10 leadership books to stretch your skills in 2021

Check out these books for new wisdom to help you lead with kindness, consistency, and customer focus in uncertain times
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2020 had at least one upside for leaders who rose to the many challenges brought on by the pandemic: They gained wisdom from nearly a year of disruptive change. Now, they can use that to shape their approach to leadership in 2021. What are the leadership lessons that you’ll take into 2021? What are the areas of improvement that can help you adapt to the unknown challenges to come?

[ Read also: How to build strong teams: 8 must-read books. ]

The books on our annual list of leadership must-reads this year reflect some of the new rules and mindsets top leaders have adopted to drive their businesses forward. These books also offer insights and analysis on what the future may hold. Let’s dive in.

Ruthless Consistency: How Committed Leaders Execute Strategy, Implement Change, and Build Organizations That Win

By: Michael Canic

Book description (via Amazon): “According to Harvard Business Review, ‘most studies still show a 60-70 percent failure rate for organizational change projects – a statistic that has stayed constant from the 1970s to the present.’ Drawing on his 20+ years of experience as a strategy and execution consultant specializing in midsize companies, Michael Canic helps committed leaders drive the odds in their favor. In Ruthless Consistency, he identifies the three surprising reasons most strategic change initiatives fail: Leaders unwittingly send mixed messages that demotivate their people and undermine those initiatives. Leaders focus on what they do instead of what their people experience. Leaders are not as committed as they think they are or need to be.”

Why you should read it: If 2020 taught us anything, it’s to be prepared for change. In a recent article, Canic explains that the key to maximizing success when implementing strategic change is to do three things with ruthless consistency: Develop and sustain the right focus, create the right environment, and build the right team. In this book, he offers practical, actionable processes, practices, techniques, and tools to do just that.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity

By: Scott Galloway

Book description (via Amazon): “From bestselling author and NYU Business School professor Scott Galloway comes a keenly insightful, urgent analysis of who stands to win and who’s at risk to lose in a post-pandemic world. In Post Corona, he outlines the contours of the crisis and the opportunities that lie ahead. Combining his signature humor and brash style with sharp business insights and the occasional dose of righteous anger, Galloway offers both warning and hope in equal measure.”

Why you should read it: No business has been untouched by the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is a huge divide between industries that are thriving as a result of the disruption and those that are struggling to survive. In this book, Galloway provides an overview of what’s happening now across big tech, education, government, and other industries, and a framework for how to think about the post-pandemic future.

The EQ Deficiency: How Emotional Intelligence and Compassion Can Cure an Emotional Pandemic, Solve Our “People Problems” and Be a Catalyst for Positive Change

By: Brittney-Nichole Connor-Savarda

Book description (via Amazon): “Finding balance and harmony in a world that seems to be governed by chaos and discord can leave us feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and fearful. The EQ Deficiency brings clarity to the madness, explaining why we behave and think the way we do, and shows us how to overcome the unpleasant emotions and toxic situations we face in our daily lives. More importantly, it provides insight into how emotional intelligence can be the key to unlocking our full potential, attaining a sense of well-being, and becoming the gateway to catalyzing positive change in the world.”

Why you should read it: Brittney-Nichole Connor-Savarda is the founder of Catalyst 4 Change LLC, an emotional intelligence coaching and consulting practice, and holds degrees in education and psychology. She is an authority on the topic of emotional intelligence, and her book is a prescriptive guide for any leader who wants to strengthen their EQ skills in 2021.

The Gumbo Coalition: 10 Leadership Lessons That Help You Inspire, Unite, and Achieve

By: Marc Morial

Book description (via Amazon): “To be a great leader, you must be able to unite people from all backgrounds with seemingly competing agendas to come together under a common cause. Marc Morial, former mayor of New Orleans and current president and CEO of the National Urban League, has been such a leader and shares the lessons he learned along a legendary journey of achievement. He is ready to teach others what he has learned, by showing readers what it means to be a leader who can unite voices and create meaningful change.”

Why you should read it: According to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's Amazon recommendation, “The book is a fascinating political memoir, it’s also something more: a leadership manual, complete with checklists, tips, and pitfalls to avoid. Marc writes about how to increase your collective power by building consensus, how vital it is to communicate your vision to your team at every step, and how networking done right is about building purposeful and intentional relationships for the common good. To my mind, that makes The Gumbo Coalition essential reading for people across all sectors – especially business leaders.”

Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them

By: Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini

Book description (via HBR): “In Humanocracy, Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini make a passionate, data-driven argument for excising bureaucracy and replacing it with something better. Drawing on more than a decade of research and packed with practical examples, Humanocracy lays out a detailed blueprint for creating organizations that are as inspired and ingenious as the human beings inside them. Whatever your role or title, Humanocracy will show you how to launch an unstoppable movement to equip and empower everyone in your organization to be their best and to do their best.”

Why you should read it: Now more than ever, when the future is uncertain, businesses need to be resilient and adaptable to change. Top down power structures and bureaucracy slow businesses down and stifle creativity, Hamel and Zanini argue. This book is a “detailed, well-researched, data-driven, compellingly argued expose on the massive costs of bureaucracy in society. Hamel and Zanini offer an equally compelling argument for why it doesn’t have to be this way, complete with a practical guide for creating organizations that really work," says Amy Edmondson, professor, Harvard Business School, and author, The Fearless Organization.

Let's look at five more books worth reading:

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.