Books are great coaches. As we navigate working from home, it is important to remember that quality mentorship and coaching can continue from your kitchen table through books. 

Here are five books to read in 2021 to improve your writing, communication, leadership, strategic thinking, and team management skills. 

HBR Better Business Writing, by Bryan Garner

I learned a new tidbit from the latest book I pulled #frommyofficebookshelf. In Harvard Business Review’s “Better Business Writing,” the author, Bryan Garner, advises you to read one article out loud every day. Read it and deliver the words as if you were a newscaster. In doing so, you will pay closer attention to an author’s use of tone, voice, sentence variation, and crescendo, thereby influencing how you write the next time you put pen to paper. 

Who should read this? Anyone who writes emails.

What is it about? How to transition from academic writing (especially for recent college grads) to sophisticated, clear, and convincing business writing. Garner provides examples for improving letters, presentations, memos, etc. The book’s appendix is also a great “quick hits” guide to tricky grammar questions you are always asking yourself.

How did this end up on my office bookshelf? After re-reading E.B. White’s “Elements of Style,” I was eager for more insight into business writing and came across Garner’s book while browsing the bookstore at the airport in late 2019 — a great impulse purchase during a flight delay!

Detonate, by Geoff Tuff & Steven Goldbach

I started reading Detonate by Geoff Tuff & Steven Goldbach as I began evaluating and reconstructing crisis response playbooks, content calendars, etc., in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and *wow* did this timing work out great for me. 

Who should read this? Managers.

What is it about? Why best practices can become the enemy if they are overused. Why creative thinking should be valued more than following processes. Why plans that are married to calendars can be paralyzing in times of crisis. And ultimately, in our current context, how companies can “detonate” existing rules of the road and redefine what the future means — because no one has experienced the COVID-19 pandemic before.

How did this end up on my office bookshelf? My chief marketing officer gave Detonate to each member of our marketing team to expand our thinking and to spark creative thinking around new pathways and processes. Mission accomplished. 

Becoming, by Michelle Obama

In April 2020, Netflix and Higher Ground Productions announced the release of “Becoming,” a docuseries that follows former First Lady Michelle Obama during her “Becoming” book tour. We all know we should read the book before watching the movie or series — “Becoming” undoubtedly is one you should read before you watch.

Who should read this? Leaders. Politicos. Fans of the West Wing. 

What is it about? Michelle Obama’s life. She shares her childhood successes and hardships, career wins and woes, and how she started her own family. The tail-end of the book is centered on the Obama White House. I learned a tremendous amount about how the White House functions from this book. I chose to read “Becoming” to learn about leadership, all politics aside. This book has inspired me to learn more about First Ladies; more biographies and memoirs will make their way to my office bookshelf in the coming months. 

How did this end up on my office bookshelf? I joined a women’s information network focused on leadership, and our first session featured a book discussion on “Becoming.” I listened to it on audible (Michelle Obama won a Grammy award for her audio recording of the book) and would highly recommend the audiobook. 

Talking to Strangers, by Malcolm Gladwell

The turmoil and struggles, happiness and joy we experience as a society can sometimes hinge on how we speak to someone we don’t know. This concept is the focus of Malcolm Gladwell’s “Talking to Strangers.”  

Who should read this? Everyone, especially people interested in sociology and psychology.

What is it about? Gladwell explores how assumptions, miscommunications, and impulsive actions impacted current events and reshaped the world we know. Importantly, Gladwell identifies the inflection point where a breakdown occurred and how we as individuals, and as a society, can do better in the future. It is a timely read for the world we live in today.

How did this end up on my office bookshelf? By recommendation from my marketing colleague during a Zoom team-building exercise where we shared our favorite books.

Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown 

I started 2021 with a short, powerful book to reflect on the past year and set my intentions for the year ahead: Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly.” 

Who should read this? Type-A personalities, managers, teachers

What is it about? The power of vulnerability in all aspects of life. Brown shares personal stories to exemplify situations where courage does not always mean doing hard things alone; sometimes, the most courageous thing we can do is ask for guidance or help. Brown identifies processes and pathways to challenge you to be the most authentic version of yourself and create stronger, more meaningful relationships. 

How did this end up on my office bookshelf? As I began sharing what I was reading, I received several recommendations for Brene Brown. I was drawn to “Daring Greatly” in particular because it felt like “coaching for the workplace and life.” As a former athlete, that resonated with me. I would recommend anything by Brown, including her Netflix special, which might bring you to tears!

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