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Best business books of 2021

By Verne Harnish

Leaders are readers, and if there’s ever been a time when outlearning your rivals has been essential, it’s right now. These five best new books of 2021, and two freshly updated editions of modern business classics, will help you tackle the Four Decisions every company must get right—People, Strategy, Execution and Cash—as you bob and weave your way through 2022

If you’ve started a book club for your team, be sure to add these books to your reading list. Divide and conquer—and report back to each other—so you can put what you learn to work for you ASAP. 

PEOPLE

Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger, and Multiply Your Impact:  Wiseman, Liz: 9780063063327: Amazon.com: Books

Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger and Multiply Your Impact by Liz Wiseman

Liz Wiseman, who got her start running Oracle University, wrote one of the most important books on getting the right leadership in place—the classic Multipliers. Now, in this era of hybrid work, a key task for most leaders is getting team members to lead themselves. Impact Players, the first book that really addresses how to be a great employee, will help your people do that, detailing the four ways every employee can be an “impact player” at work. As Wiseman shows, it has a lot more to do with your mental game than your ability or effort.

STRATEGY

The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time by Jim McKelvey

This book will light you up around strategy especially if you’re taking on Goliaths. McKelvey was a glassblower when—frustrated over losing a sale because he couldn’t accept AmEx cards—he joined forces with Jack Dorsey to start Square. They didn’t know they would have to break 17 laws to launch their startup in an immovable industry—or that once they went ahead and did it, Amazon would introduce a competing product and undercut them on prices. They won by taking a counterintuitive approach I won’t spoil by giving away—and by continuing to innovate, which they’ve done to this day at the newly renamed Block.

EXECUTION

The Heart of Business: Leadership Principles for the Next Era of Capitalism by Hubert Joly and Caroline Lambert

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The devil really is in the details as Joly—who turned around the troubled retailer Best Buy—shows in what I consider the best book on this year’s list. (He nudged aside some excellent runners up, including Michael Dell’s Play Nice But Win). Like Olympians who win by the 1/100ths of a second, CEOs need to get 100 different things right to execute on a strategy successfully, whether it’s by giving that strategy a name or reordering leadership meetings to start with critical intel from employees. In one of my favorite sections, Joly shows how Best Buy brings standard 4-type personality tests to life: Everyone meets in a gymnasium and walks to the box that corresponds to their personality type, giving everyone a visceral sense of the similarities and differences on the team. It’s been a long time since I read a business book cover-to-cover and highlighted almost every sentence, but in this case, I didn’t want to forget a word.

Buy Negotiate Without Fear (Strategies and To.. in Bulk

CASH

Negotiate without Fear: Strategies and Tools to Maximize Your Outcomes by Victoria Medvec

Most negotiating techniques work best when you never have to see the other party again. But playing hardball can backfire when you’re negotiating with people you hope to have a long-term relationship with: customers, suppliers, key staff and investors, to name a few. Medvec, a professor of management and organization at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, will show you how to maximize your outcomes while strengthening relationships by using smarter pricing strategies and other approaches you may not have considered. I’ve made and saved more money from Medvec’s advice than any other thought leader. Now you can do the same.

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

Peak Mind: Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes A Day by Amishi P. Jha

Distraction is the norm today, thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices and communication channels like Slack. Jha, a professor of psychology, stands out from the pack of authors offering new ways to regain your focus with her engaging style. Go straight to Chapter 3, Push-ups for the Mind, and you will be compelled to read the rest of the book (you’ve got to love the chapter titles: Press Record, Stay in Play and Feel the Burn are some of my favorites). There are things you can do in a few minutes that can have a dramatic effect on your ability to focus, including an ancient practice I encourage everyone to do. Read about it in Chapter 3 and then put it to work for you.

UPDATES

Influence, New and Expanded: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D

Cialdini’s classic book Influence was one of the top 10 business books of all time, with more than 5 million copies sold. It’s been decades since Cialdini revised his time-tested principles but now, in this revised book, he’s brought them up to date and added a seventh one—Unity—that he discovered through his research. The idea is that when you show other people you share an identity with them, whether that’s part of a group of sports fans or members of the same alumni network, it’s easier to find common ground and to influence them. If you’re looking to improve your sales in 2022, make sure this book is on your nightstand.

Teeming: How Nature's Oldest Teams Adapt and Thrive: Woolley-Barker, Tamsin:  9798985176001: Amazon.com: Books

Teeming 2.0: How Nature’s Oldest Teams Adapt and Thrive by Tamsin Woolley-Barker, Ph.D.

The most important book written for businesspeople this century, Dr. Woolley-Barker’s update of her original classic offers five principles, based in the natural world, for scaling any organization. This latest edition includes reworked sections on trust and sharing, two key principles for growth companies in 2022. As Dr. Woolley-Barker puts it, “the game of life isn’t played in a vacuum.” Learning from the 4 billion years of ancestors who have succeeded us—as well as the unicorn companies using these principles—can help you scale not just your company but your impact.

Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish is founder of the world-renowned Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and chaired for fifteen years EO’s premiere CEO program, the “Birthing of Giants” and WEO’s “Advanced Business” executive program both held at MIT. Founder and CEO of Gazelles, a global executive education and coaching company with over 150 coaching partners on six continents, Verne has spent the past three decades helping companies scale-up. The “Growth Guy” syndicated columnist, he’s also the Venture columnist for FORTUNE magazine. He’s the author of Scaling Up (Rockefeller Habits 2.0); Mastering the Rockefeller Habits; and along with the editors of Fortune, authored The Greatest Business Decisions of All Times," for which Jim Collins wrote the foreword. Verne also chairs FORTUNE Magazine’s annual Leadership and Growth Summits and serves on several boards including chairman of The Riordan Clinic and the newly launched Geoversity. He is an investor in many scale-ups. A father of four, he enjoys piano, tennis, and magic as a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.

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