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!

Below I have included affiliate links for books, as well as non-affiliate links if you prefer to go that route. No pressure :)

Without further ado…

Last updated: November 25, 2022

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

  • Title: Accelerate: The Science of Lean Software and DevOps: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations
    Authors: Nicole Forsgren PhD, Jez Humble, Gene Kim
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  • Title: Never Split the Difference
    Authors: Chris Voss, Tahl Raz
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  • Title: Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts
    Author: Annie Duke
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  • Title: Leading from Anywhere: The Essential Guide to Managing Remote Teams
    Author: David Burkus
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  • Title: Team Topologies: Organizing Business and Technology Teams for Fast Flow
    Authors: Matthew Skelton, Manuel Pais
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  • Title: Distributed Teams: The Art and Practice of Working Together While Physically Apart
    Author: John O’Duinn
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  • Title: It’s the Manager: Moving From Boss to Coach
    Authors: Jim Clifton, Jim Harter
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  • Title: Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader
    Author: Herminia Ibarra
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  • Title: The 27 Challenges Managers Face: Step-by-Step Solutions to (Nearly) All of Your Management Problems
    Author: Bruce Tulgan
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  • Title: Leading from the Middle: A Playbook for Managers to Influence Up, Down, and Across the Organization
    Author: Scott Mautz
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  • Title: The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win
    Authors: Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, George Spafford
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  • Title: Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time
    Authors: Jeff Sutherland, J.J. Sutherland
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  • Title: High Output Management
    Author: Andrew S. Grove
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