Soft-skills Reading List
As an engineering manager here at Square, I am often asked by engineers and other managers for advice on all sorts of different topics. If I’m lucky, they enjoy reading as much as I do, and I get the opportunity to recommend a book! Over the years, I’ve found myself returning to a core set of books that cover topics from communication and strategy to biases and leadership. Even if you’re not a manager yourself, understanding many of these topics can make you better at your job and improve your relationship with your own manager. The titles that stand out include:
- Slack. Not being busy all the time is crucial for change, learning, responsiveness, and retention.
- Non-Violent Communication. Moving beyond “I feel” to more effective communication.
- Crucial Conversations. Techniques for effectively communicating in high stakes conversations. The writing is terrible, but the content is good.
- The Definitive Book of Body Language. Pretty dated, but worth a skim.
- On Writing Well. Best guide to effective non-fiction writing. You’ll be doing a lot of writing—helps to be good at it!
- Good Strategy, Bad Strategy. My default framework for thinking about strategy. Diagnosis, Guiding Policy, Coherent Action. Decent summaries easily found online but there’s value in marinating in the examples in the book.
- Catalytic Coaching. Critique of typical performance review systems, and recommendations for doing something useful instead.
- First, Break All The Rules. Gallup studied more than 80,000 managers to identify what the great ones do. Particularly important for first-time managers are the 12 questions that matter.
- High Output Management. The blueprint for how I think about management.
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Good assortment of real talk about management.
- The Gervais Principle. Tongue-in-cheek cynical look at organisations through the lens of The Office. Fun, sometimes useful.
- Thinking, Fast and Slow. Cognitive biases are important to know about, though be aware that some of this book was caught up in the replication crisis and is no longer thought to be true.
There are also several articles that I find myself referencing and returning to often:
- Inferential Distance. A common explanation for engineers (or anyone, really) talking past each other.
- The Tyranny Of Structurelessness. A counterpoint to the idea of Meritocracy.
- Reorgs Happen. I really like the Managing Complex Change diagram.
- The Manager As Debugger. Good way to think about one of the roles of a manager.
- A Big Little Idea Called Legibility. Has been particularly helpful in thinking about associated costs with introducing processes.