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5 Must-read books if you Manage People

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

Whether you are a small business owner, a corporate executive, or a first-time people leader one of your biggest challenges is connecting with your employees, inspiring them to believe in your company mission and getting them to bring their best to their role every day. Running a successful business comes down to two things. Having a great strategy and getting employees to consistently execute at a high level. Strong execution is built on trust, talent, teamwork, alignment and accountability. If you want to expand your capabilities as a manager of people, it is important for you to develop skills around each of those five elements. Reading books on people management can help you to learn new approaches, and build new skills related to leadership and managing people. By understanding proven best practices used by others, you have the seeds for developing your own management approach. These five books can dramatically improve your effectiveness as a leader and manager of people.


Build Trust

The foundation of all relationship is trust. In Stephen Covey's book The Speed of Trust he outlines how to build trust with employees. His model breaks building trust into two parts. Part one is demonstrating your character. Part two is establishing your competency. If one of these are weak, then you will struggle to earn the complete trust of your employees.

One of the fastest ways to build trust with your employees is to show them that you are a person of character. This comes from you connecting with them personally, sharing your values and goals. Whenever you commit and follow through on an action, you demonstrate both your intentionality and integrity. It is important to be mindful of the commitments that you make and do everything within your power to stand by them. There will always be some commitments that you will be unable to follow through on, but this should be the exception, not the rule and should never be in relation to big commitments.

In addition to demonstrating integrity, it is important to communicate your positive intent for your employees. Careers require a lot of time and energy. Employees will be more willing to dedicate themselves to your company's goals if they know the company is just as committed to theirs. Take the time to get to know your employees, share with them your company's strategy, and help them to connect their personal goals to the company's. By showing your employees where their interest is aligned with yours, you set the stage for higher levels of commitment.

To get your employees to trust your competence, you must demonstrate that you are capable of leading and delivering results. Everyone wants to be on a winning team. You know you're on a winning team when you consistently deliver results. As a leader, you demonstrate competency by setting and delivering against goals and initiatives. Every time you establish a goal and meet it, you build trust with your team. Through those actions, they will begin to see that you are someone worthy of their time, energy and trust.


Develop Talent

Like it or not, your employees look to you to help them grow their careers. Focusing on developing employees helps them, as much as it helps your organization. Back in the 1980's Stephen Covery wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. To date, few books provide as clear of a road map to personal development as this book. One of best ways to help your employees develop, is to teach them personal development skills. If your employees exclusively look to you for development, their potential is limited by your time, knowledge and commitment to developing them. When you teach your employees self-development skills, you put the power of talent development into their hands. As the leader, you should always be involved

with your employee's development, but they should own their plan.

The diagram on the right outlines the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. As you establish your relationship with your employees, you should discuss how each of these habits play into their development. It is in your best interest to encourage your employees to be proactive. This prevents you from being a bottleneck to progress. You also want to teach them to start all projects with the end in mind and to understand how their actions impact the overall success of the company. It is important to help them to understand that all tasks have different levels of importance and to make a habit fo doing the most important task first. Next you should encourage them to always look for win-win outcomes when interacting with their peers, direct reports, customers and other individuals that interact with your company. You should strive to teach them that they can enhance their influence by seeking first to understand and then to be understood. This is especially important when it comes to them understanding dealing with conflict. The 6th habit is synergize and relates to seeking ways to create greater value by working with others. Finally, you want to ensure that they understand that continued personal development is their responsibility, and that they should continuously look for ways to acquire new skills and competencies. By taking the time to ground your employees in the 7 Habits of Highly effective people, you position yourself to have a highly effective organization.


Establish Teamwork

The primary way that you create synergy within an organization is through developing teamwork. When you bring a group of people together, they should be able to produce a better outcome then they could if they were apart. If this is not the case, then each individual team members are better served pursuing their own venture.

In Patrick Lencioni's book The Five Dysfunctions of a team, he outlines why teams traditionally fail, and what leaders can do to produce high functioning teams.

The root of most dysfunctional teams is an absence of trust. When a team does not have trust, communication breaks down. Lack of communication reduces the potential of an organization because problems are not properly addressed. If you want to have any effective team, you must establish trust.

Once trust is established, it is important to develop a culture of candor. The only way that problems can be addressed is if they are first identified and then discussed. Teams that have a fear of conflict avoid discussing problems which can result in hurt feelings, stalled results, and failure to make necessary improvements to the business. By taking actions to ensure your team is comfortable with constructive conflict, you can improve relationships and enhance their abilities to create synergy.

Once solutions are identified, the only way progress is made is if individuals of the team commit to actions. It is common for organizations to identify solutions to problems but fail to get all stakeholders to support change initiatives. What separates high performing organizations from low performing organization is the ability to get individuals to align on solutions and commit to action. Strategies have the best chances of success when there is a critical mass of team members in support of change initiatives.

The next step in the process is ensuring accountability. Accountability has to live at every level of the organization. As the leader, you are accountable to your team, as much as your team is accountable to you. Accountability is one of the most contagious skills a leader can pass on to their team. When a leader is willing to hold themselves, and their team accountable, it creates a culture within an organization where everyone does their best to honor their commitments and to complete tasks as assigned. This level of discipline is important because your success as an organization is linked to the quality of your strategy and your level of execution. If your execution is near flawless, and you are not delivering your desired results, then you know the problem is with your strategy. When your execution is not strong, it can be difficult to discern if the problem is a weak strategy or poor execution.

The final dysfunction is inattention to results. The only way to know if you are winning or losing is by keeping score. Paying attention to results allows the team to know if the efforts they are making are helping them to make progress towards their goal. When teams fail to pay attention to results, they have no way to know if the actions they are taking are worth the time and energy invested in to task. For this reasons, high performing teams pay attention to results, and take actions when results are not meeting expectations.


Aligning team on shared vision

The next critical skill for a people manager to develop is the ability to communicate a clear vision and gain employee commitment to that vision. John Kotter's book Leading Changes provides a great framework for rallying employees behind a vision and engaging them from ideation through execution.

Kotter's change model is an eight-step process focused on creating the climate for change, engaging and enabling the organization and implementing and sustaining change. The first step in the process is creating a sense of urgency. This is done by studying your internal and external environment and helping employees to understand your case for change. Once you do this, it is important to identify individuals to help champion the change within your team. The next step is working with those individuals to create a shared vision for change that will be compelling for other stakeholders within the team.

Once you have created a climate for change, it is time to focus is on engaging and organizing your team. The first step in this process is to communicate the vision. The vision should be clear and simple to remember. Next you want to empower action. This is best done by defining the roles, responsibilities for team members. It should be clear what actions they can take on their own, and when they should check in with leadership for guidance. The final step of engaging and enabling is creating quick wins. You want to set realistic goals that that can create positive momentum within the organization.

The final stage of the change model is implementing and sustaining for change. You do this by building on the change and making it stick. To build on the change you want to take a continuous improvement approach to operating your business. This means constantly looking for ways refine the ways you are doing things and learning from previous experience. Make it stick means committing to the culture, systems and best practices that the organization develops.


Driving Accountability

To help to make things stick it is important to drive accountability. One of the best books on accountability is Kim Scott's book Radical Candor. In Kim's book she lays out the accountability

approach that she developed during her professional career within the tech industry. The framework calls for leaders to challenge directly and to care personally.

There are three types of behaviors that leaders typically demonstrate that are counterproductive to maximizing productivity. The first is ruinous empathy. This shows up when managers are overly concerned with employees' preferences and emotions and fail to hold accountability. This negatively impacts the employee, because they do not get the feedback, they need to improve their performance. It also hurts team performance because other employees have to pick up the slack for underperforming employees. The second destructive behavior is manipulative insincerity which shows up when managers fail to demonstrate care for employees and don't challenge directly. This typically slows up with leaders that are non-confrontational and disengaged from employees. Much like Ruinous empathy, this type of behavior leads to work not being complete, and employees not getting developmental feedback. The final destructive behavior is obnoxious aggression. You see this when a manager is exclusively concerned with challenging employees, without having concern for employees' feelings. Many managers see short-term success with this approach, but overtime directness without personal care leads to burnout and turnover issues.

The most productive approach is Radical Candor. Radical Candor is rooted in challenging directly while also caring personally. It calls for you to be direct with your employees, while also expressing concern for their feelings. This type of action supports trust, while also driving accountability. Employees have clarity regarding their performance along with your desire to help them to be the best they can be, whether that means growing within the company or pursing opportunities elsewhere.



There is no one book that will make you a great manager of people. Being an effective manager of people takes time, experience, a willingness to learn and receptiveness to feedback. These five books can help you to develop the skills you need to be an effective manager. A few other great reads on managment are John Maxwell The 360-degree Leader, Patrick Lencioni The Five temptations of a CEO, Jim Collins Good to Great, Stanley Mcchrystal Team of Team, and James Hunter The Worlds's most powerful leadership principle. From each book you can pick up some common threads around the importance of trust, directness and clear communication in addition to different nuances that each writer adds to the conversation of people management. Take the time to read these books and develop a plan on how you will apply what you have learned into action. Education without action, is like planting a tree, but not giving it water. You started the process, but you need to do more to see the fruits of your labor.


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