Porchlight's Managing Director Sally Haldorson takes readers inside the best Leadership & Strategy books of 2021.
Over the past two years, much was required of every single one of us, and business leaders found themselves navigating particularly tumultuous waters. There were times when it felt impossible, when the demands at the office and at home threatened capsizal. How to lead through one of the most economically and strategically challenging periods in memory, but also simply survive personally? How to keep ourselves and our families safe? How to keep employees safe and employed? How to help keep our businesses afloat and adapt our business models in response to supply chain limitations and changes in customer behavior? How to transition company culture to absorb the new demands of working from home, or with a fragmented or too-lean workforce, when employees are experiencing times of unprecedented stress in their personal lives? How to personally stay above the waves, practice self-care, and avoid burnout? Business leaders have asked themselves these questions and many more. The following five books, which we believe are the best Leadership & Strategy books of 2021, may not offer answers to every inquiry raised by such a demanding time, but they do offer us an opportunity to reestablish our moorings, to rediscover who we are as leaders, to repair and reinvent as we set a course forward.
All In: An Autobiography by Billie Jean King with Johnette Howard and Maryanne Vollers, Knopf
While it is unusual for us to feature an autobiography in a category other than Narrative & Biography, All In—as entertaining and voluble as Billie Jean King herself—provides us with a portrait of a woman who has led by example her entire life. Simply put, women’s sports of all kinds would not be what they are today without King’s commitment to bringing opportunity and pay to women’s tennis. While herself a tennis champion many times over, Billie Jean King sacrificed a portion of her personal potential to achieve even more greatness in order to further the careers of her contemporaries and future generations of players. She has, over the course of her lifetime, been fueled by a conviction that when you fight against injustice and for inclusion, you really do raise the bar for all. There is more work to do to create a level playing field for women and gay players in sports and in the business of sports. Now in her 80s, King continues to lead in that effort, and we would all do well to follow her example.
Gentelligence: The Revolutionary Approach to Leading an Intergenerational Workforce by Megan Gerhardt, PhD, Josephine Nachemson-Ekwall, and Brandon Fogel, Rowman & Littlefield
There has been much written on how to handle the entrance of Millenials into the workplace over the past 10 years, so much so that that hobby horse now feels quite over-ridden, if not ready to put to pasture. But the mix of generations in the workplace does not get less complex in the future, as we have Gen Z and Gen Alpha on the horizon, and to ignore the need for new management strategies would be to ignore the intricacies of the situation. How can a workplace welcome and satisfy people who have grown up with such distinct social, cultural, and technological experiences? The tendency of such writing is to explain generational differences with a not-so-subtle “get off my lawn” or “ok boomer” vibe. Gentelligence offers a different, strengths-based approach to generational intersectionality. Every generation, the authors posit, brings value to the workplace even as their skills, experiences, and preferences widely differ. Instead of one generation edging out another, weaving together the expertise of each makes for a stronger, more creative company. The how of becoming that more “gentelligent” leader can be found in this highly readable and optimistic book.
The Promises of Giants by John Amaechi OBE, Nicholas Brealey Publishing
It is difficult to discern why John Amaechi’s The Promises of Giants hits different, but it does. Perhaps the difference can be pinpointed in how he regards responsibility. We often repeat the leadership truism, “With great power comes great responsibility,” but do we ever really interrogate our understanding of what that responsibility entails? We may think of it as the need for decision-making, taking action, doing the heavy lifting, or being the one with their neck on the line. But Amaechi treats responsibility as something more essential—as caretaking, or maybe taking greater care. He might revise the truism to “Great power demands we take great care.” There is a danger, Amaechi says explicitly, in leaders who deny their power, who don’t respect their size. And when we take on the role of leader, our impact becomes giant-sized. To be a giant and not act accordingly is to risk harming others. When you are a giant, you can build someone up by the simple act of giving an employee 100 percent of your attention. When you are a giant, you can shape someone’s future with your feedback. When you are a giant, you can knock someone down with a careless comment. When you are a giant, you can feel isolated and make yourself isolated in response. As you read Amaechi’s approachable and insightful book, ask yourself if you are ready to make and follow through on the requisite promises to yourself and those in your care.
Trauma to Triumph: A Roadmap for Leading Through Disruption (and Thriving on the Other Side) by Mark Goulston and Diana Hendel, HarperCollins Leadership
Think about that local restaurant just down the street from your house. You know the one. It’s your go-to place when friends come into town and you want to take them somewhere that is both inviting and impressive, where you can spend hours catching up without ever feeling pressed to leave, but also offers a creative menu and drink list that will have everyone raving after the meal. That place. And imagine what the owners and managers and employees all went through in March of 2020 when their customers went into lockdown and they were immediately plunged into survival mode. Change or die, indeed. Maybe your favorite restaurant made it. Maybe it pivoted to takeout options. Maybe it sold cocktail kits at a good margin. Maybe it added space for outdoor dining. But, most likely, it had to make cuts. In service, in employees, in the energy and ambience it offered. Most likely, everyone lost sleep. Some maybe lost hope. And everyone was, to some degree, left traumatized. In Trauma to Triumph, Mark Goulston and Diana Hendel explain how trauma is different from stress. Yes, we all get stressed, but there are times when something truly devastating happens and the people involved are imprinted with a trauma that cannot be solved or forgotten. In the case of co-author Diana Hendel, the devastating circumstance was a shooting at the hospital where she was CEO; for most of us, the devastation came in the form of COVID-19. Certainly, some people have been hurt more intimately or deeply than others, but a pandemic is defined by its spread and threat to all, and as such it has touched us all, reinventing our world in such an abrupt way as to leave a mark, a scar. Trauma to Triumph succinctly and practically alerts us to the gravity of the hurt that can be found as a result in every workplace if we but look. This slim book should be put in the hands of every restauranteur, every small business owner, every business leader of every business size, to bring awareness to the impact of the past two years—on their companies and on themselves—and offer strategies to repair the cracks so we become stronger in those places that have been mended.
Transformation in Times of Crisis by Nitin Rakesh and Jerry Wind, notionpress.com
There is some question about whether Winston Churchill actually said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste” but the saying has been credited to him, and many a person over the past two years has used the phrase to light a candle in the deep dark that has covered over us since the onset of Covid 19. Such optimism can be read as cold or even calculating, but because we are humans, and because we accept the harsh realities of the life cycle, we do know that out of tragedy can come beauty, and out of hard times can come growth. Yet, when you are in the middle of it? When all seems dark, or at least exhausting, and you can barely see your hand in front of your face, let alone know which strategy to choose in order to move your company forward or defend against further damage? Sometimes it really does come down to attitude, and Rakesh and Wind suggest transformation begins only when you change how you think about crisis. And if you see opportunities where others see limitations, then you can set a course of intentional change. Whether your business is up against the wall or struggling to get purchase, Transformation in Times of Crisis covers all the right business touchpoints—disruption, alignment, resilience, and execution—and offers a comprehensive methodology to help manage the crisis, locate opportunities, and anticipate and respond more quickly to the twists and turns of an endlessly unpredictable future until metamorphosis is achieved.