10 Must-Read Business Books for 2021

This list of book recommendations from Gartner experts helps business executives tackle a post-COVID-19 world, build more inclusive cultures and reimagine leadership.

Gartner experts return with a new list of must-read books for business leaders. Not surprisingly, this year’s recommendations reflect the many challenges thrust upon leaders and organizations in 2020 — from how to create inclusive leaders and top-performing cultures to what a post-pandemic world will look like. 

But we also have some surprise titles — on meritocracy and fungi — that offer a fresh but captivating take on how we live, think and lead. 

Happy reading. 

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake

Yes, fungus. Did you know that these often unappreciated organisms have the power to change minds, heal bodies and fix environmental disasters? This book takes readers on a remarkable journey of discovery, showing just how entangled our lives can be with fungi — from yeast to psychedelics to those that link together in a complex subterranean social network known as the “wood wide web” — and why fungi are key to understanding the planet we inhabit and the ways we think, feel and behave.

Recommended by Jay Heiser, Vice President Analyst, Gartner. Available for purchase on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World by Fareed Zakaria

Although it’s difficult to think beyond our current COVID-19 reality, this book wants you to do just that. It’s all about, “the world that is coming into being as a result of the pandemic and — more importantly — our responses to it.” Written as a set of 10 lessons, this timely read sounds off on the political, technological and economic implications of a post-pandemic world, from the quality of government to the rise of digital life.

As featured in the Gartner client research Top Books All Midsize Enterprise CIOs Should Read in 2021 [Gartner clients may read the full research here]. Available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  

The 5 Disciplines of Inclusive Leaders: Unleashing the Power of All of Us by Andrés T. Tapia and Alina Polonskaia

This recently published guide to inclusive leadership comes at a time when organizations are seeking to create more diverse, equitable and inclusive (DEI) cultures. The authors posit that for organizations to create such cultures, they must have inclusive leadership at all levels. They outline the five essential qualities, or disciplines, of inclusive leaders, based on a database of 3 million leadership assessments. And they then show readers how to use the disciplines to build organizations that are both structurally and behaviorally inclusive.

Recommended by Chris Steadley, Gartner Managing Vice President, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

The Accidental President and the Four Months That Changed The World by A.J. Baime

Get a front-row seat into the situation room as Harry S. Truman navigates his first 120 days as U.S. president, a role into which he was catapulted after the sudden death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Truman faced in short order many high-stakes challenges, from the development of the atomic bomb to the rise of the Cold War. Baime uses his experiences to examine leadership at the highest level and explore some of the most significant moments and decisions in world history.

Recommended by Jorge Lopez, Distinguished VP Analyst, Gartner. Available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights by Douglas Conant

Part manifesto, part practical manual, this book centers on six principles that Conant used to transform his professional journey after being fired without warning in 1984: Reach high, dig deep, lay the groundwork, design, build and reinforce. He has since held roles as CEO of the Campbell Soup Company and president of Nabisco Foods. Through various exercises, he helps leaders boost their leadership, navigate difficult situations and make meaningful change in their organizations.

As featured in the Gartner client research Top Books All Midsize Enterprise CIOs Should Read in 2021 [Gartner clients may read the full research here]. Available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

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The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle

The premise of this book is that culture isn’t something you are, it’s something you do. Yet many leaders don’t understand where “great culture” comes from, or how to build and sustain it. This book offers some concrete answers and advice by revealing what makes top-performing cultures so successful, including a special-ops military unit, a professional basketball team and a comedy troupe. Success, Coyle purports, can be pared down to three key skills: Building safety, sharing vulnerability and establishing purpose.

Recommended by Gene Alvarez, Distinguished Vice President Analyst, Gartner. Available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

The River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks

Evolution and creativity. Memory, consciousness and experience. Dr. Oliver Sacks, renowned author and professor of neurology, tackles these themes and more in this collection of 10 essays. The book’s strength lies in Sacks’ ability to make unexpected connections that compel readers to stop and think deeply about the associations between a wide-ranging number of topics — from the mental lives of plants and invertebrates to the malleability of our speed perception. An ideal read for leaders who want to cleanse their mental palate.

Recommended by Chris Howard, Gartner Distinguished VP Analyst and Chief of Research. Available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

The Technology Trap: Capital, Labor, and Power in the Age of Automation by Carl Benedikt Frey

This is a must-read for those interested in the history of technology. From the Industrial Revolution to the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI), this book explores technological progress through the years and its effect on the distribution of economic and political power. But Frey isn’t just recounting history. He’s drawing on lessons from the past to highlight how and why our views on and interactions with technology (resistance, adoption) shape the way that technology impacts our society. With the use of AI, blockchain and emerging tech on the rise, leaders should take note.

Recommended by Rajesh Kandaswamy, Gartner Vice President Analyst. Available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? by Michael Sandel

Can anyone, as the saying goes, “make it if you try”? Is your success your own doing? Harvard philosophy professor Sandel argues that both are an illusion, one that has resulted in rising inequality, is at the heart of today’s societal tensions and is corroding the common good. He offers instead another way of thinking about success, which includes reassessing the role of college and the dignity of work. Published in August 2020, this book also examines meritocracy in light of the pandemic and is well-suited for leaders looking to increase their understanding of the role of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace.

Recommended by Frank Buytendijk, Distinguished VP Analyst, Gartner. Available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson

If you think the best ideas are born from “eureka” moments, you’re wrong. Or so says author Johnson. He believes that innovative ideas are built from a collection of existing ideas stitched together to form something new. Readers will learn the seven patterns of genuine innovation and gain insight into how some of the most interesting business breakthroughs (without the consultant speak) came to be. For leaders looking to spark innovative ideas, the secret is, according to Johnson, “to build information networks that allow hunches to persist and disperse and recombine.”

Recommended by Chris Howard, Gartner Distinguished VP Analyst and Chief of Research. Available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

And don’t forget to check out these Gartner books

The Real Business of Blockchain by David Furlonger and Christophe Uzureau

This engaging and accessible read is not just for IT leaders. It’s for all business leaders, whatever their level of experience with blockchain. Gartner analysts Furlonger and Uzureau created this practical guide to help executives assess how blockchain will impact their business, explore blockchain’s value proposition, make smart near- and midterm investments — and learn to cut through the blockchain hype to focus on the core value proposition that the emerging tech can unlock. Learn more. Available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

The Connector Manager: Why Some Leaders Build Exceptional Talent — and Others Don’t by Jaime Roca and Sari Wilde

Of the four types of managers, which one are you? Gartner experts Roca and Wilde explain the four types and why a Gartner multiyear study of thousands of employees, managers and senior leaders from around the world found Connector managers — who boost performance by 26% — to be the star performers. Learn what they do differently and why their approach has an outsized positive impact on employee performance. Learn more. Available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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