Management can be tough, but you can learn your way through it with practice. If you need theory, this list of top management books and their summaries will help.
Paraphrasing a famous saying, you are what you read. But not only do books shape your personality, they help you find answers to tricky life and work questions – because chances are that someone has already lived through them.
If you are a manager and want to learn more about effective leadership, you’ve got a wide choice. Listed below are different books. Authors who wrote them discuss similar topics – trust and safety at the workplace, goal setting and priorities, focus and distraction.
However, each of the authors adds something new to the spectrum and shares priceless wisdom, as they've directly witnessed or experienced things they’re writing about. Their advice is not theoretical – it has actually been applied, and proved to be effective.
We picked 23 books that, in our opinion, can teach a lot about management:
Leadership is not something that can be bestowed. It must be earned. People must want to follow you.
Good managers are made, not born – that’s the red thread of the whole book. Zhuo believes management is a skill that can be learned, and it starts with understanding that management is not about promotion and firing – it’s about leading and influencing people.
In a very simple manner, Zhuo describes situations a manager may find himself in, emphasizing that his actions will highly depend on the context – whether your team is small or big, or whether your team’s been formed from scratch or already existing.
She also gives advice on how to make meetings productive and how to hire the right people, how to give feedback, or get rid of drama at the workplace.
To learn more about Zhuo’s ideas, read our summary of “Making of a Manager” here.
The president of the United States gets 100 days to prove himself; you get 90. The actions you take during your first few months in a new role will largely determine whether you succeed or fail.
The period of transition is never easy, especially for a manager whose success or failure can largely influence the well-being of the entire company, let alone the careers of employees.
In his book, Watkins provides pretty detailed recommendations that can help a newly appointed manager prepare for their new role. He explains how to scan the current situation and react to it appropriately, talks about the importance of creating alliances that would support you, and teaches the secrets of diplomacy, necessary for a productive conversation with your own boss.
IT work is probably much more complex than manufacturing work. Not only is the work invisible, making it more difficult to track, but there are far more things that could go wrong… Even one small mistake could take everything down.
“The Phoenix Project” is a novel about a fictional company on the verge of collapse and its way out of the crisis.
To save the company, the leadership tried to launch a new project – Phoenix – which, they hoped, would close the gap with competition. Analyzing the problems and finding solutions, they managed to make the company profitable and bring it to a new level.
Going through the struggles of fictional characters, the authors explain real business concepts and show us how they actually work – namely, the concepts of the Three Ways (the DevOps principles), the Four Types of Work, and the Theory of Constraints.
In “The Phoenix Project” summary, we briefly described these concepts, as well as the plot of the book.
My point is not that you need to cuss or shout or be rude to be a great boss. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Delivering feedback can be tough, but that’s a direct responsibility of a boss. Yet, many managers have no idea how to do it properly. They are scared to say things openly, fearing to hurt people’s feelings – and this leads to poor results, as people simply don’t know something goes wrong.
Kim Scott suggests replacing this harmful communication with the so-called “radical candor.” She defines it as a phenomenon consisting of two dimensions - “Care Personally” and “Challenge Directly.” Together, they form an honest and open communication based on respect to each other’s personalities.
Scott also explains how important it is to understand the true motivation of your employees and assign tasks accordingly, provides techniques of getting your team to work as a whole, and emphasizes the role of trust.
Read our summary of Radical Candor here.
The fact remains that teams, because they are made up of imperfect human beings, are inherently dysfunctional.
Many problems, even of technical nature, arise simply because of the lack of team coherence. Patrick Lencioni views this lack of coherence as the “Five Dysfunctions Model” – a 5-level pyramid where all levels are interconnected and affect each other.
This book is written as a fictional novel, where the 5 dysfunctions form the plot: a Silicon Valley company team trying to solve the issues caused by the dysfunctional absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. This way, the reader can see how exactly these dysfunctions get expressed in real life.
In addition to the fictional novel, the book contains a theoretical part where Lencioni analyzes each of the dysfunctions, providing suggestions for overcoming them, explaining the role of the leader in it, and demonstrating the connection to the level above. In our summary of “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, we briefly covered the main points.
The uniqueness of every worker is a continued annoyance to the manager who has blindly adopted a management style from the production world.
Some managers treat employees as machine components that are supposed to work together smoothly. That’s a mistake: people are not cogs in the machines.
In “Peopleware”, deMarco and Lister analyze the human factor in IT business. First of all, they criticize the approaches to IT which eliminate experimentation and standardize procedures, the Spanish theory of value, based on resource exploitation, and so on.
They also mention such mundane things as furniture and windows, indoor and outdoor company space – because they affect us much more than we could think. They discuss what true professionalism means and why it’s so important to adopt the mentality of permanence. They cover how to avoid “teamicide” and what chemistry for team formation is about. Finally, they emphasize that work doesn’t have to be boring – it can, and should, be fun. Read our summary of ”Peopleware” to learn more.
We are addicted … to the siren song of bureaucracy. Gratuitous hierarchies, plans, budgets, and controls abound. But they aren’t working like they used to.
We’re in the XXI century, yet the vast majority of leaders still use the management principles developed in the industrial era. These principles worked years ago, but they don’t work anymore. However, to quit them isn’t easy. It requires courage.
Being brave, in Dignan’s opinion, means to think of more than just one way of doing things – and, what’s even more important, being people-positive. Recognizing that a human being has a natural ability and need to learn, and doesn’t necessarily have to be controlled are key.
It also means reshaping your operating system. Dignan discusses 12 domains (strategy, resources, innovation, compensation, etc.) that need to be reconsidered, suggesting ideas to think over and demonstrating how these domains should function in the “brave new work”. We briefly described Dignan’s main points in our “Brave New Work” summary.
OKRs surface your primary goals. They channel efforts and coordination. They link diverse operations, lending purpose and unity to the entire organization.
This book is not just about goals – it’s a step-by-step guide on how to make a sound plan that would keep everyone in the company on the same page and ensure that you do achieve results. This plan is called OKRs, which stands for Objectives and Key Results: objectives represent what has to be achieved, and key results – what exactly needs to be done to achieve that.
The point of this management system is that everyone, including the frontline workers, is supposed to prepare their own plan for the following quarter, half a year, a year and so on, which would fit into the overall company plan. This way, all workers get involved in the process, and all of them get a right to make suggestions.
You can find more information about OKRs in our summary of “Measure what Matters”.
We could call these things “misconceptions,” or “myths,” or even “misunderstandings,” but because they are pushed at us so hard… we’ll call them “lies.”
We have many wrong ideas about work, and the only reason for it is that we don’t take the trouble to think it can be otherwise. Buckingham and Goodall did. They selected nine most blatant, in their opinion, commonly believed lies about work and explained why they’re not true, and why it’s so harmful to keep believing in them.
You strive for a work-life balance, but are you sure it exists at all? You rate your employees or co-workers, but can you really do it objectively? You hire people that have potential – but who doesn’t have potential, which is simply an ability to learn?
In our summary of “Nine Lies About Work”, we explain each of the nine ideas mentioned in the book.
Failures of ignorance we can forgive. But if the knowledge exists and is not applied correctly, it is difficult not to be infuriated.
People make stupid mistakes – stupid because they actually know how to do them right. We’re are inattentive, too busy, too distracted, and then fail to complete easiest tasks. But what if such a mistake is done by a surgeon or a pilot? The consequences can be dramatic.
Gawande, a surgeon himself, suggests a simple solution – a checklist. You decompose your task into steps and put a tick next to each step after its completion. Yes, it can be boring. But human memory is not almighty. And using a reminder can save lives.
Checklists can be different. The key moment here is to make them as simple as possible – not too long, with simple wording and highlighted “killer items” – things most dangerous to skip.
To learn more about checklists, read our summary of “The Checklist Manifesto.”
Confusion is the biggest enemy of good thinking… Juggling with six balls at the same time is rather difficult. Tossing up one ball at a time is much easier.
When we try to make a decision, or when we’re involved in an argument, we typically get overwhelmed with emotions, facts, new ideas and so on - all at the same time. As a result, we soon get exhausted, and do not necessarily come up with the best answer. But what if we start thinking in a different manner?
De Bono invented a great instrument of productive thinking – Six Thinking Hats. Each Hat has a color – black, white, red, green, yellow, blue, where each of the colors represents a specific thinking type. You want to express emotions – you put on a red hat; you want to let others know about your suspicions – you put on a black hat, and so on.
Six Thinking Hats have two huge benefits: they help focus on one problem at a time and, what’s really important, let you “officially” express ideas and feelings that normally are never discussed – like saying that your colleague annoys you and you’d like to remove her from a project.
For more information, read our “Six Thinking Hats” summary where we described each of the hats.
The ubiquity of deep work among influential individuals is important to emphasize because it stands in sharp contrast to the behavior of most modern knowledge workers—a group that’s rapidly forgetting the value of going deep.
We get distracted all the time – and the quality of our work suffers. What we need is a deep focus, but it’s so hard to focus in an environment full of distractions like social media, instant messages, and even open space offices. So are we doomed to failure?
Not necessarily, says Newport. Emphasizing the importance of concentration, he explains how exactly you can work deeply. You can isolate yourself for two weeks – or get isolated for two hours every day.
You can “embrace the boredom” for the sake of outstanding results – work consistently, saying no to small pleasures. These and many other pieces of advice are summarized in our article.
When everything feels urgent and important, everything seems equal. We become active and busy, but this doesn’t actually move us any closer to success.
Multitasking is considered the good, but it’s the evil: none of what we do this way is perfect. Making a to-do list, we burden ourselves with one million routine and probably unimportant tasks. There is an option – choosing the one thing that would channel our efforts.
Keller and Papasan recommend asking yourself a simple question: what is the only thing I can do that would make everything else easier? In every walk of your life, you can ask yourself this same question. What is the one thing that can improve my health? My relationship? My work? Once you know the answer, focus on this thing. The rest doesn’t really matter.
To learn more, read our summary of “The One Thing.”
That good is the enemy of great is not just a business problem. It is a human problem… Good churches might become great churches… And good companies might become great companies.
Some organizations are pretty successful but they never become anything more. At the same time, there are companies that managed to become truly outstanding. What’s the secret that makes the difference?
With a group of other researchers, Jim Collins spent 5 years scientifically analyzing the stories of success. They noticed that companies which made the leap from good to great followed similar rules.
These rules laid the foundation for the 7 principles – a framework of concepts using which any organization can become more than just mediocre.
These principles are nothing complicated. The author talks about true leadership, based on humanity, about the role of technologies, which is not the main one, and the necessity to accept the brutal facts. You can read more about these concepts in our summary of “Good to Great.”
The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing, it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.
It’s considered inappropriate for a leader to demonstrate any sign of vulnerability. But leaders are humans, and humans are vulnerable. A paradox is that strong leadership means the ability to show your weaknesses.
Brown says many problems come from the armor leaders put on. They require perfectionism from themselves and their workers, even though perfectionism is destructive. They want to always be right, and being always right is a heavy burden. They criticize to protect themselves. And this is a way to nowhere.
Instead, Brown suggests daring leadership – the leadership where leaders recognize their imperfection, open up to get a better understanding of the situation, practice gratitude, and make an actual contribution to work. This means being courageous enough to make mistakes.
Read more about daring leadership in our “Dare to Lead” summary.
Being smart is overrated… showing fallibility is crucial… being nice is not nearly as important as you might think.
Successful military units, jewel thieves, and movie teams have something in common – they share specific culture skills. Analyzing these groups, Coyle determined three main skills needed for a creation of a healthy culture: building safety, sharing vulnerability, and establishing purpose.
Safety is not about hiring security guards - it’s about the sense of belonging, the right of everyone to have a voice, and not tolerating any obnoxious behavior.
Sharing vulnerability for a leader means to be the first one to get vulnerable and to let others feel vulnerable too. If negative stuff is delivered in person, if a leader really listens to problems workers share, it will create the ambience of trust.
Finally, successful cultures cannot exist without a purpose. In such cultures, people name priorities and measure their results by things that are really important – like, not the number of phone calls but the number of new customers gained by those calls.
Learn more about the rules of successful cultures in our summary of “The Culture Code.”
Crucial conversations" transform people and relationships… They produce what Buddhism calls "the middle way" - not a compromise between two opposites on a straight-line continuum, but a higher middle way, like the apex of a triangle.
We often fail to achieve what we want only because we don’t know how to talk to other people. In this book, the authors explain that when it comes to “crucial conversations” – which is, to conversations that can seriously affect some aspect of your life – you should be very attentive not to make the wrong step.
And they provide techniques that help with that. Admit that you cannot change anyone but yourself. Accept that there can be a third choice. For example, you don’t have to choose between being honest and respectful. Learn to identify your own emotions and resort to facts.
You can find more tips in our summary of “Crucial Conversations”.
An organization is a sociotechnical system or ecosystem that is shaped by the interaction of individuals and the teams within it; in other words, that an organization is the interaction between people and technology.
A team is more than a collection of individuals; it’s a living organism that evolves. Within an organization, a team is never isolated, and always connected to the other teams. The thing is to know how to organize this interaction.
One of the serious problems in many organizations is the issue with org charts: they often reflect the hierarchy but not the actual interaction between different sections, which causes problems, including the ones in IT business.
This is why Skelton and Pais suggest a new approach to organizing IT workers. They provide 4 team topologies, namely stream-aligned, enabling, complicated subsystem, and platform teams.
Each of these topologies performs specific functions, and typically, all four can be found in big organizations. We described them in more detail in our “Team Topologies” summary.
As we navigate our lives, we normally allow ourselves to be guided by impressions and feelings, and the confidence we have in our intuitive beliefs and preferences is usually justified. But not always.
Our intuition has nothing to do with magic. It’s merely a recognition of facts and events; yet we assign it some supernatural power. Kahneman, a psychologist and a Nobel prize winner, explains the mechanisms of our memory’s work, ruining these myths.
Kahneman describes human mental life from the viewpoint of 2 agents – System 1 and System 2. System 1 concerns automatic, “fast” thinking – emotions and intuitions. System 2 represents “slow” thinking – it processes the material provided by System 1. The problem is, we often think “fast”, trusting our impressions without carefully considering them.
Kahneman analyzes the two systems, telling us about numerous biases we’re prone to thanks to our faith in System 1. He describes many experiments, proving that we make more cognitive mistakes than we think. Read more about them in our “Thinking, Fast and Slow” summary.
This is a long list. Some of these books will appeal more to you than the others, and it’s okay. Pick the ones you find intriguing and start with them. In a world full of information noise, advice proven in practice has a high price. Don’t miss your opportunity.
The best minute I spend is the one I invest in people.
To be a good manager, you don’t have to do any magic tricks. Effective management is not necessarily time-consuming – you just need to know some rules.
In a short parable “The One Minute Manager”, an allegorical “young man” travels throughout the world to find out what makes a good leader. He meets corporate executives, government administrators, and university presidents, but the methods they use do not seem great enough. Finally, he hears about a special manager whose team produces fantastic results and likes working for him. The young man visits this manager, asking him to share his wisdom.
A mysterious boss calls himself a 'One Minute Manager' – because it literally takes him around one minute to do the essential managerial tasks. He hates wasting time, never makes decisions for his people, and cares for them personally as much as for the results. He admits he has three secrets he uses to manage.
Even though this story is an allegory, it doesn’t read as a fairy tale. The characters are just generalized images representing young managers at the dawn of their careers, as well as experienced managers who created a valid management system.
We’ve summarized “The One Minute Manager” in detail for you to learn more about easy yet effective management.
The old paradigm held an ideal of reason freed of the pull of emotion. The new paradigm urges us to harmonize head and heart.
We all know what IQ, the intelligence quotient, is. Yet, there is one more criterion for assessment – emotional intelligence. This term was first introduced by psychologist Daniel Goleman in his 1995 book. According to Goleman, even though humankind has developed significantly, we are still slaves to our emotions, and this fact needs to be taken into account, both in our private lives and at the workplace.
Describing the history and anatomy of human emotions, Goleman explains why intellectually smart people act dumb in social situations, why it is very important to be self-aware and understand your own emotions, and how to heal an old emotional trauma that still has a detrimental impact on you.
He gives advice on how to control strong emotions like anger and anxiety and tells us why the family must never be underestimated as a factor of forming emotional intelligence since parents can either contribute to emotional health or cause long-lasting harm.
As Goleman pointed out, leadership is about persuading people to work toward a common goal, so the ability to be emotionally competent can be very helpful for managers.
You can read our summary of “Emotional Intelligence” here.
A truly equal world would be the one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes. I believe that this would be a better world.
In the last one hundred years, the role of women in business has drastically changed – yet, there is so much more to be desired. A female in a leading position (she’s a COO at Facebook), Sandberg shares her own story of surviving on men’s territory and analyzes the current situation, unveiling the unpleasant truth.
She discusses the problems of inequality and discrimination at the workplace, like lower salaries for women and lack of opportunities for them to reach their full potential. She mentions cases where blatant stereotypical thinking prevented women from feeling worthy, talks about sexual harassment and scolds women who do not support each other.
The main message of the book is that women do not need to choose between a family and a career. They can do it all – not perfectly, but this is alright. Sandberg underlines there is no need to suppress your ambition and “leave before you leave”, refusing to grab opportunities and sacrificing them for private life. On the contrary, once you decide to take a career break to start a family or have a baby, it’s the right time for you to lean in, not to lean back.
You can learn more about women’s struggle for equality in business in our summary of “Lean In.”
They are more than successful. They are more than enduring. In most cases, they are the best of the best in their industries, and have been that way for decades.
How can a company not only become successful but also keep this status for years? To answer this question, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras conducted research, crystallizing the concepts that make highly profitable and long-lasting companies stand out from the rest.
They shattered a lot of deep-rooted myths circulating in business. It appears that it is not necessary to start a company with a great idea in mind, because strategic planning is less important than experimentation. It appears that for a truly visionary company, a charismatic leader is not required, and making money is just one of the objectives - and never the objective. Working for these companies is not a bed of roses unless you really fit in.
According to the authors’ findings, for a company to be visionary, it must have two things formulated – core ideology and envisioned future. Core ideology consists of core values, which are the principles a company chose for itself, and core purpose, which justifies the company’s existence. As for the envisioned future, it includes two elements – BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) and vivid descriptions that help you visualize what your company will look like.
Read more about how to build a great company in our summary of “Build to Last.”
Can software engineering woes be solved by focusing on people, not tech? This book summary of “Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams” will help you decide for yourself!
People are at the heart of any organization, and effective management is the linchpin for success. Here's a collection of nine essential books to improve it.