Top 20 Professional Development Books for Success

Want to fast-track your learning? With Shortform, you’ll gain insights you won't find anywhere else .

Here's what you’ll get when you sign up for Shortform :

  • Complicated ideas explained in simple and concise ways
  • Smart analysis that connects what you’re reading to other key concepts
  • Writing with zero fluff because we know how important your time is

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *