You’re a New Manager? Read These 3 Books

Before you create a new process or system, dive into these books and build a stronger team

Evan Wildstein
Management Matters
Published in
4 min readNov 8, 2022

--

Image: Florencia Viadana /Unsplash

I have a general dislike for most of the online recipes my wife sends me. Why? Because you have to scroll through pages of the authors’ personal stories about grandma’s experience baking cookies in the frozen corners of Middle Earth when all you want to know is how many cups of sugar are necessary.

I don’t want that for you.

You’ve just been hired or promoted as a new manager and you want to know how to do that work — and do it well. Let’s get right to the good stuff. Here are three books you should know as a new boss.

“Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity” by Kim Scott

Knowledge shared is knowledge grown, and I’ve gifted copies of Scott’s book to more colleagues than I can count. Don’t let the title fool you. This 232-page journey is great for bosses of all shapes — first-timers, long-timers, startup founders — and non-bosses alike.

True to the title, Scott gets punchy with some of her stories, like when she writes about a post-presentation exchange with Sheryl Sandberg when they were at Google. Sandberg said,

“When you do that [shooing a bug away] thing with your hand, I feel like you’re ignoring what I’m telling you. I can see I am going to have to be really, really direct to get through to you. You are one of the smartest people I know, but saying ‘um’ so much makes you sound stupid.”

One of the most important benefits of Radical Candor is that it centers your mind around workplace feedback — giving and receiving. I was providing some constructive feedback for a colleague about one of her verbal tics (“sort of”) and how it made her sound unsure, which was not the case. I forgot I had given her a copy of Radical Candor years ago, and she told me the book helped her feel prepared for such feedback instead of being off put by it.

“The Servant as Leader” by Robert Greenleaf

If you’ve heard of servant-leadership but not Bob Greenleaf, let’s fix that. Greenleaf spent decades of his career at AT&T growing the quality of the company’s employees. In the mid-20th century he became enamored with a servant character (Leo) from Herman Hesse’s book, Journey to the East. The character helped Greenleaf crystalize the idea that would, in 1970, become known as servant-leadership.

The Servant as Leader is more of an essay than a book, but it should be a top read for new and seasoned managers alike. In it, Greenleaf explores the core tenets of empathy, awareness, foresight, and much more — all traits managers and leaders should seek to embody. The essay is not for everyone. At times it can be heady and overly conceptual, but it is enlightening. Greenleaf advised one of the top abilities to grow and master is silent listening, suggesting,

“One must not be afraid of a little silence. Some find silence awkward or oppressive, but a relaxed approach to dialogue will include the welcoming of some silence. It is often a devastating question to ask oneself — but it is sometimes important to ask it — In saying what I have in mind will I really improve on the silence?”

“Rituals Roadmap” by Erica Keswin

Keswin’s Rituals Roadmap takes an approach that sits comfortably between Scott’s directness and Greenleaf’s headiness. Readers may be familiar with her practical advice from Bring Your Human to Work, and this follow-up is a masterpiece on building useful, repeat behaviors at work.

Keswin is clear about not conflating rituals with other recurring actions. “Unlike a routine, which is conducted with the goal of preparing for something,” she says, “a ritual is performed without the specific goal of preparation in mind.”

She talks of DoSomething — a nonprofit — and their ritual of passing around a stuffed penguin, “for no good reason other than as a way of celebrating individuals and honoring relationships.” Keswin suggests rituals “lack instrumental purpose,” which is counterintuitive for many new managers. They believe that by creating systems and processes, their teams will be high-functioning.

But all the workflows in the world won’t cure lack of cohesion.

Companies that deliver on the “Three Ps” (psychological safety + purpose = performance) have the greatest chance for success. And in all this, rituals help teams and companies build and deliver on soft skills. For Keswin, this is the way of the future. She points to some research by Google showing psychologically safe teams perform better, are more innovative, and bring in greater revenue.

Basically, create an environment where your people feel safe and thrive, and as a new manager, you’ll deliver the best results possible.

Last Words

Over 20+ years as a boss, I’ve found the formula for good management to be equal parts knowledge, experience, and patience.

All the books in the world won’t help you build better teams if you don’t have the opportunity to put those learnings into practice. And all the knowledge and practice won’t do a thing if you’re not patient — with yourself and others.

Read together (or in quick succession), the books by Scott, Greenleaf, and Keswin create a frame of reference for a boss who can be tactical, strategic, and kind. No single one of those abilities can function well without the others.

Good luck out there, new managers. The world needs you — and I believe you need these books!

--

--