Book List: Best Books on 21st Century Management and Leadership

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In 2007, Gary Hamel and Bill Breen challenged readers to look ahead a decade and think about what management will be like then. That was a challenging question, and Hamel and Breen described key issues and offered guiding principles. Naturally, viewed from a decade later, they got some of it wrong and some of it right.

If you have given little thought to how the world of management and leadership is changing, I suggest that you read their book: The Future of Management. You’ll get an excellent foundational understanding and the opportunity to see three companies that Breen and Hamel thought were exemplars of what was to come. The three are W.L. Gore, Whole Foods, and Google.

Here are my picks for the best books about how the way we work in organizations is changing.

Team of Teams

Team of Teams: New Rules for Engagement for A Complex World by General Stanley McChrystal and Tantum Collins is an excellent foundation for understanding the changes we face, and a good example of how one organization changed.

The book describes the difference between industrial age management and what we need to meet today’s challenges. It’s also an excellent description of how the Join Special Operations Task Force changed to defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Read Team of Teams for a lucid description of the critical issues and an organization’s success story. Click here to see my full review.

Science-fiction writer William Gibson said “The future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed.” That’s true of our workplaces. The following books are about places that are already doing “new management” things. They are the workplaces of the future today, soon there will be more like them.

Under New Management

David Burkus’ book, Under New Management: How Leading Organizations Are Upending Business as Usual, is about what companies already do for you to consider. Chapter titles include things like “Outlaw Email,” “Ditch Performance Appraisals,” and “Sabbaticals.” There’s lots more. You can see my full review here.

The next three books are about how three specific companies changed the way the people there work. I think the most striking thing about all of them is that they didn’t plan the specific changes. In each case, the workplace today results from an evolution over years, and sometimes decades. I list them in chronological order of publication.

The Seven-Day Weekend

Ricardo Semler took over an established industrial manufacturing company in the 1980s. Then, he stepped back and let the people working there change things bit by bit. The Seven-Day Weekend is about what happebed next. You can see my full review here.

Work Rules!

Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock is about how Google developed the practices it has today. It was one of the best books I read in 2015. You can see my full review here.


Powerful: Building A Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Patty McCord is about how the Netflix workplace culture developed over more than a decade. You can see my full review here.

What’s amazing is how so many of these companies are winding up with similar workplaces. Some of them, like W.L. Gore, Google, Whole Foods, and Netflix, could start with a clean slate. Others, Semco and the Joint Special Operations Task Force, had a lot of previous practice and tradition to overcome. This is just the beginning. We’re not done yet. Stay tuned.

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