Five Game-Changing Books for First-Time Managers

29 June, 2021

Ehsan Imran, Engineering Manager at thinkmoney, picks five game-changing books from his bookshelf that made his transition to a management role more successful.

The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You by Julie Zhuo -- is a seminal book rich in practical advice and exercises that helped me grasp the expectations of an EM and set myself up for success in my new role. Through compelling examples, I was able to discern the decisive difference between the role of an IC who is only focused on their own work, and a manager, who should be focused on the work of their ICs. I also learned a great deal about psychological safety and how I could create a safe environment for your team to thrive, which proved to be particularly useful during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Making Of Manager

The Seven Principles of Conflict Resolution: How to Resolve Disputes, Defuse Difficult Situations and Reach Agreement by Louisa Weinstein. As a manager, I was suddenly thrown into a situation where I had to deal with people and their interpersonal conflicts. Weinstein, with her abundant experience as a conflict mediator, helped me comprehend why conflicts happen in the first place, what triggers them, and how to deal with them. For the first time, I entirely devoted myself to understanding the role of communication and emotional intelligence. I could notice how my conflict-competent approach positively impacted interpersonal dynamics on the team and prevented unnecessary escalations.

The Seven Principles of Conflict Resolution

The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels by Michael Watkins is a hands-on guide that details the first ninety days of the transition. Following his standard framework for a leadership position, I created a Trello board for my first 90 days. I made sure to pay attention and utilize tools Watkins graciously shared. I followed his instructions meticulously: I would meet the team and get to know them, understand the team’s purpose, identify bottlenecks, etc. Watkins also helped me deal with some of the developers who were without a team lead for a couple of months and had slipped into their own habits of not reporting to anyone. After reading his book, I felt well-equipped to lead my team to stellar performance.

The First 90 Days

Art of Leadership: Small Things, Done Well by Michael Lopp. Lopp used real-life stories from his time at Apple and Slack to help build leadership skills. A persuasive read, it left me to reflect on day-to-day workplace situations through a lens of foundational principles. Page after page, I was more convinced that setting up values and guiding principles in the midst of hectic daily work is what makes some teams successful. Through relatable examples, I was able to grasp the importance of specific values and then work to instill respect and a humble mindset within my own teams.

Art Of Leadership

Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management by William Larson is an engineering manager’s all-in-one guide about engineering teams. Lason’s creative problem-solving approach helped me delve with ease into complex management challenges, from hiring and succession planning, to managing up to senior leaders and cultivating team culture. Larson’s book has offered me a number of different perspectives on commonplace challenges, which allowed me to debunk some of the EM dogmas I took for granted. His advice is thought-provoking more than prescriptive and encouraged me to explore my own approach to management further.

Elegant Puzzle

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