What are the books every manager should read?
Every year we announce 10 more classic titles to create the ultimate management library, books which have stood the test of time and remain powerfully relevant today.
‘The classic management books are the ones that have had and continue to have a long-term impact on the way people think about and practice management,’ explains Thinkers50 co-founder Stuart Crainer. ‘They are the coping stones for modern management and remain essential reading for managers everywhere.’
As part of the selection process, Thinkers50 canvasses opinions from within the Thinkers50 community, garnering nominations from many of today’s most eminent business thinkers. Nominations are invited for books that influenced the way we think about and practice management, and which have left a lasting legacy that is still relevant today. The only rule was that participants are not allowed to nominate their own books.
‘The Best New Management Books are the ones that have the potential to change the way people think about and practice management,’ explains Thinkers50 co-founder Stuart Crainer. ‘They offer a fresh perspective on how organizations are managed.’
As part of the selection process, Thinkers50 seeks opinions from within the Thinkers50 community, gathering nominations from eminent business thinkers and practising managers.
Nominations are invited for books that excel in the 3Rs:
Does the book address a current and pressing issue or challenge?
is it well-researched and based on real-world examples?
is it accessible, insightful, and inspiring?
The only rules for the Best New Management Booklist are that books had to be published after January of the previous year and participants are not allowed to nominate their own books.
The inaugural Thinkers50 ten classics list includes In Search of Excellence (1982) by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, which ignited the business guru book market, sold over five million copies, and coined the term Managing by Walking About (MBWA). The earliest book in the collection is Peter Drucker’s classic The Practice of Management (1954), which introduced the concept of Management by Objectives and set the management agenda for the next three decades. And the most recent is Amy Edmondson’s The Fearless Organization (2018), based on 30 years of research around the idea of psychological safety.
“This is a list of the indispensable management books that every manager should have in their library.”
– Thinkers50 co-founder Des Dearlove.
And since the smartest person in the room is usually the room, to help us, we reached out to managers and management thinkers to ask which books they would include in their all-time greats – right now. In other words, which of the classic books on management are most relevant in 2022?
‘Peter Drucker is my hero. It could have been any one of his 39 books – such as The Effective Executive. I picked this one because it is the first consequential book about business management as a subject. Peter Drucker is my model: a practitioner theoretician. He hung with CEOs, advised them, and wrote about his experiences. That is what I do. And every time someone compares me in any small way to my hero, it makes my week.’
— Roger Martin, management author, and former dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.
‘When I was ten years old, my father was pursuing an executive MBA. His marketing textbook was Kotler’s Marketing Management, 2nd edition. We did not have any telephone or television in my apartment, the only entertainment was reading. So at the age of 14, I read the Kotler book and became fascinated by marketing.’
— Nirmalya Kumar, the Lee Kong Chian Professor of Marketing at Singapore Management University.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter
‘Rosabeth Moss Kanter said it all, on the effects of stereotypes and what we now call ‘implicit bias’ on workplace behaviour — before anyone else.’
— Herminia Ibarra, management author and Charles Handy Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School.
W. Chan Kim & Renee Mauborgne
‘Its game-changing metaphor of blue vs. red oceans made Blue Ocean Strategy one of the most motivating business books ever written. It’s become de rigueur in every boardroom to envision uncontested market space for your industry and ask ‘what’s our blue ocean strategy?’’
— Ram Charan, management author and CEO advisor.
‘C.K. Prahalad’s seminal book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) offered a playbook for Western firms on how to create new strategies and innovative business models to profitably serve the billions of low-income consumers in emerging markets. A timeless book that is even more relevant today, it is a must-read for Western managers seeking breakthrough growth opportunities both at home and in emerging markets in the post Covid-19 era.’
— Navi Radjou, management author and scholar.
Linda Hill, with Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove, & Kent Lineback
‘In Collective Genius Linda Hill shows she was well ahead of the curve in thinking about what may be the most urgent question for humanity: how do we problem-solve and coordinate more effectively together? Although ostensibly a book about innovation inside corporations, its implications extend much wider: what if we could break down silos to harness the collective genius of people in science, medicine, and governments?’
— Kaihan Krippendorff, management author and founder of Outthinker Strategy Network.
Roger Martin & AG Lafley
‘As a Chief Strategy Officer, I apply the thinking in Playing to Win everyday with our leadership team and our clients. The thinking in the book is timeless – the principles it puts forth are as relevant to business problems of today’s “disruptive” age as when they were created years ago. I consider this book a great starting point for any person who is responsible for making business decisions. For strategists, it’s the starting point for a lifetime of exploration for how to apply this framework in practice.’
— Steven Goldbach, management author, and Chief Strategy Officer, Deloitte.
‘The Fearless Organization has fundamentally changed how leaders think about their impact on others and the importance of creating a climate where people can speak up. This is the new big idea of our times.’
— Susie Kennedy, senior partner, KBA Solutions.
The Thinkers50 Best New Booklist offers an insight into what’s uppermost in managers’ minds. The Conversation, for example, by Harvard psychologist Robert Livingston is based on his extensive experience working with diversity and inclusion and offers guidance on how to tackle systemic racism within organizations. Erica Dhawan’s book Digital Body Language, which is also on the list, examines how people working virtually can build trust and connection with colleagues.
On this year’s list, too, are Net Positive by Paul Polman and Andrew Winston, which argues that companies must be courageous and go beyond net zero and make a positive contribution to the planet; Impact Players, by Liz Wiseman, which explains how individuals can make a bigger impact in their organizations; and Deep Purpose, by Ranjay Gulati, an in-depth examination of corporate purpose. Making the list, too, is The Burnout Epidemic, by Jennifer Moss, which charts the rise of chronic stress in the workplace and what we can do to fix it.
Whitney Johnson’s book Smart Growth looks at how companies can grow their people to grow the business, and Built to Innovate, by INSEAD professor Ben Bensaou, explains how successful organizations bake innovation into their cultures. The Human Element, by Kellogg professors Loran Norgren and David Schonthal, is a guide to overcoming resistance to new ideas. Making the list, too, is The Unspoken Rules, by up-and-coming thinker Gorick Ng, which is an invaluable guide to starting your career on the right foot.
Ben Bensaou (with Karl Weber)
‘Built to Innovate shows how leaders can create an innovating engine that mobilizes all the people who work for their organization. The book offers both a big-picture conceptual framework and a proven method developed through many years of academic research and practice. It is filled with interesting examples and is thought-provoking. It is a must-read.’
— W. Chan Kim, co-author of Blue Ocean Strategy, INSEAD professor, Thinkers50 #1 Ranked Management Thinker in 2019.
‘Pursuing a purpose as a company means arriving at a clear understanding of what you were put on this planet to do. It helps you steer in the right direction, navigate tradeoffs, and, when connected to a social or personal purpose, it can inspire remarkable performance. Deep Purpose peels back the layers to unveil what it truly takes to cultivate a purpose-driven culture, one that enables both the company and its employees to experience its power and benefit from the growth it can generate.’
— Corie Barry, CEO, Best Buy
‘One of the most common problems in digital life is that the intended message gets lost in translation, and we get trapped in an ongoing game of telephone. Erica Dhawan has compelling solutions to help us send and receive the right signals.’
— Adam Grant, organizational psychologist, Wharton professor, Thinkers50 #6 Ranked Management Thinker in 2021
‘Liz Wiseman has done it again. Impact Players is an engaging and practical guide to how anyone can be more effective at work. In a refreshing departure from the relentless emphasis on leadership that dominates the field, Wiseman digs into the important question of how people make themselves valuable and how they find ways to make an impact when and where it matters most.’
— Amy Edmondson, pioneer and champion of psychological safety, HBS professor, Thinkers50 #1 Ranked Management Thinker in 2021
Paul Polman and Andrew Winston
‘A compelling and inspiring case that businesses can—and should—boost their bottom lines by contributing to their communities and protecting the environment.’
— Al Gore, former US Vice President, founder and chairman of The Climate Reality Project
‘Whitney Johnson has few equals when it comes to the topic of personal growth. And now she has offered a true masterpiece. Her model is instructive and straightforward, but that’s the least of it. I love, love, love the case studies. The people she has visited with and the stories they have given to her deserve the word ‘peerless’. Yes, it is a serious study, but it is also a true, genuine page-turner.’
— Tom Peters, co-author of In Search of Excellence, recipient of the Thinkers50 Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017
‘Burnout is today’s burning issue and Jennifer has written a playbook to help us all understand how to address this critical topic. If you care about the people in your organization and setting them up to succeed, this book is a must read.’
— Linda Boff, CMO and VP, Culture and Learning, GE
‘Social justice is a long game, and it has to start with awareness of the problem. Dr. Livingston’s book, just like his live presentations, is one of the most compelling articulations of the problems of racism and discrimination that I have encountered. As I’ve seen in my work with organizations like Airbnb, when a company is prepared to do serious work, the results can be extraordinary. This wonderful book is the place to start. The Conversation manages to be both intellectually compelling and substantive while also being infused with warmth and humor, just like Robert. I highly recommend it.’
— Laura W. Murphy, civil rights activist, consultant, and former director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office
Loran Nordgren and David Schonthal
‘Whether you’re a creator looking to execute or an executive looking to create, this book is a timely read.’
— Dan Pink, New York Times bestselling author, Thinkers50 #9 Ranked Management Thinker in 2021