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Books that created conversation in 2021

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As leadership and civic engagement educators, we have endless lists and stacks of books that will inform future workshops and allow us to continue our professional development. It is hard to come up with a list of the five best books of 2021, but I'm happy to share five books that have influenced conversations on our team and with others this year.

In 2021, we launched Vital Reads. The series highlighted three books and brought participants together for a discussion to learn not only about the meaning of what was read but also how it could impact our leadership. Here are a few books that encouraged conversation during the two series, in addition to titles that our team has spent time discussing this year.

Book covers of Think Again by Adam Grant; The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee; Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps by Jennifer Garvey Berger; The Art of Gathering how we meet and why it matters by Priya Parker; Leading from Anywhere by David Burkus.

The spring series of Vital Reads included one of the most popular books for members of our leadership and civic engagement team and participants, Adam Grant’s Think Again. In Think Again, Grant encourages us to think about how we allow ourselves to “rethink and unlearn” the things that we think we know, as well as how we take in new information. The ideas and approaches that Grant suggests can help leaders navigate conflict, engage in difficult conversations, and communicate with their teams.

As our team continues to explore ways to help communities address issues of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusivity, Heather McGhee’s The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can All Prosper encouraged thoughtful conversations. McGhee approaches the issue of racism in a different way by bringing forward the economic impacts of racism. Her skilled writing style combines history, personal experiences, and data to bring new insights to the large and complex issue of race.

When teaching in cohorts or workshops across the state, it's common for people to ask for a step-by-step plan on how to lead. Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps: How to thrive in complexity by Jennifer Garvey Berger highlights the most common traps that leaders experience. This book was a favorite of Vital Reads participants who liked the writing style and the ideas brought forward. Berger highlights simple concepts that are often overlooked but can have a lasting impact on your leadership.

Meetings and gatherings have continued to be complicated in 2021. Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters is a worthwhile read as you rethink how you meet and work with others. Parker presents a number of ideas that help readers explore aspects of their own meetings and develop strategies for creating gatherings that are not only productive but also meaningful for all involved.

Many organizations and leaders have had to figure out how to approach remote work as it became a fixture of our lives. Leading from Anywhere by David Burkus led to some interesting conversations among members of our team. This book offers historical context showing how we have moved to a space that allows the option of remote work. Burkus brings forward ideas on how to build a culture for remote work, support remote teams, build bonds, and run effective virtual meetings. This book is a good read for anyone who leads teams.

Author: Christy Kallevig, Extension educator, leadership and civic engagement

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