5 Books That Predict The Future Of Workplace Leadership

These authors aren’t fortune-tellers, but their works can shed light on the future of leaders and workplaces.

Our long-enduring resistance to bringing the heart into workplace management dates as far back as the industrial revolution.

Traditional leadership theory espouses that workers should be treated like any other input: squeeze as much out of them as possible and pay them as little as possible.

This idea originated at a time when work was far less complex and people were more easily replaceable. Under a scenario like this, managers were taught to ignore the human aspect of employees—or heart—and to be indifferent to their needs. Companies motivated performance with pay, often the only reward workers received.

But today’s workers have greatly evolved in what they need and want in exchange for their work. It’s simply a stunning fact that pay now ranks fifth in importance to people as a driver of their engagement, loyalty, and productivity all around the world.

While pay, of course, will always be an important component of one’s employment, 21st-century employees have a deep desire to thrive in their jobs. They have a hunger to do meaningful work, to feel connected to an organization they respect, to grow, contribute, and to know at the end of every week that their efforts were appreciated and valued.

These five paradigm-breaking books clearly illustrate that the best way to inspire and motivate the highest levels of engagement in this century’s workers is through their hearts.


By Carolyn Dweck

The traditional view in business is that people are born with a fixed amount of intelligence and talent; individual capabilities are firmly set in stone.

This idea, what Stanford University professor, Carolyn Dweck, calls a “fixed mindset,” influences workplace managers to leverage employees who quickly display natural ability—and to invest little time and resources seeking to develop all the others.

But when Benjamin Bloom, eminent educational researcher, studied 120 outstanding achievers in numerous fields—world-class athletes, mathematicians, concert pianists—he discovered few of them were remarkable as children. They only revealed their capabilities once their training began in earnest.

Predicated on this and other remarkable research, Dweck disproves the long-enduring paradigm of human limitation. She writes that a person’s potential is “unknown and unknowable,” and regardless of talent, aptitude and IQ, people can greatly expand their abilities through effort, thoughtful coaching, and experience.


By Phil Jackson

Widely considered the greatest coach in NBA history, Phil Jackson won a record 11 championships—six with the Chicago Bulls and five with the Los Angeles Lakers—and led his teams to victory in over 70% of the games they played.

Knowing that many players had a tendency to get down when they weren’t scoring well—or when their team had fallen far behind—Jackson taught his teams mindfulness techniques and the importance of staying focused in the present moment.

Seeking to build a high degree of trust, he met with players individually and intentionally learned about their backgrounds and motivations. “I cared for them as a person,” he writes, “not just a basketball factotum.”

Highly influenced by a lifelong study of Zen Buddhism, native American practices, and classical Chinese philosophy—to name only a few of his ancient wisdom sources—he placed extraordinary emphasis on selfless teamwork and collaboration. He taught players that winning in any aspect of life is inextricably linked to personal character and inner strength. To this end, he openly sought to influence and motivate them spiritually.

“I can’t pretend to be an expert in leadership theory,” Jackson writes. “But what I do know is that the art of transforming a group of young, ambitious individuals into an integrated championship team is not a mechanistic (X’s and O’s) process.

“It’s a mysterious juggling act that requires not only a thorough knowledge of the time honored laws of the game, but also an open heart, a clear mind and a deep curiosity about the ways of the human spirit.”


By Tom Kelley and David Kelley

We don’t always think of creativity as being essential to leadership success, yet a recent IBM survey of more than 1,500 CEOs reports that its become the single most important competency in organizations today.

And few people know more about the creative process—the ability to produce something new in the world—than the two Kelley brothers.

David is a founder of Ideo, arguably the most influential design and innovation firm in the world, and head of Stanford University’s design school (“”). Tom is general manager of Ideo, the company that invented Apple’s first mouse and the Pringle potato chip, and has received 346 design awards since the firm was founded in 1991.

In a book that was written after David was diagnosed with terminal cancer and then miraculously recovered, the siblings were motivated to share their greatest insights into “design thinking.” Approaching their work from an intensely human perspective is the cornerstone of their uncommon process.

“We’re not suggesting that anyone base a career or run an organization solely on feeling, intuition, and inspiration,” the authors say. “But an over-reliance on the rational and analytical can be just as risky.”


By Michael D’Antonio & John Gerzema

The financial crisis that began in 2007 has had long-enduring impacts on most of our lives. As sobering examples, nearly 10 million people remain unemployed in the U.S. today, and one in five homeowners owe more on their homes than they’re worth.

According to best-selling author John Gerzema, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael D’Antonio, reflection on what caused this catastrophe has influenced our entire society to reassess what qualities are essential to leadership roles going forward.

The authors surveyed 64,000 people in 13 countries and discovered that “nearly two-thirds of people around the globe—including the majority of men—now feel the world would be a better place if men thought more like women (this is regardless of age, income, or nation).”

Of all the people surveyed, 81% said that, man or woman, you need both masculine and feminine traits to thrive in today’s world. “From this point of view,” say the authors, “an embrace of feminine qualities can be thought of as a competitive advantage, not unlike a breakthrough technology or major market insight.”


By Howard Schultz

At the height of the Great Recession, institutional investors hounded Starbucks founder and CEO, Howard Schultz, to eliminate health care benefits for all its full- and part-time workers. With a stock price at an all-time low and the coffee purveyor facing a truly ambiguous future, the move would save the company $250 million in annual expenses.

Instead, unlike many of his business peers, Schultz took the road less traveled.

He began his deliberations by asking himself what kind of company he’d be left with once employees no longer received a benefit that had consistently driven high engagement and loyalty. And a formative childhood experience also proved to hold great sway.

In a book that uses the word “heart” 33 times, Schultz explains why he ultimately decided to bet on his people as being the best means to enduring the financial crisis.

This post was first published on Fast Company.