Leadership Books I Recommend

You want recommendations for books on engineering leadership? I have good news and bad news:

Good: I have plenty of recommendations for you!

Bad: Getting through every book I recommend is like trying to visit every new restaurant that opens in Atlanta – it’s not going to happen, but you can try!

Without further ado…

Title: The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter

Author: Michael D. Watkins

Good for: New managers, ICs starting a new job, experienced leaders starting a new job or role at the same company

Summary: This book walks you through best practices for how you should spend you first 90 days at a company, whether it’s a new role at your existing company or a totally new company. You’ll learn about the common pitfalls new leaders face when starting a new role.

Why I recommend it: This is the type of book I’d re-read every time I start a new role. A lot of the concepts in here also apply to ICs, not just management.

Title: Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High

Authors: Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler, Emily Gregory

Good for: Absolutely everyone.

Summary: Crucial Conversations walks you through how to make sure you’re getting your point across in all types of situations (but especially difficult ones), and how to engage when someone begins a crucial conversation with you. This book is FILLED with great examples in an easy-to-read format.

Why I recommend it: Communication is difficult. Confrontation is tough whether you’re on the giving or receiving end. This one will help at work, in your relationships, and with everyone else in (and not in) your life.

Title: An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management

Author: Will Larson

Good for: New managers, new middle managers

Summary: An Elegant Puzzle cuts right to the chase of specific situations you’ll likely encounter as an Engineering Manager, from team organization to stepping up as a Product Manager when needed to handling technical debt. Larson wrote this based on his experience at Digg, Uber, and Stripe.

Why I recommend it: This book is a great desk reference to use as a resource when you encounter new challenges as a manager. I was drawn to the book initially because it’s specific to engineering management, but it can absolutely apply to other managerial roles. Get the hardcover edition - it’s a beautiful book.

Title: The Manager’s Path

Author: Camille Fournier

Good for: Aspiring managers, new managers, new middle managers

Summary: The Manager’s Path takes you on an easy-to-read journey from engineer to technical manager, covering topics such as being a good mentor, building culture within teams, all the way to managing managers.

Why I recommend it: This book has something for wherever you are on your journey. You don’t necessarily need to read this one cover to cover and can skip to the stage where you’re currently at, but I found it to be a good read from end to end!

Title: Radical Candor

Author: Kim Scott

Good for: Tech leads, managers at any level

Summary: Radical Candor teaches you how to communicate effectively and lead your team while avoiding the common pitfalls of Obnoxious Aggression, Manipulative Insincerity, and Ruinous Empathy. Examples are provided with each lesson to help drive Scott’s points home.

Why I recommend it: This was one of the first “management” books I ever read, and it’s one I’ll continue to recommend to everyone. I think one of the most important topics covered in this book is how to effectively give constructive feedback. As Scott so eloquently says, nobody likes a shit sandwich!

Title: The First-Time Manager

Author: Jim McCormick

Good for: New managers

Summary: The First-Time Manager takes you through four primary topics as you transition from IC to manager - shifting your focus from projects to people, knowing when and how to implement change, building a trusting environment, and giving praise to your team.

Why I recommend it: This is always one of the first recommendations I make to people who reach out to me saying, “I just got promoted to manager, now what?” It’s clearly written, concise, and very practical.

Title: The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business

Author: Emily Meyer

Good for: Everyone!

Summary: In The Culture Map, Meyer breaks down the cultural differences that exist around the world on topics of management, feedback, basic communication, and more. You’ll finish this book with a clear list of practical actions and advice you can begin applying immediately.

Why I recommend it: These days we are rarely working on a homogenous team where everyone looks and thinks like ourselves (I mean, I hope that’s the case). You may also have a globally distributed team or employees who are not based wherever you are. The Culture Map is a must-read for understanding the cultural differences that exist around the world and how to keep these differences in mind as you approach your work and life.

Title: The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More, and Change the Way You Lead Forever

Author: Michael Bungay Stanier

Good for: Managers, leads, anyone who is a coach or mentor to someone else

Summary: The Coaching Habit is a concise book covering seven questions you should add to your management repertoire, starting with “What’s on your mind” and ending with “What has been most useful for you”. This book serves as a framework for forming your own coaching habit.

Why I recommend it: This is one of those books that can and should be read by everyone if only because it will make us all more effective communicators. Whether you’re on the asking or responding side, knowing what questions to ask and how to respond will make your conversations flow more productive. This book is a super quick read!

Title: Measure What Matters

Author: John Doerr

Good for: Managers, leads, basically everyone - but particularly those who either work in an environment that uses OKRs or have the ability to introduce OKRs into their team/org

Summary: Measure What Matters breaks down OKRs (objectives and key results) and gives you concrete examples of how other organizations have used them in the past. Created by Andy Grove at Intel, OKRs have since powered the minds and operations of corporations, non-profits, and more – most notably Google.

Why I recommend it: If you work in an environment that currently uses OKRs or you’re interested in introducing a more objective, measurable way to track and measure success in your organization, this book is gold. It’s a quick read and alternates between informational sections and real-life examples to keep you focused and retaining the information.

Title: Atomic Habits

Author: James Clear

Good for: Everyone! Absolutely everyone.

Summary: Atomic Habits teaches you how you can build positive habits and break bad habits through four primary lessons: make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying. Clear gives several examples and actionable advice every step of the way, and you’ll find yourself beginning to implement his strategies before you finish the book.

Why I recommend it: I read (or listen to) this book once a year at the beginning of every year to reset my own mind and goals around the habits I’d like to form or break. Every section is easily understood, the stories are captivating, and you often finish each section with a desire to begin thinking through how these strategies can apply to your own life.

Books I’m still reading (or own and haven’t started yet)

Below is a list of the books I’m still working through or haven’t quite started yet. Any books I recommend will appear above!

Never Split the Difference
Authors: Chris Voss, Tahl Raz

It’s the Manager: Moving From Boss to Coach
Authors: Jim Clifton, Jim Harter

Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader
Author: Herminia Ibarra

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time
Authors: Jeff Sutherland, J.J. Sutherland