20 Must-Read Books for Managers to Become Better Leaders in 2020

The holidays are here — the house is filled with twinkling lights and merry decorations. You finally have some time to spend with those you love, and even a little extra for yourself. A perfect time to put your feet up on the couch and dive into a good book. Looking for some winter reading list inspiration? We have gathered 20 must read titles from thought leaders to help you grow and expand in 2020.

1. Creating Magic, by Lee Cockerell

It’s not the magic that makes it work; it’s the way we work that makes it magic. The secret for creating magic in our careers, our organizations, and our lives is simple: outstanding leadership — the kind that inspires employees, delights customers, and achieve extraordinary business results. Combining surprising business wisdom with insightful and entertaining stories from Lee’s four decades on the front lines of some of the world’s best-run companies, Creating Magic shows all of us (from small business owners to managers at every level) how to become better leaders by infusing quality, character, courage, enthusiasm, and integrity into our workplace and into our lives.

2. The Employee Experience Advantage, by Jacob Morgan

Recently a new type of organization has emerged, one that focuses on employee experiences as a way to drive innovation, increase customer satisfaction, find and hire the best people, make work more engaging, and improve overall performance. The Employee Experience Advantage is the first book of its kind to tackle this emerging topic that is becoming the #1 priority for business leaders around the world. It is time to rethink your strategy and implement a real-world framework that focuses on how to create an organization where people want to show up to work.

3. The Culture Map, by Erin Meyer

Whether you work in a home office or abroad, business success in our ever more globalized and virtual world requires the skills to navigate through cultural differences and decode cultures foreign to your own. Renowned expert Erin Meyer is your guide through this subtle, sometimes treacherous terrain where people from starkly different backgrounds are expected to work harmoniously together. In The Culture Map, Erin Meyer provides a field-tested model for decoding how cultural differences impact international business. She combines a smart analytical framework with practical, actionable advice for succeeding in a global world.

4. Good to Great, by Jim Collins

To find the keys to greatness, Collins’s 21-person research team read and coded 6,000 articles, generated more than 2,000 pages of interview transcripts and created tons of computer data in a five-year project. The defining management study, showed how great companies triumph over time and how long-term sustained performance can be engineered into the DNA of an enterprise from the very beginning. The findings will surprise many readers and, quite frankly, upset others.

5. Measure What Matters, by John Doerr

Measure What Matters is about using Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), a revolutionary approach to goal-setting, to make tough choices in business. Doerr shares a broad range of first-person, behind-the-scenes case studies, with narrators including Bono and Bill Gates, to demonstrate the focus, agility, and explosive growth that OKRs have spurred at so many great organizations. This book will show you how to collect timely, relevant data to track progress – to measure what matters. It will help any organization or team aim high, move fast, and excel.

6. The Power of Starting Something Stupid, By Richie Norton

What if the smartest people in the world understand something that the rest of us don’t? What if they know that in order to achieve success, they will sometimes have to do things that others may initially perceive as stupid? The fact of the matter is that the smartest people in the world don’t run from stupid, they lean into it (in a smart way). Drawing on years of research, including hundreds of face-to-face interviews and some of the world’s greatest success stories past and present, Richie shows you how stupid is the New Smart – the common denominator for success, creativity, and innovation in business and life.

7. Start With Why, by Simon Sinek

Why are some people and organizations more inventive, pioneering and successful than others? And why are they able to repeat their success again and again? Because in business it doesn’t matter what you do, it matters why you do it. Steve Jobs, the Wright brothers and Martin Luther King have one thing in common: they started with why. This book is for anyone who wants to inspire others, or to be inspired.

8. Nudge by Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein

Every day we make choices, unfortunately, we often choose poorly. Using dozens of eye-opening examples and drawing on decades of behavioral science research, Nobel Prize winner Richard H. Thaler and Harvard Law School professor Cass R. Sunstein show that no choice is ever presented to us in a neutral way, and that we are all susceptible to biases that can lead us to make bad decisions. But by knowing how people think, we can use sensible “choice architecture” to nudge people toward the best decisions.

9. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Dan Pink

Most people believe that the best way to motivate is with rewards like money. That’s a mistake, says Daniel Pink. In this provocative and persuasive new book, he asserts that the secret to high performance and satisfaction. Drawing on four decades of scientific research on human motivation, Pink exposes the mismatch between what science knows and what business does and how that affects every aspect of life. He examines the three elements of true motivation — autonomy, mastery, and purpose — and offers smart and surprising techniques for putting these into action.

10. Leaders Eat Last, by Simon Sinek

Determining a company’s WHY is crucial, but only in the beginning. The next step is: how do you get people on board with your WHY? How do you inspire deep trust and commitment to the company and one another? If businesses could adopt a supportive mentality, employees would be more motivated to take bigger risks, because they’d know their colleagues and company would back them up. Drawing on powerful and inspiring stories, Sinek shows how to sustain an organization’s WHY while continually adding people to the mix.

11. Everyone Deserves a Great Manager, by the FranklinCovey Team

A practical must-read, FranklinCovey’s Everyone Deserves a Great Manager is the essential guide for the millions of people all over the world making the challenging and rewarding leap to manager. Based on nearly a decade of research on what makes managers successful—and includes new ways of thinking, tips and techniques—this volume has been field-tested with hundreds of thousands of managers all over the world.

12. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras

This groundbreaking book shatters myths, provides new insights, and gives practical guidance to those who would like to build landmark companies that stand the test of time. Collins and Porras go beyond the incessant barrage of management buzzwords and fads of the day to discover timeless qualities that have consistently distinguished outstanding companies. They also provide inspiration to all executives and entrepreneurs by destroying the false but widely accepted idea that only charismatic visionary leaders can succeed.

13. Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, by General Stanley McChrystal

McChrystal shows how the US military made the transition to manage with organic adaptability from a rigid top-down approach, and how similar shifts are possible in all organizations. In a turbulent world, the best organizations think and act like a team of teams, embracing small groups that combine the freedom to experiment with a relentless drive to share what they’ve learned. Drawing on a wealth of evidence from his military career, the private sector, and sources as diverse as hospital emergency rooms and NASA’s space program, McChrystal frames the existential challenge facing today’s organizations, and presents a compelling, effective solution.

14. The Achievement Habit, by Bernard Roth

The co-founder of the Stanford d.School introduces the power of design thinking to help you achieve goals you never thought possible. In The Achievement Habit, Roth applies the remarkable insights that stem from design thinking—previously used to solve large scale projects—to help us realize the power for positive change we all have within us. She shows you how to create habits that make your life better.

15. It’s The Manager, by Gallup

Packed with 52 discoveries from Gallup’s largest study on the future of work, It’s the Manager shows leaders how to adapt their organizations to rapid change, ranging from new workplace demands to managing remote employees, a diverse workforce, the rise of artificial intelligence, gig workers, and attracting – and keeping – today’s best employees. Who is the most important person in your organization to lead your teams through these changes? Gallup research reveals: It’s your managers.

16. The Making of a Manager, by Julie Zhuo

Julie Zhuo became a rookie manager at the age of 25. She stared at a long list of logistics–from hiring to firing, from meeting to messaging, from planning to pitching–and faced a thousand questions and uncertainties. How was she supposed to spin teamwork into value? How could she be a good steward of her reports’ careers? What was the secret to leading with confidence in new and unexpected situations? Now, having managed dozens of teams spanning tens to hundreds of people, Julie knows the most important lesson of all: great managers are made, not born.

17. The Sensational Leader, by Duane Cummings

This is the story of Thomas Frickle, an accomplished salesman, whose life takes an abrupt turn, thrusting him into a leadership role. Thomas rises to the occasion thanks to the help of mentors who teach him priceless lessons. It is entertaining and easy to follow. With lessons on topics such as awareness, communication, fearlessness, and cultural mastery, this story will provide you with a step-by-step blueprint for how to become an effective leader in any situation.

18. People-First Culture, by Michel Falcon

In People-First Culture™, Falcon shares his proven method of focusing on employees and customers to create a profitable, admired, and truly enduring brand. His strategies will help your company to grow in revenue and profitability, with effective processes built out of a clear purpose. Learn how to create a People-First Culture™ and discover the success that comes from putting employees first.

19. High Output Management, by Andrew S. Grove

The essential skill of creating and maintaining new businesses can be summed up in a single word: managing. In High Output Management, Andrew S. Grove, former chairman and CEO (and employee number three) of Intel, shares his perspective on how to build and run a company. Grove covers techniques for creating highly productive teams, demonstrating methods of motivation that lead to peak performance. High Output Management is a practical handbook for navigating real-life business scenarios and a powerful management manifesto with the ability to revolutionize the way you work.

20. The Great Management Reset

The Great Management Reset provides today’s managers with the skills to measure and understand their current management styles and supply unique, proven techniques required to achieve the ultimate status of being an effective and efficient manager. Additionally, the book provides a questionnaire at the end of each topic, allowing managers the ability to pinpoint their current management style, identify what changes are necessary, and plan how to make that change happen. There is a bonus chapter on Leadership and Management that discusses the next needed step: While not all leaders must be managers, all managers must be leaders this chapter encourages the reader to become a management leader and to share their strength with those who can benefit from it.


We believe you can make 2020 your most productive and engaged year yet! 🎉

Take the time to assess how you would like to improve and set a clear intention of becoming a better leader, better friend and better partner. Start your year off by implementing what you learn in those books, and invest in your actions to guide you and your company to accomplish more.

Cheers to a fresh new decade, may it bring great success and growth. Happy New Year from our Actimo family to yours!