14 best books on management skills you need to read to become a better leader

Ieva Sipola 14.02.2024
Best books on management skills

What are your favorite books on management skills?

If you’re a manager and your answer is “I don’t have any,” then you’re missing out on a valuable source of knowledge and inspiration to grow in your career. 

Just think about it.

There are hundreds of millions of companies in the world, and countless other people have faced the same managerial challenges you do – how best to align your team? How to be a good leader? How to maximize productivity while fostering a positive culture? 

You don’t have to solve these things yourself – you can take inspiration from other business leaders who have condensed their lifelong learnings into books on management skills. Not just inspiration, but practical tips and hands-on frameworks, too. 

What are the must-read books on management skills to get started with?

We asked business leaders around the world about books that influenced their approach and helped them become better managers. See what we found – and pick books for your own reading list.

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1. Leaders Eat Last – Simon Sinek

Leaders Eat Last (2014) teaches that true leaders prioritize the needs of their team over their own, thus ensuring the progress of the whole group. Sinek uses the example of a Marine Corps general who explained it simply – leaders eat last.

Sinek knocks down narcissistic leadership tendencies and presents a compelling case for a service-based approach, where managers lead with compassion and understanding.  

What I like about the book is that many of the principles discussed can also be applied to our personal lives. I often think of the value of doing right by my team as a person, not just as a business entity or associate.  The book has given me a new perspective on being a better leader.

Nikola Baldikov, CEO and Founder of InboundBlogging

2. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap, and Others Don’t – Jim Collins

Good to Great (2001) outlines the findings of a five-year study by Collins and his research team. They identified common traits among companies that achieved sustained success after years of mediocre performance. The findings emphasize the importance of leadership, organizational culture, and strategic decision-making in driving long-term success. 

Collins helps shed light on what it means to be a great leader. Rather than being charismatic or larger-than-life, successful leaders are mostly very driven but equally humble.

I loved the author’s take on motivation. Collins explains that when you build a team that instinctively understands the company vision and the value of their contributions, there is little need to motivate them further.

Robert Kaskel, CPO of Checkr

Best books on management styles

3. The Effective Executive – Peter F. Drucker

The Effective Executive (1966) emphasizes the importance of focusing on contributions, efficient time management, and making decisions based on priorities. This classic book on management styles delves into effectiveness practices and focuses on “doing the right things rather than just doing things right”. 

Through insightful guidance and practical strategies, Drucker provides a roadmap for executives to enhance their effectiveness, maximize their impact, and lead their organizations to success.

Drucker’s advice on time management and the importance of focusing on the right things rather than just doing things right spurred me to refine my prioritization and delegation strategies. This approach revolutionized how we tackled workflow bottlenecks, leading to more streamlined and efficient operations.

Dylan J. Cleppe, Co-Founder & CEO of OneStop Northwest

4. No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention – Reed Hastings, Erin Meyer

No Rules Rules (2020) describes the innovative and unorthodox culture that has propelled Netflix to become one of the most successful companies in the world. Hastings and Meyer reveal how the company’s unique approach to management, characterized by freedom and responsibility, has fostered creativity, agility, and rapid growth. 

Through real-life examples and insightful analysis, the book offers valuable lessons on leadership, organizational culture, and driving continuous innovation in today’s competitive landscape.

This book had so many valuable insights that I could quote it from cover to cover. I loved how the authors emphasized the importance of one-on-one conversations among employees and managers. Another idea that deeply resonated with me was that of making employees feel like owners by, in turn, increasing the amount of responsibility they take for the company’s success.

Sintija Petersone, CPO at DeskTime

5. High Output Management – Andrew S. Grove

High Output Management (1995) is one of the best books to improve management skills and boost your team’s performance. Grove offers insights into effective management principles based on his experience as the CEO of Intel.

Grove emphasizes the importance of maximizing output through proper allocation of resources, setting clear objectives, and empowering employees. The book provides practical guidance on topics such as meetings, decision-making, and performance evaluation, offering advice for managers aiming to enhance productivity and organizational effectiveness.

Grove’s book instilled in me the importance of output-oriented management. It helped me redefine success, focusing more on the results produced by my team rather than merely on their tasks.

Yulia Saf, founder of Miss Tourist

6. Scaling People: Tactics for Management and Company Building – Carol H. Johnson

Scaling People (2023) is a management book for business leaders who’ve already read all the theoretical books on management styles and best practices. This book is much more tactical and provides actionable strategies, giving real-world examples, frameworks, and templates for interviews or running meetings. 

The book explores various aspects of team building, from hiring and onboarding to fostering a positive company culture and addressing performance issues. 

This book has made me a more efficient manager at a time when the principles are already set, and you need to get down to doing the work and implementing the lessons learned.

Rytis Lauris, Co-Founder and CEO of Omnisend

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7. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations – Brené Brown

Dare to Lead (2018) delves into the essential qualities of daring leadership in today’s world. Brown explores the importance of courage, vulnerability, and empathy in fostering trust and connection within teams and organizations. 

Through research-based insights and personal anecdotes, the author offers practical strategies for leaders to navigate difficult conversations, cultivate resilience, and create inclusive work environments.

“This book demonstrates that leadership is not just about titles and power; it’s about taking responsibility for the tasks and people you manage and learning to recognize and encourage the great deeds and ideas in them. Dare to Lead taught me how to get the best out of people by accepting vulnerability, having tough conversations, and making the necessary decisions regardless of how I feel.

Michael Maximoff, Co-Founder & Managing Partner at Belkins

8. Leading from the Middle: A Playbook for Managers to Influence Up, Down and Across the Organization – Scott Mautz

Leading from the Middle (2021) describes the transformative power of middle leadership, connecting top-tier management to the operational staff. This is one of the best books to improve management skills that help leaders navigate organizational change, resolve conflicts, and build a growth-oriented company culture. 

Leading from the Middle is a great guidebook for learning flexibility. The author offers actionable insights on fostering adaptability, influence, and compromise to boost your team with purpose and engagement.

“I read this book early on in my career and have revisited it frequently. It gives perspective on how to be flexible as a manager, especially when you’re starting out and still have a boss to answer to, but you’re also responsible for leading your team. The more flexible you can be as a leader, the more effective you can be.

Ann Martin, Director of Operations of CreditDonkey

9. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – Daniel H. Pink

Drive (2018) delves into the science of motivation, challenging traditional notions and highlighting the power of intrinsic drivers. Through research and real-world examples, Pink argues that autonomy, mastery, and purpose are key factors in motivating people to excel in their work and personal lives.

This book profoundly influenced my leadership style by illuminating the intrinsic motivators beyond traditional rewards. Pink’s discussion on autonomy, mastery, and purpose has guided me in creating a work environment that motivates my team to achieve their best, enhancing our company’s innovation and productivity.

Phil Strazzulla, Founder at SelectSoftware Reviews

10. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses – Eric Ries

The Lean Startup (2011) is a legendary book on management styles that help startups and tech companies develop sustainable business models. It emphasizes continuous rapid prototyping and focuses on customer feedback data. 

This book reshaped my approach to business and management. Ries’s emphasis on agile development, customer feedback loops, and the concept of the minimum viable product (MVP) has been pivotal in how I pilot new features and manage projects at my company, fostering a culture of adaptability and innovation.

Rosie Langello, Founder of Book Vibe

Books to improve management skills

11. Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity – Kim Scott

Radical Candor (2017) offers a refreshing approach to leadership and feedback, introducing the concept of radical candor, which involves caring personally while challenging directly. According to the author, this concept is key to fostering healthy communication and relationships in the workplace. Through anecdotes and practical advice, Scott illustrates how embracing radical candor can empower leaders to build trust, encourage growth, and drive high-performance teams.

This book transformed my approach to management. Scott’s framework for building relationships based on trust and direct feedback has been key to how I lead my team, encouraging a culture where everyone feels valued and motivated to contribute their best work.

Chad Sultana, Founder at Chad Sultana

12. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High – J.Grenny, K.Patterson, et al.

Crucial Conversations (2002) provides valuable insights and techniques for handling difficult conversations in the workplace. It teaches managers how to navigate sensitive topics, resolve conflicts effectively, and communicate with clarity and empathy. It offers practical tips for fostering open dialogue, addressing concerns, and reaching mutually beneficial solutions.

This book has been instrumental in enhancing my communication skills, especially in high-stakes situations. Applying the principles from this book has helped me foster a culture where team members feel empowered to speak up, leading to better decision-making and stronger team cohesion.

Sturgeon Christie, CEO at Second Skin Audio

13. The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever – Michael S. Bungay

The Coaching Habit (2016) is a famous book on management styles that breaks down the elements of coaching and explains how to coach effectively. As the author explains, coaching isn’t about giving advice but about guiding employees to find their own way to success. 

“This book has been instrumental in providing our entire management team with a valuable framework for enabling their direct reports to take charge of their own growth and confidently address challenges. It has shifted the paradigm from managers being the ‘hero’ who solves everything. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who manages a team.

Vallene Kailburn, Founder and CPO at OTM

14. Corporate Lifecycles: How and Why Corporations Grow and Die and What to Do About It – Ichak Adizes

Corporate Lifecycles (1990) explores the various stages that companies typically go through as they evolve over time. Adizes outlines the distinct phases of birth, youth, midlife, and maturity, emphasizing the challenges and opportunities each stage presents. 

By understanding these lifecycles, businesses can better anticipate and navigate the transitions they face, fostering long-term success and sustainability.

Each stage of a corporate lifecycle brings forth distinct goals, tasks, and approaches, each with its unique workflows and hierarchies designed to achieve success. Every cycle will also require different qualities in employees and managers. My key takeaway from this book was that change is a natural, necessary, and inevitable process as a company progresses through different life cycles.

Aleksandrs Zarins, Head of IT at DeskTime

Elevate your leadership game with the best books on management skills

Managing a team is no easy task, and it’s only normal for a manager to sometimes feel lost or distressed in their role. Luckily, there are helpful and inspiring books on management styles that provide invaluable guidance and practical strategies for any leader in need. 

By selecting the books that resonate with you from our list, you have the chance to refine your leadership approach, drive organizational success, and inspire your team to reach new heights.

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