October 11, 2022
Natalia Rossingol

19 Best Management Books & Their Summaries

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 19 books that, in our opinion, can teach a lot about management:

  1. “The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You” by Julie Zhuo
  2. “The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter” by Michael D. Watkins
  3. “The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win” by Kim Gene, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford
  4. “Radical Candor: How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean” by Kim Scott
  5. “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable” by Patrick Lencioni
  6. “Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams” by Tom deMarco and Timothy Lister
  7. “Brave New Work: Are You Ready to Reinvent Your Organization?” by Aaron Dignan
  8. “Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs” by John Doerr
  9. “Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Guide to the Real World” by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall
  10. “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right” by Atul Gawande
  11. “Six Thinking Hats” by Edward de Bono
  12. “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” by Cal Newport
  13. “The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
  14. “Good to Great: Why some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t” by Jim Collins
  15. “Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts” by Brene Brown
  16. “The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups” by Daniel Coyle
  17.  “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High” by K. Peterson, J. Grenny, R. McMillan, and A. Switzler
  18. “Team Topologies: Organizing Business and Technology Teams for Fast Flow” by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais
  19. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman

1. “The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You” by Julie Zhuo

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.

2. “The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter” by Michael D. Watkins

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.

Read our summary of “The First 90 Days”  to learn more.

3. “The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win” by Kim Gene, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford

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.

4. “Radical Candor: How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean” by Kim Scott

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.

5. “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable” by Patrick Lencioni

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. 

6. “Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams” by Tom deMarco and Timothy Lister

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.

7. “Brave New Work: Are You Ready to Reinvent Your Organization?” by Aaron Dignan

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.

8. “Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs” by John Doerr

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”

9. “Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Guide to the Real World” by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall

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.

10. “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right” by Atul Gawande

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.”

11. “Six Thinking Hats” by Edward de Bono

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.

12. “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” by Cal Newport

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.

13. “The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

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.”

14. “Good to Great: Why some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t” by Jim Collins

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.” 

15. “Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts” by Brene Brown

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.  

16. “The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups” by Daniel Coyle

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.”

17. “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High” by K. Peterson, J. Grenny, R. McMillan, and A. Switzler

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”.

18. “Team Topologies: Organizing Business and Technology Teams for Fast Flow” by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais

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.  

19. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman

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.

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