20+ Learning and Development Books Chief Learning Officers Should Read in 2023 - Senior Executive

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Learning and Development (L&D) 23 min

20+ Learning and Development Books Chief Learning Officers Should Read in 2023

These recommended reads offer insights and strategies to help you improve your organization’s approach to learning and development (L&D).

by Senior Executive Media Editors on July 11, 2023


  • These books touch on everything L&D, from talent management to upskillling, framing these topics in the context of a changing workforce with modern-day challenges.

  • Authors include a variety of L&D professionals, former chief learning officers, and leadership coaches with expert insight on navigating topics in L&D.

  • Reading these books can encourage leaders to better understand how to unlock their employees’ potential, drive results, and harmonize their organizations.

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published by Sophia Wu in May 2023 and has since been updated by Kimberly Valentine.

Experience may be the best teacher, but books are the quickest path to learning the many lessons we don’t have the time to endure. That’s why we put together this list of must-read books for learning and development professionals.

We spoke with chief learning officers and other L&D leaders across industries for their recommendations. They delivered options that touch upon the many facets of L&D, from the human characteristics needed to foster strong organizational culture to specific skills-based training models required to build upon employee knowledge and drive performance. To round out this collection, our editorial team also selected books written by leading L&D experts, offering actionable strategies for mapping out L&D that could be tailored to your specific organization’s needs. (Book reviews have been lightly edited for grammar and length.)

Here are the L&D books you should read in 2023. Click the topics below to jump down and read more about the books on each.

The Senior Executive L&D editorial team is constantly speaking with L&D leaders to keep up with new developments and trends in the industry for our collection of L&D resources. To suggest additions for this resource, please contact Senior Executive Media at editor@seniorexecutive.com.

Business Development

Boundary Spanning Leadership: Six Practices for Solving Problems, Driving Innovation, and Transforming Organizations” 

  • Authors: Chris Ernst and Donna Chrobot-Mason
  • Publish Date: 2010
  • Pages: 336
  • Summary: Authors Chris Ernst and Donna Chrobot-Mason propose six practices, which they call the Nexus Effect, to help leaders understand and leverage boundaries in order to increase collaboration and drive innovation. When leaders approach boundaries as opportunities for bridges instead of barriers, the authors suggest global organizations are more likely to find success. 
  • Why it’s a must-read: “As co-author of this book, I spent a decade researching and collaborating with global organizations across six continents to answer this question: If today’s world spans boundaries, then what is the role of leadership? The result was the identification of six universal practices — buffering, reflecting, connecting, mobilizing, weaving, and transforming — any leader can use to transform today’s limiting boundaries into tomorrow’s innovative frontiers.” – Chris Ernst, author and chief learning officer at Workday, a finance and HR enterprise cloud applications provider, in a statement shared with Senior Executive L&D

Customer Education: Why Smart Companies Profit by Making Customers Smarter

  • Author: Adam Avramescu
  • Publish Date: 2019
  • Pages: 306
  • Summary: Aimed at software companies looking to serve customers more value and develop long-term loyalty and revenue — but with relevant insights for any type of company — this book addresses why customer education is the key. Author and VP of customer education and engagement at Personio, a global HR software development firm, Adam Avramescu explains the nuts and bolts of developing a customer education strategy, from how to develop effective content to the measurements to track. 
  • Why it’s a must-read: “A fantastic book to help you get settled into [a customer education] role and see all the pieces and parts involved in building a successful program. In fact, I ordered this for every single one of my team members and we reference it regularly.” – B.J. Schone, director of learning and enablement at LaunchDarkly, which provides a software-as-a-service platform for developers, in an exclusive interview with Senior Executive L&D

Revenue Operations: A New Way to Align Sales & Marketing, Monetize Data, and Ignite Growth” 

  • Author: Stephen G. Diorio and Chris K. Hummel
  • Publish Date: 2022
  • Pages: 304
  • Summary: To accelerate revenue growth, authors Stephen G. Diorio and Chris K. Hummel explain the importance of connecting and aligning a company’s sales and marketing technology infrastructure. They offer academic insights and tactical advice for implementing this process effectively, as well as executives’ stories and case studies that give glimpses into businesses across industry sectors. 
  • Why it’s a must-read: “This is not an L&D book, but I think it is important for learning professionals to be connected to the business and look for ways to promote growth and stay abreast of the skills the leaders in your organization will need to be successful in the future.” – Erica Toluhi, director of learning and development at Paychex, a human resources and payroll solutions company, in an exclusive interview with Senior Executive L&D  

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Leadership Development

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

  • Author: James Clear
  • Publish Date: 2018
  • Pages: 320
  • Summary: This book encourages readers to tackle habit formation, discussing how to break bad habits and set good ones. Author James Clear highlights the stories of athletes, artists, leaders, doctors, and entrepreneurs who have mastered the art of developing small habits to enable their successes. He asserts that focusing on daily repetition of tiny behaviors works to change patterns and train your brain to improve learning retention. Published in 2018, “Atomic Habits” provides timeless insights on the value of mastering small habits to improve employee learning, retention, and motivation. 
  • Why it’s a must-read: “Our CEO is very invested in encouraging people to just think about getting 1% better, and that’s a big part of the ‘Atomic Habits’ approach.” – Christine Nester, chief learning officer at Fifth Third Bank, in an exclusive interview with Senior Executive L&D

Dare to Lead

  • Author: Brené Brown
  • Publish date: 2019
  • Pages: 320
    Summary: Focusing on cultivating daring leadership, this book explains how leaders can tap into their own vulnerability and curiosity to connect with their employees and help them be their best selves at work. Author Brené Brown goes beyond specific skills-based training and homes in on traits building — identifying and cultivating quality characteristics that can prepare you to be a better learner, teacher, and leader. Applying the principles, strategies, and tools in “Dare to Lead” can help you better equip employees to perform their best at work and contribute to a culture of courage in the workplace. 
  • Why it’s a must-read: “When we think about burnout and well-being and the way that Brené talks about vulnerability and shame, I think it’s just really important for us as L&D learners to be remembering that. When we’re thinking about how we’re designing something or if we’re running a live event, what does it look like? How are we interacting with the audience?” – Dwayna M. Covey, vice president at the Dartmouth Health Center for Learning & Professional Development, in an exclusive interview with Senior Executive L&D

Developing Effective Leadership in Organizations: A Competency-Based Approach Focused on Keys to Performance

  • Author: Wesley E. Donahue
  • Publish Date: 2022
  • Pages: 563
    Based on the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Malcolm Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, this book is organized around performance management. Featuring seven primary criteria areas, including facilitating strategic planning and building leadership competency, “Developing Effective Leadership in Organizations” provides the tools to help leaders help their employees maximize their performance. If presenting to a team, CLOs can communicate and explore how to best apply these concepts based on their specific organizational needs. 
  • Why it’s a must-read: “This is a great book [with] simple and easy-to-follow steps on being a better boss or part of the management… The first three chapters concentrate on you being a better leader and improving your competence as a boss… The succeeding chapters discuss how a leader functions as a member of a team and…on finding employees that are as capable as you expect yourself as a leader to be. I enjoyed the small icons and graphics that the author used on this otherwise text-heavy book.” – George, in an Amazon Customer Review

Leading with Gratitude

  • Authors: Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton 
  • Publish Date: 2020
  • Pages: 272
  • Summary: When was the last time you expressed gratitude to your employees? Authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton bring to light existing research on the influence gratitude has on employee engagement and retention. Exploring what they call the “gratitude gap” to understand what lies between leaders’ understanding of the importance of showing appreciation and the failure to actually do so, Gostick and Elton outline eight ways leaders can show their thanks to ensure their employees feel valued. 
  • Why it’s a must-read: “It totally transformed my thinking on the importance of those two powerful words: ‘thank you.’ In fact, if you look at my calendar right now, I have 15 minutes carved out every day, and it just says ‘leading with gratitude.’ It’s not about getting blanket ‘thank yous’ to everyone, but really being intentional with letting people know what you’re grateful for, why you’re grateful for them. It’s really transformed and inspired my approach to leadership.” – Jim Page, director of learning and talent development at Klaviyo, which offers a marketing automation platform, in an exclusive interview with Senior Executive L&D

Let’s Learn Our Way Through It, Shall We?” 

  • Author: Ekpedeme “Pamay” M. Bassey
  • Publish Date: 2021
  • Pages: 318
  • Summary: Rather than a book to be read, Let’s Learn Our Way Through It, Shall We?” is a journal intended for its keepers to jot down their daily learnings. Author Ekpedeme “Pamay” M. Bassey suggests making a habit of lifelong learning, if only for a few minutes a day, by recalling what you’ve learned and perhaps sharing it with others. 
  • Why it’s a must-read: “I believe that L&D professionals should be lifelong learners and should model this behavior for our organizations. This journal helps us to do just that, and it is written by Ekpedeme ‘Pamay’ M. Bassey, chief learning [and diversity] officer at Kraft Heinz Company.” – Erica Toluhi, director of learning and development at Paychex, a human resources and payroll solutions company, in an exclusive interview with Senior Executive L&D 

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Learning and Instructional Design

The Art and Science of Training

  • Author: Elaine Biech
  • Publish Date: 2016
  • Pages: 304
  • Summary: The way we navigate learning can be inspired by the intersection of art and science. When you combine the science of how people learn with the art of letting things flow, there’s a lot of opportunity for your imagination to expand and ideas to start forming. Organizations can push their L&D efforts by taking lessons from art and science, fueling employee growth. CLOs can benefit from tapping into the creative side of L&D. They can use this book to better understand how people, not programs, are ultimately at the root of learning experiences. 
  • Why it’s a must-read: “From the moment I picked up ‘The Art and Science of Training,’ it felt unique. I would call it a ‘how to’ guide for training practitioners. Each chapter is titled based on the most relevant learning and development challenges.” – Jeanne E. Masseth, in an Amazon Customer Review

Design for How People Learn

  • Author: Julie Dirksen
  • Publish Date: 2015
  • Pages: 304
  • Summary: Author and instructional designer Julie Dirksen walks readers through the process of creating effective learning experiences that are rooted in the principles behind attention, learning, and memory. Dirksen’s advice is backed by years of experience creating e-learning for clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to startups. The second edition of this publication also includes best practices for evaluating learning and tips for incorporating social media. 
  • Why it’s a must-read: “Just the most simple way for articulating how to do wonderful instructional design and build training and experiences that are going to help people in the tightest, best way.” – B.J. Schone, director of learning and enablement at LaunchDarkly, which provides a software-as-a-service platform for developers, in an exclusive interview with Senior Executive L&D

Design Thinking for Training and Development: Creating Learning Journeys That Get Results

  • Author: Sharon Boller and Laura Fletcher
  • Publish Date: 2020
  • Pages: 274
  • Summary: Authors Sharon Boller and Laura Fletcher draw on their strong L&D backgrounds — the former in business strategy and leadership and the latter in education — to devise this comprehensive, step-by-step guide to applying design thinking in talent development. It strategizes L&D from ideation to post-implementation evaluation, while navigating the balance between business objectives with learner needs. CLOs can draw inspiration from the tools it provides, such as a strategy blueprint, empathy map (a part of a human-centered learning design toolkit to develop empathy for a target audience), and other worksheets and templates to help you apply the concepts to your own work and evaluate their impact. 
  • Why it’s a must-read: “Sharon Boller and Laura Fletcher have long been believers in evidence-based practice. Just as importantly, they spent years utilizing and fine-tuning their learning development processes to include design-thinking principles and techniques. In ‘Design Thinking for Training and Development,’ Sharon and Laura blend evidence and practice into workable and pragmatic guidelines for using design thinking. They integrate the power of design thinking and eliminate the wrong turns that happen when research and evidence is ignored.” – Will Thalheimer, a consultant specialized in L&D, in an Amazon Editorial Review

Improving Performance Through Learning: A Practical Guide to Designing High Performance Learning Journeys

  • Author: Robert O. Brinkerhoff, Anne M. Apking, and Edward W. Boon
  • Publish Date: 2019
  • Pages: 246
    “Improve Performance Through Learning” centers on the concept of the High Performance Learning Journey (HPLJ), which is a certification program that the authors have spent five years designing and developing to drive performance improvement.  The book provides case studies of applying HPLJ in five international organizations. Reading it can help CLOs who are interested in furthering their own professional development learn more about HPLJs. 
  • Why it’s a must-read: “The content of this book is extremely useful for all L&D professionals. My team and I have been focusing on learning journeys over event-based learning for years but this book gives us a name, structure, and research-backing facts as to why that works.” – Dani King, in an Amazon Customer Review

Learning and Development in Practice: How to Create Training Programs That Make an Impact

  • Author: Nazanin Tadjbakhsh
  • Publish Date: 2020
  • Pages: 124
    Summary: Every working professional at some point has faced burnout or fatigue. While this book doesn’t explicitly tackle those issues, it does provide a simplified guide to understanding and applying L&D to avoid those traps. It also offers meeting guides, charts, graphs, worksheets, templates, checklists, and content development tools, accompanied by explanations and examples for how to apply them at your organization. Any CLO who wants to build a training program from scratch can start with this guide. 
  • Why it’s a must-read: “I love how this book is research-based and gives detailed advice on how to create an impactful training for the learner with the learner-centric approach! This book contains a useful question bank to choose from to ask the client in order to help figure out what it is the client really wants for their learners. The session blueprint template is so helpful to create the training program. While creating my training program, I constantly referred back to it to help guide me with the training design.” – Marina, in an Amazon Customer Review

Map It: The Hands-On Guide to Strategic Training Design

  • Author: Cathy Moore
  • Publish date: 2017
  • Pages: 418
  • Summary: Instructional design often requires roadmapping and exploring how to tailor techniques for your specific organization. Author Cathy Moore, a corporate learning design advocate, created the action mapping model for training design, which she teaches to Fortune 500 companies. She offers a practical guide to action mapping, providing humor and real-life examples, as well as the framework that organizations can use to improve its performance. Published in 2017, the book’s approach to strategies remains relevant to any L&D professional who wants to plan out or rethink their design thinking. 
  • Why it’s a must read: “‘Map It’ seems to have become a standard for any instructional design (ID) who is working within a corporate environment. After working through the book, I can see why. This book not only helps you build upon the foundations of ID and adult learning but also really causes you to be retrospective with your approach to ID and challenges you to change any practices that may not be serving you or your learners well.” – Michael, in an Amazon Customer Review

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The Senior Executive L&D Think Tank is an invitation-only community for chief learning officers and senior-level L&D leaders at large organizations to share difference-making tactics, trade valuable resources, and seek the counsel of experienced peers in a private, confidential setting. Coming Fall 2023.

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Workforce Development

Connectable: How Leaders Can Move Teams from Isolated to All in

  • Authors: Ryan Jenkins and Steven Van Cohen 
  • Publish Date: 2022
  • Pages: 336
  • Summary: Acknowledging an increase in employees who experience loneliness in the workplace and the impacts it has on leading a productive and engaged organization, authors Ryan Jenkins and Steven Van Cohen present a four-step framework to develop a culture of safety, belonging, inclusion, and connectedness. Science and statistics around human connection and loneliness are woven with the authors’ stories of helping companies decrease loneliness to build happy and engaged workforces. 
  • Why it’s a must-read: “Fantastic read, can’t recommend it enough — not just to L&D professionals but also to any people leader on the importance of fostering, driving, and facilitating connection in the workplace. It’s so relevant today more than ever in light of where the world of work has gone over the last three years.” – Jim Page, director of learning and talent development at Klaviyo, which offers a marketing automation platform, in an exclusive interview with Senior Executive L&D

Demystifying Talent Management: Unleash People’s Potential to Deliver Superior Results

  • Author: Kimberly Janson
  • Publish Date: 2015
  • Pages: 240
  • Summary: Talent management doesn’t have to be a complicated web of processes for HR professionals and other stakeholders to navigate. “Demystifying Talent Management” aims to decode employee attraction and development, cutting through the noise to provide a clear picture for CLOs to extract practical tools and tips. Author Kimberly Janson draws upon her experiences in senior leadership positions at companies such as Heinz and Bank of America to guide readers on how to manage people at every level of leadership. 
  • Why it’s a must-read: “‘Demystifying Talent Management’ is a tremendous resource for anyone aspiring to be excellent at managing and developing their most promising talent. Kim Janson’s observations and techniques are simple, insightful, and replicable.” – David Bailin, chief investment officer at Citi Global Wealth, in an Amazon Editorial Review

Dream Manager

  • Author: Matthew Kelly
  • Publish date: 2007
  • Pages: 176
  • Summary: Where do personal dreams and company goals intersect? In this book, author Matthew Kelly examines the possible answers through storytelling. He describes a fictional company where the managers seek to understand what drives employees, whether it’s following their dreams or chasing a bigger paycheck. Published in 2007, “Dream Manager” offers evergreen insights on components of people management, such as high turnover and low morale, that continue to plague organizations today. You can identify parallels between your real-life work experiences and the fables featured in the book to assess what specific solutions could work for your team.
  • Why it’s a must-read: “It’s a fable [that] talks about how you come to the people — what do the people need to be able to come to your institution, and what do you need to bring to them? Thinking about us as an institution, we’re building up our workforce development, and we have apprenticeship programs [built by] our colleagues from workforce development. We’re finding ways in the learning space to build our own, grow our own, and have people want to stay here by offering opportunities for that growth and development.” – Dwayna M. Covey, vice president at the Dartmouth Health Center for Learning & Professional Development, in an exclusive interview with Senior Executive L&D

L&D’s Playbook for the Digital Age

  • Author: Brandon Carson
  • Publish Date: 2021
  • Pages: 192
  • Summary: For a workforce to keep up with the pace of change and technical advancements, author Brandon Carson suggests that L&D teams should be a proactive driver in helping the business meet its objectives, particularly through a focus on initiatives such as upskilling, rescoping, and skills development. A leader in L&D who’s worked with companies such as Starbucks and Walmart, Carson prompts readers to develop a new playbook that aligns their L&D strategy with the business strategy in order to transform both the L&D function and the workforce it serves.  
  • Why it’s a must-read: “This book really is for anyone who designs, develops, analyzes or works in change management. It is an excellent assessment of current L&D life, and has great suggestions for bringing the field into the digital age. I really found it helpful.” – sherrym, in an Amazon Customer Review

Long Life Learning: Preparing for Jobs That Don’t Even Exist Yet

  • Author: Michelle R. Weise
  • Publish Date: 2020
  • Pages: 272
    What would L&D look like if careers had no beginning, middle, or end? This is the riddle that “Long Life Learning” aims to solve. Taking a futurist approach to L&D, author Michelle R. Weise argues for the need to invest in ongoing employee education that integrates with future jobs. She asserts that workers will have to continue learning new skills rather than assuming their degree will carry them through their professional development, making the case that L&D is not a one-and-done situation, but a consistent part of improving at work. As CLOs anticipate the new wave of employees entering their organizations, they can refer to this book to better support them. Just because you have reached a certain level of seniority doesn’t mean the learning stops there. 
  • Why it’s a must-read: “Michelle Weise has a knack for distilling the complexities of education, labor, and policy into an integrated approach to building a more hopeful future of work. Weise skillfully links the individual stories of working-age adults to the underlying patterns of dysfunction in the U.S. labor market. In ‘Long Life Learning,’ Weise shows that the future of work is here, and that we need to act now to construct a learning-to-earning system that works for everyone.” – Byron Auguste, CEO and cofounder of Opportunity@Work, in an Amazon Editorial Review  

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

  • Author: David Epstein
  • Publish Date: 2021
  • Pages: 368
  • Summary: The world often champions specialization in education. However, this L&D book asserts that generalists — people with diverse ranges of experiences — might have a unique advantage because they tend to be more spontaneous and agile compared with specialists. When it comes to L&D, generalists tend to take a broader approach to thinking that can enable them to succeed in training, bridge gaps in knowledge, and pitch new ideas and viewpoints.
  • Why it’s a must-read: “It’s really a work around how generalists are more important in our environment than specialists today as the world evolves and reimagines work…particularly in a digital age. We think a lot about how digital is evolving and changing: how AI will change all of our work in the future, the jobs of the future, and the skills needed in the future.” – Christine Nester, chief learning officer at Fifth Third Bank, in an exclusive interview with Senior Executive L&D

ReCulturing: Design Your Company Culture to Connect with Strategy and Purpose for Lasting Success

  • Author: Melissa Daimler
  • Publish Date: 2022
  • Pages: 304
  • Summary: A strong company culture can foster a strong learning culture. However, it starts with changing the system. Author Melissa Daimler, CLO of Udemy, explores how changing small behaviors and processes can ultimately change organizational culture at large, which determines the environment for L&D and sets the premise for how we learn and train. She has led L&D efforts at Adobe, Twitter, WeWork, and Udemy, ensuring that the organizations are keeping up with employee demands, while also staying true to company values. Daimler coined the term “reculturing” to describe how businesses can adapt their cultures with their growth, as Senior Executive DEI reported in our exclusive 2022 interview. While not every organization will be an Adobe or Twitter, CLOs from any size organization can benefit from taking lessons from what has worked for bigger organizations when it comes to redesigning company culture. 
  • Why it’s a must-read: “At the heart of good management is a good relationship. Even though relationships don’t scale, culture does. When a leader cares personally about each direct report and so challenges them directly, they model radical candor and build a positive culture. Melissa has been at some companies where this happened — and she’s also been through the school of hard knocks. She distills her learnings so you can learn the easy way what she had to learn the hard way.” – Kim Scott, author of “Radical Candor” and “Just Work,” in an Amazon Editorial Review  

Upskill, Reskill, Thrive: Optimizing Learning and Development in the Workplace

  • Author: James McKenna
  • Publish Date: 2023
  • Pages: 200
    Reading this book, CLOs can narrow in on the concepts of upskilling and reskilling, a part of L&D that can help them empower their employees, and dive into understanding Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL is an important part of L&D because it optimizes how employees learn. Author James McKenna designs a UDL guide for learning professionals to use, with real-life examples that illustrate how to motivate teams to not only perform better, but also continue those learning efforts over the long term. It takes a strategic skills-based angle, tackling one specific L&D concept that can translate across industries and sectors.
  • Why it’s a must-read: “Building on his expertise in organizational development and Universal Design for Learning (UDL), James McKenna takes the why, what, and how of UDL and translates it into the professional learning space for any workplace. Using personable, accessible language, he breaks down complex ideas into easy-to-understand concepts and action steps that can be immediately implemented.” – S. Shin, in an Amazon Customer Review

Work Without Jobs: How to Reboot Your Organization’s Work Operating System

  • Author: Ravin Jesuthasan and John W. Boudreau
  • Publish Date: 2022
  • Pages: 232
    This book explores what it means to be a jobholder in today’s work landscape, which did not look the same a decade ago. The authors aim to break down jobs into their component parts and reconstruct those components into combinations that optimize an individual’s skills and abilities under this new “work operating system” they describe. “Work Without Jobs” also addresses how L&D can bridge the growing gap between employee needs and employer solutions, including how leaders can handle the rise of automation impacting their employees, for example, and how employees can use L&D efforts to meet organizational agility needs and expectations.
  • Why it’s a must-read: “With detailed case examples, this book outlines a new ‘work operating system’ that redefines jobs, less by boxes and lines in org charts, and more around the skills of your workforce. This book challenges me to let go of traditional concepts of ‘jobs’ and ‘jobholders’ and helps me embrace new ways of working.” – Chris Ernst, chief learning officer at Workday, in a statement shared with Senior Executive L&D

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