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What I’ve been reading lately: 6 books for managers I recommend

If you’re a manager and looking for something new to read, here are a handful of books I enjoyed this past summer.

I don’t like leadership books. Many tend to be hyperbolic (was that tactic really “life changing”?) or repetitive (you could say the same thing in about 30% of the text). Most tellingly, I often don’t do anything different having read the book.

Yet as a CEO, myself, and someone who studies leadership for a living, I try to read as much as I can to learn what is working and not working for other leaders. And every so often, I stumble on a leadership book that’s fantastic.

Over the summer, I read a handful of books on leadership that surprised me in the best ways. A few even had me glowing. Some of them are not “business books” or “leadership books” per se — but the lessons and insights they contain are highly applicable for managers.

If you’re a manager and looking for something new to dive into, here are 6 books I enjoyed recently:

The CEO Next Door

I can’t stop recommending this book to people. Based on data from thousands of CEOs, it shares the 4 behaviors that make for a successful CEO. While it’s centered primarily for CEOs of large enterprise companies and non-founding CEOs, I personally found all the concepts resonant. My favorite one? The idea of holding your stakeholders to be “constructively dissatisfied” (see below).

From “The CEO Next Door”

The Courage To Be Disliked

While this isn’t your typical “leadership” read, I strongly suggest leaders pick it up. It gave me a enlightening framework around self-perception: You tell stories that cause you to resent team members, you want to be angry at a situation, and a deep desire to be liked motivates almost all your decisions. The minute we have the courage to be disliked — and instead to serve our community and live in accordance with our own personal conviction — the freer we are, as managers and as people. Interestingly enough, this is also a recent national bestseller in Japan.

From “The Courage to Be Disliked”

The Effective Executive

I’d read a lot of Peter Drucker before, but had not gotten around to this one yet. I wish I’d read it sooner. It’s a classic for a reason. How you spend your time determines your effectiveness as a leader, says Drucker, and he is so spot on. After reading this book, I did an inventory of my time and overhauled how I spend it. It was painful, yet necessary. The reality is, you’re spending it on things you shouldn’t, and there’s only one way to fix it: Face it.

From “The Effective Executive”

The Art of Gathering

Another “not business book,” but I have applied many ideas from it already. Leaders ultimately gather people together — so thinking intentionally about how to gather people in the best way is paramount. It has helped me reconsider the way I run workshops at Know Your Team, how I facilitate a meeting with clients, and how I interact with team members. I now focus more on the purpose in gathering people, and the beginning and end of a gathering.

From “The Art of Gathering”

The War of Art

Originally intended for writers or artists, I found this book to be equally helpful for the “craft” of management. Pressfield discusses how ego is a barrier to progress and creativity. Similarly, I realized how much ego is a part of what causes us to be bad managers. To softly kill the negative effects of ego, I loved his suggestion that you frame of yourself as a company instead of as an individual: Think of yourself as “Claire, Inc.” when you receive critical feedback. That way you’re more likely to be open to feedback, take things less personally, and willing to improve. Be a vessel for your work, instead of tying your own ego to it.

From “The War of Art”


Like many, I’m a big fan of Patty McCord, former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix, and author of the infamous “Culture Deck.” Her new book, Powerful, was a breath of fresh air to me. I completely agree with her emphasis on performance — we’ve gotten away from the fact that a team is supposed to perform, and that’s what a leader is supposed to make happen. She takes a lot of commonly embraced HR truisms and spits on them. I love it. For example, she rails on not calling your company “family.” Here’s my favorite quote of hers (didn’t have a screenshot of it!):

“Great teams are not created with incentives, procedures, and perks. They are created by hiring talented people who are adults and want nothing more than to tackle a challenge, and then communicating to them, clearly and continuously, about what the challenge is.” –Patty McCord

Have you read any of these, yourself? What’d ya think? If you get a chance, would be curious to hear your thoughts. And, as I look for my next books to read, I’m eager to know what you’d recommend. Please give me a shout on Twitter (@clairejlew) or drop me a note at claire@knowyourcompany.com.

Look forward to hearing from you!

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Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Canopy. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work. Say hi to me on Twitter at @clairejlew.