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7 books to help you be a better leader in 2020

These seven books that will help you take a critical look at your own company’s culture.

7 books to help you be a better leader in 2020
[Photo: Sincerely Media/Unsplash; LYCS Architecture/Unsplash]

In 2019, we’ve seen more than a few companies—and leaders—take a hit for imbuing their work culture with questionable practices, from WeWork cofounder Adam Neumann’s propensity for private jets and free-flowing alcohol to the around-the-clock work ethic endorsed by former Away CEO Steph Korey.

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Sometimes, the problems start with founders and executives who neglect to focus on company culture early on. In other cases, companies struggle to maintain their culture across departments and managers as their headcount grows.

If being a more conscientious, thoughtful leader is a priority for you, it’s important to both seek out advice and take stock of where other companies have gone wrong. Here are seven books that will help you take a critical look at your own company’s culture:

Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber by Mike Isaac

Think of this as a cautionary tale—the result of not taking company culture seriously from day one. In this book, New York Times reporter Mike Isaac, who reported extensively on Uber, digs into the rise and fall of the ride-sharing company and its controversial founder and former CEO.

She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey

Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the Times reporters behind the Harvey Weinstein exposé, walk readers through the winding investigation that unearthed decades of sexual harassment and assault allegations against Weinstein. One of the most notable takeaways is how employees at the Weinstein Company—along with others in Weinstein’s orbit—helped keep the allegations secret by negotiating confidential settlements for Weinstein’s victims. The book even calls out feminist lawyer Gloria Allred, who helped one woman settle with Weinstein.

Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall

The authors argue that many of the things companies hold to be true are, in fact, at odds with what employees actually want or need. They outline what they see as the nine “lies” that companies tell themselves, from “The best people are well-rounded” to “People care which company they work for.” The key issue, Goodall told Forbes, is that companies want to paint employees with a broad brush. “The fact that all of us are wonderfully and fascinatingly different—that the power of human nature is that each human’s nature is unique—poses all sorts of problems for busy leaders who are just trying to get things done.”

Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up by Jerry Colonna

Jerry Colonna is one of the most sought-after executive coaches in Silicon Valley, offering guidance to leaders like Gimlet Media CEO Alex Blumberg and former Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson. If you can’t make it onto his client list, this might be the next best thing. In Reboot, Colonna shares his own struggles with mental health—something he says many tech leaders grapple with as their career progresses—and argues that becoming a better leader starts with self-inquiry.

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Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott

Kim Scott, a former Google and Apple exec, recently published an updated edition of her book on the idea of “radical candor”—in essence, how managers can be honest with their employees without, well, being jerks. As Scott describes it: “Radical candor is humble, it’s helpful, it’s immediate, it’s in person—in private if it’s criticism and in public if it’s praise—and it doesn’t personalize.”

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried

Basecamp cofounder Jason Fried is the rare CEO who works no more than 40 hours a week (and encourages employees to do the same). He argues that it’s impossible to get everything done that he needs to get done, but that working longer hours wouldn’t change that.

The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You by Julie Zhuo

Julie Zhuo rose quickly through the ranks to become Facebook’s VP of product design. In this book, which is aimed at midlevel managers rather than CEO types, Zhuo shares her experience of becoming a manager at 25 and feeling ill-equipped for the role. Her biggest lesson? “Great managers are made, not born.”

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About the author

Pavithra Mohan is an assistant editor for Fast Company Digital. Her writing has previously been featured in Gizmodo and Popular Science magazine.

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