Your 2019 Corporate Responsibility, Sustainability and Social Impact Reading List

Last year, I published a 2018 Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Reading List, and loved the conversations I had with many of you throughout the year about those books. When something works, do it again! Just like last year, these books fall into four key categories: must-reads, big topics, general business, and leadership.

This year, I’m sharing my list before we ring in 2019, hoping we all have time to read on our holiday breaks! This list is by no means comprehensive. Please help me add to it by listing your favorite book, podcast or video in the comments.

Required Reading for Those Working for the Greater Good

  • I had the great pleasure to hear author Barie Carmichael speak recently. Her book Reset: Business and Society in the New Social Landscape takes to task the cause marketing and socially responsible branding of the last decade and pushes our companies to consider a new model for true social impact. She emphasizes the importance of building trust with stakeholders. She asks this question: can we measure social impact the same way we measure environmental impact? If you buy one book in hard copy to keep on your shelf for reference, this is it.
  • If your friends are anything like mine, some of them likely sent you the New York Times’ review of this next book. Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World dives deep into the ways the rich and powerful are working for change, but often failing. Author Anand Giridharadas asks hard questions about whether the wrong people are trying to solve the right problems. It will make you think about yourself, your company, your leadership, and whether or not we’re really creating positive change in our work.
  • Any impact focused job – nonprofit, corporate or otherwise – requires persistence, grit and resilience. Being a changemaker can often feel like two steps forward, three steps back (or sometimes one step forward and nine steps back). This year, I was introduced to the work of the incomparable Alison Levine. If her TED Talk, Lessons from the Ledge, were a VHS tape, I would have worn it out this year. She led the first all American Women’s Everest Expedition, a trek that turned back just meters from the summit. Her journey is more than just mountaineering. It’s about knowing when to call it a day, knowing when to push for the top, and the importance of leadership in extreme environments. A true must read. Read On the Edge: Leadership Lessons from Mount Everest and Other Extreme Environments.

Big Topics in Responsible Business

  • The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements continue to dominate news cycles. And for some of us, it feels like déjà vu. Didn’t we solve this? Weren’t we supposed to be done with this whole “don’t rape women and oh, by the way, pay us equally” discussion? (Sarcasm drips here, of course). Author Allison Yarrow examines the frustration and anger of the movement by examining how the 1990s shaped it. Did the so-called female empowerment of the 90s actually bring us closer to subjugation? The book 90s Bitch: Media, Culture, and the Failed Promise of Gender Equality will, I hope, be a lesson to us in the future lest we not make the same mistakes of our past.
  • Every person who had a conversation with me this summer probably heard an earful about tornadoes, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and nepotism, all courtesy of Michael Lewis’ new book The Fifth Risk. This book digs into what might seem like the most boring federal agencies and how appointments of their leaders ultimately affect individuals and entire communities in our country. Part climate change/natural disaster overview, part human psychology/theory of change deep dive, this book is truly one of Lewis’ best. I highly recommend listening to it via Audible. The entire book is available, but so is an excerpt short enough to binge in one sitting called The Coming Storm.

Business Books to Help You Think Differently About Responsibility and Ethics

  • If you only read one book this year, this should be it. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup is Pulitzer Prize winner John Carreyrou’s may at first appear an epic tome about the epic failure of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. But once you dig in, it’s so much more. Carreyrou manages to strike a tone of mystery and suspense, while at the same time penning a commentary on ethics and business responsibility that doesn’t exist anywhere else. You will tear through this book (oh, and I highly recommend the audio version as well).
  • Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary. I read Louis Hyman’s book this summer while I was working with a global workforce solutions provider. It provided an incredible lesson not just on business and industry responsibility, but on business model responsibility. How our businesses make money matters, which strategic paths we choose effect more than just our bottom line. Agree or disagree with any given business model, the unintended consequences (good and bad) must be examined. Hyman unpacks the “temp” industry and the way our society is becoming “Uberized.” This is a trend we should all be thinking about.

Leadership and Influence – Your Most Powerful Skills for Success

  • I first heard Tasha Eurich speak on HBR’s Ideacast Podcast, and it was an incredible 20-minute overview that wet my appetite for her book. In the podcast and the book, she uses a quote from Professor Manfred Kets de Vries, that leaders are often surrounded by “walls, mirrors and liars.” Her book dives deep into the necessary self-awareness of leaders and move away from those three dangerous feedback loops. Read Insight: The Surprising Truth About How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves, and Why the Answers Matter More Than We Think.
  • Success in any field requires mastering communication. Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great is hands down, the best communications-focused book I’ve read in years. As our businesses prepare more and more for the disruption of AI and other technological platforms, this book reminds us to remember what skills we will never be able to replace with machines – persuasion, human connection, inspiration.
  • Since her 2010 vulnerability TED talk went viral, Brené Brown has become a veritable guru for millions around the world. This year, she took her vulnerability message into the board room with Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. In an era of CEO activism and high expectations and anger towards corporations, Brené Brown defines a leader as “anyone who takes responsibility for recognizing the potential in people and ideas, and has the courage to develop that potential.” I don’t know about you, but I’ll take a job with that description!