We announce the overall winner of the 2020 Porchlight Business Book Awards on January 14. Until then, we thought we'd take a look back at the rest of the books on the list. Today, we have the runners up in the Leadership & Strategy category, and a look inside the book we chose as the best among them.
If there has ever been a time we needed competent leadership at all levels of our society, from the smallest businesses and community organizations to the largest bureaucracies and institutions, it is now. Looking back, it was during an era of similarly existential crises during the previous century that a pioneer of leadership studies, Warren Bennis, became interested in the topic. In the introduction to a revised edition of On Becoming a Leader in 2003, Bennis wrote of why he began studying leadership:
I once told an interviewer who asked how I became interested in leadership, that it was impossible to live through the 1930s and '40s without thinking about leadership. There were giants on the earth in those days—leaders of the stature of FDR, Churchill, and Gandhi. And there were also men who wielded enormous power in the most horrific ways—Hitler and Stalin—men who perverted the very essence of leadership and killed millions of innocent people in the process. The Great Depression and the battlefields of World War II were my crucible, as they were for so many people my age.
But the leadership books released in 2020 aren't looking back. They are concerned with the crucibles of today, and how we can build a more humane and just future. The runners up for the Leadership & Strategy category are:
- Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World by Jacqueline Novogratz, Henry Holt and Company
- Mission Metamorphosis: Leadership for a Humane World by Robin R. Ganzert, PhD, Fast Company Press
- Uncharted: How to Navigate the Future by Margaret Heffernan, Avid Reader Press
- Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath, Avid Reader Press
And the 2020 Porchlight Leadership & Strategy Book of the Year is When More Is Not Better: Overcoming America's Obsession with Economic Efficiency by Roger L. Martin, Harvard Business Review Press
America’s system of democratic capitalism survived its initial flaws and sins, a Civil War and two World Wars. Indeed, it emerged more resilient than ever after two of our greatest tests, the Great Depression and World War II, with most Americans believing in our combination of democracy and capitalism and sharing in the great growth and prosperity of those times. But for the last forty-plus years, that faith has waned as the economic outcomes the system generates have become increasingly unequal and most Americans’ incomes have become stagnant even as their productivity has climbed and the overall economy has grown. Roger Martin believes that the root of this problem lies in our model of the economy as a perfectable machine and our obsession with efficiency above all else. As he writes:
The outcomes are systemic, and without a fundamental shift in how we manage the economy, they will get only more out of alignment with our hopes and assumptions. I believe that this shift needs to start with abandoning the perfectable-machine model of the economy. We should instead understand the economy in more natural terms, as a complex adaptive system—one that is too complex to be perfectable, one that continuously adapts in ways that will almost certainly frustrate any attempts to engineer it for perfection.
Martin warns that the tether between democracy and capitalism is not assured. Indeed, in this year's election, half the country seemed convinced that a vote for one party would lead us inexorably into socialism, while many in the other party seemed perfectly willing to abandon the results of the democratic process entirely to hold onto power. The beauty of Martin’s book, in my opinion, is that his research documents the reality of how our economy is working for regular Americans (it largely isn’t) and well over half of the book is dedicated to solutions that are already proven to work in the real world, offering "actionable and specific agendas for business executives, political leaders, educators, and citizens" alike to lead us out of these harrowing times.