The best books for leaders who want to know how to lead in and for the future

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated with the future ever since I watched 2001 Space Odyssey. An amazing spaceship that could help us explore other planets! Then all that weird stuff about an A.I. gone crazy and apes banging sticks around monoliths. What the…? That curiosity smashed into a major concern at the age of fifteen on a canoe trip where I was trying to work out how to live and work closely with other humans - and failing. It turns out humans are crazy creatures. We love being together, and doing amazing things together, but that can be really hard. So leadership and the future fused into a lifelong passionate pursuit.

I wrote...

People Stuff: Beyond Personality Problems: an Advanced Handbook for Leadership

By Zoë Routh, Lynne Cazaly (illustrator),

Book cover of People Stuff: Beyond Personality Problems: an Advanced Handbook for Leadership

What is my book about?

Do people drive you nuts? Are silos and turf wars challenging the culture? People dynamics can be tricky. People Stuff is your map to the complex territory of human behaviour and leadership strategies. People Stuff looks beyond frustrating ‘personality clashes’ to uncover dynamics of human interactions at work. Avoid ineffective superficial solutions to complex problems. Perspective is power. We need to dive below the surface and see the patterns and systems that are creating the issues in the first place. People Stuff offers intuitive maps and frameworks to develop your practice of perspective. You’ll be able to see more and lead better.

Winner: Business Book of the Year, 2020 Australian Business Book Awards

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of What Could Go Right: Designing Our Ideal Future to Emerge from Continual Crises to a Thriving World

Zoë Routh Why did I love this book?

I absolutely loved the optimism and excitement of this book.

Justin unpacks six megatrends that will shape and affect every sector, all of which are leading to a more inclusive, equitable, and regenerative world. 

I cited this book at a recent event I ran called The Future of Leadership and one of the participants asked me why I was so positive about the trends that Justin featured.

"What about all the negatives and downsides?" I answered, "we go naturally to what could go wrong, it’s actually an effort to see what might go right," as the book title indicates.

But this book is not just a Pollyanna look at the future technologies, it’s a call to action for leaders to create the future we want by first imagining it.

When I interviewed Justin for my podcast, I was struck by how much foresight and deep thinking he brings to the challenging issues we face, and has the courage to imagine a better future.

The book is not just an expose of what is happening. The author includes suggestions for guiding principles of how we might craft the future of the economy, of education, of prisons, and of business.

It’s a high-level thought experiment that helps leaders map out the possibilities and the pathways.

Highly recommended.

By Justin Bean,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What Could Go Right as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What Could Go Right invites you to ditch cynicism about the future, and build the one you want.

Instead of worst-case scenarios or Pollyanna optimism, you can envision an ideal world and be empowered to build it. The opportunity of our era is to transition to a sustainable, equitable, abundant global economy. When you rethink your mindset, understand tech and social trends, and design a future you want to live in, you can thrive by building a better future for us all.

Packed with insights, tools, and ideas for what an ideal future might look like and how to build…

Book cover of The Rise of Technosocialism: How Inequality, AI and Climate Will Usher in a New World

Zoë Routh Why did I love this book?

This is a smart and broad analysis of global economies and cultures being affected by the collision of emerging technologies. 

What’s amazing about this book is its scope, its wry humour, and its balanced approach to solutions.

They showcase very well current global challenges: the pyramid of inequality, climate change chaos, tech trillionnaires taking over where governments leave huge holes, and the failure of capitalism to deliver on its promised golden land. 

It’s not just throwing rocks and wringing hands. The authors provide a pathway through that will mitigate the worst of these threats.

These include taxing robots and A.I. to provide a Universal Basic Income for the technologically displaced. It was the first time I have truly understood how UBI might actually work and be funded properly.

From a leadership point of view, some important shifts need to happen, and technology will pressure some of these to occur.

The shifts include expanding the purpose of business from making profits and going for growth, to a focus on more for all - a way of business doing well by doing good (because as they say, revolution due to inequality is bad for business).

I loved this book for its sweeping scope, balanced assessment, and practical suggestions of how our global societies might shift - for the better, and by doing so avoid the worst of what might happen.

It left me feeling optimistic and hopeful about our future and renewed my commitment to continue assisting leaders in thinking strategically about the future and how to skirt the threats while making the most of the opportunities. 

A must-read for big thinkers.

By Brett King, Richard Petty,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rise of Technosocialism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What is the impact of COVID-19 on world economies? If the cost of providing universal health care is lower than the cost of building a political movement to prevent it, would politicians still view it as socialism? In a world where algorithms and robots take the jobs of immigrants and citizens alike, are border controls an effective response? If unemployment skyrockets due to automation, would conservative governments rather battle long-term social unrest, or could they agree on something like universal basic income? When renewable energy sources are a fraction of the cost of coal generated electricity, should lobbyists be able…

Book cover of What's Our Problem? A Self-Help Book for Societies

Zoë Routh Why did I love this book?

This book had me laughing, smiling, nodding, cheering, approving in self-righteous affirmation of a dearly held opinion, shrinking in painful self-awareness, and weeping in despair.

Despair for how badly we tend to think of one another and how we are terrible at thinking critically.

Tim’s blog, Wait But Why, is a popular for the same reasons his book is awesome: an in-depth dive look at the foibles of human nature and societies. All illustrated with funny, charming stick figure drawings.

It’s not just quirky though. This book does an incredible job of unpacking the brain science of why we are fear-based animals in simple analogies and pointed stick-figure illustrations. 

His models show how we become enemies in spite of our best intentions: our fear-based primitive brains are wary of the unknown, and it takes effort to ‘go up the ladder’ and to think more openly and critically.

He points out that we need to avoid thought echo chambers and create conversational round tables that are great at throwing around ideas without getting too attached to them. It’s the difference between being an ‘enlightenment kid descendant' (able to think critically) and a narrow-minded ‘ideologue’. 

The best part from my point of view is that this is a wonderful showcase of the perils of later stages of leadership maturity. This is the individualist/pluralist/green stages of ego leadership maturity and values development.

This stage is characteristic of being inclusive, environmentally focused, and egalitarian, or ‘woke’ in critical terms. (Don’t worry, Tim also does a critical unpack of conservatism too).

The downside of this stage is that we can get very judgemental about others who are not as inclusive, tolerant, and politically correct.

In other words, we can be hypocritical and devalue and debase others who don’t think like us. This can lead to very toxic behaviours and situations. These can lead to autocracy just as much as blind conservatism can.

How to escape this? And this is where the glimmer of hope came in. We can interrogate our beliefs, be open and curious about them and others. We can commit to going up the critical thinking ladder and lean into exposing ideas on their merits rather than their tribal affiliations.

This is a very important book that will help leaders move forward in their humility and curiosity, and hopefully their wisdom and compassion. 

Highly recommended.

By Tim Urban,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked What's Our Problem? A Self-Help Book for Societies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the creator of the wildly popular blog Wait But Why, a fun and fascinating deep dive into what the hell is going on in our strange, unprecedented modern times.

Between 2013 and 2016, Tim Urban became one of the world's most popular bloggers, writing dozens of viral, long-form articles about everything from AI to colonizing Mars to procrastination. Then, he turned his attention to a new topic: the society around him. Why was everything such a mess? Why was everyone acting like such a baby? When did things get so tribal? Why do humans do this stuff?

This massive…

Book cover of The Future Normal: How We Will Live, Work and Thrive in the Next Decade

Zoë Routh Why did I love this book?

This was an inspiring and motivating book.

The case studies of leaders, businesses, government, and agencies implementing new technologies for the improvement of work, agriculture, nutrition, productivity, and the climate is amazing.

My favourite case study snapshot is of Vivobarefoot footwear brand that partners with algae technology startup Bloom and their patented BLOOM foam - which takes harmful algae blooms out of waterways.

Shoes made out of algae blooms. By making shoes, it’s actually making the environment better. This is the ‘beyond net zero’ promise and potential. So cool.

The authors offer provocative ‘what if…’ questions at the beginning and end of each chapter to help the reader explore what the trends mean and how they might affect their current leadership paradigm.

One of the most useful aspects of the book is the ‘industry playlist’ infographic at the back of the book. You can look up your own industry and see which of the meta trends might have the biggest impact on your sector. 

If you need an inspirational hit, with some deep thinking prompts, and quick insights into what is happening everywhere, then this is the leadership for the future book to get you kickstarted.

By Rohit Bhargava, Henry Coutinho-Mason,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Future Normal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a handbook for visionaries.

Making outlandish predictions about the future is easy. Predicting the future normal is far harder.

For the past decade, Rohit Bhargava and Henry Coutinho-Mason have been on the front lines of exploring the global forces shaping our future normal through their work independently leading two of the most successful trend consultancies in the world: TrendWatching and the Non-Obvious Company.

From donning full body haptic suits to sampling cultivated meat, their work has taken them into cutting-edge labs, private testing facilities, and invite-only showcases across the world. Now for the first time, they are teaming…

Book cover of GenTech: An American Story of Technology, Change and Who We Really Are

Zoë Routh Why did I love this book?

Who doesn’t love reading about themselves? 

Chromey has a whole different way of looking at generational differences. When I interviewed him on my podcast, he did a fair critique of the typical division of generations by arbitrary birth years.

Far more important, he says, is to look at the technology that shaped the environment, and hence the mindsets and attitudes of the people who adopted and used that technology as part of their growing up during their ‘coming of age’ years.

Huh. It’s obvious and makes complete sense to me. 

The book outlines the chief technologies that shaped attitudes: transportation-telephone, motion pictures, radio, vinyl, television, space, gamer, cable television, personal computer-cell phone, internet, iTech, robotics. And I’d add coming now - artificial intelligence.

On top of all that is the pattern of swinging between optimism and pessimism across the generations across a spring/summer/winter/autumn cyclical model. Very smart.

Chromey includes timeline of events and technologies for each generation, alongside iconic figures/entertainers/authors/artists.

Read this if you want to get a cultural and tech insight into the multiple generations you find in your life and work. Very fun!

By Rick Chromey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked GenTech as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Every twenty years a new generation rises, but who and what defines these generations? And could current generational tags mislead and miss the point? In this insightful analysis of technology history since 1900, Dr. Rick Chromey offers a fresh perspective for understanding what makes a generation tick and differ from others. Within GenTech, readers learn how every generation uniquely interacts with particular technologies that define historical temperament and personality and why current generational labels are more fluid than fixed, and more loopy than linear. Consequently, three major generational constellations emerge, each containing four, twenty-year generations that overlap, merge, and blend:…

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Book cover of The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever

Michael Bungay Stanier Author Of The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Coaching is a wonderful technology that can help people be a force for change… and is often wrapped up in mystic and woo-woo and privilege that makes it inaccessible and/or unattractive to too many. I want being more coach-like—by which I mean staying curious a little longer, and rushing to action and advice-giving—to be an everyday way of being with one another. Driven by this, I’ve written the best-selling book on coaching this century (The Coaching Habit) and have created training that’s been used around the world by more than a quarter of a million people. I’m on a mission to unweird coaching.

Michael's book list on unexpectedly useful books about coaching

What is my book about?

The coaching book that's for all of us, not just coaches.

It's the best-selling book on coaching this century, with 15k+ online reviews. Brené Brown calls it "a classic". Dan Pink said it was "essential".

It is practical, funny, and short, and "unweirds" coaching. Whether you're a parent, a teacher, a leader, or even a coach, you can stay curious longer.

By Michael Bungay Stanier,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Coaching Habit as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Look for Michael's new book, The Advice Trap, which focuses on taming your Advice Monster so you can stay curious a little longer and change the way you lead forever.

In Michael Bungay Stanier's The Coaching Habit, coaching becomes a regular, informal part of your day so managers and their teams can work less hard and have more impact.

Drawing on years of experience training more than 10,000 busy managers from around the globe in practical, everyday coaching skills, Bungay Stanier reveals how to unlock your peoples' potential. He unpacks seven essential coaching questions to demonstrate how-by saying less and…

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