10 leadership books to watch for in 2019

  • Need some motivation to kick off the new year at work by reading about how other inspiring leaders have shaped their careers or led complex teams?

    Need some motivation to kick off the new year at work by reading about how other inspiring leaders have shaped their careers or led complex teams? Getty Images

Posted1/13/2019 6:00 AM

Have you promised yourself you'll stop checking your phone every seconds and spend less time in useless meetings in 2019? Need some motivation to kick off the new year at work by reading about how other inspiring leaders have shaped their careers or led complex teams? We have some ideas. Below, 10 books to consider for your reading list in 2019.

1. "The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance" by Steven Rogelberg, expected Jan. 2.


If one of your New Year's resolutions is to spend less time sitting in or leading useless meetings, this book is for you. Rogelberg, a researcher who studies teamwork and meetings at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, offers evidence-based ideas for how long meetings should be (about 5 to 10 percent shorter in length than your initial estimate), how to make agendas more effective (move "status updates" to the end) and how to improve idea generation (consider a "silent reading" period for workers to consider a new proposal and then have a discussion rather than listen to a long presentation).

2. "Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World" by Cal Newport, expected Feb. 5.

A follow-up to Newport's first book ("Deep Work") on the digital communication distractions people experience at work, "Digital Minimalism" looks at the tyranny of online social media, mobile phones and technological interruptions in our personal lives. Newport, an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University who has written several books related to work, technology and study habits, suggests that people need to take more comprehensive steps than just, say, not keeping their phones by their beds at night. Instead, they need a "full-fledged philosophy of technological use," opting out of any optional online activities for 30 days and then slowly adding back the ones they need in a sustainable way.

3. "The Enlightened Capitalists: Cautionary Tales of Business Pioneers Who Tried to Do Well by Doing Good" by James O'Toole, expected Feb. 26.

O'Toole, an emeritus professor at the University of Southern California's business school, shares the stories of more than two dozen business entrepreneurs -- some famous, some little known -- who tried to incorporate socially responsible business practices into how they ran their companies. Yet the result is not a hagiography lauding the careers of these "enlightened capitalists," which includes everyone from chocolate magnate Milton Hershey to cosmetics and skin care founder Anita Roddick, but a cautionary look at how so many of their sustainable practices were cut short by bankruptcies, acquisitions or unwilling successors -- and what other executives can learn from them. At a time when more and more consumers expect business to benefit the greater good, the book is timely. It asks big questions like whether socially virtuous business tactics are actually compatible with shareholder capitalism, and, as he writes in the preface, what may matter most: Whether in the "collective judgment of corporate executives," executives actually "believe it is possible -- or sensible -- to try to do good as they seek to do well."

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4. "Why do so many incompetent men become leaders? (And how to fix it)" by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, expected March 12.

A provocative title that began life as a Harvard Business Review article -- and has grown to become one of the publication's most-read stories online -- this upcoming book looks at how to spot incompetent leaders and identify good ones, as well as why companies so often mix up the two. Chamorro-Premuzic, who is chief talent scientist at ManpowerGroup and teaches at University College London and Columbia University, explores "our inability to distinguish between confidence and competence," how narcissism affects the gender imbalance in leadership, the advantages he says women generally have with traits like emotional intelligence and how organizations can better evaluate potential and coach and develop leaders.

5. "First: Sandra Day O'Connor" by Evan Thomas, expected March 19.

Business leaders often turn to examples from history for inspiration -- bullet points from business consultants can only take people so far. For those readers, this biography of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor -- the first woman on the highest court -- by journalist Evan Thomas is unlikely to disappoint. Before joining the Court, O'Connor became the first female majority leader of a state senate and then served time as a judge on the Arizona State Court of Appeals. The book's synopsis suggests that it offers inspiration for "women and men who want to be leaders and be first in their own lives -- who want to learn when to walk away and when to stand their ground."

6. "Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries" by Safi Bahcall, expected March 19.


Bahcall, a physicist and biotech entrepreneur who worked on President Barack Obama's council of science advisers in 2011, uses the science of "phase transitions" to explain how teams or organizations with a mission begin rejecting wild new ideas and suggests ways to better nurture those crazy notions. Stanford professor Bob Sutton said in an email recommending the book that it is "sort of physics meets history meets innovation meets management and organizational design," as well as that Bahcall's "argument that structure is not appreciated enough and culture is appreciated too much is, I think, right."

7. "Nine Lies about Work: A Freethinking Leader's Guide to the Real World" by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, expected April 2.

Buckingham, the management guru whose books about finding your strengths at work have become best-sellers, and Goodall, an executive at Cisco, argue that several of the basic truths of the workplace today are not really true, but lies -- or at least distorted conventions, wrong assumptions or under-analyzed habits. Prompted by a Harvard Business Review article that condemned the traditional performance review, their upcoming book busts open and calls out ingrained ideas such as "people can reliably rate other people" and "people care which company they work for," making it a guide that could help you rethink your organization's thinking.

8. "The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World" by Melinda Gates, expected April 23.

Part memoir, part call to action, part profile of women she's met through her work as co-chair of the Gates Foundation, Gates' debut book is an inspirational look at the need to empower women to make change in the world. The book is organized by issue (family planning, education for girls, child marriage, women in the workplace), and Gates weaves in personal stories of her own life and tales of women she's met along the way to describe why lifting up women is the key to lasting change. As she writes in her introduction: "I quickly realized -because I was quickly told -- that it wasn't enough to speak up for family planning, or even for each of the issues I've just named. I had to speak up for women. And I soon saw that if we are going to take our place as equals with men, it won't come from winning our rights one by one or step by step; we'll win our rights in waves as we become empowered."

9. "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World" by David Epstein, expected May 28.

In a world where expertise feels less and less valued, it may seem heretical to suggest that generalists can win out over specialists. But Epstein, a ProPublica journalist and author of "The Sports Gene," which examined the nature vs. nurture debate on athletic performance, writes that in most fields -- especially complex and unpredictable ones -- generalists are better positioned to excel. Relying on scientific research, Epstein examined successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists for this study of performance, a reminder that having many interests, starting late and quitting frequently can have its value, too.

10. "Inside the Five-Sided Box: Lessons from a Lifetime of Leadership in the Pentagon" by Ash Carter, expected June 11.

This year will be full of autobiographies or books about American ideals, many of them leadership-themed, by potential presidential aspirants. Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has a book launching in February. Sen. Kamala D. Harris has a title coming this month. We didn't consider any of those for the list, but former Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter's memoir about his career and the leadership lessons from running the Pentagon seems worth a look, especially following the sudden departure of Jim Mattis from President Donald Trump's Cabinet. Carter, who served more than 35 years in the Department of Defense, draws on his career to describe what it takes to be the chief executive officer of a department that employs millions of people and manages one of the most complex organizations on earth.

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