CONTRIBUTORSElite AgentOPINION

What Anton Babkov’s favourite books taught him about business – and why you should read them too

Ever since childhood, I’ve been your classic bookworm; an avid reader throughout my tweens and teens, right through to young adulthood, rapidly digesting information through books as a young law student. 

Since then, not much has changed. I read a lot, mostly for pleasure. But over the past 10 years, I’ve gravitated towards non-fiction books, biographies, and manuals; books that broaden my outlook on both leadership and life. 

Books are amazing teachers. Essentially, they’re someone’s entire life’s work or thoughts around a particular topic. We know about the value of business mentors, to me, a book is the best type of mentor. 

In any industry, there will be a standard set of must-read books; classic texts along with emerging ideas. 

You can’t go past the classics, but it’s important to look outside your own industry, because as they say, there is nothing new under the sun, and sometimes you need to cast your net wider to catch new ideas.  

Reading from other disciplines is really interesting; it takes us out of the echo chamber, and provides a different perspective on solving common problems. 

Understanding how to effect, facilitate, and manage change is critical when it comes to both running a business and managing a team.

So, it stands to reason that reading about innovation, people management, and team dynamics can benefit leaders from all industries – including those in real estate.   

Here are my top reads in these areas, both theoretical and practical. 

Innovation

Theory: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural history of Innovation – by Steven Johnson. 

Innovation is not Eureka. This book talks about how good ideas often form over a period of five or 10 years – and the best ideas come when there is a collision of different thoughts, from different areas.  

To get an outside perspective, you need to have diversity in your team – different backgrounds, different cultures, different sexual orientations. 

Being able to tackle things from different perspectives is something we don’t often think about in real estate. How would a nurse approach the problem of getting a sale across the line, or locking in a listing? 

It might be from a different structural standpoint from how you might traditionally think. 

This book taught me that the best innovation is made up from bits of information that are lying around. When we think about innovation we tend to think about the ‘nuclear bomb’, but most innovation is actually incremental.

True stories: The Innovators and Steve Jobs – by Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs had imagined the iPhone early in his life. Ever since that experience, Jobs set about trying to make it a reality, but he did that through the innovation of other, related products. He created the laptop, the mouse, the iPod, and eventually the iPhone. 

Both of these books helped me realise that it pays to be persistent with something you’re passionate about, and that great ideas take time. 

People management

Theory: Radical Candour – by Kim Scott

This book talks you through the best ways to deliver feedback to your team. 

I wasn’t trained in people management, and it’s taken me years to realise I was probably doing it wrong.  

This book taught me how to provide my team with really honest, useful feedback to drive their growth, but with the intention of getting the best out of the person, and, more importantly, for the person. 

True story: Trillion-dollar coach – by Eric Schmidt and Alan Eagle 

This book uses the experiences of American football coach, Bill Campbell, to demonstrate how coaching principles can be applied to leadership. 

Campbell left coaching for the tech sector, became a CEO, and eventually became executive coach to Google and Apple and their executive teams. 

The book talks about how Campbell is salt of the earth, direct, but always has the best objectives in mind. It was a fantastic tool to help me apply the skills I’ve learnt elsewhere, to the way I lead my team today.

Highly specific guides: The Tao of Coaching – by Max Landsbeg and The Coaching Habit – by Michael Bungay Stanier. 

These books offer specific tips and tools, along with all the questions to ask your team, to avoid telling them how to do their jobs, but rather guide them to a solution. 

These books were invaluable in helping me form good relationships with people, and also helping them become successful in their careers, while helping the business grow.

Team dynamics 

Theory: Team of Teams – by Stanley McChrystal and Chris Fussell. 

This book focuses on larger businesses, but is equally valuable in real estate. When agencies grow past a certain size, it can cause a breakdown of trust.

This book is about why that happens and how it happens. Stanley McChrystal commanded US forces in Iraq, when they were falling to Al Qaeda. 

He says the primary reason for this was Al Qaeda’s access to fast technology; the dynamics of war had changed.

They were dealing with people who were nimble, with rapid information exchange, that could change on a dime. Real estate is the same, the market shifts in five minutes – bang, we’re in lockdown and everything needs to change.

He talks about how to create an environment and a practice that fosters nimble teams that help each other.

Highly practical guides: Measure What Matters – by John Doerr and What You Do Is Who You Are – by Ben Horowitz.

Measure What Matters talks about the importance of giving your team clear goals. 

At Rexlabs, we call them Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), and they play a vital role in ensuring the measurability of our goals.  

What You Do Is Who You Are talks about values, and how every company is acting out their values daily. The question is though, are they intentional?

It’s critical to think about the environment you want to create, what’s important to your business, and how you want to live. 

If you don’t, it will happen anyway, and you’ll unintentionally exhibit both the best and worst of what you have to offer.

An organisation is a reflection of its leader, and if you’re not intentional about how you frame things, your team will replicate you in equal parts, and in turn, you’ll love and hate those things, as much as you love and hate them about yourself.

One for good luck!

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster – by Bill Gates

Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time, and this book offers the clearest explanations of both the science and the technology required to avoid climate change disaster. 

Regardless of your views on climate change, everyone needs to understand it.

This book uses simple terms to describe what we need to do to get to zero emissions, and offers a really actionable plan for what businesses and individuals can do to help. 

The most important part of reading though is that you enjoy it. Experiment by reading books from a variety of different sectors.

Art is an interesting choice, understanding how people analyse art, and how they talk about it.

History is another great option, reading about things that have happened in the past, and how people dealt with those issues at that time.

Many of us can be quite linear in how we approach problems, so what better way to expand your mind, than viewing problems – and solutions – through the prism of someone else’s mind. 

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Anton Babkov

Anton Babkov is CEO of Rexlabs - a team of entrepreneurs taking complex problems and untangling them into simple, usable products for the real estate sector.