I’ve been back in management for a couple years now. I did a previous stint for a few years. Along with that I have just under 20 years of experience as a developer. I see management as another nut to crack, something else to get good at.

So yeah, I don’t see myself as an authority, just someone trying to get better. As a developer one of the things you need to get good at is learning and getting up to speed on different topics.

I think I’m getting up to speed on management and here are a few books that I believe have helped me. To be clear, I’m consuming a lot of material but these 3 books are the foundation. These books are not just a starting point they are material to continually review as you progress and come at things from a different perspective.

The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday

This could also have been A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine. Both of the books are good introductions to stoic philosophy. Stoicism will calm your seas, it’ll help you deal with adversity and jerks. It will trade bad emotions for good. The most important lesson is that indeed you aren’t along for the ride as your emotions are tugged by events and your own biology. You are at the helm.

As a manager (and a human for that matter) you’ll be confronted with inconsiderate people, assholes and generally crappy events. Situations like this are a chance to show strength, character and grace. Stoicism is the foundation for everything else. Tim Ferris has described stoicism as “the base foundation of an operating system for decision making”.

The hope is that this book is the beginning of your dive into stoicism. I should say for me, reading the source material like Meditations is rough. It’s hard for me to pick out the nuggets. After reading the books above work through The Daily Stoic.

Getting Things Done by David Allen

I’m a fraud, I’m bluffing my way through all this, I shouldn’t even be where I’m at. Luckily I do have one thing going for me and that’s Getting Things Done. I’m taking some liberties here but for me the fundamental premise is that you have a brain in 3 modes.

The brain that…

  • thinks of cool ideas that you can act on
  • organizes those thoughts so you can do something at the right time
  • acts on those ideas

I recommend reading GTD. Try not to fall into the trap of obsessing over your system, just start working with it. Maybe go the physical route first using paper and folders.

I personally use OmniFocus for GTD. It’s just for Apple devices but it’s on my Macs, iPad, iPhone and Apple Watch. It’s powerful to capture those ideas and have access to them in the right context no matter where I am.

What GTD means in practice is that you are able to bring up the right things with people at the right time. You are generally regarded as being someone who follows through with their commitments. Your creativity is more fully brought to bear in your work in that you have clarity and those great insights aren’t lost. You are just generally more effective.

The goal state with GTD is that you have a brain clear of those nagging un-met expectations. You have a trusted system that is an extension of your brain. You can be in the moment wether it’s in a meeting, with a loved one or just relaxing. That sense of being clear is hard to express but it’s invaluable. The latent stress is gone and you have more RAM and processing power available for creativity and taking in what should be your current focus.

Just a note with GTD, it takes work. I’ve probably read the book 5 times and I listen to the audio book periodically. You have to work the system, you don’t get the benefits for free. You need to review daily or weekly, you need to structure it so that it works for you.

The Effective Manager by Mark Horstman

I’ve been a fan of Manager Tools for a long time prior to the release of the book. They have a few podcasts and if you’re a professional, management or not, you need to listen to them. To get started go to their Basics set of podcasts.

The book is basically the same material that is covered in their Basics podcast. It’s the minimal set of practices you should be doing with your people and why those things are important. Read the book, go through the Basics podcasts, subscribe to their other podcasts and start diving deep. Lots of good stuff.

Manager Tools is lead by 2 West Point graduates with an engineering background and a lot of experience in corporate America. If you’re coming to management from an engineering background their prescriptive approach and their guidance on dealing with behaviors and not emotions will resonate with you. Their focus on relationships will get you out of your comfort zone but will make you better at your job.