11 Books that Every Team Leader Should Read

I recently stumbled upon someone’s quote that it was easier to learn about leadership than to actually lead. For the most part I agree – it’s only through practice that one becomes a good leader. That’s why we generally prefer candidates with at least some leadership experience when we hire new team leaders.

However, even seasoned leaders gain from reflecting on their experience with the help of other professionals, books, articles, and so on, to become more mindful about their practices and clearly articulate one’s personal leadership style.

Covering both leadership and other aspects of team manager’s job – here are two lists of books a beginner team lead should definitely get acquainted with. The first set of four books are some of the most influential leadership books we’d suggest for beginner leaders. Two of them are very practical with tips to organizing your thoughts around your everyday work. The other two have had a very strong influence in shaping Helmes’ leadership culture and philosophy.

The second set of seven books shares insights into different aspects of managing software development projects, processes and teams. If you haven’t got much experience in the development business, these books will provide a quick yet comprehensive introduction.

Books that Every Team Leader Should Read

Leading People

  • “Drive” (by Daniel Pink) gives an overview of the factors influencing a person’s intrinsic motivation, and describes how leaders can boost peoples’ inner drive. The first part of the book is based on the findings of different research and should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in influencing people’s engagement. (In my opinion there not much point in reading the second part of the book, but that’s totally up to you).
  • Based on the long-term and broad-ranging research by the analytics firm Gallup, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman wrote “First Break All the Rules”, focusing on the role of a leader in creating employee engagement, and describing a strengths-based leadership style.
  • Liz Wiseman’s “Multipliers” speaks about the role of the leader as an amplifier. She shares insights into supporting and boosting the energy, ideas, commitment and talent of your direct reports.
  • “The Effective Manager” by Mark Horstman is a practical book. It discusses leadership philosophies, but also gives hands-on advice about actually doing the stuff a good leader does.

Software Business and Project Management

  • “Making Things Happen”, Scott Berkun – a good comprehensive and general overview of software project management.
  • “The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management”, Eric Verzuh – a comprehensive approach to project management in its most classic meaning.
  • “Critical Chain”, and “The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement”, Eliyahu M. Goldratt – a real classic of production management and project management. Even if the style of narration may not be to everyone’s liking, the teachings continue to be spot-on today, as well.
  • “SCRUM and XP from the Trenches”, 2nd Edition, Henrik Kniberg – a book by the author who has helped many a technology firm (e.g. Spotify) move towards more agile development.
  • “Peopleware”, Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister – a timeless classic, suggesting that behind successful (or unsuccessful) technology projects are the people, and not technology, are the most important components. This book offers a good overview of leading a team of engineers.
  • “Lean Software Development”, Mary Poppendieck – Mary is one of the coolest trainers in software development, and she is an excellent writer as well. In this book, she describes the lean approach and principles; production methods which belong in the category “from good to great” for every software team.
  • “Agile Retrospectives”, Diana Larsen, Esther Derby, and Ken Schwaber – retrospective is an agile learning method for software teams and probably one of the most important events for any evolving team. That is why in Helmes we value retrospectives in many different ways – together with team members or customers, within the framework of a specific project, or in the whole cooperative structure. This book offers a lot of good ideas on how to make the most of the retrospective format.

There are a lot of other good books on our bookshelf, but the above list should serve as the first glimpse into leading people and software teams and projects the Helmes Way.

Of course, we suggest you always read and learn about communication with different people, and take steps to getting to know yourself better. Being a self-aware professional and a good communicator is a solid base to become a good leader, anyways.