10 Must-Read Books For First-time Manager To Fast Track Your Management Success

Stepping into a management role for the first time can be both exciting and daunting. With new responsibilities comes a flood of questions: How do I motivate my team? What’s the best way to make decisions? How can I become an effective leader?

While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, learning from others’ experiences and insights can give you a solid foundation. That’s where these 10 must-read books come in.

They offer practical wisdom, research-backed strategies, and timeless principles to help you navigate the challenges of your first year as a manager. From understanding human motivation to developing critical thinking skills, these books cover essential aspects of leadership.

Whether you’re a newly minted manager or preparing for the role, these reads will help you avoid common pitfalls and set you on the path to success.

10 Best Books For First-time Managers

Understanding Motivation and Performance

1. “Drive” by Daniel H. Pink


As a new manager, you might think that the best way to motivate your team is through bonuses, promotions, or other external rewards. However, Daniel Pink’s “Drive” challenges this traditional view. Pink argues that while extrinsic motivators can work for simple, straightforward tasks, they often fall short when it comes to complex, creative work.

Instead, Pink introduces three elements that truly drive human motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Autonomy is about giving your team members control over their work. Mastery involves providing opportunities for growth and skill development. Purpose connects their work to a larger, meaningful goal.

To apply these concepts, you could start by offering your team more flexibility in how they complete their tasks. Encourage learning and skill improvement by setting challenging but achievable goals. Finally, help your team understand how their work contributes to the bigger picture.

Read More: How to Be Assertive at Work as a Manager – 20 Examples to Master

2. “The One Thing You Need to Know” by Marcus Buckingham

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Marcus Buckingham’s book is another gem among the best books for first-time managers. It focuses on a crucial aspect of leadership: understanding and leveraging your team’s strengths.

Buckingham argues that great managers don’t try to fix weaknesses. Instead, they identify what each team member does best and position them to use those strengths more often. This approach not only boosts performance but also increases job satisfaction.

As a new manager, start by observing your team members closely. What tasks do they excel at? When do they seem most engaged? Use these insights to assign roles and responsibilities that play to their strengths.

Setting clear expectations is another vital point Buckingham emphasizes. Be specific about what success looks like for each role. This clarity helps your team members understand what they’re working towards and how their performance will be evaluated.

Finally, Buckingham stresses the importance of building caring relationships with your team. Show genuine interest in their lives and careers. Recognize their achievements, both big and small. This personal touch can significantly boost morale and loyalty.

As management guru Peter Drucker once said, “The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make weaknesses irrelevant.” Buckingham’s book provides practical ways to do just that.

Read More: What Would You Like Your Manager To Do Differently? Real Feedback From Employees

Developing Critical Thinking Skills

3. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman

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Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” is a game-changer for first-time managers looking to sharpen their decision-making skills. Kahneman introduces us to two systems of thought: System 1, which is fast, intuitive, and emotional; and System 2, which is slower, more deliberative, and logical.

As a manager, understanding these two systems can help you make better decisions and lead your team more effectively. For instance, when you’re faced with a complex problem, you might be tempted to go with your gut feeling (System 1). However, Kahneman suggests that taking the time to engage System 2 can lead to more accurate judgments.

Kahneman also sheds light on various cognitive biases that can cloud our judgment. One such bias is the “planning fallacy,” where we tend to underestimate the time and resources needed for a project. Kahneman writes, “The planning fallacy is that you make a plan, which is usually a best-case scenario. Then you assume that the outcome will follow your plan, even when you should know better.”

By being aware of these biases, you can take steps to counteract them in your decision-making process. For example, when planning a project, you might deliberately add buffer time to account for unexpected delays.

4. “Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader” by Herminia Ibarra

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Herminia Ibarra’s “Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader” is another must-read for new managers. Ibarra challenges the conventional wisdom that you should think your way into a new role. Instead, she argues that the best way to become a leader is to start acting like one.

Ibarra introduces the concept of “outsight” – the external perspective you gain from new experiences and interactions. She argues that this outsight is crucial for leadership development. As Ibarra puts it,

“The only way to think like a leader is to first act: to plunge yourself into new projects and activities, interact with very different kinds of people, and experiment with unfamiliar ways of getting things done.”

For new managers, this means stepping out of your comfort zone. Take on projects outside your usual scope. Network with people from different departments or industries. These experiences will broaden your perspective and help you develop as a leader.

Ibarra also emphasizes the importance of balancing authenticity with adaptability. While it’s important to be true to yourself, effective leadership often requires you to stretch beyond your comfort zone. Ibarra suggests, “A too-rigid definition of authenticity can get in the way of effective leadership.”

This book encourages new managers to view leadership as a journey of continuous learning and adaptation. By embracing new experiences and being willing to change, you can grow into your leadership role more effectively.

Mastering Interpersonal Skills

5. “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie

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Dale Carnegie’s classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People” remains one of the best books for first-time managers, offering timeless advice on communication and relationship-building. Carnegie’s insights can help you navigate the interpersonal challenges of leadership with grace and effectiveness.

One of Carnegie’s key principles is the importance of genuine interest in others. He advises,

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

As a manager, this means taking the time to understand your team members’ perspectives, aspirations, and concerns.

Carnegie also emphasizes the power of appreciation. He suggests, “Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” Recognizing your team’s efforts and achievements, even small ones, can significantly boost morale and motivation.

Building trust is another crucial aspect of leadership that Carnegie addresses. He recommends admitting your own mistakes quickly and emphatically. This honesty and humility can make you more relatable and trustworthy in the eyes of your team.

To develop self-confidence as a leader, Carnegie advises taking action. He states, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage.” By tackling challenges head-on and learning from your experiences, you’ll grow more confident in your leadership abilities.

6. “Mindset” by Carol Dweck

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Carol Dweck’s “Mindset” introduces a powerful concept that can transform your approach to leadership and team development. Dweck distinguishes between two mindsets: fixed and growth.

People with a fixed mindset believe their abilities are static – they’re either good at something or they’re not. In contrast, those with a growth mindset believe that abilities can be developed through effort, learning, and persistence.

As Dweck puts it,

“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset.”

This attitude can be game-changing for new managers facing the inevitable challenges of leadership.
To cultivate a growth mindset in your team, focus on effort and progress rather than just results.

Dweck suggests, “Praise the effort that led to the outcome or learning progress; tie the praise to it.” This approach encourages team members to embrace challenges and view setbacks as opportunities for growth.

Encouraging continuous learning is another key aspect of the growth mindset. Create an environment where curiosity is valued and mistakes are seen as learning opportunities. As Dweck notes, “The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome.”

By adopting and promoting a growth mindset, you can create a more resilient, innovative, and high-performing team. You’ll also set the stage for your own continuous development as a leader.

Read More: Developing A Winning Mindset: 15 Ways to Win At Work and In Life

Learning from Historical and Literary Perspectives

7. “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius

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While not typically listed among the best books for first-time managers, “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius offers profound insights that are as relevant today as they were nearly two millennia ago. This collection of personal writings by the Roman emperor provides a unique perspective on leadership, self-control, and personal growth.

Aurelius emphasizes the importance of emotional regulation, a crucial skill for any leader. He writes, “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” This reminder can help you maintain composure during stressful situations, setting an example for your team.

The book also highlights the value of maintaining perspective. Aurelius advises, “Choose not to be harmed — and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed — and you haven’t been.” This stoic approach can help you navigate the ups and downs of leadership without being overwhelmed by temporary setbacks.

Humility is another key theme in “Meditations.” Aurelius reminds us, “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” For managers, this can translate into the courage to take risks, admit mistakes, and continually strive for improvement.

8. “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe

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Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” might seem an unconventional choice for management reading, but this classic novel offers valuable lessons on leadership and cultural dynamics.

The story of Okonkwo, a leader in his Nigerian village, illustrates the complexities of balancing personal ambition with community needs. Okonkwo’s rigid adherence to traditional values and his fear of appearing weak ultimately contribute to his downfall. As Achebe writes,

“He had a slight stammer and whenever he was angry and could not get his words out quickly enough, he would use his fists.”

This serves as a cautionary tale for managers about the dangers of inflexibility and the importance of effective communication. It reminds us that true leadership involves adapting to change and considering diverse perspectives.

The novel also explores the impact of cultural clashes on leadership. As Okonkwo struggles with the arrival of colonial powers, we see how external forces can disrupt established leadership structures. Achebe notes,

“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one.”

For modern managers, this underscores the importance of understanding and navigating different cultural contexts, especially in increasingly diverse and global workplaces.

“Things Fall Apart” also prompts reflection on the responsibilities of leadership. Okonkwo’s tragic arc demonstrates how a leader’s actions can have far-reaching consequences for their community. This serves as a powerful reminder of the weight of leadership decisions and the need for careful consideration of their impact.

Leveraging Individual and Organizational Strengths

9. “Now, Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton

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“Now, Discover Your Strengths” is a game-changer for first-time managers seeking to understand their own capabilities and those of their team members. Buckingham and Clifton challenge the conventional wisdom of focusing on weaknesses, instead advocating for a strengths-based approach to personal and professional development.

The book introduces the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment, a tool that helps identify your top five talent themes out of 34 possibilities.

As the authors state, “You cannot be anything you want to be—but you can be a lot more of who you already are.” This insight encourages new managers to lean into their natural talents rather than trying to mold themselves into a preconceived notion of leadership.

Once you’ve identified your strengths, the book guides you on how to develop them further. Buckingham and Clifton argue, “People don’t change that much. Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough.” For managers, this means focusing on honing your innate talents and finding ways to apply them in your leadership role.

The book also emphasizes the importance of aligning individual strengths with organizational goals. By understanding and leveraging the diverse strengths within your team, you can create a more engaged and productive work environment. As the authors note,

“The best way to lead is by tapping into the goals of each individual and matching them to the goals of the organization.”

10. “Good to Great” by Jim Collins


Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” is often hailed as one of the best books for first-time managers, offering insights on how to transform a merely good company into an exceptional one. At the heart of this transformation is what Collins calls “Level 5 Leadership.

Level 5 leaders combine personal humility with intense professional will. As Collins describes, “Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company.” This concept challenges new managers to think beyond their personal success and focus on the broader impact they can have on their team and organization.

Collins introduces several principles for driving exceptional performance. One key concept is the “Hedgehog Concept,” which involves understanding what your organization can be the best in the world at, what drives your economic engine, and what you’re deeply passionate about.

Collins states, “To go from good to great requires transcending the curse of competence.” This encourages managers to push beyond mere competence and strive for true excellence in their chosen focus areas.

The book also emphasizes the importance of building a culture of discipline. Collins argues that when you have disciplined people, you don’t need hierarchy, and when you have disciplined thought, you don’t need bureaucracy. He writes,

“When you have disciplined people, you don’t need hierarchy. When you have disciplined thought, you don’t need bureaucracy. When you have disciplined action, you don’t need excessive controls.”

For new managers, this means creating an environment where team members are self-motivated and aligned with the organization’s goals. It involves setting clear expectations, hiring the right people, and consistently reinforcing the company’s core values and objectives.

Implementing Lessons from the Books

Creating a Personal Development Plan

After diving into these best books for first-time managers, it’s time to put the insights into action. Start by creating a personal development plan. Review the key concepts from each book and identify areas where you want to grow.

For example, you might focus on developing your emotional intelligence, as suggested in “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” or work on cultivating a growth mindset, as described in “Mindset.”

Set specific, measurable goals for yourself. If you’re inspired by “Drive,” you might aim to increase autonomy in your team by implementing a flexible work schedule. Or, following the advice in “Now, Discover Your Strengths,” you could plan to have one-on-one meetings with each team member to discuss their unique talents.

Read More: 60+ Insightful 1:1 Questions For Managers and Employees

Applying Key Concepts to Daily Management Practices

Incorporate the lessons from these books into your daily routines. For instance, practice active listening during team meetings, a skill emphasized in “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Carnegie advises, “Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.” This simple practice can significantly improve your relationships with team members.

When facing challenges, channel the stoic wisdom from “Meditations.” Marcus Aurelius reminds us, “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” This perspective can help you maintain composure during stressful situations.

Measuring Progress and Adjusting Strategies

Regularly assess your progress. Are you seeing improvements in your team’s performance? Are you feeling more confident in your leadership role? Be honest with yourself about what’s working and what isn’t. As Jim Collins suggests in “Good to Great,” “Confront the brutal facts (yet never lose faith).”

Don’t be afraid to adjust your approach. Leadership is a journey of continuous learning and adaptation. If a particular strategy isn’t yielding results, try a different tactic. The key is to remain flexible and open to growth, embodying the growth mindset described by Carol Dweck.


These ten books offer a wealth of knowledge for new managers. From understanding human motivation to developing critical thinking skills, from mastering interpersonal relationships to leveraging organizational strengths, each book provides unique insights that can shape your leadership style.

It’s important to note that leadership isn’t a destination; it’s a continuous journey of growth and learning. As Herminia Ibarra notes in “Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader,” “The only way to think like a leader is to first act: to plunge yourself into new projects and activities, interact with very different kinds of people, and experiment with unfamiliar ways of getting things done.”

While these ten books provide a solid foundation, they’re just the beginning of your leadership education. Continue to seek out new perspectives, whether through books, mentors, or experiences. Stay curious and open to learning from both successes and failures.

As you progress in your management career, you’ll find that different books and concepts resonate at different times. Return to these books as you face new challenges, and don’t hesitate to explore other resources that align with your evolving needs as a leader.

About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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