Back To All Stories

10 of the best business books for summer to kickstart 2021

Pandemic year pushes soft skills to the top of the bestseller book lists to bring in a successful 2021


Disruptive mindset, critical thinking and psychological safety.

In this tumultuous year, we've handpicked the best business reads for 2020/21 for growing your people and meeting your challenges head-on.

Our Year in Review shares our own challenging journey, forcing us to apply many lessons from our speakers and authors, including those in our 2021 summer reading list.

Here's a quick-scan list of our Top 10 Business Books:

  • The Disruption Mindset by Charlene Li 
  • Leadership is Language by David Marquet
  • Upstream by Dan Heath 
  • The Motive by Patrick Lencioni
  • Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss
  • Fanocracy by David Meerman Scott and Reiko Scott 
  • Edge by Laura Huang
  • The Advice Trap by Michael Bungay Stanier
  • Women and Leadership by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
  • Bezonomics by Brian Dumaine 

Scroll down to read a brief overview of each book.

I've included just one key tip from each business book, but members of The Growth Faculty can watch a video or listen to the authors of our recommended business books summarise their book's key points .

  • As well, Annual Club or Premium members get an added professional learning boost with real-time virtual masterclasses included in their membership.

So, here's a brief overview of each of our Top 10 best holiday reads:

The Disruption Mindset by Charlene Li 

She's been named a Top 50 Leadership Innovator by Inc., and former Harvard student and entrepreneur Charlene Li's written 4 books including New York Times bestseller Open Leadership.

Lesson: Don't bury your head in the sand. Learn to view change as a positive force. Find ways to create a movement by drawing people to your cause.

Member video/podcast link to Charlene's interview here

Leadership is Language by David Marquet

The bestselling author of Turn the Ship Around is back with another book featuring a ship and a crew, but this time there's a terrible tragedy. And, different conversations between the members might have prevented it.

Lesson: Pay attention to share of voice. If there are 4 people and each person says 25% of the words spoken, you have a perfectly balanced share of voice..

Member video/podcast link to David's interview here

Upstream by Dan Heath 

The New York Times bestselling author of Made to Stick and Switch teaches us how to solve problems before they happen.

Lesson: The question is not "Can't someone fix this problem?" It is "Can we fix this problem?" Might you be unwittingly allowing problems to persist that you could help solve? Look upstream from the problem.

The Motive by Patrick Lencioni

Bestselling author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and presenter of our April 2021 virtual event Patrick Lencioni - The 4 Pillars of High-Performance Cultures looks at how your motivation for being a leader can make you or break you.

Lesson: Leaders who shirk hard conversations may be motivated to be the boss for all the wrong reasons. Difficult conversations are part and parcel of good leadership.

Member video/podcast link to Patrick's interview here

Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

Former FBI kidnapping negotiator, Chris Voss now runs the Black Swan group, offering negotiation skills and techniques to clients - including major corporations.

Lesson: Two primal urges drive human behaviour; the need to feel safe and secure, and the need to feel in control. Use a light and encouraging voice when negotiating, and mirror the other party's language.

Member video/podcast link to Chris's interview here

Fanocracy by David Meerman Scott and Reiko Scott

Neuroscientist Reiko and her father, marketing expert and bestselling author David, merge ideas to discuss how your business can grow a fan base – even if you’re a dentist or an insurance company. 

Lesson: People look for clues “This person is part of my tribe.” Video does it. So does sharing information about your hobbies & interests with staff and customers.

Member video/podcast link to David's interview here

Edge by Laura Huang

Harvard Business School associate professor Laura Huang was previously an assistant professor at the Wharton School, Uni of Pennsylvania. Here she looks at how you can turn advertisty to your advantage by using humour and guiding perceptions of people you meet.

Lesson: Creating an edge enables you to succeed within an imperfect system. You have power over your future.

Member video/podcast link to Laura's interview here

summer-business-book- reading-recommendations

The Advice Trap by Michael Bungay Stanier

In 2019, Bungay Stanier was named the #1 thought leader in coaching, and was shortlisted for the coaching prize by Thinkers50, the “Oscars of management”. He says we give advice out too often.

Lesson: We must tame our "advice monster" - when someone is talking resist the urge to interrupt with advice. Stay curious a little longer.

Member video/podcast link to Michael's interview here

Women and Leadership by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard is chair of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership. Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is an economist and international development expert, and Director-General of the World Trade Organization.

Lesson: There's no right way to be a woman leader. Consider if you want to plainly state your ambition and understand there may be consequences by doing so.

Member video/podcast link to Julia and Ngozi's interview here

Bezonomics by Brian Dumaine 

Amazon is changing our lives, and every businessperson in the world wants to know either how it does it, how they can do it, or how they can survive it..

Lesson: Customer obsession is the fuel for Amazon's flywheel business model. Sophisticated artificial intelligence spins the flywheel even faster. Amazon wants to be the smartest company in the world.

Member video/podcast link to Brian's here

And, if you want to work your way through some more great books in 2021, here are our picks from the past 3 years, and one lesson from each: 

Emotional Agility by Susan David 

Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan David said, in a chat with the Growth Faculty, "[If you] have the thought “I’m a fake”, notice it, and then choose to set it aside." 

Lesson: A thought as just a thought.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

The highly readable and hugely popular memoir of the former First Lady of the United States. 

Lesson: We must ask ourselves 'Who are we?' and 'Who do we want to become?'


Legacy by James Kerr

Like most New Zealanders, James Kerr wanted to be an All Black rugby player when he grew up. Instead, he studied their inner workings for 5 weeks and interviewed dozens of people before writing this book. 

Lesson:3 unique obsessions of the All Blacks: Deep humility, constant evolution, leaving a legacy (by contributing).



Indistractable by Nir Eyal

Former Stanford Graduate School of Business teacher Nir Eyal has taught how to get consumers hooked on products by understanding human behaviour. Now, he's teaching us how to "unhook" ourselves from those same products. 

Lesson: Realise that distraction comes from within.

This is Marketing by Seth Godin

Through his blog, Seth Godin is a daily inspiration for millions of entrepreneurs, marketers, leaders, and fans from all walks of life. Bestsellers include Permission Marketing, Purple Cow, and Tribes. 

Lesson: Marketing is the generous act of helping others become who they seek to become.



The Fearless Organisation by Amy Edmondson 

Most workplaces can be scary, explains Harvard professor Amy Edmondson, author of The Fearless Organization.  People are too afraid to speak up, and that wrecks the culture. 

Lesson: Workplace safety is paramount to team engagement and creativity. 


Fly! by Richard de Crespigny

Captain Richard de Crespigny became internationally famous overnight after a potentially disastrous explosion aboard QF32, the A380 he was flying in 2010.

Lesson: Ego is the enemy to teamwork. If the goal is safety, anyone in that team should be able to say stop. The nurse seeing a surgeon not washing their hands should say stop. That’s why only 50 people died in aviation in 2017 of the 4.5 billion passenger seats. Compare this to hospitals, he says, where accidents and errors are the third highest reason for death.

The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

Daniel Coyle is an award-winning, New York Times-bestselling author of books on leadership and performance, including The Talent Code. The Culture Code looks at the secrets of highly successful groups.

Lesson: It’s all about sending signals of real connection and safety. They’re called belonging cues. Successful groups send out a steady stream of signals that say we’re connected, we share a future, I care.

New Power by Jeremy Heimans And Henry Timms

Jeremy Heimans is an expert in mobilising people. He is co-founder of political movement GetUp! and now CEO of Purpose. New York based Jeremy is also the co-author of New Power, with UK-based Henry Timms.

Lesson: New power = current. Old power = currency.  Old Power is a currency. You collect, hoard, and spend it. Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein used old power to protect his position. New power is like a current – the #MeToo movement surges globally, but it can’t be hoarded, nor can one person control it. 

Contagious by Jonah Berger

Jonah Berger has been recognised with awards for both scholarship and teaching. He is the James G. Campbell assistant Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Lesson: If we’re going to share information, it has to make us look better. Research shows we don’t just share things we like, we share things that make us look good to our peers. It’s never ‘Hey look at me, I’m at the office working on an excel sheet.’

Hooked by Nir Eyal

Formerly in the gaming and advertising industries, Nir has brought together his research of user experience, behavioral economics, and neuroscience to become an expert in “behavioural design” and has taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Design School.

Lesson: Habits are a competitive advantage. Google versus Bing studies show if you strip out the branding, there is 50/50 usage of the browsers, yet 99% use Google. Why? It’s not the best product that wins, it’s the product that captures the monopoly of habit.

Radical Candor by Kim Scott

A former Google and Apple executive, Kim Scott is a CEO coach who now runs her own company, The company provides software and training to organisations to help create better bosses.

Lesson: Focus on guidance: giving it, receiving it, and encouraging it. Guidance, which is fundamentally just praise and criticism, is usually called “feedback,” but feedback is screechy and makes us want to put our hands over our ears. Guidance is something most of us long for.

See also: 10 Lessons from the Best Silicon Valley Bosses

Build An A Team by Whitney Johnson

Whitney Johsnon is a CEO adviser and the author of Disrupt Yourself. She's an expert on disruption and has been recognised by Thinkers50 and Fortune for her work.

Lesson: To build an "A" team, you have to disrupt your team. Humans are learning machines, we like to learn new things, and when we master them, we like to start all over again. A team feeling engaged and challenged at work is more likely to innovate. 

Blue Ocean Shift by W.Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne

W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne are Professors of Strategy at INSEAD, one of the world’s top business schools, and co-directors of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute in Fontainebleau, France.

Lesson: Shift from red oceans of bloody competition to blue oceans of new market space. Three key components are needed: having the right perspective, a clear roadmap with market-creating tools, and building people’s confidence at every level to drive and own the process.

Great at Work by Morten T. Hansen

Morten T. Hansen is a management professor at University of California, Berkeley. As well as Great at Work, he is the coauthor (with Jim Collins) of the New York Times bestseller Great by Choice.

Lesson: Passion is not enough. Top performers in Hansen's study did follow their passions. But as data showed, that wasn’t enough. In fact, some people who followed their passion exclusively ended up in misery. The best performers did something else: they infused both passion and a sense of purpose into their jobs.

Your Oxygen Mask First by Kevin Lawrence

Kevin Lawrence has worked with hundreds of CEOs over 20 years. He is a Coach Emeritus with Gazelles, and a key contributor to the book Scaling Up (mastering the Rockefeller Habits 2.0).

Lesson: Give up some control. A leader’s job, he says, is to train your team how to think for themselves. “Your ego loves to answer questions and solve problems, but you’re doing yourself and your team a major disservice if this is how you spend your days.”

When by Daniel Pink

Daniel H. Pink, the #1 bestselling author of Drive and To Sell Is Human,and When, a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, and Publishers Weekly bestseller.

Lesson: Answer emails quickly. If you want to be perceived as an effective manager, answer colleagues’ email promptly, since Pink's research shows e-mail response time is the single best predictor of whether employees are satisfied with their boss.

Daring Greatly and Dare to Lead by Dr. Brené Brown 

Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor who has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. Her speech on the subject is in the top 5 most downloaded TED talks.

Lesson: Power becomes infinite when we share it.  Effective leaders hold themselves accountable for recognising the potential in people and ideas, and developing that potential. It requires is a commitment to doing bold work, having tough conversations and showing up with our whole hearts.




If you'd like to increase your professional development why not consider becoming a member of The Growth Faculty? One membership, unlimited access to 30 live virtual Time For Transformation masterclasses and the best live virtual events - PLUS year-round leadership content On Demand with videos, podcasts and book summaries. Join a community of knowledge seekers who are inspired by the best. Access $4350+ value for just $398 AUD. See who's up next.