HR Insights 4 min

The 7 Best Books on Managing People

December 1, 2020

It’s hard to fully grasp the nuances of managing people. While effective people leadership runs on simple principles, there’s a difference between understanding these concepts and experiencing them in action. It’s one of the truths behind the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words—it takes more than a high-level explanation to provide an experience that inspires meaningful action and lasting change, especially when training those who will handle future training. Learning from the best management books helps you internalize the nuances of people management topics and prepares you to pass those insights on to your employees.

How to Apply Insights from Top People Management Books

For employees to engage with your ideas for a great workplace experience, they need to know how the decisions your organization makes fit together—from the top level of leadership to their closest coworkers. These decisions and the actions that follow determine your  workplace culture, so being intentional and consistent helps your organization create a culture of its choice instead of a culture of chance. 

As you read through people management books, it’s important to remember that even the best strategies will still need to be tailored for your specific workplace, industry, and goals. Instead of taking sections from books and presenting them as etched-in-stone rules, spend time uncovering the principles behind the lessons. Ask yourself how each team in your organization can benefit from these principles, or, even better, have a conversation with your leadership team exploring the culture you want to build.

“Do you know someone you would like to change and regulate and improve? Good! ... But why not begin on yourself?" - Dale Carnegie

Our List of the Best Books on Managing People

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

This seminal book by Stephen R. Covey lists seven practices that promote personal effectiveness. Covey’s insights include how to focus on outcomes, methods of effective prioritization, developing connections with others, and balancing work, home, and personal responsibilities. 

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You

In this book, John C. Maxwell provides an extensive exploration of leadership behaviors with stories to give context. When asked about the most important leadership principle, Maxwell gives a succinct answer: “The one thing you need to know about leadership is that there is more than one thing you need to know about leadership!” 

Learn how not to lead in The Top 10 Bad Leadership Behaviors
(And How to Avoid Them) 

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Understanding humans starts with understanding the basics of human behavior, and meeting these motivational needs takes more than a carrot-and-stick approach. In this book, Daniel H. Pink presents better ways to match management practices with three core human needs: the need to direct our own lives, the need to learn and create, and the need for improvement.

Check out the BambooHR webinar page for more insights on people management topics.

The Power of Habit

Developing a proactive workforce requires understanding the strong nature of habitual reactions. In this book, award-winning New York Times business reporter Charles Duhigg provides scientific explanations behind identifying and changing habits and anecdotes on how the right habits influenced the success of several prominent individuals and organizations, including Michael Phelps, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Target stores.    

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win

Drawing on their experience leading a SEAL task unit in reclaiming the city of Ramadi in war-torn Iraq, authors Jocko Willink and Leif Babin share the mindset and principles that enable this elite military group to accomplish the most difficult combat missions and explain how these principles can apply to any leadership environment. 

Crucial Conversations

All too often, progress stops right where employees leave difficult things unsaid. This book walks through the emotional reactions involved in high-stakes situations and provides insights on how employees can create intellectual and emotional safety in their conversations.  

For examples of crucial conversation, read Three Hard Conversations Every Manager Needs to Have.

How to Win Friends and Influence People

Dale Carnegie passed on in 1955, but the wisdom in this book has influenced generations as they make connections, persuade others, and encourage positive change. He provides this important perspective: “Do you know someone you would like to change and regulate and improve? Good! That is fine. I am all in favor of it. But why not begin on yourself?”

People Management Books Help You Shape Your Organization

The strongest organizations make decisions after extensive input from their teams. As you work toward becoming the best HR manager you can be, it’s also important to ensure your efforts align with the big-picture objectives for your organization. In order to participate in leadership conversations, you need a foundation of business principles. 

In this respect, the best books on managing people are also some of the best books for HR professionals. Learning from these books and consulting with the members of your leadership team can help you provide the employee experience that paves the way to success. 

For more people management ideas, read 11 Leadership Lessons From Today’s Top People Managers

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Brian Anderson

Brian Anderson expertly decodes all things HR, drawing on a decade of technical writing in the business organization industry to provide editorial support to internal and external learning programs at BambooHR. His writing explores the different motivations that shape the employee experience and the psychology of human resources.