I asked 21 engineering leaders to recommend just 1 book to managers and here is what they said…

Published on Feb 11, 2018

7 min read

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See newly updated: Most Recommended Books for Engineering Leaders (updated 2022)

Amazon.com returns over 1,000,000 results for “management books.” Which are the best ones? Here are the books that the first 21 engineering leaders on managersclub.com recommended in answer to the question, “If you could recommend one book to engineering managers, what would it be and why?”

Before we get to the complete list, the following four books were recommended by more than 1 guest.

  1. “High Output Management” by former Intel president Andy Grove was recommended by 3 separate guests.
  2. Mickey Mantle and Ron Lichty’s book “Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams” was recommended by 2 separate guests.
  3. “Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable“ by Patrick Lencioni was recommended by 2 guests.
  4. “The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change” by Camille Fournier was recommended by 2 guests.

And interestingly, one guest recommended not reading books.

Here is the list from the first 21 guests.

I like “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz. It’s not really for people managers (it’s for executives), but I found it invaluable when the organization I was working in as a startup was growing quickly. It provided some insights into big business challenges, and how to grow an organization the right way. I’m also a fan of “Managing Humans” (Michael Lopp1) and “Org Design for Design Orgs” (Peter Merholz and Kristin Skinner). Interview with Anne Hjortshoj, Manager, UX Research and Strategy, Cisco Cloud Security

If I had to pick one, especially one that I have revisited in the last year, it’s “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter”. It covers growth in leadership, and how leading becomes less about leading, per se, and more about empowering other people to lead. It touches on how to create an organization in which others are enabled to make decisions and do their best work. – Interview with Kimber Lockhart, CTO at One Medical

Don’t read management books, if you are a manager. If you aren’t a manager, go ahead and learn about them! I think it’s much better to learn about some other discipline or to learn about other modes of thinking. Every day you are learning to be a better manager. I put little stake into the conclusions of others, because if you want to really be better than anyone at managing, listen to people’s experiences, but avoid trusting their conclusions. Interview with Hampton Catlin, Sr Director of Engineering, Rent the Runway

There are so many that made an impact that it’s hard to pick one, but I’m going to go with Camille Fournier’s “The Manager’s Path”. Packed with good advice, ideas, and no bullshit. And the fact that each chapter represents another step in the, well… manager’s path, makes it immediately useful for anyone regardless of where they are in that path. It’s almost an encyclopedia of management. Interview with Daniel Dvorkin, Director of Engineering at Modern Tribe

I quite like the novelized format of some of these books, and the first one that pops to my mind is Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. It is an easy read. Its messages are very important but are easy to grasp. Interview with Yagiz Erkan, VP of Technology at Motive Retail

See newly updated: Most Recommended Books for Engineering Leaders (updated 2022)

Peter Drucker’s “Effective Executive” is what I would recommend. I think the reason I would recommend people to read it is because it’s a really short book, and it talks about how knowledge management really happens in an organization. And Peter Drucker also talks about, what should a good leader really do, and why, and how to be effective and efficient when you’re getting things done. And it’s a really old book, I think he wrote it in the 1960s I guess. It’s been there for more than 25 plus years for sure. But it’s still relevant to what’s going on today and how people are leading today, especially with the technology and the distractions that we have where we are not able to focus on one particular thing for a period of time.Interview with Poorani Jeyasekar, Delivery Lead for Celerity Consulting

“Positive Intelligence” by Shirzad Chamine. It helped me discover what my professional personality was so I could come up with a strategy to become better. It also helped me in “classifying” the personalities of those I managed so that I can help them come up with a strategy to reach their full potential. Interview with Brent Baisley, VP of Engineering at Ticket Evolution

First, “Break All The Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently” by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman is a wonderful book for managers. I keep their 12 questions in mind when I think about team culture and happiness and keep that list handy in all of my note-taking systems. It also introduced me to the concept of managing for someone’s strengths rather than using performance management to highlight their weaknesses.

I’d also recommend Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable”. There are clear lessons about recognizing your first team that I wish I’d learned earlier in my career, it’s a short read, and the parable has been relatable to my experience. Interview with Matt Newkirk, Engineering Manager at Etsy

“What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: A Round Table Comic: How Successful People Become Even More Successful (the cartoon version)”. An engaging reminder that every new job is different – always reflect and grow. – Interview with Dan Rohtbart, Software Engineering Manager at IBM

I recommend Ron Lichty’s book “Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams” in part because it is a good collection of bite-sized wisdom. Just like my previous point about binge-learning vs nibble-learning, the advantage of ingesting bite-sized concepts is that you can use those bites right away whereas many ideas learned from binging are lost because they are not immediately used. Interview with John Van Heteren the Director of Treatment Delivery Applied Research at Varian Medical Systems

Believe it or not, “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Jared Diamond Ph.D. While not a management how-to, a sports hero bio or book about the long-standing career of some industry titan, it does illustrate the impact of small things upon every person. Things that are out of control that affect everybody’s life. We need to understand the issues that motivate and the personal experience that drives a person. I found the perspectives in this book truthful as it mirrored my experience with peoples from many cultures and the drivers of their decisions. This is especially true where there are cultural norms that can be offensive to others, when faced with bigotry or income/resource inequality. Also, acknowledging that change can take time and there are natural rhythms to that progression. The manager’s job is to level the playing field so that everybody is successful. There are no favorites. No privileged class. The pacing needs to be realistic. Interview with Nat Fast, VP Software Development at Viscira

Probably “High Output Management” by former Intel president Andy Grove, because it clearly transports the thought that, as a manager, you are the mini-CEO of your sub-organization, and encourages you to act accordingly.

If you feel like that book is too old for you, I would recommend “The Manager’s Path” by Camille Fournier, because it is full of practical advice about how to take ownership and be effective, both as an individual contributor and as a manager. Interview with Tom Bartel Germany-based software developer, engineering manager, speaker, and author

“Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius – it’s not specifically a management book but is a collection of thoughts from a Roman emperor on how to deal with people, life, and situations that he found himself in. So much of it still holds, and it makes for a nice book to dip into for inspiration or reassurance. Interview with Sam Boswell, CTO @ WorkGaps

“Becoming a Technical Manager”, by Jerry Weinberg. It’s the classic that stands the test of time. Interview with Marcus Blankenship, Technical Leadership Consultant

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum” by Alan Cooper. For managers coming from a technical background, especially those that are excited by rich features and power user configuration, this book helps uncover the problems with over-engineering and the dire need to work hand-in-hand with a product visionary and your customers. Interview with Aaron Cope, Director of Engineering, R&D

Can I pick two? Ok, good.

Interview with Michael Lopp, VP of Engineering @slackhq

It’s a somewhat boring choice, but I’d say that “High Output Management” is a singular book worth reading. Not only does it provide some tactics on how to be an effective manager, it’s one of the rare management books that will explain strategies, philosophies and guiding principles, coming from someone who has been executing at the highest levels of one of the most important companies in the world (at that time). It’s a classic for a reason: lots of people have found the advice useful across its decades of publication, which should indicate both the weight of its advice as well as its timelessness. Interview with Allen Cheung, Senior Director of Engineering at Affirm

“Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams” It’s just a great book with great tips for managers without experience who want to do a good job.  Interview with Joe Hudson, Engineering Manager at Citadel LLC

“High Output Management” by Andy Grove is still the best introduction to being a manager that exists. It’s easy to read and full of great, practical ideas. – Interview with Dr. James Stanier, VP Engineering at Brandwatch

“Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company” is one that comes mind. Great book on how Mulally changed the culture of Ford. – Interview with Mike Dosik, Senior Director, Cloud Operations at Thomson Reuters

  1. Michael was interviewed here https://www.managersclub.com/michael-lopp/

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