The 15 Best Management Books of All Time, According to CEOs

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How can you be the best leader you can be? How can you manage a successful organization, whether it be a start-up or a Fortune 500? There are countless management books out there, but finding the ones that are both revolutionary and practical can be a tall order. We’ve done the work for you to narrow down the list to the 15 best management books.

Here’s our carefully researched list of the 15 best management books of all time. To compose this list, we used quantitative criteria such as:

  • High-quality recommendations from successful leaders like Charlie Munger, Reid Hoffman, Sheryl Sandberg, and Tim Ferriss.
  • Number of weeks on bestseller lists like the New York Times
  • Common perception and ratings by common readers, from networks like Amazon and Goodreads

Don’t have time to get the benefits of reading? That’s where Shortform comes in. With Shortform, you can get the key lessons from the best nonfiction books in minutes, not in hours. Our experts condense the key lessons from management books like these into an efficient summary. Check out our high-quality summaries of these 15 books to see if you can learn more quickly.

1. Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, by Adam Grant

TITLE: Give and Take
AUTHOR: Adam Grant
TIME: 28
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: give-and-take-summary-adam-grant

People fit into one of three reciprocity styles. “Givers” like to give more than they get, paying attention to what others need. “Takers” like to get more than they give, seeing the world as a competitive place and primarily looking out for themselves. And “matchers” balance and give on a quid pro quo basis, willing to exchange favors but careful about not being exploited.

Of these 3 styles, which do you think tends to be the most successful? You might think that aggressive takers come out on top, but Wharton professor Adam Grant argues givers are actually the most successful. In Give and Take, learn how givers build larger, more supportive networks; inspire the most creativity from their colleagues; and achieve the most successful negotiations.

John Hall, co-founder and president of Calendar, said of Give and Take, “Two titles I truly enjoyed were The Go-Giver and Give and Take. Every time I meet a leader I view as someone who looks out for others and gives back, there’s a nearly 90% chance that he or she has read one or both of these books.”

Best-selling author of The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin, writes, “Packed with cutting-edge research, concrete examples, and deep insight, Give and Take offers extraordinarily thought-provoking—and often surprising—conclusions about how our interactions with others drive our success and happiness. This important and compulsively-readable book deserves to be a huge success.”

2. The Art of War, by Sun Tzu

TITLE: The Art of War
TIME: 29
READS: 29.3
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: the-art-of-war-summary-sun-tzu

Successful victory during conflict requires more than just cunning and brawn. Whether you are involved in an individual conflict or are leading a group of people through a competition, the strategies required to prepare for and engage in battle are the same.

The Art of War by ancient Chinese warrior and philosopher Sun Tzu provides the essential elements that must be considered to develop strategic conflict resolution tactics. Sun Tzu’s principles guide you through the steps required to become a competent leader and fighter. They teach you how to determine victory, when to engage in combat, and when to use intelligence and intimidation to dissolve conflict without confrontation. With these teachings, you’ll understand how to read conflict and opponents to determine the best course of action.

LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman read Sun Tzu as a boy, “which informed his strategic thinking.”

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “Which books should be read by every single intelligent person on the planet?…The Art of War (Sun Tsu)….you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.”

3. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, by Stephen R. Covey

TITLE: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
AUTHOR: Stephen R. Covey
TIME: 55
READS: 36.6
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: the-7-habits-of-highly-effective-people-summary-stephen-covey
AMZN_ID: 147112939X

Do you want to make your life better? Are you struggling in your personal or professional life, your interactions with other people, your life balance, or your life’s purpose?

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People provides an inside-out approach to improving yourself and your life. This method entails examining and adjusting your character, your motives, and how you see the world in order to change how you behave and how you interact with others. Learn how to best focus your time, define your personal mission, and build productive relationships with other people.

Arianna Huffington writes, “[Thirty] years after it first appeared, the wisdom of The 7 Habits is more relevant than ever. On an individual level people are burning out, and on a collective level we are burning up the planet. So Dr. Covey’s emphasis on self-renewal and his understanding that leadership and creativity require us to tap into our own physical, mental, and spiritual resources are exactly what we need now.”

4. The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, by Michael E. Gerber

TITLE: The E-Myth Revisited
AUTHOR: Michael E. Gerber
TIME: 18
READS: 25.8
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: the-e-myth-revisited-summary-michael-gerber

Many people dream of quitting a job and becoming their own boss by starting a business. A million new businesses are started each year, but 40 percent fail within the first year and 80 percent fail within five years. Underlying the high failure rate are persistent romantic notions about how businesses are born and what it takes to succeed.

In The E-Myth Revisited, Michael E. Gerber explains how focusing solely on the product undermines new businesses and just trying to work harder undermines new businesses. “The right approach is to view your business like a franchise—to systematize operations so that it no longer relies on you.” This thirty-year-old classic is a part-practical and part-philosophical guide to conceptualizing and starting a business.

Tim Ferriss said of The E-Myth Revisited, “If you’ve strayed from the path of systems and rules and processes, this provides an excellent road map, told in parable, for becoming an owner, instead of a constant micro-manager.”

5. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande

TITLE: The Checklist Manifesto
AUTHOR: Atul Gawande
TIME: 24
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: the-checklist-manifesto-summary-atul-gawande

In the 21st century, we can do extraordinary things: we can predict dangerous storms, explore distant planets, and save people from life-threatening conditions and injuries. Yet highly trained, experienced, and capable people regularly make avoidable mistakes.

In The Checklist Manifesto, Boston surgeon Atul Gawande contends the reason is that knowledge and complexity in many fields have exceeded the capacity of any individual to get everything right. Under pressure, we make simple mistakes and overlook the obvious. Drawing lessons from spectacular successes and failures in recent years, he argues that the solution is a checklist. The book builds the case for checklists and issues a plea for adopting this backstop to human fallibility.

Tim Ferriss said, “I love a book by Atul Gawande titled The Checklist Manifesto. I have this book on a shelf in my living room, cover out, as a constant reminder.”

6. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, by Patrick Lencioni

TITLE: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
AUTHOR: Patrick M. Lencioni
TIME: 15
READS: 25.8
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: the-five-dysfunctions-of-a-team-summary-patrick-lencioni

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable explores how teams fail to work cohesively together through a dynamic, five-part model of dysfunction. The five dysfunctions are 1) absence of trust, 2) fear of conflict, 3) lack of commitment, 4) avoidance of accountability, and 5) inattention to results. Through identifying these root causes of poor teamwork, teams can develop specific strategies for overcoming each of them. By doing this, they will become comfortable with one another, be willing to engage in constructive debate, achieve clarity and buy-in around team priorities, hold one another to high standards, and focus on team results instead of individual ambition.

Phillip Hildebrand, the Executive VP and Chief Distribution Officer for New York Life Insurance Company, said of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, “I read most best-selling business books. What sets Lencioni apart is his ability to provide insightful and practical solutions to complex management challenges.”

7. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, by James C. Collins

TITLE: Good to Great
AUTHOR: Jim Collins
TIME: 29
READS: 36.1
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: good-to-great-summary-jim-collins

In Good to Great, former Stanford business professor Jim Collins offers a primer on turning the average into the exceptional. Through detailed case studies of 11 companies that went from tracking the market to exceeding it by at least 3x, Collins presents the key factors that separate merely good organizations from great ones—from rare leadership to disciplined thinking to the dogged pursuit of a core mission.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a manager, or just an individual looking to improve, the concepts in Good to Great provide food for thought—and spurs to action. You’ll learn what it takes to be a “Level 5” leader, why assembling the right team first is more important than having the right idea, why you should be more like a hedgehog than a fox, and why “stop doing” lists are as important as “to do” lists.

Good to Great is reportedly one of Jeff Bezos’s favorite books, giving “Bezos and his team the road map for a strategic shift in what they needed to do to put that proverbial flywheel in motion.”

8. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

TITLE: Crucial Conversations
AUTHOR: Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, et al.
TIME: 41
READS: 40.9
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: crucial-conversations-summary-kerry-patterson-joseph-grenny-mcmillan-switzler

Poorly handling crucial conversations — discussions with high stakes, different opinions, and strong emotions — is the cause of many of our most painful problems in work and home life. These stressful conversations can rapidly go awry, with people behaving at their worst – yelling at each other and sniping sarcastically, or on the other side going silent and withdrawing. When this happens, little progress is made, and resentment builds. Moreover, we often deliberately avoid having these conversations because we’re afraid we’ll make matters worse.

Crucial Conversations teaches you an array of dialogue principles and practical skills, explained and demonstrated through numerous examples. After this book, you’ll be able to talk to anyone about virtually any topic, no matter how sensitive. When you learn to handle crucial conversations effectively, the quality of your relationships and your effectiveness in your career will improve dramatically, and you’ll be able to help get everybody what they want.

In the book’s foreword, Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, writes, “Crucial Conversations draws our attention to those defining moments that literally shape our lives, our relationships, and our world. . . . This book deserves to take its place as one of the key thought leadership contributions of our time.”

9. Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

TITLE: Extreme Ownership
AUTHOR: Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
TIME: 42
READS: 34.3
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: extreme-ownership-summary-jocko-willink-leif-babin

What’s the secret to being a great leader? Whether you’re in a warzone or on the front lines of a corporate battle, Extreme Ownership argues that the best leaders take full responsibility for their actions and decisions, their teams, and their failures.

Authors Jocko Willink and Leif Babin are former U.S. Navy SEALs who served in Iraq. They honed the principles of Extreme Ownership on the battlefield, then applied the same tenets to the corporate world as business consultants. Willink and Babin illustrate how effective leaders exercise Extreme Ownership — by admitting failures, believing in their missions, checking their egos, delegating, and being accountable — through compelling war stories and useful business anecdotes.

Driving Sales CEO Jared Hamilton said, “Extreme Ownership provides huge value for leaders at all levels. An inspiring and page-turning read, the leadership lessons are easy to digest and implement. It provides a powerful SEAL framework for action to lead teams in high-stakes environments. This book made me a better leader and enabled my entire team step up our game!”

10. First Things First, by Stephen R. Covey

TITLE: First Things First
AUTHOR: Stephen R. Covey
TIME: 51
READS: 29.8
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: first-things-first-summary-stephen-covey

Do you feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day? That you’re constantly checking things off your to-do list but still don’t have enough time for the important things? **Your problem might be that you’re working efficiently, but not effectively.**

In First Things First, Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, presents a time-management approach that focuses on priorities, or “first things.” This approach teaches you to use your time effectively, meaning you focus more on what you’re spending your time on than how much time you’re spending. Learn how to identify your priorities; schedule your time at the daily and weekly levels; and find win-win opportunities among people.

Larry King said, “Covey has reached the apex with First Things First. This is an important work. I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t be helped by reading it.”

11. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, by Roger Fisher and William L. Ury

TITLE: Getting to Yes
AUTHOR: Roger Fisher and William Ury
TIME: 30
READS: 32.3
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: getting-to-yes-summary-roger-fisher-william-ury
AMZN_ID: 143118757

Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury is a practical guide to negotiating more effectively whether you’re haggling over a price, negotiating for a pay increase, or debating how to divide the housework. The authors propose an alternative to traditional adversarial bargaining, which often results in unfair agreements and strained relationships. Principled negotiation, by contrast, aims to reach wise and fair agreements efficiently and civilly. In addition to walking you through their method, the authors offer numerous tips and techniques for handling challenging negotiations. Anyone can use their method, under any circumstances.

Berkshire Hathaway’s Charlie Munger put Getting to Yes on his list of 20 books that will make you smarter, saying, “The book is one of the primary business texts in North America. So it shouldn’t surprise you that I was first introduced to this as part of my MBA program.”

12. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, by Adam Grant

TITLE: Originals
AUTHOR: Adam Grant
TIME: 17
READS: 35.3
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: originals-summary-adam-grant

Many people want to be more innovative. But how do you generate good ideas? And do you execute to make them real? Originals studies the habits and practices of innovators so you too can innovate. You’ll learn the most important factor in generating more good ideas, how procrastination can actually help you generate better ideas, and how to rally an organization to your new idea.

Richard Branson included Originals on his list of “top 65 books to read in a lifetime.”

13. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, by Simon Sinek

TITLE: Start With Why
AUTHOR: Simon Sinek
TIME: 34
READS: 40.9
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: start-with-why-summary-simon-sinek

Although there are thousands of successful companies and leaders, only a few ever really change the world. What makes these different from the rest?

They start with WHY – the vision and mission behind their efforts. Starting with WHY yields benefits like a more inspired team, more loyal customers, and enduring long-term success. In Start With Why, learn how to discover your WHY and communicate it through your organization and to the outside world.

Tony Robbins said of Start with Why, “The basis of this book is so important to anyone looking to increase their influence, profits or impact. People won’t truly buy into a product, service, movement, or idea until they understand the WHY behind it. When you start with the why, everything else falls into place. This book is so impactful, I consider it required reading.”

14. The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries

TITLE: The Lean Startup
AUTHOR: Eric Ries
TIME: 36
READS: 39.7
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: lean-startup-summary-eric-ries

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries is considered a bible in the tech entrepreneurship community. It’s a methodology for creating businesses that focuses you on finding out what customers actually want. It uses concepts of scientific experimentation to prove that you’re making progress. It encourages you to launch as early and cheaply as possible so you don’t waste time and money.

Learn the critical concepts of the Minimum Viable Product, cohort metrics, A/B testing, virality, and startup pivots.

Sheryl Sandberg recommends The Lean Startup to all entrepreneurs. She says it “provides a great inside look at how the tech industry approaches building products and businesses.”

15. The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success, by William N. Thorndike

TITLE: The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs
AUTHOR: William N. Thorndike
TIME: 31
READS: 22.8
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: the-outsiders-eight-unconventional-ceos-summary-william-thorndike

If you’re asked who the greatest CEO of the last century was, one name might naturally come to mind: Jack Welch. Sure, he achieved great financial return and is trumpeted by the press. But is Jack Welch really the greatest CEO of the century? According to the author of The Outsiders, no—not even close. There are CEOs who performed better during worse economic periods.

Studying companies broadly, the author ended with eight CEOs and companies with standout performance during the 20th century. Looking deeper into their management practices, he found **virtually identical patterns to their management style and capital allocation decisions**. These strategies were unorthodox but directly caused their outsized results. These CEOs and their management practices are the subject of The Outsiders.

In a letter to shareholders in 2012, Warren Buffett called The Outsiders “an outstanding book about CEOs who excelled at capital allocation.”

The 15 Best Management Books of All Time, According to CEOs

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Amanda Penn

Amanda Penn is a writer and reading specialist. She’s published dozens of articles and book reviews spanning a wide range of topics, including health, relationships, psychology, science, and much more. Amanda was a Fulbright Scholar and has taught in schools in the US and South Africa. Amanda received her Master's Degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.

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