The 11 Best Books for New Managers on Leadership and Self-Improvement

"What do I do now? Where do I even begin???"

If your company has a group of new managers, then it's very likely many of them are thinking the above.

Whether you were left to flounder when you started out as a manager or you had some great help, there's a lot you can do to help them succeed as a senior leader

One of the best ways is to gift them a great book (or a few). The right book can teach a manager essential skills they can apply every day, and give them insights and lessons that would take you hours or days to teach them on your own.

That's why today we're sharing some of the best books for first-time managers from our own favorites, whether for you to read or share with a new manager you want to help.

With each book, we explain why it's great, so you can make the right call if its the book for you or the person you're gifting.

Table of Contents: The 11 Best Books for New Leaders

"Books are the training weights of the mind" is why you should read some of the best books for new managers

Books: The training weights for your mind.

If you read books often, you know how helpful the right book at just the right time can be.

They're like sitting down for coffee with an expert to get their wisdom on a subject – or like having a trusted expert at your side while you're trying to lead through a crisis.

I've read hundreds of books, including many of the best management books ever written. I wouldn't be where I am in my career without their guidance and insights. And some of the best books for new managers I've read have been gifts from friends, mentors, and colleagues.

If you want to help a new manager (or group of managers), give them a book. It is one of the easiest and best ways to help them (and should be part of any professional development goals for managers).

However, for it to work, the key is for it to be a *great* book.

A great book is a priceless gift. A poor one is punishment.

One of the challenges of gifting books is making sure it's one they'll like. Fortunately, if they're a new manager, then you know a book on this subject will be timely and appreciated. Then, you just have to ensure it's a great book.

It's super frustrating to be gifted a bad book; you'll feel obligated to at least try to read it, and the whole time you will be wishing you'd spent that time reading or doing something better.

Then, you want to be gracious to the person gifting it, even though they whiffed on picking one for you. You have to straddle that line between being grateful and avoiding getting another dud from them.

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Pick the right book.

So how do you avoid giving a bad book, especially if you haven't read many yourself?

Having read a lot of leadership and management books in particular, here's what separates the best management books for new managers from the rest:

  1. Short Length: I've never read a 300 page book that couldn't have been a better 200 page book. Saying just the right amount on a point and moving on shows a skill and care many others lack. This is especially true as many authors are on a quest to hit a publisher's page requirement.
  2. Great Depth: Too many books can have all their concepts covered in a single blog post. The best management and leadership books keep teaching you new insights right until the end, and add nuance to their points beyond overdrawn anecdotes.
  3. Timeless: As philosopher Nassim Taleb writes, the best books are more than 20 years old; that means that the ideas are not just a fad, but work long term. There are more recent exceptions to this, but we'll talk about those later. 

Once you apply this filter, a lot of books are disqualified. In fact, there are just a few main books we're recommending, along with several other more recent additions that are particularly well-suited for modern managers.

Together, they cover the most important skills and concepts a new manager needs to get right from Day 1 to succeed.

So whether you're a friend trying to help, or in HR and supporting new managers, you are on the right track by offering any and all of these books on management as a gift.

The best books for new managers

The 11 Best Books for New Managers, Part 1: Timeless Resources

Becoming a manager is more than a promotion. It's a career change.

With the new responsibilities of motivating, growing, and leading others, there's a lot to learn at once.

Unfortunately, there's no time to learn by trial and error; you're talking about the lives of other employees who will thrive, or suffer, based on the new manager's actions. Remember: People leave managers, not companies.

These are seven of the best, timeless books on management available, which can help any manager improve in some of the most important ways that will help them, and their team succeed.

1) Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People"

One of the cruel challenges of being a leader is that many of our basic instincts are wrong. Bossing people around, assuming the worst, and believing everyone thinks like us are some of the easiest rookie mistakes to make. Fortunately, Dale Carnegie is here to help.

How to Win Friends & Influence People is a classic on leadership. Carnegie breaks down in simple terms many of the most helpful ways to understand others, as well as how to accomplish all that a leader needs to effectively work with their team.

Carnegie can give even the most rigid engineer essential lessons on leading others well.

There are so many great lessons in this book, many of which we've shared on the Lighthouse blog in various posts including these:

If you want to understand what makes other people tick, how to motivate them, and win them over to your way of thinking, there is no better book.

2) Andy Grove's "High Output Management"

When you're an individual contributor, work is straight-forward: you're given a task, a problem, or a project to complete. You may collaborate with team members, but in the end, you're in charge of a specific part of it.  Ship the feature, close the deal, create the leads, and your work is done.

As a manager, suddenly you have to be a multiplier.  You're not just focused on yourself or any one person on your team. Instead, you have to think about how everyone works with each other, and how your team as a whole can perform at its best.

You also have to suddenly deal with people problems, sit in many more meetings, think more about managing up, and working cross-functionally.

With all these new challenges, even the hardest working new manager is likely to struggle. Fortunately, this is where Andy Grove shines. High Output Management is the perfect book to help with a myriad of these challenges.

We've been a huge fan of High Output Management on the Lighthouse blog since first reading it over 6 years ago. We've quoted Grove countless times, and even devoted two posts specifically to this book, which you can dig into for further reading:

If you want a field guide for being an effective manager, this is one of the single best books for new managers ever written. Grove provides what many go as far as calling the, "Bible for management.”

3) James Clear's "Atomic Habits"

A key for any manager is to learn new things. As a manager, you want to be a multiplier, and the only way to do that is to be constantly learning and growing. 

Atomic Habits is a great book for managers to learn how to build good habits and break bad ones. 

As we talked about earlier, becoming a manager is a career change as much as a promotion, so there's a lot you'll need to learn if you want to be a good manager. That means creating the habit of learning and leveling up, as well as breaking bad habits that sit in the way of you being at your best. 

Atomic Habits will help you do both of those things.  Clear lays out simple systems and approaches that help ensure you're setting a great example for your team. You can then also teach your team to build good habits, too, multiplying the value of these lessons.

Further reading: Read more on habits and why we like Clear's Atomic Habits in: Lessons from Leaders: Mikey Ahdoot on the Essential Keys to Building Healthy Habits.

4) Chris Voss' "Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on it"

The further you climb in your career, the more negotiating matters. As a manager, you'll be negotiating constantly:

  • With your team: On raises, performance, projects, performance reviews, hiring, and closing candidates.
  • With your manager: On your own career, performance, and compensation.
  • With your peers: On behalf of your team for resources, projects, and collaboration.

Voss' Never Split the Difference will teach you how to become a better negotiator no matter what situation you find yourself in. 

The book has some tactics that could become less effective over time as they become more well known. However, it focuses mostly on the process and mindset you should use when negotiating, which is grounded in the timeless principles of rapport, empathy, and understanding the other person you're negotiating with. 

I can personally attest to the effectiveness of applying the approaches and recommendations in the book in a variety of situations. Unlike so many other books I've read, the tactics applied worked exactly as described.

Further reading: A key part of being a good leader or negotiator is asking questions, which helps you create mutually beneficial outcomes. The best posts to learn more about that include:

5) Booth, Shames, & Desberg's "Own the Room: Business Presentations that Persuade, Engage, and Get Results"

Presenting is a key part of being a manager, so it's worth investing time into improving your presenting skills as it will make a lot of things easier:

  • It will make you more persuasive
  • Help you acquire more resources and opportunities for your team
  • Earn the respect of your team, peers, and senior leaders
  • And be more confident communicating your ideas

If you want one book to teach you everything you need to know about giving great presentations, this is it.

In "Own the Room”, a film director, psychologist, and actor share their combined experiences to help improve your speaking in every way, including:

  • Making your content persuasive
  • Keeping your audience's attention & interest
  • Being memorable on the key points you want to make
  • Moving your body effectively to emphasize your points
  • And just about every other detail of being a great speaker. 

The book starts slow, but by the end, I had dog-eared dozens of pages and marked up many more that I was able to directly apply to a major talk I was working on at the time.

Further reading: Learn more about the value of improving your ability to communicate:

Best books for new managers - Marcus Buckingham First break all the rules

6) Marcus Buckingham's "First, Break All the Rules"

It's no surprise that Gallup's invaluable insights on management and leadership made this list in book form, from former Gallup leader, Marcus Buckingham.

In "First, Break All the Rules”, Buckingham breaks down dozens of Gallup's most important surveys and studies from over 80,000 managers to distill out some surprisingly unconventional lessons. 

Each of these lessons centers around the same idea: What separates a great manager from everyone else? 

As it turns out, part of what makes a great manager might not be what you think– and Buckingham has the data to prove it. 

In the book, you'll learn:

  • The power of focusing on the strengths of your individual team members (and why you should promote based on those strengths, not a lack of weaknesses)
  • The importance of a support system for managers
  • Why – and how to – invest in your best people
  • The importance of developing a personal relationship with everyone on your team
  • How to give effective feedback, and more

If one of your managers is just starting out and is a more analytical thinker, the fact that this book uses Gallup's massive stockpile of data as context for all of its tips easily makes it one of the best books for new managers. 

Further reading: Gallup's countless management studies and surveys have been incredibly influential in helping managers go from good to great. Read more on some of their insights we've shared on the Lighthouse blog below:

7) Bill Walsh's "The Score Takes Care of Itself"

Today's managers need to be more than just managers; they need to be coaches who draw out the best from each team member. 

And there are few coaches better to learn from than NFL coaching legend Bill Walsh, who not only turned around a failing franchise in the San Francisco 49ers to become a dynasty but then went on to have a hand in the development of dozens of future successful NFL head coaches.

In "The Score Takes Care of Itself”, Walsh opens his toolbox and teaches his most important lessons about leadership (lessons that apply whether you're interested in football or not).

These lessons include: 

  • Why praise is one of the most valuable tools for any leader
  • The value of preparation and planning
  • The importance of setting the example (and how that affects your culture)
  • The viral nature of enthusiasm (and why it's essential)
  • And why the four most powerful words in a manager's arsenal are, "I believe in you.”

"The Score Takes Care of Itself” is great for any leader, whether brand new or very experienced. It will help you learn how to become a better coach to your team and get the most from each of your individual team members.

Further reading: You need to become more than just someone who ensures tasks get done; you need to become a great coach, who develops their team, too. Learn more about what makes a great coach and how you can become one for your team: 

best books for new leaders

The 11 Best Books for New Managers, Part 2: Unconventional & Modern Guides

Beyond what we consider timeless resources are a few books that are more timely or unconventional: they were written recently, and are helpful guides for leaders in today's technological era, or are less obviously a book for managers, and can still really help you.

These include books about managing your mindset, leading modern engineers, growing venture-backed companies, and supporting your female employees in today's workplace. 

8) Don Miguel Ruiz’ The Four Agreements

"The Four Agreements” is a book that teaches you how to free yourself from self-limiting thoughts that can cause you unnecessary fears and frustration. Ruiz uses these teachings to help people overcome their issues and understand those around them better.

As a leader, it's important to have a positive mindset and set a good example, and this is a book that will help you do that.

It’s also a book 7-Time Super Bowl Champion Tom Brady has re-read over 7 times, which is a pretty strong endorsement by itself. We also recommend it because:

  • It contains tons of advice you can apply in your everyday work as a leader.
  • At only 160 pages long, it’s an easy read, even if you’re a very busy manager.
  • While the advice is simple, it is not easy, which means you can revisit it over and over and keep getting new insights and ideas to apply to your life. (Which is why Tom Brady re-reads it)

And like many of our favorite books on this list, it’s timeless. “The Four Agreements” is based on Toltec wisdom from spiritualist Don Miguel Ruiz, and its key ideas still strongly resonate with leaders today. That’s because it focuses on teaching you how to be a better communicator and how to improve your emotional maturity.

“The Four Agreements”, written in 1997, has sold 9 million copies in the US alone and been a Top 10 best seller for over a decade, while being translated to 47 languages.

If you're a leader, it can help you contribute to a company culture of happiness, self-acceptance, and mutual appreciation, because when you have a healthier mindset, you create an environment for your team to as well. 

For a more detailed overview of the book and further reading on similar topics, check out: 

9) Best book for new managers who are engineers: Camille Fournier's "The Manager's Path"

Fournier's The Manager's Path is ideal for engineers or anyone in a technical profession who has just become a manager, or is rising in the ranks as a technical leader. It takes you through key topics you must know as a new manager all the through becoming a CTO.

Fournier breaks down some of her best tips for becoming a great technical manager, though many of the tips apply to any manager:

  • The importance of regular one on ones
  • Why you need to be a mentor and coach to your people
  • Creating the kind of environment that allows your team to grow and be productive
  • The consequences of micro-managing, and what to do instead

Most of the lessons in the book are specific to engineers (especially software engineers), so it may not be as applicable as the software industry changes. However, for software engineering leaders today, this is an incredibly helpful guide. 

Further Reading: Read more on Fournier and The Manager's Path in our full post on the book here: 5 Key Lessons from Camille Fournier in The Manager's Path. We also shared guest advice from Fournier in our post, When to Quit Your Job, if You're a Leader.

10) Best book for new managers who are founders: Ben Horowitz's "The Hard Thing About Hard Things"

If you're starting a company, are a CEO, or are thinking about building a business, you need to read this book. 

In The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Horowitz shares the incredible story of his time as a founder. He recalls how he survived a tanking stock, failed launches, and problematic acquisitions to ultimately build a billion-dollar company. Throughout it all, he figured out how to keep the company alive and take care of his employees as best he could.

There are key lessons throughout the book, including:

  • The importance of one on ones as part of your organization's communication architecture
  • Managing through a crisis, no matter how bleak
  • And what it takes to be a startup founder/CEO that wins

The book will also help with your mindset as a leader, and give you some tactical approaches you can use to make your company better. 

Further reading: We've quoted Horowitz in many of our posts. Here's a couple of our favorites:

And as a founder, consider these posts specific to challenges you'll face: