8 Books for Your 2021 Summer Reading List

8 Books for Your 2021 Summer Reading List

“I am still learning,” is a quote attributed to Michelangelo on his 81st birthday.

Even those born with innate skills who achieve the highest levels of success in their fields can benefit from continuous development. If you’re looking for titles to add to your summer reading list to broaden yourself personally or professionally, we’ve gathered an array of new books for seasoned and emerging leaders alike.

1. Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant

What it’s about: Organizational psychologist Adam Grant is an expert on opening other people’s minds—and our own. As Wharton’s top-rated professor and the bestselling author of Originals and Give and Take, he makes it one of his guiding principles to argue like he’s right but listen like he’s wrong. With bold ideas and rigorous evidence, he investigates how we can embrace the joy of being wrong, bring nuance to charged conversations, and build schools, workplaces, and communities of lifelong learners.

Why pick it up: You’ll learn how an international debate champion wins arguments, a Black musician persuades white supremacists to abandon hate, a vaccine whisperer convinces concerned parents to immunize their children, and coaxing Yankees fans to root for the Red Sox. Think Again reveals that we don’t have to believe everything we think or internalize everything we feel. It’s an invitation to let go of views that are no longer serving us well and prize mental flexibility over foolish consistency. If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.


2. Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment by Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, and Cass R. Sunstein

What it’s about: Imagine that two doctors in the same city give different diagnoses to identical patients—or that two judges in the same courthouse give markedly different sentences to people who have committed the same crime. Suppose that different interviewers at the same firm make different decisions about indistinguishable job applicants—or that when a company is handling customer complaints, the resolution depends on who happens to answer the phone. Now imagine that the same doctor, the same judge, the same interviewer, or the same customer service agent makes different decisions depending on whether it is morning or afternoon, or Monday rather than Wednesday. These are examples of noise: variability in judgments that should be identical.

Why pick it up: In Noise, Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, and Cass R. Sunstein show the detrimental effects of noise in many fields, including medicine, law, economic forecasting, forensic science, bail, child protection, strategy, performance reviews, and personnel selection. Wherever there is judgment, there is noise. Yet, most of the time, individuals and organizations alike are unaware of it. They neglect noise. With a few simple remedies, people can reduce both noise and bias, and so make far better decisions.


3. Humor, Seriously: Why Humor Is a Secret Weapon In Business and Life by Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas

What it’s about: There exists a mistaken belief in today’s corporate world: that we have to be serious all the time in order to be taken seriously. But the research tells a different story: that humor can be one of the most powerful tools we have for accomplishing serious things. Studies show that humor makes us appear more competent and confident, strengthens relationships, unlocks creativity, and boosts our resilience during difficult times. Plus, it fends off a permanent and unsightly frown known as “resting boss face.” That’s why Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas teach the popular course Humor: Serious Business at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where they help some of the world’s most hard-driving, blazer-wearing business minds build levity into their organizations and lives.

Why pick it up: Aaker and Bagdonas unpack the theory and application of humor: what makes something funny and how to mine your life for material. They show how to use humor to make a strong first impression, deliver difficult feedback, persuade and motivate others, and foster cultures where levity and creativity can thrive—not to mention, how to keep it appropriate and recover if you cross a line.

4. The Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis

What it’s about: The people you will meet in these pages are as fascinating as they are unexpected. A thirteen-year-old girl’s science project on transmission of an airborne pathogen develops into a very grown-up model of disease control. A local public health officer uses her worm’s-eye view to see what the CDC misses, and reveals great truths about American society. A secret team of dissenting doctors, nicknamed the Wolverines, has everything necessary to fight the pandemic: brilliant backgrounds, world class labs, prior experience with the pandemic scares of bird flu and swine flu…everything, that is, except official permission to implement their work.

Why pick it up: Michael Lewis is not shy about calling these people heroes for their refusal to follow directives that they know to be based on misinformation and bad science. Even the internet, as crucial as it is to their exchange of ideas, poses a risk to them. They never know for sure who else might be listening in.


5. Dear Bob . . . Bob Hope’s Wartime Correspondence with the G.I.s of World War II by Martha Bolton and Linda Hope

What it’s about: For five decades, comedian, actor, singer, dancer, and entertainer Bob Hope (1903–2003) traveled the world performing before American and Allied troops and putting on morale-boosting USO shows. Dear Bob tells the story of Hope’s remarkable service to the fighting men and women of World War II, collecting personal letters, postcards, packages, and more sent back and forth among Hope and the troops and their loved ones back home.

Soldiers, nurses, wives, and parents shared their innermost thoughts, swapped jokes, and commiserated with the “G.I.s’ best friend” about war, sacrifice, lonely days, and worrisome, silent nights. The Entertainer of the Century performed for millions of soldiers in person, in films, and over the radio. He visited them in the hospitals and became not just a pal but their link to home.

Why pick it up: This unforgettable collection of letters and images, many of which remained in Hope’s personal files throughout his life and now reside at the Library of Congress, capture a personal side of both writer and recipient in a very special and often-emotional way. This volume heralds the voices of those servicemen and women and will remind you of the sacrifices made by the Silent Generation—some of whom you may still be lucky enough to have among your workforce.


6. Notes on Grief by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

What it’s about: Notes on Grief is an exquisite work of meditation, remembrance, and hope, written in the wake of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s beloved father’s death in the summer of 2020. As the COVID-19 pandemic raged around the world, and kept Adichie and her family members separated from one another, her father succumbed unexpectedly to complications of kidney failure.

Expanding on her original New Yorker piece, Adichie shares how this loss shook her to her core. She writes about being one of the millions of people grieving this year; about the familial and cultural dimensions of grief and also about the loneliness and anger that are unavoidable in it. With signature precision of language, and glittering, devastating detail on the page—and never without touches of rich, honest humor—Adichie weaves together her own experience of her father’s death with threads of his life story, from his remarkable survival during the Biafran war, through a long career as a statistics professor, into the days of the pandemic in which he’d stay connected with his children and grandchildren over video chat from the family home in Abba, Nigeria.

Why pick it up: In the compact format of We Should All Be Feminists and Dear Ijeawele, Adichie delivers a gem of a book—a book that fundamentally connects us to one another as it probes one of the most universal human experiences. Notes on Grief is a book for this moment—a work readers will treasure and share now more than ever—and yet will prove durable and timeless, an indispensable addition to Adichie’s canon.

7. Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything by BJ Fogg, PhD

What it’s about: A habit expert from Stanford University shares his breakthrough method for building habits quickly and easily. With Tiny Habits you’ll increase productivity by tapping into positive emotions to create a happier and healthier life. Dr. Fogg’s new and extremely practical method picks up where Atomic Habits left off.

Why pick it up: Based on twenty years of research and Fogg’s experience coaching more than 40,000 people, Tiny Habits cracks the code of habit formation. With breakthrough discoveries in every chapter, you’ll learn the simplest proven ways to transform your life. Fogg shows you how to feel good about your successes instead of bad about your failures.

8. The Best of Outside: The First 20 Years by the Editors of Outside Magazine

What it’s about: The man-eating proclivities of Komodo dragons. The complicated art of being a cowgirl. A picaresque ramble with a merry band of tree-cleaners. The big wave crusaders of the world’s best surfers. For the past twenty years, Outside magazine has set the standard for original and engaging reports on travel, adventure, sports, and the environment. Its 30 articles from the eponymous magazine’s 1977-1997 heyday showcase some of the best adventure writers, literary journalists and essayists of the 20th century.

Why pick it up: The Best of Outside represents the finest the award-winning magazine has to offer: thirty stories that range from high action to high comedy.  Whether it’s Jonathan Raban sailing the open sea, Susan Orlean celebrating Spain’s first female bullfighter, or Jim Harrison taking the wheel on a cross-country road trip, each piece can be characterized in a word: unforgettable.  Commemorating Outside magazine’s twentieth anniversary, this book is one of the most entertaining and provocative anthologies of the decade.

Question: What books are on your reading list this summer?

Download the infographic 8 Books for Your 2021 Summer Reading List and enjoy your summer reading!


Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, subscribe to receive CEE News!

5 Fresh Titles to Add to Your DEI Library

5 Fresh Titles to Add to Your DEI Library

No matter who we are or where we come from, our assumptions and beliefs are shaped by our experiences, our upbringing, our race, our gender, religion, culture. Those beliefs help us navigate and make sense of everyday life. But they can also mean that we believe that there is no difference between our perceptions and reality. For leaders, that means we must continuously question our perceptions of reality and value the voices of people who are not like us. Here are five new titles to add to your Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) library.

1. Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong

What it’s about: Poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong fearlessly and provocatively blends memoir, cultural criticism, and history to expose fresh truths about racialized consciousness in America. Part memoir and part cultural criticism, this collection is vulnerable, humorous, and provocative—and its relentless and riveting pursuit of vital questions around family and friendship, art and politics, identity and individuality, will change the way you think about our world.


2. Dragged Off: Refusing to Give Up My Seat on the Way to the American Dream by Dr. David Anh Dao

What it’s about: Dr. David Dao was dragged off United Express Flight 3411 on April 9, 2017, after refusing to give up his seat. In the tradition of contemporary immigrant stories comes a personal narrative of the many small but significant acts of racial discrimination faced on the way to the American Dream. A result of an overbooking overlook, security officials forcibly removed Dr. Dao after refusing to give up his seat. He awoke in the hospital to a concussion, a broken nose, several broken teeth, and worldwide attention. This is his story.


3. Yellow Bird: Oil, Murder, and a Woman’s Search for Justice in Indian Country by Sierra Crane Murdoch

What it’s about: When Sierra Crane Murdoch and Lissa Yellow Bird first met at Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota, Lissa was knee deep into an investigation of a missing man, an oil worker. Oil had changed the reservation while Lissa had been away from it, and it was the oil boom’s effect that brought Murdoch, a journalist for High Country News, to Fort Berthold. Soon, though, Murdoch turned her own investigation to Lissa herself, and the two became allies, each intent on finding the truth and exposing it, as expansive, complicated, nuanced and multi-layered as it might be.


4. Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America by Laila Lalami

What it’s about: This is the first nonfiction book by Laila Lalami, a Moroccan-born novelist who writes searingly about outsiders. Lalami movingly chronicles her own journey from optimistic, naturalized American to post-Sept. 11 “conditional citizen” repeatedly scrutinized as an immigrant, an Arab, a Muslim. In one scene, she describes a “white woman in a blue pantsuit” at one of her book readings pressing her on ISIS, as if “I was a specimen, culled from a group of people these readers found mysterious and perhaps dangerous.” Conditional citizens, Lalami writes, are those who cannot dissent without their patriotism being questioned, who cannot move freely, who are jailed without cause.


5. Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine

What it’s about: The title, says it all. Just Us is a collection of essays, photos, poems and conversations that poet Claudia Rankine has been having with friends and strangers about race. While Americans gather in demographic silos with a wink (“it’s just us, we can speak honestly here”) Rankine, who is Black, invites us all to join in “An American Conversation.” It’s a tough, heartfelt and worthy exercise.

Bottom line. To lead effectively today, you need to constantly recalibrate your ability to assess reality. Exercise your diversity and inclusion muscles by building your library of resources that challenge your perceptions as a human being and as a leader.

Question: What books have you read recently that helped expand your cultural awareness?


Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, subscribe to receive CEE News!

7 of Our Favorite TED Talks in Honor of Women’s History Month

7 of Our Favorite TED Talks in Honor of Women’s History Month

Since 1987, March has been designated as Women’s History Month. This year, we are sharing some of the top TED Talks given by women leaders from a gamut of backgrounds. These women use humor, vulnerability, and wisdom to claim permission to step into power, validate women’s experiences, and change the world with their stories.

Here’s a look at seven of our favorite TED Talks from remarkable women around the globe.

No alt text provided for this image

1. Africa is a Sleeping Giant – I’m Trying to Wake it UpbyAdeola Fayehun

About the speaker: Adeola Fayehun is a Nigerian journalist and political satirist who focuses on geopolitical, social and economic issues affecting Africans. She hosts a satirical news show on YouTube called Keeping It Real with Adeola, produced and published on the “Adeola Fayehun” YouTube channel. Previously, she worked for  SaharaTV.

What her talk is about: Follow along as she roasts corrupt African officials and shows why the continent already has all it needs to take its rightful place on the world stage — if only leaders would start taking responsibility.

No alt text provided for this image

2. How to Fix a Broken School? Lead fearlessly. Love hard.by Linda Cliatt-Wayman

About the speaker: Linda Cliatt-Wayman is a renowned education leader with an unwavering belief in the potential of all children. Cliatt-Wayman grew up in poverty in North Philadelphia, where she experienced firsthand the injustice perpetuated against poor students in their education. She vowed to dedicate her life to helping as many children escape poverty through education as she could.

What her talk is about: On her first day as principal at a failing high school in North Philadelphia, Cliatt-Wayman was determined to lay down the law. But she soon realized the job was more complex than she thought. With palpable passion, she shares the three principles that helped her turn around three schools labeled “low-performing and persistently dangerous.” Her fearless determination to lead — and to love the students, no matter what — is a model for leaders in all fields.

No alt text provided for this image

3. Three Ideas. Three Contradictions. Or Not?by Hannah Gadsby

About the speaker: Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby skewers the straight world’s dismissal and outright hostility toward the LGBTQ community in her stand-up sets, stage performances and television shows.

What her talk is about: Her groundbreaking Netflix special “Nanette” broke comedy. In a talk about truth and purpose, she shares three ideas and three contradictions. Or not.

No alt text provided for this image

4. The Legacy of Matriarchs in the Yukon First Nationsby Kluane Adamek

About the speaker: Kluane Adamek, she/her/hers (traditional name is “Aagé”), has served as the Assembly of First Nations Yukon Regional Chief since January 2018. She is a proud northerner and citizen of Kluane First Nation. Regional Chief Adamek belongs to the Dakl’aweidi (Killerwhale) Clan and comes from a diverse background with Tlingit, Southern Tutchone, German and Irish origins.

What her talk is about: In the Yukon First Nations, women lead. Generations of matriarchs have guided and directed the community by forging trade agreements, creating marriage alliances and ensuring business for all. Yukon Regional Chief Kluane Adamek urges others to follow in the legacy of her people by putting more women at the table and encouraging them to seek spaces where their perspectives can create the biggest impact for a better tomorrow.

No alt text provided for this image

5. The Lady Stripped Bareby Tracey Spicer

About the speaker: Tracey Spicer is a multiple award winning Australian author, journalist and broadcaster. In 2019 she was named the NSW Premier’s Woman of the Year, accepted the Sydney Peace Prize alongside Tarana Burke for the Me Too movement, and won the national award for Excellence in Women’s Leadership through Women & Leadership Australia.

What her talk is about: Tracey strips away her pulled-together look on stage as she strips back her daily routine and challenges us all to use our time more productively.

No alt text provided for this image

6. How I Stopped the Taliban from Shutting Down My Schoolby Sakena Yacoobi

About the speaker: Dr. Sakena Yacoobi is the CEO of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), which she founded in 1995 in response to the lack of education and health care that the Afghan people were facing after decades of war and strife. Since its founding, AIL has either directly or indirectly impacted the lives of millions of Afghans. 

What her talk is about: When the Taliban closed all the girls’ schools in Afghanistan, Sakena Yacoobi set up new schools, in secret, educating thousands of women and men. In this fierce, funny talk, she tells the jaw-dropping story of two times when she was threatened to stop teaching — and shares her vision for rebuilding her beloved country.

No alt text provided for this image

7. It’s Time for Women to Run for Officeby Halla Tómasdóttir

About the speaker: Tómasdóttir co-founded Audur Capital, one of few financial companies in Iceland to survive the financial meltdown in 2007. In 2016, responding to popular demand, she ran for president of Iceland. She was an unlikely candidate, with polls predicting one percent of the vote only 45 days before the election. A few weeks later, against all odds, she came in second, supported by 28% of Icelanders.

What her talk is about: With warmth and wit, Halla Tómasdóttir shares how she overcame media bias, changed the tone of the political debate and surprised her entire nation when she ran for president of Iceland — inspiring the next generation of leaders along the way. “What we see, we can be,” she says. “It matters that women run.” 

Question: Which of these remarkable women from around the world inspire you to be a better leader from where you are?


Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, subscribe to receive CEE News!

7 of the Best Leadership Books to Add to Your Wish List this Holiday Season

7 of the Best Leadership Books to Add to Your Wish List this Holiday Season

In a year marked by disruption and uncertainty, this holiday season is the perfect time to read and reflect. We’ve selected a list of seven titles – from nature to biographies, from history to current events and re-imagining capitalism itself – these works are original, enjoyable, and provocative.


No alt text provided for this image

1. Becoming Wild by Carl Safina

What it’s about: Safina, the ecologist and author of many books about animal behavior, delves into the world of chimpanzees, sperm whales and macaws to make a convincing argument that animals learn from one another and pass down culture in a way that will feel very familiar to us.

An excerpt: “Change is the only constant, true enough. Change that comes too rapidly, however, brings the end of adaptation, the end of the line. That is the message whispered to us by many extinct species who’d thrived but could not cope with change that hit too fast, bit too hard.



No alt text provided for this image

2. The Man Who Ran Washington – The Life and Times of James A. Baker III  by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser

What it’s about: This fascinating biography of the former secretary of state and consummate insider, who was once called “the most important unelected official since World War II,” reveals both Baker’s accomplishments and the compromises he had to make.

An excerpt: “Washington loves the ones who grease its gears. But history only remembers the ones who shift them,” the late Washington Post writer Marjorie Williams wrote of Baker. The man she profiled in the Post’s Style section upon his ascension to secretary of state in January 1989 was confident in this stature in the imperial capital at its twilight-of-the-Cold-War apogee, yet insecure enough to wake up each morning ready for battle to prove it. He represented the city’s ideal of itself, a relentless but nonetheless patrician competitor willing to drink a Scotch with his rivals after hours, an Ivy League country-clubber equally at home in tennis whites or toting a shotgun to a duck blind in predawn Texas.”

No alt text provided for this image

3. The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz byErik Larson

What it’s about: Larson’s account of Winston Churchill’s leadership during the 12 turbulent months from May 1940 to May 1941, when Britain stood alone and on the brink of defeat, is fresh, fast and deeply moving.

An excerpt: “Late that night Churchill lay in bed, alive with a thrilling sense of challenge and opportunity. ‘In my long political experience,’ he wrote, ‘I had held most of the great offices of State, but I readily admit that the post which had now fallen to me was the one I like the best.’ Coveting power for power’s sake was a ‘base’ pursuit, he wrote, adding, ‘But power in a national crisis, when a man believes he knows what orders should be given, is a blessing.’ He felt great relief. ‘At least I had the authority to give directions over the whole scene. I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial…Although impatient for the morning I slept soundly and had no need for cheering dreams. Facts are better than dreams.’

No alt text provided for this image

4. Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire by Rebecca Henderson

What it’s about: With the world both literally and metaphorically on fire right now, just about everyone is desperate to figure out how to save the situation, including capitalists. They might want to pick up this book by renowned Harvard professor Rebecca Henderson, which attempts to outline how making a profit can be reconciled with a healthier society and a healthier earth.

An excerpt: “I am convinced that we have a secret weapon. I spent twenty years of my life working with firms that were trying to transform themselves. I learned that having the right strategy was important, and that redesigning the organization was also critical. But mostly I learned that these were necessary but not sufficient conditions. The firms that mastered change were those that had a reason to do so: the ones that had a purpose greater than simply maximizing profits. People who believe that their work has a meaning beyond themselves can accomplish amazing things, and we have the opportunity to mobilize shared purpose at a global scale.”


No alt text provided for this image

5. The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

What it’s about: Cornejo Villavicencio was one of the first undocumented students to be accepted into Harvard University. In her captivating and evocative first book, she tells “the full story” of what that means — relying not just on her own experience but on interviews with immigrants across the country.

An excerpt: “This book is not a traditional nonfiction book. Names of persons have all been changed. Names of places have all been changed. Physical descriptions have all been changed. Or have they? I took notes by hand during interviews; after the legal review, I destroyed the notes. I chose not to use a recorder because I did not want to intimidate my subjects. Children of immigrants whose parents do not speak English learn how to interpret very young, and I honored that rite of passage and skill by translating the interviews on the spot. I approached translating the way a literary translator would approach translating a poem, not the way someone would approach translating a business letter. I hate the way journalists translate the words of Spanish speakers in their stories. They transliterate, and make us sound dumb, like we all have a first-grade vocabulary.”


No alt text provided for this image

6. The Saddest Words: William Faulkner’s Civil War by Michael Gorra

What it’s about: Gorra’s complex and thought-provoking meditation on Faulkner is rich in insight, making the case for the novelist’s literary achievement and his historical value — as an unparalleled chronicler of slavery’s aftermath, and its damage to America’s psyche.

An excerpt: “Faulkner’s South seems as if it can’t forget anything. It accepts reunion only insofar as it can recall itself as a place apart, and yet that memory, paradoxically, is also a form of forgetting. For in the first decades after the war the white South remembered its defeat above all; it saw itself as the victim of a rapacious conqueror, forgot its own acts of aggression and indeed atrocity, and thought of slavery only as something now lost. And the white North had its own ways of forgetting too….”

No alt text provided for this image

7. A Promised Land by Barack Obama

What it’s about: The former president’s memoir — the first of two volumes — is a pleasure to read, the prose gorgeous, the detail granular and vivid. From Southeast Asia to a forgotten school in South Carolina, he evokes the sense of place with a light but sure hand. His focus is more political than personal, but when he does write about his family it is with a beauty close to nostalgia.

An excerpt: “What I can say for certain is that I’m not yet ready to abandon the possibility of America – not just for the sake of future generations of Americans but for all of humankind. For I’m convinced that the pandemic we’re currently living through is both a manifestation of and a mere interruption in the relentless march toward an interconnected world, one in which people and culture can’t help but collide. In that world – of global supply chains, instantaneous capital transfers, social media, transnational terrorist networks, climate change, mass migration, and ever-increasing complexity – we will learn to live together, cooperate with one another, and recognize the dignity of others, or we will perish. And so the world watches America – the only great power in history made up of people from every corner of the planet, comprising every race and faith and cultural practice – to see if our experiment in democracy can work. To see if we can do what no other nation has ever done. To see if we can actually live up to the meaning of our creed.”

Question: What books are on your Christmas wish list this year?