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HBR’s 10 Must Reads for New Managers: A book review by Bob Morris

HBR’s 10 Must Reads for New Managers
Various Contributors
Harvard Business Review Press (2017)

Cutting-edge insights for those who are managing others for the first time

This is one in a series of volumes that anthologizes what the editors of the Harvard Business Review consider to be “must reads” in a given business subject area, in this instance cutting-edge insights for new managers. I have no quarrel with any of their selections, each of which is eminently deserving of inclusion. If all of these articles were purchased separately as reprints, the total cost would be $109.45 and the practical value of any one of them exceeds that. Given the fact that Amazon US now sells this volume for only $16.96, that’s quite a bargain. The same is true of volumes in other series such as HBR Guide to…, Harvard Business Review on…, and Harvard Business Essentials. I also think there is great benefit derived from the convenience of having a variety of perspectives and insights gathered in a single volume.

In all of the volumes in the HBR 10 Must Read series that I have read thus far, the authors and their HBR editors make skillful use of several reader-friendly devices that include “Idea in Brief” and “Idea in Action” sections, checklists with and without bullet points, boxed mini-commentaries (some of which are “guest” contributions from other sources), and graphic charts and diagrams that consolidate especially valuable information. These and other devices facilitate, indeed accelerate frequent review later of key points later.

There are ten articles in the book, plus a “bonus,” Michael D. Watkins’ “How Managers Become Leaders. The material — together — will help you to achieve several important strategic objective.

More specifically, you will learn how to

o Accelerate development of your emotional intelligence
o Influence your colleagues using the science of persuasion
o Assess members if your team and enhance their performance
o Network effectively within and beyond the organization to achieve professional and personal goals
o Navigate relationships within and beyond the organization
o Obtain support from senior management
o View both the Big and small “pictures” when making decisions
o Maintain balance of professional and personal obligations

Those who created the material in this volume did so for those who are managing others for the first time. To succeed, they will need a mindset and a presence that gain for them a highly favorable first-impression as they assume their new responsibilities. Then they will need to know how to sustain and nourish that initial impression.

In or near most cities, there is a farmer’s market at which merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples of their wares. In that spirit, I now offer a representative selection of brief excerpts. First, from Linda A. Hill’s essay, “Becoming the Boss”:

One of the first things new managers discover is that their role, by definition a stretch assignment, is even more demanding than they’d anticipated. They are surprised to learn that the skills and methods required for success as an individual contributor and those required for success as a manager are starkly different — and that there is a gap between their current capabilities and the requirements of the new position.

* * *

From “Leading the Team You Inherit” by Michael D. Watkins:

The final element of reshaping is integration. This involves establishing ground rules and processes to feed and sustain desired behaviors and serving as a  role model for your team members. Of course, the team’s composition, alignment, and operating model also influence members’ behavior. But focusing on those elements isn’t sufficient, especially when leaders inherit teams with negative group dynamics. Those situations require remedial work: changing the destructive patterns of behavior and fostering a sense of shared purpose.

* * *

From “Harnessing the Science of Persuasion” by Robert B. Cialdini:

There’s nothing abstruse or obscure about these six principles of persuasion [i.e. liking, reciprocity, social proof, consistency, authority, and scarcity]. Indeed, they neatly codify our intuitive understanding of the ways people evaluate information and form decisions. As a result, the principles are easy for most people to grasp, even those with no formal education in psychology. But in the seminar and workshops I conduct, I have learned that two points bear repeated emphasis.

First, although the six principles and their applications can be discussed separately for the sake of clarity, they should be applied in combination to compound their impact…The other point I wish ti emphasize is that the rules of ethics apply to the science of social influence just as they do to any other technology. Not only is it ethically wrong to trick or trap others into assent, it’s ill-advised in practical terms. Dishonest or high pressure tactics work only in the short run, if at all. Their long-term effects are malignant, especially within an organization, which can’t function properly without a bedrock level of trust and cooperation.

* * *

From “What Makes a Leader” by Daniel Goleman:

If you are looking for leaders, how can you identify people who are motivated by the drive to achieve rather than by external rewards? The first sign is a passion for the work itself — such people seek out creative challenges, love to learn, and take great pride in a job well done. They also display an unflagging energy to do things better. People with such energy often seems restless with the status quo. They are persistent with their questions about why things are done one way rather than another; they are eager to explore new approaches to their work…And it follows naturally that people who are driven to do better also want a way if tracking progress — their own, the team’s, and their company’s…Executives trying to recognize high levels of achievement motivation in their people can look for one last piece of evidence: commitment to the organization. When people love their jobs for the work itself, they often feel committed to the organizations that make that work possible.

* * *

From “The Authenticity Paradox” by Herminia Ibarra:

In my research on leadership transitions, I have observed that career advances require all of us to move way beyond our comfort zones. At the same time, however, they trigger a strong countervailing impulse to protect our identities: When we are unsure of ourselves or our ability to perform well or measure up in a new setting, we often retreat to familiar behaviors and styles.

[Later in the article] The only way we grow as leaders is by stretching the limits of who we are — doing new things that make us uncomfortable but that teach us through direct experience who we want to become. Such growth doesn’t require a radical personality makeover. Small changes — in the way we carry ourselves, the way we communicate, the way we communicate, the way we interact — often make a world of difference in how effective we lead.

* * *

Of all the advice I have encountered thus far, none surpasses the practical value of this observation by Warren Buffett: “It takes 20-30 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” I am also reminded by an observation by Theodore Roosevelt: “People won’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care.” Then there is this observation by Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” “Finally, here is what Bill Campbell said to Steve Jobs when he became CEO of Apple Computer. “The title says you are an executive; your people will let you know if you are a leader.”

Yes, this is a “must read” for new managers but also for those who hire, then onboard and supervise them.

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