The beginning of a new year is always a good time to be reconsidering ones’ reading list. With apologies to friends who have written terrific books on leadership and corporate social responsibility, the following are the five books (in alphabetical order) that I think social purpose leaders should be reading (or in some cases, re-reading) this year. Some of them are new, some are more vintage, but all of them have lessons for leaders that are not only worthwhile, but increasing important in our highly competitive and chaotic world.
Be Fearless: 5 Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose by Jean Case (2019)
Jean Case, the President of the Case Foundation, has expanded on the five “fearless” principles that have long been available on the Case Foundation website (Make big bets and make history; Be bold and take risks; Make failure matter; Reach beyond your bubble; and Let urgency conquer fear), weaving in success stories from individual and institutions who have made transformational breakthroughs in their lives. Case expertly crafts a must-read for leaders who are seeking an inspirational roadmap for change in today’s challenging climate.
Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg (2013)
Although this book was written primarily for women in the workplace, Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, tells how women are taught “appropriate behavior” at an early age, and these gender stereotypes are then reinforced throughout their lives becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy for many. Sandberg discusses the power of mentoring and sponsorship, the need to sit at the table and be heard, and the success that comes with speaking the truth – lessons that are applicable to both men and women in the workplace and in life. A powerful guide for leaders of all genders.
New Power: How Power Works in our Hyperconnected World and How to make it Work for You by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms (2018)
As described by the authors, old power works like a currency. It is held by a few, and once gained it is jealously guarded. It is closed, inaccessible and leader-driven. On the other hand, new power is like a current. It is made by many and is open, participatory and peer-driven. The goal of new power is not to hoard, but to channel it. New power models (think Airbnb, WeChat, Black Lives Matter, BuzzFeed, #MeToo and the Ice Bucket Challenge) are enabled by the activity of the crowd without whom the models are just empty vessels. In contrast, old power is enabled by what people and organizations own, know or control. What kind of power do you want to harness in 2019?
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (2012)
This fascinating book begins with the story of Rosa Parks who was said to be “timid and shy” but with the “courage of a lion.” Cain asserts that our lives are shaped by personality as strongly as they are by race and gender, and where we fall on the introvert to extrovert spectrum is the single most important aspect of our personalities. While Americans are often taught that to be great is to be bold, and that the ideal self is to be gregarious, there are at least a third of Americans that are introverted, and it is these more deliberate workers and leaders who can have mighty powers of concentration and who often are the ones who ask “what if” instead of “what is.”
Yours for the Asking: An Indispensable Guide to Fundraising and Management by Reynold Levy (2008)
Written primarily for nonprofit leaders who must raise money in order for their institutions to survive and thrive, this book is applicable to social entrepreneurs, community leaders or anyone who must raise capital to invest or deploy. Levy, who is the former president of such notable nonprofit organizations as Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the International Rescue Committee and the Robin Hood Foundation, outlines 28 lessons for successful fundraising, including my favorite, which is that “no” never means “no”; it means “now is not the time” or “less” or “have someone else ask me” or “craft your case more effectively.” Wise words for any leader who needs to ensure that his or her institution or movement is well-resourced and sustainable for the future.