12 books that every PM and leader should read

Those of you who know me well know that I like to read a lot. Below I have compiled a list of 12 books that stood out to me over the years as must-reads for product managers and leaders.

Product managers are leaders of teams, even if they don’t have formal authority. They need to be able to set a direction, inspire their teams, share their passion, build alignment. So the first seven books I have chosen all have to do with “leadership, management, and interpersonal skills.”

Product managers are also innovators and product designers. They need to understand customer needs very well, develop innovative solutions, think through product design, prioritize features. So the remaining five books all have to do with “innovation and product thinking.”

My goal is to inspire you to read all of these books, so I’ve provided my summary and key take-aways in most cases. Hopefully you will find each of these books as interesting and valuable as I have.

Leadership, Management, and Interpersonal Skills

Thinking, Fast and Slow — Daniel Kahneman

We have a Two System way of thinking — System 1 (Thinking Fast), and System 2 (Thinking Slow). Over-reliance on System 1 can lead us to make snap judgments, jump to conclusions, and make erroneous (biased) decisions. [more]


Learned Optimism — Martin Seligman

Resilience is about how you talk to yourself about setbacks, failures, and adversity. Pessimists tend to look at negative events as permanent, universal, and internal. Optimists tend to look at negative events as temporary, specific, and external. [more]


Mindset — Carol Dweck

There are two mindsets you can adopt for your outlook on life — fixed or growth mindset. If you have a fixed mindset, you believe your qualities are carved in stone. If you have a growth mindset, you believe that you can cultivate and improve your qualities through your efforts. [more]


Grit — Angela Duckworth

What enables world-class achievers to push beyond their limits, rise up in the face of enormous challenges and setbacks, and ultimately achieve their goals? Grit: the combination of passion and perseverance. Angela Duckworth shares her framework for helping individuals develop grit. [more]


High Output Management — Andy Grove

Former CEO and Chairman of Intel, Andy Grove provides advice on how managers can improve their own and their team’s output; a framework for how managers should think about delegation; and tips for motivating employees. [more] [more]


Radical Candor — Kim Scott

Ex-Google executive and startup CEO Kim Scott shares her secret for being a great boss — you have to care personally and challenge directly. Lots of great stories and wisdom about how to engage with your team.


Start with Why— Simon Sisnek

Great leaders always start with why. Most people communicate the “what,” and maybe the “how.” But few leaders know or communicate the “why.” Simon Sisnek explains that “starting with why” inspires followers and customers, and builds enduring loyalty. [more]


Innovation and product thinking

Competing Against Luck — Clayton Christensen

Clayton Christensen presents the framework for Jobs to Be Done, a tool that innovators can use to identify a “job” that a customer wants to fulfill in their life. [more] [more]


Creativity, Inc— Ed Catmull

Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull discusses the aspects of Pixar’s culture that make it a creative force in the entertainment and technology industries. Innovation and creativity is a process that can be learned. [more] [more]


Zero to One — Peter Thiel

Creating vertical change (zero to one) requires you to discover a fundamental truth that few others agree with you on (a “secret”). You can only discover a secret, and therefore achieve vertical progress, if you use First Principles Thinking. [mention]


How Google Works — Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and former SVP Product Jonathan Rosenberg share some important lessons learned from helping to build Google. Two important lessons are to Think 10x, and the importance of focus. [mention]


The Design of Everyday Things — Don Norman

Don Norman shares many design principles which will help us build better products — such as Human-Centered Design (HCD). Every PM should read this book to improve their own design thinking, and to fully appreciate the contributions of designers and researchers. [more]


It took me several years to discover and read all of these books. I’m hoping to save you some time on the discovery piece by pointing you to the best books that I have read in the last several years that have to do with leadership, management, interpersonal skills, innovation, and product thinking. To get the most out of each of these books: read them actively, take notes, discuss them with your colleagues, and most importantly practice the lessons that you have learned. I am confident that you will be a better product manager and leader if you do so.

I would love to hear your thoughts or feedback about these books as you read them. Please respond in the comments or Tweet at me.