Leadership Reading for Engineers

A collection of books that will help those with technical backgrounds lead effective teams.

Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash

1. High Output Management

The seminal work from the late great Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel. First published in 1995, it remains one of the most impactful business leadership books available. The premise is summarized as follows:

The output of a manager is the output of the organizational units under his or her supervision or influence.

This book has helped me take a more objectively at the tasks being performed by a team. Grove pushes the reader to take a step back and confirm that assigned tasks will help a company achieve its objectives. It is all too easy for teams to keep themselves “busy” with unimportant tasks — ultimately wasted time and resources. Grove also delivers some career altering tips on what efficient meetings, the medium of managerial work, should look like.

2. Peopleware

First published in 1987, with updated revisions now available, this book is a classic. The core tenet behind this book is that:

The major problems of our work are not so much technological as sociological in nature.

Additional empathy for coworkers is what I took from this book. In an industry that turns to technical solutions for nearly all problems, it’s important to be reminded of the environmental impediments that teams face. In an all too accurate chapter, entitled Saving Money on Space, the reader is reminded of just how distracting most office environments are and how any team member would struggle to be productive in them.

3. Don’t Make Me Think

Thanks to a great recommendation, I read this book shortly after transitioning from engineering to product management. The impact it had on how I think about product usability cannot be overstated. It is important for any team leader to steer the team towards simpler solutions. My favorite chapter has the following title:

Omit needless words

Some of the content may feel a little dated now but the principles are still valid, particularly for those that may have a tendency to over-engineer solutions.

4. Measure What Matters

This book was recently published by John Doerr and has quickly been added to my required reading list. It could be considered the modern sequel to Andy Grove’s High Output Management, with Doerr sharing stories from when he worked with Grove.

Upon finishing this book, the reader will be armed with a clear understanding of how powerful OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) can be. The book is filled with examples that will help the reader implement OKRs on their own teams. I was personally most intrigued by the excerpt from Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, which walks the reader through the creation of the Google Chrome web browser and how OKRs help Google innovate:

In 2008, Larry and Sergey wrote a beautiful OKR that truly captured people’s attention: “We should make the web as fast as flipping through a magazine.” It inspired the whole company to think harder about how we could make things better and faster.

5. Leading

This final entry comes from Sir Alex Ferguson, former manager of Manchester United. Its selection stems from my admiration for his achievements as manager of one of the biggest football clubs in the world. He was able to reinvent the team on numerous occasions, while winning every trophy possible.

Even if you’re not a massive football (soccer) fan, I’m confident the lessons he shares in leadership will be valuable, such as his opinion on what personal drive is:

For me drive means a combination of a willingness to work hard, emotional fortitude, enormous powers of concentration and a refusal to admit defeat.