Back to all posts
Natalia Rossingol

9 Books on Managing People & Their Summaries

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.

Embarking on the journey of managing people is a complex and rewarding endeavor that requires a unique set of skills and insights. In this post, we explore nine impactful books that delve into the art and science of managing individuals and teams. From timeless classics to contemporary gems, each book offers valuable lessons and practical strategies for navigating the intricacies of human dynamics in the workplace.

  1. "The One Minute Manager" by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
  2. "The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team" by Patrick Lencioni
  3. "The Making of a Manager" by Julie Zhuo
  4. "Radical Candor" by Kim Scott
  5. "Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams" by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister
  6. "Team Topologies" by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais
  7. "Measure What Matters" by John Doerr
  8. "Brave New Work" by Aaron Dignan
  9. "The First 90 Days" by Michael D. Watkins

1. "The One Minute Manager" by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson

The best minute I spend is the one I invest in people.

This book is an easy read that, however, is full of condensed wisdom. Written in the form of an allegory, it tells us about three very practical management techniques that can help leaders do their work well without too much effort.

The plot unfolds around a character named “young man,” which obviously symbolizes inexperienced managers. This young man is in search of a truly effective manager, to understand how to manage people in the best way possible.

During his journey, he gets to see different leaders and realizes they can be roughly divided into two categories – autocratic (“hard-nosed,” “realistic,” and “profit-minded”) and democratic (“participative,” “supportive,” and “humanistic.”) But he feels that being either autocratic or democratic is like being a half-manager – you care either for the results or for the people.   

Luckily, he meets a special manager, incredibly effective and respected by his subordinates, who shares his secrets. The surprising truth is that the techniques he uses don’t take much time - this is why he's called a One Minute Manager. These techniques are:

  1. One-minute goals. Set clear goals, write them down, and constantly re-read them.
  2. One-minute praisings. Praise people immediately and be specific.
  3. One-minute reprimands. Reprimand people immediately, too, but always say how much you value them.

The young man listens to the advice and becomes a great manager himself.

You can find our full summary of the book here.

2. "The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team" by Patrick Lencioni

Teamwork comes down to mastering a set of behaviors that are at once theoretically uncomplicated, but extremely difficult to put into practice day after day.

Teams naturally fall victim to all-too-human behavioral tendencies that cause dysfunctions and corruptions of different types, which negatively affect workplace culture and employee engagement. According to Lencioni, the key to successful teamwork lies in the ability to find out and overcome those tendencies.

“The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” consists of two parts. The first part, “The Fable,” is fictional, and tells us a story about Kathryn Petersen, a manager hired to save a company called “DecisionTech” from collapse. Working with her executives, Kathryn presents a 5-level model of dysfunctions, explaining how exactly this model is reflected in their particular organization, and leads her team out of a crisis.

The second part of the book, “The Model,” is theoretical and actually describes the 5 dysfunctions in clear terms:

  1. The absence of trust. Trust is the foundation of teamwork.
  2. Fear of conflict. Holding opinions and concerns back is unhealthy.
  3. Lack of commitment. All team members must truly agree with the decisions made.
  4. Avoidance of accountability. Performance problems should always be discussed.
  5. Inattention to results. By satisfying our ego, we cannot focus on what really matters.

Continue reading our summary of “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team” here.

3. "The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You" by Julie Zhuo

A group of people working in unison is a wonderful thing to behold. Done well, it ceases to be about you or me, one individual or another. Instead, you feel the energy of dozens or hundreds or even thousands of hearts and minds directed toward a shared purpose, guided by shared values.

“Great managers are made, not born” – that’s the motto of this book, in which Julie Zhuo tells about her experience as a manager of Facebook’s design team.

Zhuo discusses the concept of management, contrasting it to leadership and emphasizing that not everybody can be a manager, as it is more than merely holding meetings. Management, as she points out, is about creating the right conditions for a smooth work process, delegation, and emotional presence.

She offers practical advice on how to start being an effective leader. She underlines that the choice of your approach should be based on the nature of your team, whether it’s a part of a growing team, a new group, an already existing one, or a team whose boss is leaving. She also speaks about feedback, meetings, hiring process, and self-control, and explains the importance of plans and vision.

Don’t miss our 10-minute summary of “The Making of a Manager” here!

4. "Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity" by Kim Scott

Your relationships and your responsibilities reinforce each other positively or negatively, and this dynamic is what drives you forward as a manager—or leaves you dead in the water. Relationships, not power, drive you forward.

Undoubtedly, being a manager means guiding the teams to achieve results. Bosses provide feedback and, in particular, criticism; they make strategies and build a cohesive team out of individual people; they make things happen and take responsibility for the outcome.

At the same time, we often undervalue the importance of the emotional intelligence of a boss. Because, after all, what managers do is create relationships among team members – and emotions are an inseparable component of any human relationship.

Kim Scott was able to find a sweet spot between driving great results and staying human, which she called “radical candor.” According to Scott, this is a management style that happens when you set high-performance standards but still deeply care about your people, your most valuable resource, – in other words, when two dimensions, “challenge directly” and “care personally” are put together.

It’s “radical” because we’re not used to saying what we really think. And it’s “candor,” not honesty, because what you’re offering is your subjective viewpoint, and it’s better to not claim it to be the truth.

Besides radical candor, the 2 dimensions form 3 other patterns of managers' behavior:

  1. Obnoxious aggression – when there is a challenge, but no respect.
  2. Ruinous empathy – when you empathize to the point when issues are ignored.
  3. Manipulative insincere guidance – when a manager tries to influence people, but there is no challenge or empathy.

 Read our summary of “Radical Candor” here, to learn how to have tough conversations with your direct reports, showing that you care for their well-being.    

5. "Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams" by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister

The main reason we tend to focus on the technical rather than the human side of work is not because it’s more crucial, but because it’s easier to do… Human interactions are complicated and never very crisp and clean in their effects, but they matter more than any other aspect of work.

For years, managers of software companies have acted as if technology, and not people, was their main concern. There is a solid reason for that: typically, these managers are ex-technicians and developers who are used to working with technology. But any organization is, first and foremost, about people – and problems that managers have to deal with are often social by nature, coming from human behavior.

In “Peopleware,” DeMarco and Lister discuss various ideas on how to improve the human side of software engineering:

  • They ruin the myth of workaholic effectiveness, proving that it only decreases the quality of work.
  • They analyze how the environment can affect productivity and why windows and privacy in the workspace are so important.
  • They explain that valuing workers as specialists and personalities can nurture the mentality of permanence, which would help avoid turnover, and explain how to create a supportive community, providing characteristics of a healthy “team chemistry.”

You can read more in our short summary of “Peopleware.” 

6. "Team Topologies" by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais

The Team Topologies approach helps organizations that are struggling to find a way to optimize their team structure, or for those that are not yet aware of the impact team design can have on good business outcomes and software systems in particular.

Teams are living organisms: they interact with each other and constantly change, they adapt and evolve. And, naturally, their transformations directly influence the product these teams produce. In this book, Skelton and Pais offer an adaptive model for organizational design – Team Topologies, which can help run software systems.   

The book consists of three parts dedicated to the following issues:

1. The role of teams in delivery. Here the authors discuss the discrepancies between org charts and the actual patterns team members work in, emphasizing that these discrepancies often cause delivery bottlenecks. To build successful software architecture, you will need to reshape the organizational structure and establish new communication channels.    

2. The analysis of Team Topologies. According to Skelton and Pais, there are four main team types:

  1. Stream-aligned teams, working on a single product or service.
  2. Enabling teams, consisting of specialists in a specific domain who are supposed to provide assistance for stream-aligned teams.
  3. Complicated subsystem teams, created only when a subsystem requires very specialized knowledge.
  4. Platform teams, enabling stream-aligned teams to work autonomously.

3. The use of Team Topologies to create an organization that responds to the market.

You can read about Team Topologies in more detail here.   

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

Measuring what matters begins with the question: What is most important for the next three (or six, or twelve) months? Successful organizations focus on the handful of initiatives that can make a real difference, deferring the less urgent ones.

No one can do it all. What you can do, though, is to write a list of goals that would bring you to success. In this book, John Doerr provides an approach to goal setting – OKRs, Objectives and Key Results, which can be a very useful management tool.

The OKR system works on two levels, personal and organizational, aligning the efforts of individuals and linking them to a broader company goal. It helps focus on priorities, get everyone on the same page, and hold every participant of the work process accountable, as all OKRs, including those of CEOs, are visible to everyone else.

In practice, OKRs occur in cycles, usually quarterly ones. Before the quarter starts, top leaders brainstorm company OKRs; then teams develop their OKRs; and after that, individual employees develop theirs. Throughout the quarter, employees track their progress and then conduct self-assessment.

Learn more about the OKR approach to managing people in our summary of the book.       

8. "Brave New Work: Are You Ready to Reinvent Your Organization" by Aaron Dignan

Today we face an array of systemic challenges – in our economy, our government, our environment – all stemming from our inability to change… In the face of complexity, our Legacy Organizations – the traditional institutions that make up much of the modern world – are failing us, and we know it. 

Since the Industrial Revolution, everything has changed in the world of business – everything but management. There is some bitter irony in it. Afraid to change the status quo and move forward, we remain stuck in the old patterns that do not work anymore.

We stick to the only way of doing our job, because it worked once, not daring to try something new. We use flawed org charts. As a result, we struggle with bureaucracy and bottlenecks, instead of making progress. This is self-deception.

However, in contrast to Legacy Organizations, there also are Evolutionary ones – those that accept the change and adapt to it. These organizations are people-positive (recognizing the intellectual potential of employees) and complexity-conscious (admitting that the environment is unpredictable and ready to react in response to its challenges.) They are brave because they choose to try new paths.

In this insightful book, Dignan underlines that often the problem with your business is not leadership or people, but the operating system. For this reason, he analyzes 12 domains of operating systems, like purpose, strategy, and resources, and provides the ways of changing them to break the old patterns.

Continue reading our summary of “Brave New Work” here.         

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

The President of the 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.

Transitions to new roles, in particular promotions to a manager’s position, are critical for two reasons. First, this is a chance to make needed changes in an organization. Second, your performance during this period predicts your future career. This is why you should pay special attention to what you do - because you’re like under a microscope.

Watkins gives valuable recommendations and practical advice on how to make the transition as painless as possible and overcome a leadership challenge:

  • He gives tips on self-preparation, like getting ready to communicate more formally with your ex-colleagues.
  • He emphasizes the necessity of continuous learning, urging you to explore the past, the present, and the future of the company, and encourages you to analyze the current situation before picking a strategy.
  • He also gives advice on how to create alignment, build a productive team, talk to your own boss, win friends, and develop credibility.           

You can find our summary of “The First 90 Days” here.

We hope you’ll find our list useful! Enjoy reading books on managing people and become more professional by learning from business leaders who have already gone through their management paths. The valuable insights they share once changed their own lives, and now they can change yours.

Enjoy the post? Sign up for the latest strategies, stories and product updates.

You might also like

Try Runn today for free!

Join over 10k users worldwide.
Start scheduling in less than 10 minutes.
No credit card needed