There are over 60 years of research about the practices and behaviors correlated with being a great manager and team. Part of our mission at Koan is to bring those smarts directly into the tools we’re building. So as you might imagine, we constantly have a tall stack of books on our to-read list.
One of the Koan traditions related to how we work together is feeding our curiosity. We hold a regular Book Club to learn more, discuss, challenge, and enjoy each other’s perspectives. The books range from business-focused to topics that support our team wellness and JEDI efforts.
Our semi-regular book club was created as a way to challenge our assumptions about leadership, management, and life at a growing startup. We take turns selecting (reasonably topical) books and writing summary blog posts, but that's about where the rules end. In the past, leads have used book club as a basis for lunchtime discussions, short take-home assignments, and even context for product/marketing debates.
Pre-pandemic, to keep it fun, we do it all over a few pints (generally at “Secret Bailey’s”, for fellow Portlanders). Now with our remote team, our book club discussions happen over zoom calls. Here are some highlights from the books we’ve been enjoying (all of which we’d recommend):
The Essential Drucker
Drucker is a “business philosopher” the “father of modern management”, and the guy that coined “Knowledge Worker”. He’s the original source for many key concepts, and this single book is an efficient way to grab the essence of his ideas out of a 30+ book corpus.
Giving real and honest feedback (or guidance) is just about the hardest and simultaneously most valuable thing you can do as a boss. Scott draws on her career experience at some of the world’s best companies to propose how to do it effectively. Hint: it’s not simply telling your directs that they suck all the time and it starts with actually giving a shit.
The Effective Manager
This book is chock-full of simple, practical advice about what to do as a manager. It distills a lot of Horstman’s excellent “Manager Tools” podcasts into an easily digestible set of recommendations about how to have 1:1s, give feedback and more. This currently occupies my “first book I’d give to a new manager” slot.
Rebooting Work by Maynard Webb
At Koan, we’re lucky enough to count Maynard Webb as a mentor and investor. Here, he delves into what it takes to have a fulfilling work-life and provides a framework for how to achieve it. As Webb notes: the nature of work and the companies we all work for is fundamentally changing; it’s time to learn how to become the “CEOs of our own Destiny”.
The Hard Thing about Hard Things
At some point, every CEO (and company) goes through “The Struggle” — a seemingly insurmountable set of challenges that must be dealt with, including one’s own psychology. The book is not only super enjoyable, but full of practical tips about what it takes to be a great leader. Reading it the first time helped me through some tough times at my last startup; reading it a second time inspired me to strive to be a better CEO.
Having already read several management books this year, the nuclear submarine setting was a welcome change to the usual management offices, meetings, and anecdotes we’re used to. While there was some crossover with some other management books we’ve read, David Marquet offers a fresh take and some great insights into how some of the leadership concepts can be implemented in any organization.
What if the wisdom of one of Silicon Valley’s legendary leaders was sitting on your desk, any time you needed it? Maynard Webb’s rèsumè reads like a who’s who of tech darlings through the ages — CIO of Gateway, COO of eBay, CEO of LiveOps, and most recently the managing partner of the Webb Investment Network (WIN) — and “Dear Founder: Letters of Advice for Anyone Who Leads, Manages, or Wants to Start a Business” is exactly that.
Data not only describes the world but shapes it. At Koan, we strive to make data-driven decisions, rather than relying on hunches or theories. Data isn’t always available, but whenever we can use it to inform decision making, we do. This book was a positive reminder to ourselves that we should connect with customers who are using Koan’s platform in different ways to gauge how we can improve. When we listen to our customers, we discover the visible and invisible barriers keeping Koan from growing and being the best tool for goal management.
Back before Koan had a leadership platform (or even a team), our founders spent six months interviewing respected leaders—everyone from LinkedIn's Kevin Scott to former Secretary of State Colin Powell—to understand the tools, beliefs, and practices they used to deliver amazing results. Many of the common practices turned up in that research have subsequently dropped into different stages of Koan’s roadmap, but many more are elusive, human dimensions that software may never really capture. Not everyone we spoke to mentioned culture directly, but everyone had examples of practices and uncompromising principles that they'd intentionally woven into the fabric of their organizations. Everyone agreed, however, that talk isn’t enough. Culture is who you are. It's the practices you adopt, the values you believe in, and the mission that you’re out to achieve. It defines you. But acknowledging that reality and approaching it with intent, you may be able to define it, too.
Here’s the complete list of the books we’ve read so far, some with dedicated blog posts:
What’s on your own management reading shelf that’s been great? Any recommendations for an upcoming Koan book club? If you have any suggestions or relevant reading for us, we’re all ears. Just read out to us on intercom or via our Twitter.