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18 Leadership Books for First-time Managers

By Preethi Jathanna

Senior Writer for HR and Remote Work

18 Leadership Books for First-time Managers

To me, a good read is a book that’s enjoyable, memorable and imaginative. These are qualities to look out for in books for first-time managers, because words fuel the actions you take. I remember the mix of emotions I felt when I was absorbed into a managerial role. Pride, in having gotten this far. Nervousness, at what was yet to come, and excitement at all the changes I would make as a first-time manager.

Books for first-time managers aim to enable confidence and inspire great leadership. It is written as fiction, or in narrative form, from experiences of renowned leaders. It pulls in real-world case studies of building and nurturing relationships, making difficult decisions and how to admit to mistakes and learn from failure. My previous post was on books for leadership and management. This article, however, is for those newbie managers who have just taken over and are finding newer challenges to resolve. Here it goes;

1. What Should a New Manager Do First?

It's your first day in a new role. So what should a new manager do?

Firstly, make the right impression by

    • Getting to know who reports to you:

      Introduce yourself to the team in an email before gathering them for a group meet. If you’re a remote-only company, schedule a virtual orientation and encourage your team to open up. Prepare a questionnaire beforehand for the kind of questions you’d be interested to get answers to. For example, a worker’s hobbies, favorite cuisine etc. Establishing a rapport early on is beneficial later on, when you need your team’s support as much they need yours.

    • Speaking with other departmental managers:

      You should be able to read the room from social cues exhibited by other managers. Observe your surroundings and take time to personally meet with and speak to other managers. You could even find a mentor for yourself from someone among them, who can show you the ropes and fill you in on their experiences.

    • Chalking out an idea board:

      Have an idea board at the ready that you can instantly write down ideas to share with your team. It can help you gather your thoughts, and rehearse how you’re going to present them, equivalent to that of a notepad for quick notes.

    • Stocking up your shelf:

      No, I do not mean the pantry. Although, you’re going to need brain food, so it does help to have some superfoods around that you can snack on. I am referring to surrounding yourself with books and resources that can give you inspiration!

2. What are the Common Mistakes of New Managers?

A few mistakes new and first-time managers tend to make is to adopt a firefighting approach to problem solving. When they fail to delegate tasks to the team based on individual availability and competence, they end up having to fix more errors in a shorter span of time. Another mistake is to set vague goals and to keep changing priorities without a clear idea of why, or how this impacts the rest of the project, also not staying informed of new leadership disruptive trends is a common mistake.

Managers should be comfortable dealing with a firm, yet fair hand. This includes initiating disciplinary actions when ethics and professionalism are overlooked. But it also means giving praise for a job well done. A new manager who makes it a point to thank his or her team’s members is one who in turn will garner not just their support, but also their respect.

3. The Best Books for First-time Managers

3.1. Radical Candor - How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean - Kim Scott


Kim Scott is one of the founders of Radical Candor, a company that boosts professional relationships at work using a combination of virtual and in-person experiences. The book is of the same name, and has been listed on the NY times bestseller list. The updated version is available on amazon for just GBP 6.99.

Why this is one of the best management books of all time

Most first-time managers want to be liked, but few go about it the right way. In this leadership book, Kim applies three basic principles into a framework, which are to

    • Make it personal,
    • Get stuff done, and
    • Understand why it matters.

She draws from her experiences at Apple and Google. Radical Candor guides readers into a balanced leadership to help teams product better results, develop skills and raise the bar for performance. Making this a must-have in the list of books for new managers.

3.2. First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently”, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman


Break all the Rules was first published in 1999, by English actor, consultant and author Marcus Buckingham. Marcus worked for Gallup’s survey team. It was the data from such surveys and interviews with managers that led to the book. It comes highly recommended for its simple language, readability and insights from Gallup. Break all the rules is on amazon, for GBP 19.

Why this is one of the best management books of all time

If you are looking for the best books for a new manager this is one. What’s different about this book is that it tells readers that focusing on one’s strengths are more effective than trying to improve on one’s weaknesses. It helps you identify what you’re good at, and how to sustain it rather than try to fix what is not broken. One of the readers identifies with the 12 questions in chapter two, which Markus calls measure sticks of workplace strengths. I’ll list them here;

    1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
    2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
    3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
    4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
    5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
    6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
    7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
    8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
    9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
    10. Do I have a best friend at work?
    11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
    12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

3.3. The New One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard


One minute manager is a short read by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. At just GBP 6, this book is something you can flip through during a lull at work to refresh your brain cells. The contents are a compilation of wisdom from other leaders. It talks about three secrets; which are about setting goals, giving praise and re-directs.

Why this is one of the best management books of all time

The new one minute manager is an updated version of the original which was one of the best books for a new manager. Back in the ‘80s, leadership was seen as a command-and-control technique. In recent times, however, it has become more side-by-side, distributing control such that people become self-organized, yet responsive to authority. One very noticeable change in the book is that the chapter on re-directs was formerly on reprimanding. It indicates the shift in mindset on how to provide constructive criticism, and inform people who are keen learners wishing to improve. This book for first-time managers will help you get your point across without being confrontational about it!

3.4. Good to Great, Jim Collins


Good to great is a decade’s worth of research into the leadership that makes good companies great. It's on amazon for GBP 16, and has sold over three million copies worldwide.

Why this is one of the best management books of all time

The framework listed in the book contains three components, which are

    • Process- from build up to breakthrough
    • Phases- the phases are disciplined people, thought and actions
    • Flywheel- the deliberate process of identifying what needs doing and taking those steps to deliver future results.

The book breaks down the five levels of leadership and takes readers through what’s required to get to a level 5 leader, one who thinks and prioritizes organizational success over personal gain, resilient, modest and accountable when there is failure.

3.5. Start with Why, Simon Sinek


Simon Sinek is an established authority on leadership and Start with why, tells you why. The book talks about the Golden Circle using the fundamental question of “WHY”. It's a leadership book that makes a business question why they’re in the business, and how to get teams to move towards that goal. Amazon lists it for GBP 7.

Why this is one of the best management books of all time

The premise of the book is about systematically establishing connection, emotions and facts. The book is well summarized in Sinek’s TED talk. What makes it an essential addition to books for new managers, is that it mentions how leaders tend to forget the vision along the way, and how to rein it back in. That being said, I disagree with Sinek’s view that people who don’t get along should not work together. It's practically impossible to always work only with the people you like, so the book should have dedicated a chapter or section to conflict management techniques at the workplace.

3.6. Atomic Habits, James Clear


Atomic habits contain 5 big ideas for first-time managers. In this book, James talks about the surprising power of tiny habits, and how those habits shape your behavior and identity. At GBP 12 on Amazon, Atomic habits is a definite read for managers wishing to cultivate habits that help them stay productive and effective in an authoritative capacity.

Why this is one of the best management books of all time

This one line in Chapter 2 did it for me. “Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe.” Essentially, the book lists the process of becoming a great leader and manager as two steps, i.e., decide the type of person you want to be. And prove it to yourself with small wins. Chapter 18 and 19 also make compelling arguments, such as the rules for staying productive and motivated at work, and the importance of keeping yourself accountable just as much as you expect accountability from the team you’re leading. All this and more make it one of the best books for a new manager.

3.7. The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You, Julia Zhuo


Julia Zhuo is an influencer, cofounder of Inspirit and bestselling author of making of a manager. As the VP of Product design, Zhuo draws on her experience going from interning to landing her first managerial position aged 25. Having been a first-time manager herself at one point, her advice is practical and the anecdotes, relatable. The book is available on Amazon, and costs GBP 20.

Why this is one of the best management books of all time

Zhuo made mistakes as a manager, and the lessons that came from there are evidence of what she observed. The idea of a manager is to have great teams work towards better outcomes. She talks about the three P’s of Purpose, People and Process and how the first few months of assuming your new role, your main job is to listen, ask questions and learn.

3.8. Is There A Hole In Your Bucket List?: How To Overcome Obstacles That Keep You From Achieving Your Goals ,Marilyn Sherman


Marilyn Sherman is a keynote speaker and author of , is there a hole in your bucket list . As a motivational speaker, she is all about getting people to take front-row seats and claim their roles. Her book devotes spaces to writing down your own bucket list and the goals you foresee for yourself as a new manager.

Why this is one of the best management books of all time

It’s a simplistically written self-help book with focus questions in each chapter. The end of the book comes with different types of bucket lists and how you can achieve work life balance without pulling graveyard shifts or sacrificing what you love for who you are professionally. A really good book to revisit often!

3.9. The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, Michael Watkins


Watkins is a leadership transition expert. His book, the first 90 days is regarded as an onboarding bible. It teaches managers how to secure critical early wins, which are virtual to establish yourself in your new role. The hardcover costs GBP 16. The expanded edition came out in 2013.

Why this is one of the best management books of all time

This book happens to be an HBR editorial team favorite, and now it's mine, too! His advice on identifying the most common pitfalls can help newbie managers out with critical tools and strategies to avoid them. It's a do-it-yourself book that also includes checklists, practical tools, and self-assessments to help you assimilate key lessons and apply them to your own situation.

3.10. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni

About Book

The Five dysfunctions of a team was authored by Patrick Lencioni in 2002. It’s a leadership fable that follows the career of fictional CEO Kathryn Peterson, and the setbacks she faces trying to lead her team at DecisionTech Inc. It talks of organizational politics, and the importance of cultivating team spirit.

What makes it a must-read

Like most of Lencioni’s best books on leadership and management, this read is relatable because of the spectrum of conflicting emotions its main character has. The book opens with a backstory of DecisionTech, and how Kathryn is invited to take over as CEO by the company’s chairman, who she knows only from a social context. It talks about her observational skills, and respect for the co-founders who she essentially leads. The five dysfunctions she placed into a pyramid are results, accountability, commitment, conflict and trust. It takes the reader through conflict management and resolution, building trust through team activities and reorienting priorities around ownership.

3.11. Best for Millennials: Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek

About Book

Simon Sinek is an acclaimed writer and speaker. His book leaders eat last, came out in 2014. The extended version includes a chapter on leading millennials, from his viral video on millennials in the workplace. It talks of how those whose work matters to them can inspire others to feel the same. It’s available on Amazon for USD 29.

What makes it a must-read

The main purpose of this book is not to give leaders a shortcut to the corporate ladder. The message Sinek is trying to convey is that better leaders make a better world. It reinforces the point that leadership defines you, not your position in a company. Other readers have praised Sinek’s ability to direct your attention towards developing empathy and enabling workers to be self-reliant and accomplish work. It makes you question the longevity of your business success, and whether teams are empowered or just doing what they’re told to do. I particularly liked the collection of short, and true stories from the military and government bodies that are an example of the code leaders follow, irrespective of their seniority.

3.12. The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations, James Kouzes & Barry Posner

About Book

Barry Zane Posner is an Accolti Professor of Leadership at the Leavey School of Business. He and James Kouzes co-authored a leadership series, and the one on making extraordinary things happen in organizations does not disappoint. This book is considered by many to be the gold standard for effective leadership. The 6th edition contains more international examples of leadership.

What makes it a must-read

This book brings out the distinction between good and great. A good leader makes things happen, but a great leader is a source of inspiration for others to achieve more. It explains how to bridge communications gaps so that you can get things done. It delves into the complexities of personalities. I like that it focuses on making leadership both a learnable skill and a relationship that has to be tapped into and nurtured in order for leaders to reach their full potential. The eBook starts at USD 22 and is available on the Wiley library.

3.13. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven R. Covey

About Book

Steven Covey was an American businessman, keynote speaker, and author. His most famous work is the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which was originally published in 1989. It has been featured in every reading list compiled and has sold 25 million copies. The book promotes character ethic over personality ethic, and considers values as internal and subjective. Amazon carries the 25th anniversary edition, which costs GBP 24.

What makes it a must-read

This is one of the best books on leadership and management. The habits are listed as chapters, and are as follows

    • Being proactive: cleaves through communication barriers to achieve desired results.
    • Begin with an end in mind: envision the outcome to help the team you’re leading find the way to achieving it themselves.
    • Put first things first: have the big picture in mind and prioritize by removing time consuming tendencies.
    • Think win-win: create an accountability mindset by sharing expectations on performance.
    • Think first to understand, then to be understood: listen first before reacting so that you know you’ve fully understood the issue before you.
    • Synergize: encourage and welcome different problem solving skills to come up with better alternatives.
    • Sharpen the saw: unlock individual potential and make teams more cohesive. Entrepreneurs, in particular, will find the insights from this book compelling. It talks about moving into a more objective frame of mind and how to evaluate your first responses before acting on them.

3.14. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel H. Pink

About Book

The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us was released in 20090. Daniel talks about the internal motivating factors that are applicable to leaders just as much as to the people they’re leading. It’s available on Kindle and Amazon for just GBP 7.

What makes it a must-read

Pink quotes Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow. It describes the mindset of a person when they’re deeply absorbed in work. Drive goes into the external and intrinsic drives, and why the former is detrimental to motivating employees in an organization. It classifies behavior by types and tries to match the right drive to the right personality type. That being said, I found that although the book has a very strong point, it tends to get a little repetitive as you read along.

3.15. The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, Michael Watkins

About Book

The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies has a 4.6 on 5 rating on Googlebooks, and was published in 2006. Michael Watkins’ book talks about stepwise strategies that you’re sure to find helpful if you’ve just transitioned into a more senior role. The book is available on Amazon for GBP 16.

What makes it a must-read

While some readers who reviewed the book on Goodreads disagreed with some of the points covered, I personally felt the chapters on leading the team you inherit, and on helping others who are transitioning into new roles to be compelling. The fact that there’s a quantifiable number makes leadership seem less intimidating and more achievable, which is just the confidence boost leaders in-transit will need so that the people they’re leading have a good example to follow suit.

3.16 Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts, Brené Brown

About Book

Dare to Lead by Brene Brown has been featured on the New York Best seller’s list. Launched in 2018, Brene is an inspirational figure to both male and female leaders. Her book walks readers through a vulnerability in the workplace, the profile of a brave leader, and what it takes to become one. It’s available on Amazon for GBP 10.

What makes it a must-read

Dare to lead is one of the best books on leadership and management that you should add this book to your list if you’ve been in any or all of the situations below

1. Avoiding tough conversations that steer towards honesty. 2. Passive-aggressive behavior. 3. Diminished trust the longer the disconnect continues. 4. Unheard voices and unshared ideas from fear of ridicule or rejection. 5. Rushing into shortsighted decisions. 6. Ineffective and unsustainable processes 7. Miscommunication over expected mindset and performance evaluation. 8. Unrealistic standards bordering on perfectionism. The book takes you through meeting the insatiable demand for innovation and how to respond to change by underpinning experience to an emotion.

3.17. Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader BY Herminia Ibarra

About Book

Herminia Ibarra’s book was published in 2015 and sparks thoughts around breaking away from conventional leadership. Interestingly, Herminia argues against setting SMART goals for leadership and instead considers it an incremental, and emergent effort. Think like a Leader is on Amazon, for GBP 17.

What makes it a must-read

If public communication gives you nerves, or you feel that you’re not asserting your authority right, this book is for you. It has dedicated a chapter to navigating the nuances of team building through extracurricular activities, which help you cement relationships at work while also expanding your network of contacts.

3.18. Tribes, Seth Godin

About Book

Seth Godin’s book Tribes, was released in 2008. In a nutshell, the book is about communicating  interests, change, and connecting to an idea. It costs GBP 9 on Amazon, while the kindle version is available for USD 13

What makes it a must-read

I saved my favorite author for the last. As a digital marketing expert, Seth’s work has helped me rethink marketing principles. You’re probably wondering, ‘What books do great leaders read?’. Well, This is one of them! Tribes talk about challenging the status quo of leadership imagery. He goes into seizing leadership without expressly seeking permission for it, and how survival hinges on people connecting with each other through ideas. For a leader, this means learning to be open to ideas that aren’t their own, something that will help you know where the people you’re leading are coming from.

4. How do I Become a Good First Time Manager?

The most important piece of the managerial puzzle is self-identification. A first-time manager should never lose sight of who they are as an individual. It's about staying true to your beliefs while also being able to recognize and accept other points of view. Most of the books listed here talk about how leadership styles have evolved in line with shifts in mindset and business landscape.

My recommendations would be the first 90 days, atomic habits and the new one minute manager. These books are rich with experiential wisdom, and are backed by diligent research by business experts. Wouldn’t you agree?

5. What are the Best Books for First Time Managers?

The best books for first time managers are First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently”, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman and Good to great, Jim Collins.

6. FAQs

6.1. What books should I read for management?

For management, consider reading "Good to Great" by Jim Collins for insights on business leadership and "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries for innovative management strategies in startups and established companies.

6.2. How can I be a good people manager book?

To become a good people manager, "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" by Patrick Lencioni offers guidance on building strong teams, while "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" by Daniel H. Pink provides insights into motivating and managing people effectively.

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