It is no secret that the world’s great leaders and business minds understand the value of reading. Those who read regularly understand that, by exposing themselves to the words of others, they’re engaging with new ways of thinking and exposing themselves to alternate perspectives.
Are you wondering how this can help your management career?
When Mark Cuban was asked how he came up with many of his ideas, he told the interviewer:
“I would continuously search for new ideas. I read every book and magazine I could. Heck, three bucks for a magazine, 20 bucks for a book. One good idea that led to a customer or solution, and it paid for itself many times over.”
He went onto say:
“Everything I read was public. Anyone could buy the same books and magazines. The same information was available to anyone who wanted it. It turns out most people didn’t want it. Most people won’t put in the time to get a knowledge advantage.”
However, with an ever-growing number of business and management books appearing, seemingly every day, it’s difficult to know where to begin, especially if you are a new manager, still finding your feet. So, to get you started, we’ve compiled a shortlist of our 20 Must-Read Books For Successful Managers. The list is aimed at those who are new to a managerial role, but these picks are valuable for new and seasoned managers alike.
Also, we’ve made a conscious effort with this list, to avoid recommending the same management books you will find on every other list of recommendations. Why? Well, not because there’s anything wrong with the classics but because we want to share fresh, new perspectives that you may not find anywhere else.
So, with that in mind, let’s jump straight into our 20 Must-Read Books For Successful Managers.
Julie Zhuo, Facebook’s first intern, was made a manager at the age of 25. With no management experience to speak of and the enormous weight of her staff’s expectations, Zhuo had no choice but to learn on the fly.
Many years and plenty of teams later Zhuo has written The Making Of A Manager, specifically to aid new managers by providing clear direction and practical advice for the newly promoted.
Ev Williams, the co-founder of Twitter and CEO of Medium, is one of several successful people who recommend this book. Williams says of Zhuo’s work. “I’ve seen so many people thrust into management in high-growth companies with so little guidance. From now on, I will hand them this book. Its practical wisdom is immediately useful for the newly minted manager — and us old ones.”
While the books in this article appear in no particular order if you are only going to read one of these books, make it The Making Of A Manager.
Indra Nooyi member of Amazon’s Board of Directors and former PepsiCo CEO called The Silo Effect a must-read. So what is it that Nooyi thought was so important for others to read?
It can be easy for any manager to find themselves entrenched deep in the mire of their own department’s work. Meanwhile, we may give little thought to what is happening in the rest of the organization, or how one affects the other.
In The Silo Effect, Tett asks the question “Why do humans working in modern institutions collectively act in ways that sometimes seem stupid?” and goes on to discuss how the traditional corporate structure of departments can lead to decision making that would appear to otherwise be counter-intuitive.
If you are a newly minted department manager, this is a must-read. Not only does Tett share stories of disastrous decisions made because of this silo effect form of thinking, but she also discusses examples of where managers and the institutions in which they work, have been able to overcome the silo effect.
Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World With OKRs – By John Doerr
In Measure What Matters, John Doerr, the legendary venture capitalist shares how the goal-setting system of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) has helped some of the world’s most successful organizations achieve greatness, and how it can help you, and your organization flourish.
Through a series of case studies, Doerr walks you through the OKR system explaining how objectives define what you want to achieve while key results are the steps that will take you there. To know whether you are attaining those key results, you will set specific, measurable actions that have to be achieved within a specific time-frame.
Developing an OKR system not only provides you with a way to manage your team and their work, but it also makes your expectations clear to your team members allowing them to see how their success or otherwise will be measured.
An excellent choice for those managers who thrive when they work within the structure of a specific system, Measure What Matters is a book to benefit managers and teams alike.
But don’t just take my word for it:
The Bill Gates foundation is used as a case study in this book, and the man himself is quoted as saying “John explains how OKRs [Objectives and Key Results] work and shows how you can apply them in all sorts of situations. I’d recommend John’s book for anyone interested in becoming a better manager (and I’d say that even if I hadn’t been interviewed for a super-nice chapter about the Gates Foundation).”
However, it’s not only those involved who recommend this read. CEO of Cisco, John Chambers, says, “Measure What Matters is a gift to every leader or entrepreneur who wants a more transparent, accountable, and effective team. It encourages the kind of big, bold bets that can transform an organization.
One of the hardest lessons for managers to learn is that just because it says “Manager” in your job title, doesn’t mean you are actually managing anybody.
Don’t be. It all comes down to how you define a manager. Are people given the title of manager, automatically adept at motivating their teams, showing empathy to team members, recognizing the potential in others, and being brave enough to develop that potential? I’m afraid not.
In Dare To Lead Brown uses research, stories, case studies, and other examples to explain how braver, more daring managers who are willing to share their power instead of hoarding it, can build organizations that prosper.
Tarana Burke, the founder of the Me Too Movement, gave a valuable insight into the flexibility of this book. She said, “Whether you’re leading a movement or a start-up if you’re trying to change an organizational culture or the world, Dare to Lead will challenge everything you think you know about brave leadership and give you honest, straightforward, actionable tools for choosing courage over comfort.”
Now, Discover Your Strengths: How To Develop Your Talents And Those Of The People You Manage – By Marcus Buckingham, Donald O. Clifton
Marcus Buckingham writes about how we are taught to identify our weaknesses and focus on overcoming them. He argues that this “fault first” approach is one that leads us to ignore our strengths, or at the very least under-utilize them.
Now, Discover Your Strengths is one of many books written by Buckingham, and it made it to this list because each copy includes a unique access code. The code allows you to complete an online interview to “discover your five greatest strengths.” Then the book provides resources that will enable you to leverage those strengths not only in your role as a manager but also in your personal life.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sanberg is on record as saying, “This book has been instrumental in how we think about developing talent at Facebook.”
Arianna Huffington has said, “This is such an important book. Indistractable is the best guide I’ve read for reclaiming our attention, our focus, and our lives.” and the global head of product at Amazon, Kintan Brahmbhatt went a step further by declaring that “In the future, there will be two kinds of people in the world. Those who read and apply the principles in Indistractable and those who wish they had read it sooner.”
So, what’s all the buzz about, and why is it a must-read for managers?
Much has been said and written about how we are becoming increasingly distractible and the potential impact this has in the workplace for both managers and the people they manage.
Stanford lecturer, and behavioral design expert, Nir Eyal, wrote Hooked, the seminal tome for those in Silicon Valley looking to create addictive electronic products. In a move that could be labeled as poacher turned gamekeeper Eyal crosses to the other side of the fence to look at the psychology of electronic distraction and what we can do to overcome it.
His practical approach acknowledges that it is not as simple as turning off your phone and how this isn’t even practical for many. Instead, Eyal shares a four-step research-backed model of how you can live with technology without developing a Pavlovian response to your notification ping.
Also covered is how ”distraction at work is a symptom of toxic company culture and how to fix it.”
The answer to your personal and professional issues with technology, Indistractable gives you the tools to change how you and your team use technology.
While not written explicitly for managers or even those in business, Talking To Strangers examines how most of us are predisposed to believing other people are being honest and transparent. Gladwell moves from this belief to the fact that when someone behaves in a way that is seen as outside of the norm, we usually have an automatically suspicious or negative response.
Through the examination of high-profile interactions such as the traffic stop of Sandra Brand and her subsequent death, the financial fraud of Bernie Madoff, Sylvia Plath’s suicide, and the Jerry Sandusky pedophilia scandal Gladwell challenges the tools and strategies we use to speak with others. Not only that, he discusses how the ways in which we interact can lead to misunderstanding, conflict, and potentially catastrophic consequences.
If you are a new manager, the manager of a new team, or the manager of a team with a high level of public interaction, this is a fascinating and transformative read. I was going to end this with “Talking To Strangers is a must-read,” but I think Oprah says it better.
“Talking to Strangers is a must-read…I love this book… Reading it will actually change not just how you see strangers, but how you look at yourself, the news–the world…Reading this book changed me.”―Oprah Winfrey
HBR’s 10 Must Reads 2020: The Definitive Management Ideas of the Year from Harvard Business Review (with bonus article “How CEOs Manage Time” by Michael E. Porter and Nitin Nohria)
Each of The Harvard Business School Must Reads series is an anthology of articles written by leading experts and previously published in The Harvard Business Review.
While there are many Must Reads available, some specifically tailored to a particular role or industry, this specific example is for every manager.
With articles as diverse as “Collaborative Intelligence: Humans and AI Are Joining Forces,” by H. James Wilson and Paul R. Daugherty, “How CEOs Manage Time,” by Michael E. Porter and Nitin Nohria, and “Strategy for Start-Ups,” by Joshua Gans, Erin L. Scott, and Scott Stern, there are relevant business conversations from which we can all learn.
As a bonus, this one is also available as an audiobook, so listen during your commute and arrive at work inspired.
No, we are not on the payroll of The Harvard Business Review; it’s just that, by its very nature, the HBR is going to publish some of the best resources available for managers.
While Must Reads is an essential compilation of business conversations, think of the HBR Manager’s Handbook is the practical equivalent. An excellent choice for those who prefer resources offering specific step-by-step guidance for a task this handbook is split into five parts covering how to develop a leadership mindset; manage yourself; manage individuals; manage teams, and manage the business.
It would be difficult to read this cover to cover, but you should take the time to read part one, “The Transition To Leadership.” This section talks about the role of a manager, the differences between management and leadership, and a slew of other critical points for the new manager, including pdispelling some common manager myths.
The layout makes it easy to grab hold of and dip into when you are experiencing a particular challenge. So, for example, if you’ll be going through financial statements for the first time, there is a chapter that explains how to understand them. The idea of employee performance reviews, keeping you up at night? There’s a chapter for that. In fact, two chapters. One about performance reviews and one about managing stress!
The handbook is rounded out by a comprehensive list of sources which serves as an excellent template for your management reading list. Keep a copy at home and one in your desk, and you’ll always have a first-class teacher at your fingertips.
Radu Marcusu, CEO of Upswing says of The HBR Managers Handbook “ This is the handbook for every manager. It is full of actionable insights, and the beauty of it is that you can apply them immediately. I always have it on me because each page contains a tip and I write the date on the page every time I use it. I promise you that using this system will supercharge your management powers in no time.”
Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth – By Richard Boyatzis, Melvin L. Smith, Ellen Van Oosten
Many managers mistakenly believe that teaching their team consists of pointing out the things people have done wrong and telling them to do it right next time. Unfortunately, this approach is neither helpful or constructive and in the long-term can lead to strained relationships, and a hemorrhaging of staff.
In Helping People Change the authors discuss how we focus on trying to “fix” people and how this rarely, if ever, leads to any significant positive changes in behaviors.
Instead, Boyatzis, Smith, and Van Oosten tell us, we should focus on identifying a person’s hopes, dreams, goals, or the positive aspects of their self-image. Then, once we know what drives a person, we can find ways to coach them that will lead to sustained, positive results.
Claudy Jules, Director of People’s Operations at Google, read this and said:
“Not just another book on coaching. Grounded in three decades of research, Helping People Change tells inspiring stories of ‘coaching with compassion’ to illustrate how the power of our dreams is the key to making positive change. A playbook for helping professionals at all levels in the organization.”
Creative Calling: Establish a Daily Practice, Infuse Your World with Meaning, and Succeed in Work + Life – By Chase Jarvis
Richard Branson is seen as one of the last entrepreneurs to achieve great success, from scratch, before the internet age was upon us. As such, his endorsement is still something to take notice of, and this is what he said about Creative Calling:
“I have always believed that you will enjoy life and be more successful if you focus on creating amazing experiences; businesses and relationships. Chase’s book Creative Calling is an engaging guide to doing just that, from a man who has followed his passions and created a company in CreativeLive to inspire others.”
It doesn’t matter if you are a creative field or not because Creative Calling is said to unlock your potential via Jarvis’s memorable “IDEA” system:
○ Imagine your big dream, whatever you want to create—or become—in this world.
○ Design a daily practice that supports that dream—and a life of expression and transformation.
○ Execute on your ambitious plans and make your vision real.
○ Amplify your impact through a supportive community; you’ll learn to grow and nurture.
Filled to the brim with actionable suggestions, Creative Calling will take you to a place of creative thinking you never previously knew existed.
Permission to Screw Up: How I Learned to Lead by Doing (Almost) Everything Wrong – By Kristen Hadeed
Not every teaching moment has to come from a handbook or a how-to manual and Permission To Screw Up is the perfect example of how you can learn just as much through the experiences of others.
In her first book Hadeed recounts how she founded her company, Student Maid, by accident, and how, before becoming an incredibly successful and sought after CEO, if there was a wrong way to do something, she did it.
In the ten years since it began, Student Maid has developed an industry-leading staff retention rate and an enviable culture of trust, engagement, and job satisfaction. Something which is especially impressive when you consider the majority of the staff spend their time cleaning toilets, washing floors, and carrying out other domestic duties. Hadeed shares how she achieved this success by rolling with the punches of failure, learning from them, and getting back up, dusting herself off, and carrying on.
An excellent choice for those who find it difficult to plow through the more traditional, instructional type of management book, Permission To Screw Up is as entertaining as it is educational.
Author and entrepreneur Seth Godin called this “A brave and generous book, the ideal antidote to the perfection and invulnerability we pretend are essential to succeed.”
When Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired was given a copy of Brave New Work, he wasn’t expecting it to have much of an impact on him. Instead, when he’d finished, Kelly said:
“I am now a convert. Aaron sums up all the crazy ideas about how to create teams and companies that maximize their potential by decentralizing their power—a once idealist notion that is now possible and essential. For a book that might start a revolution, it’s surprisingly practical and undogmatic. There’s no fluff—it’s all meat and real news. I could think of dozens of people I know who I now want to read and study it.”
So, what is it Kelly read in Brave New Work that solicited such lofty praise?
Well. In this book, Dignan shares his strategies for cutting through the traditional corporate structures and operating systems to rediscover what’s important to the success of your organization.
If you are in any doubt as to just how radical Dignan’s strategies really are, then consider these examples, all of which are real-world results, achieved by Dignan’s clients:
○ The bank which abandoned traditional budgeting and then out-performed its rivals.
○ A health-care company with over 14,000 staff in the field that has an HQ staffed by just 50 people. Not only that but this business consistently wins accolades as one of the best places to work.
○ A team that saved a staggering $3 million per year just by canceling one monthly meeting.
If you are ready to work outside of the commonly accepted norms, go grab yourself a copy of Brave New Work.
Creating an Effective Management System: Integrating Policy Deployment, TWI, and Kata – By Patrick Graupp, Skip Steward, Brad Parsons
On one occasion, I accepted a position in which my first task was to set up effective management systems, for the entire company, all 280 sites, and across all five business functions. I must have been mad, especially as there were management systems in place that were copied wholesale from another company and the “management systems team” were not impressed by having a new manager, “from the outside” thrust upon them. If you ever find yourself in a position where you’re a new manager, and part, or all of your role involves management systems, then this book is an absolute must.
Graupp, Steward, and Parsons not only outline how an organization can identify what an effective management system should look like for them, but the trio of experts describe how the critical elements of a system should work together to achieve organizational success.
Rich Sheridan, CEO of Menlo Innovations said of this book:
“We have a poster at our company that reads ‘The systems you have in place are perfectly organized to produce the behaviors you are currently experiencing.’ If you are seeking new behaviors and better results, new systems are the only way to get there. Creating an Effective Management System is just the book to get you started. The decades of experience-based wisdom that Graupp, Steward, and Parsons share will set you on a new path to a more joyful organization and the tangible results it will produce.”
Yes, we said you wouldn’t find any “management classics” that you’d find on other lists. However, as this is a new, revised, and updated edition, we thought we’d sneak it in.
The First Time Manager is a combination of a pep talk, explanatory text, how-to’s, and checklists, written by an unconventional author. McCormick is the founder of The Research Institute for Risk Intelligence, has worked in both the private and public sectors and is also a professional skydiver.
As a consequence, The First Time manager does not focus on one industry, or even on the business sector; instead, it provides candid advice to new managers in any type of organization. Although it was first published over four decades ago, it has been thoroughly updated and includes guidance on, among other things, managing remote teams, using online performance appraisal tools, and managing across multiple generations.
McCormick’s guide for the first time manager makes an excellent gift for the newly promoted.
First, Break All The Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently – By Gallup with a foreword by James K. Harter
Gallup set out to find what it is that the world’s great managers have in common, and they did so by interviewing 80,000 managers. The results of this colossal undertaking can be read in First Break All The Rules.
But don’t worry.
This is not a book full of data. It is an examination of managers from Fortune 500 companies to small entrepreneurial enterprises, CEOs to supervisors and how they have all helped to propel their employees, and consequently their organizations to the next level.
What makes this required reading is the illustrative examples of managers who were not constrained by conventional wisdom and the results they achieved.
First Break All The Rules also comes with online access to Gallup’s Q12 employee engagement survey, a set of 12 questions that Gallup says best predict employee performance. Managers who use this survey have their team members answer the questions, and Gallup aggregates the responses and provides a report. This report is then used by the manager to jump-start a process to set and manage team performance goals and discuss team culture and engagement.
This survey is especially useful for new managers who need to quickly identify what works well and what works less well for the team they are inheriting.
The Ordinary Leader: 10 Key Insights for Building and Leading a Thriving Organization – By Randy Grieser
In The Ordinary Leader, Randy Grieser shares his ten key insights for building and leading an organization that will flourish. Each of these insights translates to one of 10 key principles that Grieser sees as essential to achieving success as a leader.
What sets Grieser’s book apart is his acknowledgment that not all leaders are great. In fact, he makes a point of saying that while they may not be business or political greats, these Ordinary Leaders manage the majority of the workforce. The stories and perspectives used are those of 10 ordinary leaders, and this is a refreshing change from the many, many, leadership and management books which use Fortune 500 companies or ultra-successful entrepreneurs as their examples. So it is not surprising that Square One Construction CEO Dave Llyod should say “Finally, a leadership book that I can relate to this book is full of practical and accessible strategies.”
Last, but by no means least, The Ordinary Leader wraps up with a resource section containing in-depth advice on how you can put his ideas into action.
Radical Candor: Fully Revised & Updated Edition: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity Hardcover – by Kim Scott
One of the hardest things for new managers to achieve is finding the sweet spot between doormat and dictator. Newbies usually want to be liked by their team and make the mistake of thinking they cannot be forceful, or they want to assert their authority and end up alienated from their unhappy, dissatisfied team.
In Radical Candor, Scott shares how you can care about your people without being afraid to speak your mind, as well as how not to become overbearing or a bully in the process. She also discusses how you can provide and solicit constructive criticism to ensure continual cultural improvement.
As the person who led AdSense, YouTube and Doubleclick teams at Google before moving to Apple University to develop and teach “Managing at Apple” Scott has extensive experience in not only finding, but dwelling in this middle-ground.
“Success in business is completely dependent on having the hard conversations and exposing the truth about what needs to happen in your organization. We all know how difficult those conversations can be, and they are less effective if your team can’t hear the message. Radical candor is about combining a desire to push the organization and achieve the vision while communicating in a way that lets your team know you care personally about them. I am so pleased when I hear an employee start a conversation, “In the vein of radical candor…”, as I know we will be speaking the truth and on a path to accomplishing great things.” ―Christa Quarles, CEO of Open Table.
Not just an exploration of gender norms in the workplace That’s What She Said takes exploration a step further and provides practical advice for managers who want to work towards greater gender parity in the workplace.
Through a combination of case studies and personal experience, Lipman asks how managers in a post #MeToo movement world can ensure their workplace is an equitable and professionally fulfilling environment for all.
Most useful for new managers may be the “positive action now” cheat sheet. It provides clear instructions and direction for those managers who may want to do more, but are unsure of how to do it well. In fact, scrap that. The cheat sheet is useful for ALL managers who want to narrow the divide between genders at work but are fearful of making mistakes.
“Insightful and timely. The points Joanne Lipman makes in That’s What She Said is right on target for today’s new workplace. It will resonate whether you’re male or female, young or old, manager, or managed a long-term employee, or just starting your career.” -Andrew H. Tisch, Co-Chairman of the Board, and Chairman of the Executive Committee, Loews Corporation.
We’ve all been there. A bright shiny new project that you can’t wait to get started on has suddenly devolved into something you’d be happy to run away from. If you have a lifetime’s worth of “maybe one-day” ideas or have left a series of unfinished projects, plans, and tasks in your wake then Start Finishing is the book for you.
Gilkey will guide you through the essential steps that will help you to take ideas through to completion without too much pain on the way. I say without too much pain because we all have habits from which it is difficult to break free, but Gilkey even addresses this by saying not to be too hard on yourself.
“Start Finishing offers a step-by-step process to help you get from concept to completed, no matter the project you’re trying to tackle. So many books show you how to get going on projects, but few focus on how to get beyond the beginning, through the middle, and to the end result. Charlie Gilkey has written a book that does that―and does it in a way that’s tried, tested, and true. Start Finishing is a book that, once read from start to finish, will allow you to finish anything time and time again.” ―Mike Vardy, productivity strategist and founder of TimeCrafting
So, there you have it. Our 20 Must-Read Books For Successful Managers. Go ahead, grab yourself a copy of one of these fabulous books, but don’t blame us if you end up buying them all.