Raise your hand if you’ve ever had – shall we say –a less than perfect manager. Perhaps you worked with someone who was too friendly, too cold, a poor listener, overly critical, etc. They come in many forms, but most bad managers have something in common: they are (bafflingly) the most confident in their abilities.
If you’ve ever found yourself wondering about your abilities as a leader, then here’s the good news: you are probably one of the good ones. The best leaders are not only skilled at their job, but they’re also aware of their limitations and committed to bettering themselves for the benefit of their team. So how do you become a manager par excellence? It’s simple: learn.
John F. Kennedy once said that “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Whether you’re taking your first step into a management role or you’re a seasoned CEO, here are some books to help you be the best leader you can be.
1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey
In Seven Habits, Stephen Covey reveals a practical step-by-step guide for living and working with integrity, purpose, and dignity. These qualities, he explains, are the foundations that give us the security we need to adapt, push for change, and embrace an alternative mindset. His process is broken down into three main habits: Independence (self-mastery), Interdependence (working with others), and Continual Improvement, which, when mastered, promote sustainable personal growth. Published in 1989, this management classic has sold over 25 million copies worldwide since its first publication.
Best for: people who want to get more done
2. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
If you’ve ever had team members clash, or you’re responsible for assembling a new team from scratch – this is the book for you. In Team of Rivals, Doris Goodwin describes how Abe Lincoln – considered one of the greatest leaders of all time – united his cabinet and the country to abolish slavery during a war. How? By being unafraid of conflict, and by surrounding himself with the very best people, despite them having wildly differing personalities. Being able to unite people is one of the most important skills you can have as a leader. If you can learn that, it’ll serve you – and your team – well.
Best for: people who want to be better at managing diverse individuals
3. Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person, by Shonda Rhimes
If you ever feel stale at work or in your routine, then this New York Times bestseller is the book for you. Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, talks about how saying ‘YES’ for a year changed her life. A natural introvert, she used to hire publicists to avoid public appearances and had panic attacks before media interviews. With three TV shows and three children at home, she often claimed to be too busy – but despite this being true, the real reason she didn’t attend events was that she was afraid. After being told by her sister that she never agrees to anything, Shonda stepped up to the challenge. The book chronicles her life after her year of saying ‘yes’ had begun. According to the Los Angeles Times, it’s “As fun to read as Rhimes’s TV series are to watch.”
Best for: those stuck in a rut
4. Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
Somewhere along the way, snappy thinking and fast decisions became the modus operandi, while slower, more considered reflection got left behind in the dust. Thankfully, Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman stepped up to the stage with his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. In it, he examines the two systems that affect how we think: System 1 (fast, emotional, intuitive) and System 2 (slow, logical, deliberate.) He talks about how these two systems interact and delineated the cognitive biases that affect both modes. It’s not just a New York Times bestseller; this work went on to win numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Best for: people who want to fine-tune their thinking
5. What I Know For Sure, by Oprah Winfrey
Legendary talk show host, self-made billionaire, TV network owner, Harvard degree-holder, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, Oscar-winning actress – phew. If there’s anyone who has anything worthwhile to say about success, it’s this lady. In What I Know For Sure, Oprah compiles all the life lessons she’s shared in O, The Oprah Magazine’s popular column of the same name. It’s an inspirational, inspiring read packed with insight into how to be resilient and act with responsibility, clarity, and power. Perfect for when you need some guidance on how to be your very best self.
Best for: inspiring life and work advice
6. Leaders Eat Last, by Simon Sinek
From the bestselling author of Start With Why (which is also a hugely popular TED talk), Simon Sinek argues that great leaders should sacrifice their comforts for the sake of those who follow them. Post-2017 editions of the book feature a handy section at the back that focuses on leading millennials, which makes it a good option if you’re in charge of people substantially younger than you and want to understand their priorities and communication styles better.
Best for: Managers who want to lift their team
7. In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from Over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs, by Grace Bonney
Geared towards entrepreneurs and creatives, this New York Times bestseller is full of inspiring advice and tips for success from over 100 exceptionally influential women – including comedians, artists, media moguls, tattoo artists, and architects. The book is stuffed with practical tips, with everything from overcoming adversity to finding your creative groove.
“I want to rip out every page of this glorious book and hang them on my wall so that I can be surrounded by these incredible women all day long.” – Emma Straub, New York Times bestselling author of The Vacationers and Modern Lovers.
Best for: people who need some inspiration
8. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ, by Daniel Goleman
You’ve probably heard of emotional intelligence (EI) by now. For those unacquainted, people who have high EI tend to be empathetic, charismatic, and highly personable. As a manager, you can probably see why these skills are worth cultivating – and this is the groundbreaking book that started it all. Daniel Goleman was the first to explain how a high IQ is by no means a guarantee of success, nor an indication of good leadership ability – which is, in fact, down to emotional intelligence. Goleman’s research combines research into psychology and neuroscience to offer insight into what he calls our ‘two minds’ – that’s the rational mind and the emotional – and how these interact to shape our professional, personal and physical wellbeing.
Best for: managers who want to be more personable
9. Thrive, by Arianna Huffington
Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, used to survive on four hours’ sleep a night. Then one day, she passed out due to exhaustion and broke her jaw. This was the wakeup call she needed. In Thrive, she discusses why it’s time we redefined success and how our “relentless pursuit of money and power has led to an epidemic of burnout and stress-related illnesses.” She candidly discusses her struggles with switching off and explains how she learned to focus less on work and more on the things that really matter: compassion, wellbeing, kindness, and laughter. Drawing on scientific findings in the fields of psychology, sports, and sleep science, she shows the importance of unplugging, relaxing, and dedicating more time to the things that matter. This is a must for the workaholics out there.
Best for: people who struggle with their work/life balance
10. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins
The result of a five-year project, Collins research includes findings from a 21-person research team and over 2,000 pages of transcripts examining how some companies make the leap from good to great, and why others fail to make the cut. Inside, he identifies the key characteristics of ‘elite’ companies, with a range of findings ranging from The Hedgehog Concept to The Flywheel and the Doom Loop. “Some of the key concepts discerned in the study,” comments Jim Collins, “fly in the face of our modern business culture and will, quite frankly, upset some people.” Intrigued? You should be.
Best for: people who want to pull ahead of the competition
11. Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown
There’s a common misconception that leaders should be outwardly strong and all-knowing at all times. If that’s something you find daunting, then here’s a book for you. Drawing from 12 years of research, professor, founder and CEO of The Daring Way, Brené Brown dispels “the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and argues that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage.” Brown blends a mixture of academia with personal stories as she uncovers how empathy and creativity are all vital leadership attributes that both stem from vulnerability.
Best for: people who are afraid to show vulnerability