The best books on leading during times of change

Russell Linden Author Of Loss and Discovery: What the Torah Can Teach Us about Leading Change
By Russell Linden

Who am I?

For over 35 years I’ve worked with managers and leaders who are trying to foster change – in their organizations and in themselves. Leading change is a messy business; it can discourage the best leaders. But in today’s disruptive environment, we have no choice. Change is an imperative, not an option. I’ve been fortunate in helping many leaders and groups – in government, business, and the nonprofit world – manage change successfully. There is no “secret sauce,” but there are proven methods and attitudes that can significantly improve our chances. I’m delighted to share them with you.

I wrote...

Loss and Discovery: What the Torah Can Teach Us about Leading Change

By Russell Linden,

Book cover of Loss and Discovery: What the Torah Can Teach Us about Leading Change

What is my book about?

This book offers guidance to professional and lay leaders on how to lead change during disruptive times. It explores Torah episodes, as well as numerous contemporary examples, all of which reveal important lessons on what to do and what not to do, when navigating today’s unpredictable and turbulent environment.

The book draws on biblical sources, leadership studies, neuropsychology, history, economics, and other fields that help leaders understand how to prepare for and implement change. It also includes insights from Abraham Lincoln, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Nelson Mandela, and Colin Powell, as well as change agents in religious communities, law enforcement, human services, and politics. The emphasis is on practical methods that leaders can begin using today.

The books I picked & why

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Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World

By Adam Grant,

Book cover of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World

Why this book?

Who would have thought that some of the world’s most original thinkers are procrastinators? Fail more often than most?  Aren’t highly motivated to achieve? Aren’t usually risk-takers?

Adam Grant dispels numerous myths about creative people. They aren’t usually high-wire risk-takers. Rather, they reduce their risk by observing those who are the first to produce something new, learn from their mistakes, and then offer their own, better version. What about procrastinating? A better word might be “incubating.” They ponder an idea and put it on the back burner of their minds, allowing the idea to develop over time. And, Grant points out, the fact that they don’t have high needs for continual achievement fosters creativity. How? A high achievement motivation is often accompanied by a fear of failure, which can dampen our creativity.

I’ve long been intrigued by people who look at the world through a different lens. Steve Jobs saw computers not only as powerful tools but also as great design opportunities. I love Adam Grant’s book because he shows that none of us needs to be a Steve Jobs (thank God!) to be original thinkers. I highly recommend this book because it demystifies what innovation is all about. We can all be “original” in our own ways.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

By Dan Heath, Chip Heath,

Book cover of Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

Why this book?

Imagine someone riding atop an elephant. What comes to mind: Fun? Disaster? A circus? For the Heath brothers, the “rider and elephant” is a metaphor for how two parts of our brains work. The rider is the rational side – it gathers data, analyzes situations, exercises judgment. The elephant is the emotional side – it sizes up opportunities and threats, shapes our reactions to change, stores memories and makes predictions. 

The authors show us how to use this knowledge to lead change in our organizations and in our own lives. When a change effort fails – say, we don’t follow through on our commitment to exercise – it’s usually the elephant’s fault. But the elephant has enormous strengths which can be tapped to ensure changes work. And our rider can help us figure out how to exploit the elephant’s gifts.

I’m interested in books that help us understand complex issues. And I can testify that leading change is complex with a capital C. The authors give us a model to lead change that’s easy to understand. For instance; our elephant is lazy and needs quick reinforcement. Big changes rarely provide immediate rewards. So, the Heath brothers emphasize the need to “shrink the change.” Break it into small chunks and celebrate when we achieve each one. The book is an easy read, with memorable stories and wise advice.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

By Angela Duckworth,

Book cover of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Why this book?

When famed tennis pro and coach Pancho Segura was asked why he chose to coach Jimmy Connors when he was a teenager (Connors wasn’t one of the top junior players), Segura said that Connors had more desire than any of the others. While he didn’t use the word “grit,” that’s what he meant. Grit, which Duckworth defines as a combination of passion and perseverance, is usually what separates high achievers from others in the same field. That’s based on her research with thousands of people, including school kids, pro football players, West Point cadets, and National Spelling Bee finalists. She includes numerous examples, advice on improving your grit (and that of your kids), and an assessment that shows how gritty you are. This book gives me hope. Success isn’t confined to those born with great genes and natural talent. Those help, as do loving parents and good fortune. But we can all push ourselves. And when we’re pushing in a field that we love, Duckworth shows how we can exceed in ways that will amaze us.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

By Daniel H. Pink,

Book cover of When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

Why this book?

Why a book about timing? Consider: If you need to have surgery, schedule it in the morning, because anesthesiologists are four times more likely to make mistakes at 4 p.m. than at 9 a.m. And you’re more likely to get infected in hospitals in the afternoon, in part because docs and nurses wash their hands less frequently in the afternoons. The author describes the “hidden pattern of everyday life,” and why beginnings and endings (of days, work projects, even life) tend to be more focused and positive, while midpoints often lack energy and focus. He also helps us learn how to use that knowledge to do everything from scheduling certain activities (and when to take breaks), to improving our relationships.

I’m fascinated by Daniel Pink’s book because he takes something that we sense – timing matters – and gives us a simple structure that helps us make important decisions in which timing is a critical factor. 

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

By Carol S. Dweck,

Book cover of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Why this book?

The author argues that some of us have “fixed mindsets” – we assume our abilities are established early on and can’t be changed or improved. Others have “growth mindsets,” and believe that abilities can be developed. Drawing from such fields as business, sports, the arts and education, she demonstrates how we can enhance our abilities and those of others. For instance:

Some years back a principal was named educator of the year. One of her innovations: she changed the grading system and replaced “Fs” with “Not yet.” It told the kids to keep trying because they could do better. Most of her school's struggling students - whose parents never finished high school - started to blossom. Many went on to college. The teachers focused on their potential for growth because they believed that kids’ abilities aren’t fixed. 

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we’re living in a tumultuous, disruptive world. One key to living with disruption is to become flexible and adaptive. I admire Dweck’s work because she shows us that our ability to adapt is related to our self concept. If we see ourselves as fixed – by genes, upbringing, etc. – we’ll have a helluva time adapting to change. We all need a growth mindset.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in change, creative thinking, and psychology?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about change, creative thinking, and psychology.

Change Explore 26 books about change
Creative Thinking Explore 11 books about creative thinking
Psychology Explore 246 books about psychology

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Compound Effect: Jumpstart Your Income, Your Life, Your Success, Change Your World: How Anyone, Anywhere Can Make a Difference, and A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future if you like this list.