I was talking to a former coworker that had moved into engineering manager recently and the conversation quickly moved towards books. I was suddenly recommending him a series of books that had been useful for me and I thought: "hold on, if this is useful for him... maybe it would have been for me too when I started!".
The truth is there's a lot of books on "management and leadership" but what we do as engineering managers is a bit closer to coaching: trying to help people become better at what they do by working with them rather than working _at_ them, which is what many of those books suggest.
While "command and order" has a place, it doesn't work in every situation. And it can produce quite limited results when you face problems that require creativity, such as the ones we work with in engineering.
So, without more ado, here are the books that I wish I had known about when I started managing:
Basically everything that Lara Hogan does
"Great", you'll think, "we start the list with literally not a book!", but bear with me.
Lara's blog has all sorts of good advice, such as the questions for our first 1:1 exercise, which I like doing with every person I start working with, regardless of whether I am managing them or not. It ignites lots of good discussion!
If you don't want to be glued to a screen reading blog posts, her Resilient management book has also two very good qualities:
- it's a good summary of the best of her approach to managing
- it's short!
I also attended a workshop (back when we could meet in person!). It was really good value for money; it definitely opened my eyes about the power of coaching and how open-ended questions can lead to better outcomes. She's now running a version of her courses adapted to these strange times we're in, so that might be interesting.
"The manager's path" by Camille Fournier
This book is quite enlightening for anyone who is interested in leading people, independently of whether they want to remain on the 'technical' track (i.e. closer to the implementation details) or whether they prefer to move towards the 'people' track (i.e. getting closer to individuals and organisational systems, or what is normally understood as "management").
It has good insights as to what is expected of people at different stages of their career. How are you adding value as Individual Contributor, mentor, tech lead, managing... even as CTO and beyond? And also something that I found quite comforting at the time was the description of how not to do things, as it helped me put in words what I was feeling was not quite right and I saw that it was true, that what I was observing was not OK! I was not alone! Phew :-)
Camille also has a Medium blog, if you want to "test" her writing before committing to a whole book.
"The first 90 days" by Michael Watkins
I was slightly worried when I was starting a new job. Would I be able to put in practice what I knew? What if my skills were tied to my former job and network? Help!
Thankfully, this book provides a good framework for thinking about your new role, how to approach learning about the new place, and what you want to accomplish in the first 90 days at your new role.
Interestingly, it's a framework you can keep applying over and over again, because each time there's a new situation at work, it's like a new 90 days counter has been restarted.
It also has some good advice as to how to introduce change in a way that actually changes things and doesn't make people hate you, etc.
My only comment would be that you will probably need to do a bit of "mental translation" as it felt quite business-y and also North American. For example I heavily "edited" some of the questions it suggests asking because I could never see myself speaking like that.
"The culture map" by Erin Meyer
This book might be helpful if your organisation includes people from different countries and/or cultures (so for example if you work in a big city like London, or in a global company). It puts in writing and quantifies those subtle differences that we feel exist, but can't quite describe, when working with people from all over the place.
I like the concept of scales across different dimensions, which helped visualise why some societies that are very geographically close can be very similar and yet very dissimilar in other dimensions but still more similar than if compared to other societies. Everything is relative, and it's about where you come from and where are the people that you're talking to from.
I certainly had a few "a-ha" moments reading this!
I wish it had some sort of cheatsheet at the end so I could look at all the scales quickly, for reference, instead of having to page through all the chapters. I would also have liked to see a more comprehensive data set. Some countries aren't always there.
"Making work visible: exposing time theft to optimize work & flow" by Dominica DeGrandis
This one is quick to read and very insightful and practical. It will either help you to optimise your processes or explain why things feel not ok (and give you ideas as to how to fix it).
Some of the solutions might need some creative thinking if you work remotely (e.g. can't really have physical post its on a wall for everyone to admire), but that is what we have brains for!
I refer back to these books from time to time. Which to me, is the sign of a good book!
Which other books have you found interesting?