Advice for a New Manager

Someone asked me for advice on becoming a manager. Caring enough to ask probably means the new manager will do well, but I offered some resources that might help too. Below is my reply.

I think the following books would be useful:

  • The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business – I imagine you’ll have expanded responsibilities and a lot of interaction with other parts of the business, so I recommend this book to get an overview of various functions. It also contains a ton of pointers to other books if you want to go deeper in one subject.
  • The Five Temptations of a CEO: A Leadership Fable - One of the easiest business books I’ve ever read because it reads like a story. The title says its for CEOs, but I think anyone in power should read and implement the lessons.
  • HBR’s 10 Must Reads - Collections of 10 great essays on business subjects like management, leadership, and strategy. If you do nothing else, read Peter Drucker’s seminal paper, Managing Oneself and figure out if you’re a reader or listener (among other character defining qualities).
  • Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box - This is framed as a book for leaders, but I think everyone should read it as it would improve relationships.
  • Now, Discover Your Strengths - This book is great because it will reinforce the idea that people are different. It’s a book about how to achieve great things by focusing on your strengths, but along the way you should learn that other people need the same. Figure out what your people are best at, help them discover it for themselves, then play to the strengths and everyone wins.
  • The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering – Not my favorite book, but I think it’s very important for managers to remember that nine women can’t gestate a baby in one month. This book is full of important lessons.
  • Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams - I had been wanting to read this one for a long time, and I’m glad that I finally did. It’s written by a couple empirical software engineering consultants (my description) who looked at a ton of data and performed thousands of interviews, then synthesized the information into a book. It’s a bit redundant, but I’d prefer a manager who read this book over one that had not.
  • How To Win Friends and Influence People - A classic. I’ve heard you can tell when someone has read this book. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, but he has some fantastic, enduring ideas about how to treat people.
  • Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion - Years of psychology research packed into one book. This book just has so much great information about how people think and act. For example, a woman was killed in the streets of NYC and numerous people heard it happen but none of them did anything; the theory is that they thought someone else would fix it. The takeaway: if you want someone to do something, give clear, actionable orders directly to them. That’s powerful stuff for managers, I’d say. There are many other gems in here.
  • The Prince - A classic on power and leadership. I found this book to be far less cynical than people make it out to be.
  • The Art of War - A classic that’s a really quick read. You might not often find yourself physically fighting on facile ground, but it might help to know the strategies and tactics.
  • The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership - This book had its highs and lows for me—there were points where I wanted to quit and other times when I thought it was great. You could probably get the basics by skimming it. A couple big messages were to think more before making a decision (unless it must be done now, put it off), gather lots of information, and think critically.

I’d also recommend virtually everything by Jeff Atwood (a few highlights: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2005/02/managing-with-trust.htmlhttp://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2007/11/the-two-types-of-programmers.html, http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2007/06/escaping-from-gilligans-island.htmlhttp://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2007/06/escaping-from-gilligans-island.html) and Joel Spoelsky (like http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2006/08/07.html) as well as talks by Ben Collins-Sussman and Brian Fitzpatrick (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skD1fjxSRog, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-7l8cnpI4k, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SARbwvhupQ, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-F-3E8pyjFo), Dan Pink (http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.html), and Robert Greene (who wrote Mastery, 48 Laws of Power, and the Art of Seduction). There are also good podcasts by Zig Ziglar, Dave Ramsey, and others.

If you’re not already a member of Audible.com, I highly recommend that you sign up now. Take advantage of your downtime (exercising, cleaning, commuting) by listening to books and podcasts.

Did I miss something? Anything you’d recommend?