Books and resources I recommend for first-time managers

I’ve been asked twice in the last few weeks by super-smart and very capable humans what resources I’d recommend to them as a new manager. It’s an exciting moment in a career and just to ask that question is already a wonderful sign. I knew when they asked that I wanted to write this down rather than just send it once, so here I am with you writing these words that you are reading.

Only problem is I have an exciting Zoom meeting (genuinely) on SEO for one our high performing business units so I’ve got 16 minutes to get this done šŸ™‚

1. Management is fundamentally about communication…

So I recommend Crucial Conversations.

The principles and very practical method has worked highly for me in saying the things that need to be said and hearing the things that need to be heard. Whatever I have tried at and failed at as a manager and a leader (and the list is not short), I have not swerved the conversations that mattered most. This framework gave and gives me scaffolding for those crucial moments. You can also find the courage this approach gives you to be useful in the rest of life too. (I’ve also heard good things about Radical Candor and love the core concept, so you might try that one too – Radical Candor by Kim Scott – which is worryingly the only resource produced by a woman in this list).

2. Management fundamentally requires self-management…

So I recommend The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

By ‘self-management’, I’m not only talking about prioritizing and so on – I’m talking about self-awareness, self-development, mutual benefit. I think better managers know and manage themselves better, which in turn amplifies their ability to be a decent helpful manager. This book is 25 years old, which sounds a lot but then there’s a small tree in my garden that’s probably older than that, so when you consider the age and timelessness of human wisdom, that shouldn’t really matter. There isn’t a day that I don’t myself apply some principle from this slightly cheesy but helpful, clarifying book. (I’ve got 11 mins until that meeting!)

3. Better management is about coaching rather than directing…

So I recommend the Coaching for Leaders podcast series, hosted by Dr. Dave Stachowiak.

Of course there are books and stuff, and I especially recommend going on a course – I did a 5-weekend course with CTI that was hugely beneficial but a big commitment and even a 1 or 2 day course can give you massive gains in this area, as can being coached yourself – but given the year is 2020 I’m going to recommend this podcast. There’s a huge back catalog, they are relatively easy listening but jammed with tips, approaches, scenarios, ideas. I just scroll through, pick one that sounds right for my mood and current challenges, and I always, always get something valuable from each one, even if I finish early or don’t love the guest or they don’t solve the universe in one go, whatever.

4. GREAT management is about developing your portfolio of approaches and styles…

So I recommend the Leadership That Gets Results article from Harvard Business Review which I personally and other developing managers I’ve worked with found somewhere between helpful and life-changing.

I have returned to this seminal piece once or twice a year for many a year [looks to camera with elderly twinkle in his eye]. It is so utterly freeing to realize that there are styles of management available to us, and that when and how we use those styles is situational, and that some styles will feel very comfortable, and others may feel, especially at first, a massive reach. And that THIS is the work of being a good manager. Trying always to stretch, learn, to adapt between the moment, the characters, the challenge and what will elicit the most productive, helpful response. Great article. 20 min read and reflection. Get it! Balls, 2 mins left, will have to finish this later.

5. Management has a huge role to play in the battle to overturn systemic racism

So I currently recommend Why Iā€™m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, though it is not a ‘business text’ I found it to be a great read to truly confronting and understanding the nature, influence and roots of systemic racism – in this case, with a British history and lense. White Fragility, which I haven’t read yet, may be a better American perspective. This Confronting Racism at Work reading list from Harvard Business Review brings these issues and opportunities firmly into a business context. And this visual model from Andrew M. Ibrahim, MD is a neat device to conduct a shallow self-assessment from. I need to go much further myself to provide a fairer playing field that draws from the most broad and exciting talent pool that exists, so I share these as a fellow traveller not as someone sat on their laurels.

Bonus content:

Become an Effective Software Engineering Manager by James Stanier. Whilst cast through the lense of software engineering management, I’ve skimmed this very recent, fresh book by my Brandwatch colleague Dr. James Stanier and it is very clearly THE GOOD MODERN MANAGEMENT PLAYBOOK regardless of managing software developers or [insert other jobs].

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. Just a good primer on the craziness and intensity of managing in a high growth, high turbulence environment where the demands on leaders and managers are high but the guardrails and supportive processes less visible.

Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Prof. Richard Rumelt. Y’all talk about strategy. You use the word strategy. If I asked you to create a strategy, I think it might likely be a plan that you create and I think this book might help you – as it did me, MASSIVELY – in getting very clear about what strategy is, why it exists, what makes it so powerful, and what the components are. Not about people management, but it’s the next neighborhood over, my friends, so peek over the hedgerow and see if you like it.

Good to Great by Jim Collins. It was old when I read it. It’s probably ancient now. Doesn’t matter. Core concepts endure. An absolute central piece of the ‘business / MBA canon’ and rightly so. I learned loads of good principles and ideas about organizations, teams, leadership and management from this book.

I should also recommend my own book, Culture Shock. You can do a little vomit in your mouth all you like at the self-promotion, but ultimately I sat down to try and encode what I believed then about management and it’s in the book. Personally, since I wrote it 8 years ago I’ve changed my views on the direct application of ‘democracy at work’ stuff, but the principles and direction of the book are still very representative of what I believe is required of managers and organizations to thrive today.

Good luck. Given how big a part of daily lives our work is, and how influential management is on peoples’ lives, this is a worthy endeavour and one I salute, whoever and wherever you are.

PS. The Zoom meeting was at 10.15 am. I finally finished this at 2 pm between calls and a bit o’ lunch šŸ™‚

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