Global CEOs, HR and marketing leaders share the books that have influenced them the most in 2021.

As another year comes to an end, it’s time to reflect on what we’ve learned, and also the people we’ve met who have had a positive influence on us in 2021. Although the world continued to deal with events of an unprecedented nature, one thing remained constant: our appetite for learning.

Book sales soared during the pandemic with a change in reading habits, periods of social restriction, and people reassessing their own careers all contributing.

With that in mind, we decided to reach out to a number of the leaders we interacted with this year and asked them to provide their must-read books of the year. We’ve got contributions from senior leaders and CEOs in companies with ten employees all the way up to workforces of 1000+. We’ve even thrown in contributions from the Workvivo team.

Our hope is that these books have as much of an impact on you, as they did for our contributors.

For now, find a nice quiet corner, kick back, and dust off the reading glasses. This is your list of must-reads from 2021.

1. Claude Silver – Chief Heart Officer at VaynerMedia

A Whole New Mind by Daniel H. Pink

Why I Chose This Book:

I read this book ten or twelve years ago and it was the first time I felt like I was reading a quote-unquote ‘business book’ that talked about creativity, right brain-left brain thinking, and how we need both in the workplace. It was really the first time I felt seen as much more of an empath and creative leader. That book made a big difference on me. Daniel Pink is incredible. Anything he writes is spot-on.

2. Scott McInnes – Founder at Inspiring Change

We, Me, Them & It - John Simmons

Why I Chose This Book:

I’m actually not a big fan of business books, I find them quite hard to read. I am, however, a huge supporter of tone of voice and organizations thinking about the words they use to help connect with people more. So ‘We, Me, Them & It’ by John Simmons is a really good book if you’re into tone of voice.

3. Gillian French – Expert In Residence – Employee Experience at Workvivo

Beyond Measure by Margaret Heffernan

Why I Chose This Book:

I love this book and have read it three times. It’s the type of book that you can read over and over and uncover another nugget of insight.

Margaret is a beautiful writer and her use of research and real life examples will keep readers engaged. The book is primarily about making small changes or steps that can have a big impact on an organization’s success. Small changes such as ways of speaking, listening, engaging in healthy conflict, collaboration, employee empowerment. 

Some of my favourite sections of the book are below.

Just cultures: In the book it highlights new ways of working “we need just cultures across all of our working environments…Just cultures reward imagination and celebrate truth-telling, they recognise that trust and encourage ambition rather than reward obedience…In just cultures every single person counts.”

Connectedness: “If there is a single diagnostic indicator of a healthy workplace it may just be the quality of connectedness.”

Over-working: Hefferan emphasises the point that working long hours does not necessarily mean more work is being done. There are studies that show overworked employees are actually less productive and more importantly lead to health problems for the employee too. 

Collaboration & inovation: Heffernan recommends that, if leaders want to have an innovative organisation, flat hierarchies are the way to go. Flat hierarchies give everyone the opportunity to contribute their ideas, thus creating an innovative environment.

After reading this book you will feel inspired to make changes and I guarantee you will read it more than once.

4. Gary Keegan – CEO at Uppercut

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Why I Chose This Book:

The Alchemist speaks of turning coal into gold and I love the idea of that. Trying to find potential, trying to mine for potential in others and in teams. The teams I work with are always excited about potential and where we can take it, and where we can go next.

5. Leslie Caputo – Solutions Consultant at Humu

Work Rules by Laszio Bock

Why I Chose This Book:

This is slightly self-serving, but my selection is honestly ‘Work Rule’, a book that was written by Humu co-founder and CEO, Laszlo Bock, about his time leading the people function at Google and everything he learned during this time.

The reason why I love that book so much is because Google was revered for being so innovative and having all these incredible people practices and this amazing culture. What he really takes you through in the book is an understanding of science and research. We have science and research on all of these things, on what matters to employees, what makes them happy and have that sense of belonging. As innovative as many of Google’s practices were, they were all deeply rooted in people science.

I’m an organizational psychologist by background and believe deeply in the research that exists around what people want from work and what makes them feel fulfilled and have a sense of meaning. This book does a really good job of marrying innovation and new age things with tried and true science about what matters to employees.

6. John Goulding – Co-Founder and CEO at Workvivo

The seven habits of effective people by Stephen Covey

Why I Chose This Book:

Although it’s not as light a read as I normally like, I have read ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ more than once, and each time there’s something new that resonates with me.

‘Start with the end in mind’ is something Covey advocates for, a bit morbid yes, but the whole idea is that you think about what you’d like somebody to say about you at your funeral and you then live your life to work towards that.

Also, Covey presents a template in the book that I have used a lot over the years. It is simple and essentially asks you to detail your different roles in life. We all typically identify ourselves primarily based on our work role – Engineer, Teacher, Project Manager, CEO – whatever it is. But Covey encourages you to list all your other roles – father, brother, husband, neighbour, friend, dog owner, kids sports coach – and look at what your plan for the coming week is under each of your roles. Used effectively it’s a lovely way to keep balance across your life.

If that’s too heavy “Round Ireland with a fridge’ by Tony Hawks tells the story of a man who hitchhiked around Ireland with a fridge as part of a bet. Not sure there’s a lot to learn in it but there are a lot of laughs!

7. Niamh Gunn – CEO at The Dialogue Code

Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach

Why I Chose This Book:

I read this book when I crashed as I was going through a crisis. It changed my life because it was about compassion for yourself, and I had never ever had that idea presented to me. I think the world needs compassion at the moment and that’s why I recommend reading ‘Radical Acceptance’.

8. Joe Lennon – Co-Founder and CTO at Workvivo

Thinking, fast and slow

Why I Chose This Book:

This is an incredible insight into how the human mind processes things and how we can strike the right balance of using two systems to make good decisions – either quickly or slowly when appropriate.

I don’t generally like this style of book, but this one is a must-read for any decision-maker.

9. Ruairi Conroy – Site Lead at Diligent

Radical Candor by Kim Scott

Why I Chose This Book:

As the site lead for Diligent in Galway, we’ve recently gone through a significant amount of change. In the space of 12 months, we have hired over 200 people remotely during a pandemic and worked on fitting out our state-of-the-art new office. Diligent’s pace of growth and ambition is super exciting to me but this can be uncomfortable for some. We have all heard the saying, “People leave managers, not companies” and when you are in a high growth and fully remote environment, I believe exceptional management and leadership are the key components for attracting and retaining top talent. 

I choose Radical Candor as it skilfully shows managers how to be successful while retaining their humanity, finding meaning in their job, and creating an environment where people both love their work and their colleagues. The book provides guidance to produce better results and help employees achieve. Great bosses have strong relationships with their employees, and this book identifies three simple principles for building better relationships with your employees: make it personal, get (sh)it done, and understand why it matters. It is a fantastic read!

10. Eleanor O’Mahony – Manager of PR & Comms at Workvivo

The Creative Curve by Alan Gannett

Why I Chose This Book:

We all want to be more creative in our work lives but sometimes we find ourselves waiting for inspiration to strike. The Creative Curve dispels the myth that creativity comes from flashes of genius and instead lays out ways we can all bring creativity into our day to day lives.

The book is filled with actionable advice punctuated by eclectic anecdotes about creativity from leaders at Netflix and Reddit to Paul McCartney and the broadway team behind Dear Evan Hansen.

11. Eric Fulwiler – CEO at Rival, ex-MD at VaynerMedia

Radical Candor by Kim Scott

Why I Chose This Book:

Speaking at Workvivo’s Great Resignation event, Eric quoted Radical Candor: “One of my favourite books ever is Radical Candor. One of the quotes in the book is ‘Communication is measured at the listener’s ears, not the speaker’s mouth.’ It’s very true. Just because you say someone is valued, if they don’t hear it and actually believe it then the communication job is not done.”

12. Jonathan Legge – Co-Founder and CEO at &Open

Let my people go by Yvon Chouinard

Why I Chose This Book:

As a designer, and someone who never saw themselves as a ‘businessman’, this book resonated with me on so many levels. A journey through Yvon Chouinard’s reluctant education in business as the founder of Patagonia, it’s a lesson in staying true to what you believe in and making sure your company does too. From the rejection of ‘corporate life’ to his environmentally-led philosophies on every aspect of business, it’s an essential read for anyone who wants to lead and inspire in a way that centers care, environmental impact, and doing good.

13. Anthony Cotter – Creative Director at Workvivo

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Why I chose this book:

This book had everything for me. As a startup ourselves at Workvivo, the early days of Nike illustrate the hustling and agility needed to survive. The close relationships built with co-workers as you scrap every day in the trenches looking for more ideas to fulfil the company mission was on point. As a designer I always wanted to hear the real truth about the famous Nike Swoosh and how it still remains the most recognizable icon in the world. Great insight into the dynamics of Nike as it scaled, this is a must read.

14. Richard Barrett – Head of Content at Workvivo

Wilful Blindness by Margaret Hefferenan

Why I Chose This Book:

If Margaret Heffernan is guilty of anything, it’s that her books force us to reevaluate the world around us, particularly in the case of Wilful Blindness. Heffernan talks about how, as humans, we would rather turn a blind eye to a problem in front of us, than face it head on. This extends to the CEO that knows a culture is toxic, a manager that knows they are overworking their team, or even a wife or husband that knows their significant other is cheating on them, but won’t tackle the problem.

It’s because we are fearful of the impact acknowledging the problem will have on our lives. “Things are bad now, but they could get a lot worse.”

Heffernan’s ability to blend real-life narratives with deep insights grounded in behavioual psychology is present throughout the book. As one commenter noted after reading Wilful Blindness, “my eyes are now open to the many ways we all choose not to see reality even when it is painfully obvious. Why do we choose to turn a blind eye to the truth?”.

Read it and you’ll start to see life through a different lens.


Thanks to everyone that contributed to the piece and, of course, thank you to everyone that continues to read our content. We’ve got major plans for 2022 so be sure to sign up to vivowire for the latest from Workvivo.

Have a wonderful holiday period and here’s to a fantastic 2022!