Stepping into a management role for the first time can be scary. It doesn’t help that there’s a ton of conflicting management advice out there, and sifting through it could take years. That’s why we recommend starting with the books below, which offer practical insights on leading a team. We didn’t simply stick with traditional business reads—instead, we included novels, psychological research, and the musings of a Roman emperor. Each of these books will help prepare you to tackle the myriad challenges of managing people.
Drive by Daniel H. Pink
Now that you’re in charge of a team of people, how will you inspire them to perform at their best? In this best-selling business book, Pink explains why, contrary to popular belief, extrinsic incentives like money aren’t the best way to motivate high performance. Instead, employers should focus on cultivating in their workers a sense of autonomy, mastery, and purpose in order to help them succeed. Using real-life anecdotes and research, Pink walks readers through each of these three concepts and why they’re absolutely crucial in the business world.
The One Thing You Need to Know by Marcus Buckingham
According to Buckingham, great managers are able to identify their employees’ individual strengths and capitalize on them. This approach, he argues, is considerably more effective than trying to improve people’s weak points. Among the tips he offers for motivating high performance: Set clear expectations, offer praise and recognition, and show people you care about them. It’s a compelling read that will make the transition from managing yourself to managing others easier.
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
This 2011 best-seller is a favourite of Jack Zenger, cofounder and CEO of leadership consultancy Zenger/Folkman. Kahneman, a psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in economics, breaks down all of human thought into two systems: the fast and intuitive “System 1″ and the slow and deliberate “System 2.” Using this framework, he lays out a number of cognitive biases that affect our everyday behaviour, from the halo effect to the planning fallacy. As you transition into people management, this book will help you anticipate the psychological stumbling blocks you and your team will encounter, and give you scientific strategies for overcoming them.
Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader by Herminia Ibarra
“Act Like a Leader” is full of unconventional advice for current and aspiring managers. For example, Ibarra, a professor at business school INSEAD, suggests leaders act first and then think, so that they learn from experimentation and direct experience. There’s even an entire chapter devoted to the dangers of being too authentic at work. Overall, the book is a reminder that, in order to lead your team to greatness, you’ll have to step outside your comfort zone.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Eighty years after its initial publication, this book is still a best-seller. Legendary investor Warren Buffett has even named it one of his favourite books, noting that it helped get him through rough times in high school. Carnegie’s advice focuses on maximising your interactions with other people — something that will be crucial to your success as a leader, and in life generally. For example: Encourage people to talk about themselves, instead of dominating the conversation. Emphasise the things you both agree on. Overall, the book will help you build the self-confidence necessary to lead, motivate, and inspire your team.
Mindset by Carol Dweck
Dweck, a Stanford psychologist, made waves among parents and educators when she first published “Mindset” in 2006. More recently, she’s shown that her ideas apply just as well to the business world, and Joe Folkman, president of Zenger/Folkman, says it’s one of his favourite reads. In the book, Dweck suggests that having a “growth” mindset—believing that you can develop skills and talents through hard work—leads to greater success than having a “fixed” mindset, believing that your competencies are what they are. The takeaway for managers is that encouraging your employees to learn and grow, and emphasising the potential you see in them, will pay off big.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and Gregory Hays
The English translation of “Meditations” is a collection of personal writings—never meant to be published—by Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor who ruled from A.D. 161 to 180. In Book 11, Aurelius focuses on the qualities and behaviours that make a great leader, like remembering your fallibility and keeping control over your emotions. Aurelius’ advice is still relevant and valuable, even if you’re managing a few people and not leading an empire.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
This classic novel, about the spread of British colonialism in a fictional Nigerian village, raises some important questions about what makes a successful leader. For example: What do you do when your ambitions conflict with the group’s interests? In fact, one lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, often includes this book, among other works of fiction, in his curriculum. For new managers who are exhausted from the barrage of advice they’ve been receiving, this book makes its point a little more subtly than some of the other leadership tomes out there.
Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton
Facebook’s HR chief, Lori Goler, says she came across this book early on in her career, and it influenced her personal management philosophy. The main idea is that companies can achieve better performance by helping their employees pinpoint their unique talents. The book is centered around the “Clifton Strengths Finder,” an online assessment that will help you do just that. The assessment is based on a Gallup study of 2 million people in a range of industries. Armed with a greater understanding of your individual skills, you can work on becoming a better leader, a better people developer, and a stronger contributor to your organisation overall.