20 books that all leaders should read in 2020

leadership book education fiction non fiction learning reading literature

Themes range from problem-solving to happiness. Image: Unsplash/Markus Spiske

Adam Grant
Saul P. Steinberg Professor of Management and Psychology, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Organizational pyschologist at Wharton, Adam Grant, selects 20 books that could have a lasting impact on you this year
  • He says leaders who don't read don't make time to learn

I’m constantly surprised by the number of leaders and managers who say they’re too busy to read. Leaders who don't have time to read are leaders who don't make time to learn.

One of the typical complaints: "There are too many books out there, and most of them aren’t worth my time!" To take that excuse off the list, I spent part of my vacation poring over the new arrivals from leaders and thought leaders.

To kick off the decade, here are my top picks for books that have the potential to have a lasting impact on your thoughts and actions. The major themes: problem-solving, relationships, rhythms of work and life, identity, and happiness.

Leadership books 2020
Adam Grant has chosen 20 books to help influence leaders in 2020. Image: LinkedIn


1. Think Like a Rocket Scientist by Ozan Varol (April 14)

A rocket scientist turned law professor makes his dazzling debut. It’s an engrossing read that’s bursting with actionable insights for thinking differently about problems. Houston, this book has solutions.

2. What’s Your Problem? by Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg (March 17)

Structure is not the enemy of problem-solving; it’s actually a resource. An innovation expert presents a framework that that won’t just help you generate more creative ideas and make smarter decisions—it will teach you to see around corners.

3. Upstream by Dan Heath (March 3)

Now that you have a better handle on solving the problems, it’s time to learn how to prevent them from occurring in the first place. The coauthor of my all-time favorite book on change, Switch, has a real gift for finding captivating stories, using them to illustrate convincing evidence, and weaving them into useful models.

4. Clearer, Closer, Better by Emily Balcetis (February 25)

This eye-opening book, from a world-class NYU psychologist who studies vision and perception, is full of illuminating ideas and striking studies. It might change how you see what you see.

Have you read?


5. Together by Vivek Murthy (April 28)

As the U.S. Surgeon General appointed by President Obama, one of Vivek’s key contributions was to draw attention to the epidemic of loneliness that’s undermining mental health and social well-being. His long-awaited book examines the causes of loneliness and how we can overcome it by building community and connection.

6. Friendship by Lydia Denworth (January 28)

Friendships exist across cultures and centuries and even species. A popular science journalist explains why the bonds we form aren’t only enjoyable—they’re vital.

7. Social Chemistry by Marissa King (June)

When it comes to personal and professional networks, quantity is overrated and quality is underrated. A leading sociologist at Yale identifies three different approaches to improving the quality of your connections—expanding, brokering, and convening—and reveals how you can identify and adapt your style.

8. All You Have to Do Is Ask by Wayne Baker (January 14)

Wayne has taught me one of the most important lessons of my career: the biggest barrier to generosity is not that others are unwilling to give, but that we’re afraid to ask. As a University of Michigan sociologist who specializes in organizational networks, he shows how we can become more skilled at making requests and more comfortable with receiving help.

9. You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy (January 7)

If you’re like most people, you don’t listen as often or as well as you’d like. There’s no one better qualified than a talented journalist to introduce you to the right mindset and skillset—and this book does it with science and humor.

Rhythms of work and life

10. Tightrope by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (January 14)

The Pulitzer Prize-winning authors paint a painfully vivid portrait of the challenges facing rural America. Picking up where Hillbilly Elegy and Strangers in Their Own Land left off, they trace how public policies have hurt working-class families and ponder possibilities for change.

11. Life is in the Transitions by Bruce Feiler (May 12)

The changes in our lives are fraught with uncertainty but brimming with opportunity. As a journalist whose trade is collecting and sharing stories, Bruce provides the tools to rewrite your own.

12. The 4 Day Week by Andrew Barnes and Stephanie Jones (January 20)

The 5-day work week is an arbitrary human invention. A leading entrepreneur in New Zealand recognized that in many jobs, people can be just as productive—and more creative—working 4 days a week. Having transformed his company and ignited a global conversation about flexible work, Andrew offers a road map for reducing hours by 20% in your workplace.

13. Do Nothing by Celeste Headlee (March 10)

A powerful case that productivity is not an inherent virtue—if you’re not careful, it can become a vice. If you’ve ever felt compelled to work harder, this book by a longtime radio host and journalist is a clarion call to work smarter instead, because sometimes you accomplish more by doing less.

Identity and happiness

14. Weird by Olga Khazan (April 7)

If you’ve ever felt like an outsider or an oddball, you’ve experienced the downsides of being weird—but there are surprising upsides as well. The Atlantic writer has an impressive track record of shining a spotlight on the mysteries of human psychology, and as a Russian immigrant raised in West Texas, she knows firsthand that the very factors that prevent you from fitting in can eventually help you stand out.

15. Perfectly Confident by Don Moore (May 5)

In every decision you make and every goal you set, there are two easy ways to fail: having too little confidence and having too much. As a Berkeley psychologist, Don Moore has spent his career studying how to find the sweet spot, and his book is full of data-driven guidance for making more accurate assessments of your abilities and opportunities.

16. Joy at Work by Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein (April 7)

Finding joy at work isn’t magic—it takes work. But it might feel a bit more like play thanks to the practical tips from a professional organizer and a management professor at Rice.

Memoirs and autobiographies

17. Eat a Peach by David Chang (April 21)

The celebrated chef behind Momofuku and Ugly Delicious is bracingly honest and humble. His relentless quest for self-improvement and social contribution will leave you hungry to do more in your own life.

18. More Myself by Alicia Keys (March 31)

The award-winning musician, actor, producer, entrepreneur, and activist opens up about perfectionism, courage, privacy, and identity.

19. Powershift by Daymond John (March 10)

The Shark Tank star and FUBU founder shares lessons of experience on building reputations and relationships.

20. Rise by Lindsey Vonn (March 24)

On the heels of her retirement, the Olympic champion reflects on an epic career as the most decorated skier in American history.

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