Succession Planning Reading List

Dive into these books for succession planning inspiration

Proper succession planning is much more about thinking than action. Once you know what is important and what you hope to achieve, the process becomes much simpler.

A good way to clarify your goals and find examples of others’ succession planning triumphs is by reading good business books. 

“You are only going to be as smart five years from now as you are today based on the people you associate with and what you read,” says Johnne Syverson, a family business adviser with Transition Point Business Advisors. “I encourage all farmers to read books for insight during their succession planning journey.”

Here are book recommendations to add to your reading list, courtesy of the Farm Journal Legacy Project Advisory Team and other succession planning experts.

Note: These books can be purchased from or through other bookstores. 

Crucial Conversations"Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High"

—by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler

On any day, you could take part in a "crucial" conversation—one where opinions vary, emotions are strong and the stakes are high. Many times, people avoid these situations or handle them poorly.

"This is an outstanding book that helps you navigate these emotionally charged conversations," says Amy Shoemaker, director of people growth strategies with Kennedy and Coe LLC. "It contains great tools for having discussions around the legacy of the family farm."

From reading this book, you’ll learn how to transform anger and hurt feelings into a power dialogue, stay focused on the main points, make it safe to talk about anything and be persuasive instead of abrasive. By creating this type of communication culture within your family operation, you’ll be able to tackle any tough issues that come your way.

BeatingThe Midas Curse"Beating the Midas Curse"

—by Perry L. Cochell and Rodney C. Zeeb"Affluenza" is a destructive relationship with wealth.

"This is a common problem that makes family businesses implode," explains Johnne Syverson, a family business consultant with Transition Point Business Advisors.

"This book helps people overcome that issue and focus on passing down values to the next generation, along with valuables. If the values don’t get passed on, the valuables (including the family business) will eventually disappear."

GettingToYes"Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In"

—by Roger Fisher and William Ury

"This short book is an easy read that suggests several time-tested strategies for dealing with conflicts so they end with a win/win solution," says Carolyn Rodenberg, founder and owner of Alternatives to Conflict, a firm focused on solving and preventing conflict in the workplace.

"The authors propose that learning how to negotiate effectively is an essential tool for success in business relationships as well as personal interactions."


HowToGet Control"How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life"   

—by Alan Lakein

Your time is irreversible and irreplaceable. This is an excellent resource to learn not just good time management, but rather how to focus your efforts on clearly defined objectives.

This this book a must-read for everyone, whether active in the family operation or not." The book details how to prioritize tasks and reduce stress.


The 7 Habits"The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change"   

—by Stephen R. Covey

Don"t mistake that this is an over-hyped business book. This timeless classic has a cult-like following for a reason. It is one of the best self-development books of all time."

The author details a step-by-step process to include fairness, integrity and dignity into each day.


FailingForward"Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes Into Stepping Stones for Success"

—John C. Maxwell

"This book teaches you how to learn from mistakes and use them to propel your business forward," Shoemaker says. Most people are never taught how to react to disappointments.

As the book states: The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure. Instead of letting failures set you back, use them as a stepping stone.



“The Enduring Legacy: Essential Family Business Values” 

—Lance Woodbury

Succession planning often focuses on passing financial assets. But Lance Woodbury, family business consultant and member of the Farm Journal Legacy Project Advisory Team, knows furthering a family’s legacy requires focusing on values.

He offers 20 values that capture the essence of today’s successful family businesses.




“Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business” 

—Gino Wickman

Farmers, just like other business leaders, face common frustrations—personnel conflict, profit troubles and poor growth. This easy read explains how owners can strengthen six key components of their operation.

Author Gino Wickman also details when and how you should evaluate your operation and goals.



“Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success”

—Adam Grant

While passion, hard work, talent and luck are commonly seen as the main drivers to success, author and professor Adam Grant argues today’s success is dependent on how you interact with and treat others.

Through reading this book, you will identify if you are a taker, matcher or giver. You’ll also learn how to become a successful giver.



“Perpetuating the Family Business” 

—John L. Ward

What makes a family business stand the test of time? Author John L. Ward offers best practices of successful and long-lasting families in business, including Levi-Strauss, Ford Motors and The New York Times.

He identifies the common phases of family businesses and provides 50 lessons for family business longevity.



“Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ...And Others Don’t” 

—Jim Collins

From more than 1,400 companies, Jim Collins and his research team identified 11 companies that made the leap from mediocre to great results and sustained those high levels for at least 15 years. This book analyzes the people, thoughts and actions of these successful companies.

Collins discovers common traits in the leaders of these companies, such as being humble and focused on doing what’s best for the company. You’ll learn how you can emulate the values and principles of these companies on your farm and that the people on your team are far more important than accomplishments.