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Best New Leadership Book Of 2021


This time each year, I select my pick for best new leadership book for the year. For 2021, my pick is, Heart First, Lasting Leadership Lessons From A Year That Changed Everything, by David Grossman, published in July 2021.

Written by a wise, award-winning leadership and communications expert, Grossman supplies clear, timely, critical, actionable advice, how-to’s and tips for leaders as the pandemic continues to challenge us...and as we get past the pandemic.

I selected this book because the book is easy to read, incredibly engaging, and is filled with inspirational and powerful stories of lessons learned by a wealth of leaders with diverse backgrounds. Plus, it covers today’s pertinent topics for workplace leaders, including diversity, equity, inclusion, and culture. 

  • It’s a playbook you’ll want to read and then refer to time after time. And, if you read only one leadership book next year, make it this one.

Reflecting on the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic, David says, “I saw many leaders using this challenging time as an opportunity to stand up and lead in moving ways. I was continually inspired by the concrete action leaders took to lead and communicate with heart – and guts. That is what this book is all about – applying those lessons learned to provide clear direction on how to be the very best leader and communicator you can possibly be.” 

He adds, “During the pandemic, many leaders rose to the occasion, often by drawing not just from experience and wise counsel, but from being human as they led – what David calls Heart First leadership.” 

Ten book chapters cover:

  • Q&A from the front lines
  • Lead yourself first
  • Know your audience and their needs
  • Show your human side
  • Communicate the right messages at the right times
  • Frame the context and make it relevant
  • Talk openly about what’s happening
  • Use the right channels to communicate with impact
  • Be ready to answer questions
  • Be respectfully authentic

As you dive into Heart First, you’ll read Q&As with fascinating insights and practical advice from many business leaders, presented in a style as if you were sitting with your favored mentor over a cup of coffee. 

Leaders and Change Makers featured in the book include

  • Tamer Abuaita, Senior Vice President of Global Supply Chain, SC Johnson
  • Paula Angelo, Vice President, Internal and CEO Communications, The Hartford
  • Nadeen Ayala, Chief Communications Office, ABM Industries
  • Liru Chan, Head of Marketing, Visa Singapore
  • Adam Collins, Chief Communications & Corporate Affairs Office, Molson Coors
  • Sherri Dublin, Vice President DE&I, Culture, Engagement and Communications, Ingredion
  • Lisa Keltner, Senior Director, Inclusion and Diversity, Baxter
  • Erin Loverher, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications, Walgreens
  • Ken Meyers, Former CHRO, Hillrom
  • Triona Schmelter, Chief Transformation Officer, TreeHouse Foods
  • Stephen Smith, Chairmen, President and CEO of Amsted Industries
  • Matt Snow, CEO, DHG
  • Victor Swint, CEO, Tecomet
  • And many others

One of my sections of the book is where Grossman teaches how best to select the right channel to communicate most effectively with your employees. He provides expert advice for communicating via:

  • Face-to-face meetings
  • Video conference calls
  • Traditional conference calls
  • Town halls
  • Podcasts
  • Written communication
  • Email
  • Text messages
  • Voice mail
  • Blogs
  • Internal social media
  • Intranet
  • Employee surveys
  • Infographics
  • Notice boards
  • Videos
  • Your CEO
  • Employee ambassadors
  • Front-line managers


David Grossman

Today, Grossman shares these insights with us:

Question: What has the reader reaction been to the book since it was published this past summer?

Grossman: I’ve been incredibly humbled by the book’s overwhelmingly positive reception. While the book contains proven strategies, tips, tools, and time-savers to communicate with heart, not surprisingly, it’s the stories that are resonating most. These are real people opening up about their emotional journeys and how they managed to lead with humanity during these unprecedented times for business and society.


If a leader is committed to lifting others up and making the workplace better, we have a special opportunity for them to get the book at no cost (really!) for a limited time. That’s why we started our Great Giveback Giveaway, where you can GET a complimentary copy of the book during this season of giving, and then GIVE a copy to someone who’s had a positive impact on your career. Since we started, we’ve given away almost 3,400 copies to amazing trailblazers looking to learn and grow, and there’s still time to participate by using this link  

Question: Why do you believe readers have reacted that way to your book? 

Grossman: Many leaders shared that this moment is causing them to rethink how they lead and find new ways to connect with their teams, understand their needs, and inspire them to work together to make change. The insights they were generous to share will help all leaders find their playbook for leading in this dynamic time for business. 

Question: Your books are always so beautifully designed and illustrated. What made you decide to use that approach for your books?

Grossman: Leaders are busy. We wanted Heart First to stand out as an easily accessible book that invites leaders in and where leader can choose their own way to access the tips, tools, and time-savers. Everything is in bite-sized pieces with an emphasis on ways to be even better. That said, leaders could read the book cover-to-cover. They could focus solely on a chapter of special interest such as “Lead Yourself First,” “Show Your Human Side,” or “Be Respectfully Authentic.” They could read a spread with one of our proven methodologies to know how to better communicate change or learn “8 steps to active listening.” 

Question: What makes you most proud about Heart First?

Grossman: Heart First is so much more than a book. It’s a philosophy that’s the key to effective leadership for this new reality: leading with empathy, authenticity, and most importantly, with heart. My passion and purpose are about engaging employees and helping leaders lead with heart, and I’m humbled by the response of so many leaders who are committed to lifting others up, and know – in their hearts – that they can and will do better. 

Question: What is your biggest takeaway from all the Q&A's and Change Maker insights featured in the book? 

Grossman: What stands out for me is the new level of empathy and humanity I see leaders looking to fold into their leadership. The pandemic and racial unrest of the past year forced a reckoning of sorts, and many leaders expressed the need to look inside themselves and reflect on how they might better connect with their employees in a personal and authentic way. Whereas before leaders were concerned about showing their personal side out of fear of being seen as weak or vulnerable, they are now seeing that kind of authenticity as a strength. 

I was continually inspired by the concrete actions that leaders took to lead and communicate with heart, helping carry forward their teams in tough times as well as the calmer ones. Sometimes the simple act of acknowledging how challenging a moment is – and then finding ways to better support employees during a chaotic time – goes a long way toward building a connection and a shared sense of purpose for a team. 

Question: What is your top advice/tip for leaders as we head into 2022?

Grossman: Here are my top 5 leadership lessons from the pandemic:

  1. Understand that inspired leadership matters
  2. Increase your commitment to communications
  3. Show your humanity
  4. Prioritize gratitude and recognition
  5. Be flexible

Prepare to spend a lot of time with this informative and wonderfully designed and visually appealing book. It’s worth it!


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