The Fundamental Reading List for New Managers
To be a great manager, you’ll need to be good at a lot of things. These 7 books will help you start with a strong foundation.
To be a great manager, you need to be good at a lot of things that don’t come naturally to anyone; and unlike most skills, you can’t really practice until you are ‘in the show’.
Fortunately, you won’t have to re-invent the wheel. I’ve compiled a core collection of books to build a foundation of personal effectiveness, communication skills, team-building, employee inspiration as well as personal inspiration for yourself.
If you read, absorb and practise the lessons from these 7 books, I am fully confident that you will be among the most inspiring and effective managers in your industry.
1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven R. Covey
This is the book on personal effectiveness; every highly effective person you’ve ever heard of has probably read this book, and you should too.
I was given this book by my former manager and mentor back when I was training to take on my very first manager job. He gave me a hardcover copy and told me to read it once a year. I had never heard of the book before, and I thought the idea of reading the same book over and over again was odd — until I read it. Since then, I’ve kept this book on my desk, reviewed it and used its lessons daily.
Covey’s book has sold 25 million copies and is widely considered to be the most influential business book of the twentieth century. Take it from someone far more accomplished than me:
“As the seminal work of Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has influenced millions around the world to be their best selves at work and at home. It stands the test of time as one of the most important books of our time.” — Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo
2. How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie
This is an all-time classic by the greatest leadership expert of our time. In this light-hearted and legitimately enjoyable book, Dale will teach you how to dramatically improve your communication skills to grow your popularity, persuade people to see things your way, make friends, win new clients and customers and boost enthusiasm among your colleagues and staff. Warren Buffett credits his early career success to the teachings of Dale Carnegie, which means we all need to check out this book.
3. Start With Why by Simon Sinek
This is the book that got me interested in and showed me the power of motivating employees intrinsically. I found this book at an airport bookstore while I was employed in my very first manager job, and it changed everything for me. Simon taught me the power of inspiring my staff and showed me how to do it. I was recently shocked to hear another manager say that “she couldn’t motivate her staff because she had no budget for incentives” — before reading this book, I might have thought that was a reasonable statement. With Simon’s lessons, you don’t need a budget, just a vision (and he’ll teach you how to get one).
I’ve made a career of flipping organizational cultures and I credit much of my success to the teachings in this book. I suppose that’s a win for Simon, whose personal mission statement is “to inspire others to do what inspires them”.
4. The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
Back when I was a manager with one of Canada’s largest employers, I was given this book and told it was mandatory reading for all leaders in the company. Since then, I’ve shared this book with every leader who has worked for me.
This book explores the fundamental causes of organizational politics and team failure, describes the many pitfalls that teams face as they seek to “grow together”, and outlines a powerful model and actionable steps to overcome these hurdles and build a cohesive, effective team.
The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team provides one of my favourite quotes in regards to overhauling a team: “a fractured team is just like a broken arm or leg; fixing it is always painful, and sometimes you have to rebreak it to make it heal correctly. And the rebreak hurts a lot more than the initial break because you have to do it on purpose.” This book will teach you how to rebreak and properly reset the team.
Written as a ‘business fable’, this story offers a powerful yet deceptively simple message for all those who strive to be exceptional team leaders.
5. The Principles of Non-Violent Communication by Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg
Without exaggerating, this book will make you a better leader, husband, friend, colleague — anything that involves communicating with another person. Dr. Rosenberg accomplishes this by offering insightful stories, anecdotes, practical exercises and role-plays that teach you how to use language to strengthen your relationships, build trust, prevent and resolve conflicts and heal pain.
‘The Principles of Non-Violent Communication’ doesn’t look like a leadership book at face value, but this book taught me the practical skills, mindset and vocabulary that have helped me accomplish more with and through other people than I would have imagined was possible. This book will give you a serious competitive advantage.
6. The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
I’m an evangelist for this book — just about everyone in my family has read this book now.
Tim’s book is all about cutting the time it takes to get work done so that you can spend your time doing things you enjoy. The idea is to quickly complete the tasks that get results, cut the time spent on reactive tasks (eg emails), and get rid of menial tasks altogether.
You probably won’t widdle your work week down to 4 hours, but the lessons in this book have definitely saved me 2–3 hours per day, boosted the impact of my work, reduced my stress and made my job more enjoyable. If you need a quick hit of inspiration, you could get through ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’ in a weekend and have the most effective Monday you’ve ever had.
7. Straight From The Gut by Jack Welch
If you are a manager or leader, it’s in your best interest to learn from the best, and Jack Welch was the best. Jack thrived as CEO of General Electric during one of the most volatile and economically robust eras in U.S. history, all while managing to maintain his unique leadership style. In this highly entertaining autobiography, Jack shares his experiences of building his career and running one of the world’s largest and most successful corporations. I went through a whole pad of post-it notes in my effort to bookmark each mind-blowing leadership lesson in this book. Don’t be arrogant, learn from Jack Welch.
Thanks for reading! I hope you find these books as empowering as I do. I’d like to leave you with some recommendations
I used to be a reading ‘purist’ — I didn’t think listening to an audiobook counted as reading. As a result, most of the books on my reading list languished there for months and years. This past year, I checked my ego and changed my mindset. I no longer read to become a ‘wise person who reads a lot of books’; I now read and listen to books to absorb knowledge from books into my life and my character.
This past year, I started listening to audiobooks during my commute and while doing chores, and I’ve gotten through dozens of books from my list.
As an audiobook platform, Scribd has been great. It doesn’t have every book I’d like to read, but it’s affordable and it’s got enough all-time classics that I’m sure I’ll never run out.
Take it slow
Books are made to transfer knowledge and share stories, they are not made to be checked off of a list. Consider this: you could speed-read your way through several books per week, but if you have trouble analyzing what you’ve read or recalling the key points, then what good was reading the book?
Resist the urge to ‘read a book a week’, a goal I see plastered across productivity circles on the internet. Instead, aim to absorb as much from each book as possible. Take your time, take notes, bookmark pages, re-read paragraphs, re-read the whole book if it’s a good one. Take the time to digest what you’ve learnt and incorporate some of the lessons into your life before moving on to the next book.
The wonderful thing about reading books is that you get to glean knowledge and benefit from the experiences of others without going through the experiences yourself. However, these authors are just people, and they have their own biases and blind-spots just like you and I.
For this reason, I recommend that you read books from many different authors across a breadth of topics. You’ll notice common themes and linkages, but you’ll benefit from different lenses. For instance, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ is a book on communication written by a business professional, and ‘Non-Violent Communication’ is a book on communication by a psychologist. Both books discuss similar themes, but with different analytical lenses; reading both will give you a more holistic understanding of the impacts of your words and how to use them to achieve your objectives.
I’d love for you to share your own foundational books and reading advice in the comments.
Chris is all about inspiring employees to reach their full potential. He is especially interested in harnessing and developing the power of the front-line and entry-level staff. Chris trains and coaches managers to build winning cultures through trust, pride, ownership and empowerment.
His mission is “to elevate standards and skills across the Management profession. I want managers to be better, and I’m taking personal responsibility to help them get better.”
During the day, Chris manages a team of amazing public servants for the B.C. Government. Chris graduated from Vancouver Island University with a Major in Management. He enjoys science fiction, 80’s hair-metal, and spending time with his partner and two orange cats.
Chris would love to connect with you! Find him on Twitter and say “hi”!