In 2007, they handed me the keys to the castle. Well, not exactly — but at 28 years old I became a manager for the first time. I went from having to worry only about myself as an IC to grooming new college graduates, injecting myself into corporate politics and managing colleagues who were much older.
As a manager, I’ve always felt a deep sense of responsibility for my direct reports. Without sounding overly paternalistic, a manager influences a person’s career — and by extension a sizable chunk of their lives. So whether you’re a first time manager or have leading an entire organization, managing a team can be daunting and challenging.
That’s why we curated and crowdsourced a list of the 7 best books for managers. The list is designed to provide support, insights, and practical tools for anyone looking to lead with confidence. These books not only offer guidance for first-time managers, but even experienced managers can learn a great deal from their wisdom.
Radical Candor, Kim Scott
In the book, Scott is focused on one key idea: Effective leadership requires good communication – and that means you need to strike a balance between challenging directly and caring personally. “Challenging directly” communication means that leader need to give honest feedback, even when it’s difficult, while “Caring personally” is all about being considerate of their team members’ feelings and well-being
We recommend Radical Candor to anyone who is a leader or aspiring to become one, especially those in high-pressure, high-stakes environments where tough feedback is required yet you still care deeply about your direct reports.
High Output Management, Andy Grove
High Output Management by Andrew Grove is the go-to book on how to effectively manage a team and – as the name implies – drive your team’s output.
Grove draws on his extensive experience as a CEO at Intel to provide a comprehensive guide for new and experienced managers. It contains a wide range of topics starting from how to build and maintain a high-performing team, how to set and achieve goals, and finally how to handle difficult people and situations. One of the key messages of the book is the importance of creating a strong, clear vision for your team and regularly communicating that vision to your team members.
Grove is also credited with creating the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) framework, a goal-setting methodology used by many successful companies today. OKRs are a specific way of setting and tracking goals, where objectives are clear and measurable, and key results define specific, measurable milestones along the way. Overall, OKRs can encourage teams to push themselves to achieve more while staying focused on what truly matters.
Last but not least, the author also emphasizes the importance of developing a deep understanding of your team members’ strengths and weaknesses, and using that understanding to delegate tasks effectively and provide meaningful feedback. He provides practical advice on how to give constructive criticism and how to motivate your team to perform at their best – all crucial skills for managers who want to see their team succeed.
High Output Management is a must-read for new managers who want to build and maintain high-performing teams. If you’re struggling to motivate your team or feel like you’re not achieving the results you want, this book will provide practical advice and actionable strategies for success. Learning key management principles and step-by-step advice on how to set and achieve goals, handle difficult situations, and communicate with your team will greatly accelerate your learning journey as a manger. Overall, you’ll establish a strong foundation for your management career and find the right tools to create a clear vision for your team.
Difficult Conversations, Douglas Stone
Difficult Conversations by Bruce Patton, Douglas Stone, and Sheila Heen is another great management book focusing on communication – more specifically how to navigate difficult conversations and resolve conflicts effectively.
As you might have guessed from seeing already two communication-focused books among the first three recommendations, this is an absolutely crucial skill for managers to develop.
First, it’s important to understand that difficult conversations are not just about divisive issues like politics and religion. They can be about anything that triggers feelings of vulnerability or uncertainty in any of the participants. Luckily, regardless of the topic, difficult conversations often share similar setups and understanding them will help you gain a better sense of how to approach and navigate them effectively.
One of the key takeaways from the book is the importance of understanding not only what is said but also what isn’t. Underlying thoughts and emotions are often driving the conversation and it’s crucial to identify them to make a difficult conversation a successful one, which is why it’s important to really know your colleagues and direct reports. Keep in mind that this isn’t just limited to the other person – your own emotions are very likely to impact what you say and how you say with without you fully being aware of it.
Last but certainly not least, the authors introduce the concept of “the learning conversation” which is a framework for approaching difficult conversations in a way that allows all parties involved to learn and grow. The framework involves four key steps:
- Preparing for the conversation,
- Starting the conversation,
- Exploring the underlying concerns and interests, and
- Finding common ground.
Overall, Difficult Conversations is an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to improve their communication skills and navigate difficult conversations with greater ease and confidence. Whether you’re a manager dealing with challenging employees, a parent navigating tricky conversations with your children, or simply looking to improve your communication skills, this book has something to offer.
The Making of a Manager, Julie Zhou
The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo is a practical guide to the skills and strategies needed to become a successful manager.
Julie Zhuo uses her experience as a manager at Facebook to provide guidance and advice for new managers. Similar to High Output Management, this book covers a wide range of topics including how to build a strong team, how to give effective feedback, how to delegate tasks, and how to navigate office politics. One of our favourite parts are Zhuo insights on the challenges of transitioning from an individual contributor to a manager – and the practical advice she provides on how to navigate this transition effectively. These are really important lessons that will make your first months as a manager so much easier.
One of the key messages of the book is that the role of a manager is much more complex than just delegating tasks. As a manager, your job is to create a shared vision and goals for your team, foster effective communication amongst team members, provide feedback and mentorship, and resolve conflicts that will inevitably emerge. But you’re also the connecting piece between your team and the wider needs of the organization, so navigating how your team fits into the bigger picture is also on your to-do list. Lastly, you’re also responsible for navigating change and help your team adapt to changes in strategy or the wider environment.
If you’re considering transitioning into a management role, then this book is a must-read. It will help set your expectations, debunk various misconceptions and give you a great idea of what it actually means to “manage”. It’s a widely different job description compared to an individual contributor and it’s important to know what to expect before making such an important career move.
But don’t worry if you already made the jump – this is still a great read for anyone early in their manager journey. Everyone who has been in the workforce for a while knows a story about a bad boss, and unfortunately, it’s easy to fall into the same traps. However, with a healthy amount of self-reflection and the lessons provided in this book, you’ll be able to avoid common pitfalls and become a manger other people look up to.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni is a great book for managers that provides a practical framework for building and leading effective teams – while focusing on behaviors to avoid.
Lencioni tackles the topic of building a good team from the other side. What are the most common pitfalls, the “five dysfunctions of a team” that ruin the performance? Absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. He argues that these dysfunctions can have a profound impact on a team’s performance and that addressing them is critical for building an effective team.
Lencioni’s approach is refreshingly “human-first.” He acknowledges that each team member brings imperfections and vulnerabilities (and not just strengths and achievements) to the table and your job as a manager isn’t really to fix them – it’s about identifying a way to work with them.
The 5 Dysfunctions of a team will give you a powerful framework for understanding the dynamics of a team and become aware of common pitfalls that can lead to dysfunction. With its emphasis on trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and a focus on results, this book offers practical insights and strategies that will help you to establish a strong and effective team.
Creativity, Inc., Amy Wallace and Ed Catmull
Creativity, Inc. by Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull takes a different approach than other books for managers by focusing on the creative success of Pixar Animation Studios.
But don’t worry: this book isn’t just a summary of your kids’ favorite animated movies. Instead, the authors take readers behind the scenes of one of the world’s most innovative companies to reveal the secrets of its success. The authors, Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull, were both early employees at Pixar and provide a fascinating first-hand account of the company’s growth and evolution. You’ll learn how to replicate Pixar’s culture of creativity and collaboration, and how to overcome the unseen forces that typically stifle creativity and innovation. It’s these superpowers that will help you lift your company to the next level.
One of the key learnings is the concept of “plussing.” This crucial skill is all about building upon someone else’s ideas instead of simply shooting them down. If you want to be an effective manager, then you need to give your team members the freedom to explore their ideas and provide constructive feedback that helps the team grow and improve.
Overall, Creativity, Inc. will help anyone looking to create a culture of creativity and innovation in their workplace. Whether you are a CEO, manager, or simply someone looking to bring out the best in yourself and others, this book provides valuable insights and actionable advice that can help you tap into your own creativity and unleash your full potential.
Setting The Table, Danny Meyer
While Setting the Table by Danny Meyer might look like an unlikely choice for the must-read books for managers, it actually contains a treasure trove of valuable lessons far beyond the restaurant industry.
In Setting the Table, Meyer shares his experiences as a restaurateur and how he transformed his struggling businesses into a successful group of restaurants. He argues that the key to success is not just about serving great food, but creating a culture that supports your team and customers – a lesson that is as true for SaaS companies as it is for the service industry.
Meyer believes that leaders should strive to create a culture where people feel valued and where their strengths can be utilized to create a better work environment. He also emphasizes the importance of empathy and understanding in leadership and how this can lead to a more fulfilling workplace and better customer experiences.
One fascinating concept in the book revolves around “small moments” in the customer journey, and how they often greatly impact customers’ experiences. He shares how paying attention to small details, such as the way servers interact with customers and how the table is set, can greatly enhance the overall experience for the customer. And happy customers are after all the best guarantee for a successful business.