The Best Management Books

The Best Management Books (That aren’t actually about management).

I’m often asked, what are the best management books?

Over the years I’ve read many management books. Books about managing people, managing customers, managing suppliers, managing productivity, the list goes on. Many of which have left me underwhelmed and some have left me disappointed. Even books by famous leaders or super smart academics have left me frustrated that something is missing.

But over time I’ve learned that some of the best management books and the greatest management lessons don’t actually come from traditional management or business books at all.

Instead they come from biographies, novels and historical accounts and will never be found in the business book best seller lists.

The key lesson is that some of the best management books are found in unexpected places, which is why you should read as widely as possible.

Here are the five best management books that aren’t actually about management.

1. My American Journey – Colin Powell

My American Journey is the great American success story if ever there was one. It is the autobiography of Colin Powell retired four-star General and former US Secretary of State. 

Powell was born in Harlem, from poor Jamaican immigrants and through a journey that took in multiple war zones and military bases eventually took him to Washington and the White House.
The book provides us with a great study of leadership, military history and politics. My American Journey” is an excellent story and a great example that shows us what possessing a strong motivation and integrity can lead to.

You certainly do not need to be an American to appreciate the positive attitudes and the message that Powell sends through his book.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is how he dealt with prejudice. Despite being well educated and a commissioned soldier, he was refused service in restaurants and discriminated in many other ways. This served no purpose other than to channel his energies and underpin his drive to securing the top job in the US military and a become a key figure both in politics and in the first Gulf War.


2. The Tipping Point – How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference – Malcolm Gladwell

The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips and becomes mainstream.  Just as one sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate.

I think this is a must read ‘management book’ for any business owner looking to grow their business. 

Gladwell is a superb story teller, illustrating the social behaviours that cause a ‘tip’ with examples and social research from the American Civil War to the present day.

The book has 100’s of messages for business owners, but introduces 3 concepts which Gladwell calls the 3 agents of change. Together these concepts make a product, service or cause ‘tip’. These strategies should be the cornerstone of any business strategy:

1. The Law of The Few

When we try to make an idea, attitude or product tip into popularity we are trying to change attitudes in some critical way.  This changing of attitudes can be done by the influence of some special kind of people, (the few) who are people of extraordinary personal connection.

For example we all know a person who researches everything before they buy something, making them the go to person you seek out when you need to buy.

2. The stickiness factor

Changing the content of communication changes the message. So by making the messages so memorable it compels them to act.

For example Steve Job’s original advert for the iPod – 1000 songs in your pocket.

3. The power of context

When the context changes, assumptions change. Small changes in context can be just as important in tipping epidemics, as big changes. When the situation changes, deeply held assumptions may change.

For example whilst you might pay $1000 for a Louis Vuitton bag in a Louis Vuitton store, you might not pay $50 for the same bag on a market stall. Same bag, just the context has changed.

3. The Wolf of Wall Street – Jordon Belfort

There is no doubt about it the The Wolf of Wall Street is an outrageous book. And what makes it more outrageous is that it’s actually true. The book tells the tales of Jordon Belfort the self proclaimed “wolf of wall street”. Belfort was the founder of Stratton Oakmont,  one of the largest over the counter brokerage houses in the United States. At one point employing over a 1000 staff, he broke many laws before finally being “persuaded” by the FBI  to expose his illegal money making activities.

Many observers have noted that had Belfort decided to pursue  legal means of earning a living he would have probably been a billionaire, such were the brilliance of his ideas and the ability to sell things people didn’t know they wanted.

Again, there are many lessons that you can take from the Wolf of Wall Street, but the 5 key lessons I took away are:

1. Have a big vision

Have a good look at the future and figure our exactly what you want and how you can get there.

2. Keep your customer base in mind

Keep your ideal customer base in mind and target all your messages to that customer group.

3. Train your people well

Belfort took a bunch of people with no previous experience how to sound knowledgeable and sell the securities to the wealthy customers.  By keeping things simple and repeatable he created effective systems to train people with no previous experience to earning big six figure salaries in no time at all.  Belfort always let employees know exactly what was expected of them all the time.

4. Solve a problem

Belfort was successful because he managed to find a solution for his customers problems. He always asked customers what is the “biggest headache you have right now?” – then he took the time to find out how he could solve that problem right now.

5. Keep Employees Happy

Probably the most stand out areas of the book is the outlandish staff parties Belfort held for his staff. He celebrated success and made employees feel wanted. Which in turn spurred them on to sell more worthless securities.

4. Blood Sweat and Tears – Bear Grylls

Bear Grylls is an extraordinary man. A British adventurer. the star of Man vs Wild and Born Survivor. He has completed numerous challenges including being one of the  youngest men to climb Mount Everest, circumnavigating the UK on a jet ski as well as being an elite special forces soldier in the SAS.

This is not a man who has stood still!

Oh yes, and the story he tells about climbing Everest in Blood Sweat and Tears is made even more remarkable when you learn that  during a free fall parachute accident in Africa he broke  his back in 3 places.

Consequently it is no surprise that this is an inspiring account of his life and spirit of adventure. Whilst there are numerous lessons and incredible stories from the book, the stand out management lesson for me was being really clear about what you want to achieve, and no matter how impossible it might sound, belief, hard work and determination will get you where you want to be.

“Leader’s think bigger, and differently. They inspire those around them to go that little bit further, to perform that little bit better, and feel that little bit stronger.”


5. Killing Floor – Lee Child

Killing Floor by Lee Child is a fictional story about a mysterious man named Jack Reacher.  Reacher is an ex military cop who travels to the little town of Margrave looking for information about the mysterious death of a guitar player named Blind Blake. Instead of clues, he finds one of the largest counterfeiting operations in history.  Reacher discovers a plan that involves ten people collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in single dollar bills through travel exchange booths, which they then send them out of the country where they are bleached and reprinted as one hundred dollar bills instead.

This is a genius story and my favourite Lee Child book to date. It’s a real page turner to the very end. A good book for any holiday or vacation, with some useful management lessons thrown in too.

The key management lessons that can be picked up from here are:

1. Build Relations and alliances

When Reacher turns up in town he knows no one. He quickly builds relationships and forms alliances. He knows that these relationships are the key to getting out of a sticky situation in one piece. The key here is that he doesn’t know who to trust so takes visual clues and listens to what people say to help identify who can help him get what he wants.

2. Training

As a military cop Reacher has a tonne of training. Skills that he often gets drawn into using both in this book and throughout the series.  The lesson here is that as a business owner, you must continually invest in yourself.

3. Improvise

Despite being well trained, some of the situations that Reacher finds himself in are clearly not what he was expecting. So when something goes wrong, he needs to improvise. Something that you have to do all the time in business. The better trained you are the better you are able to cope when things go wrong.  


So now you know, the best management books aren’t always the best management books. Which means that as a business owner you need to be open to new ideas where ever you might find them. 


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