The 5 Best Books for First Time Managers

A very common topic of conversation amongst Restaurant Owners and General Managers is how to develop hourly employees into first-time managers. Being a leader for the first time is a massive change and how you guide them through the beginning stages of their management journey can ultimately set them up for success…or failure.

Business books are a great way to help them grow into their new roles, but it is of vital importance that the books you assign to them match their level of knowledge. A quick Amazon search proves that the number of business books on the market is seemingly endless, so choosing the most impactful books that cover a wide variety of topics is a significant challenge.

Developing a new manager is a very delicate process that requires balance. Press the newly minted manager too hard, and they crack under pressure. On the other hand, if you don’t give them the time and energy to fulfill their need to learn and be “stretched,” you run the risk of them being bored and looking elsewhere for development (and eventually employment).

With that in mind, I have curated a list of 5 books every new manager should read in their first year of management. I selected books that cover a wide range of topics in a straight forward way. Between them, these books include all the essentials.

My suggestion is to read these books in the order that they are listed so the lessons can build off each other. Secondly, I suggest you buy two copies of each book and read them together. Create a reading schedule that calls for just a few chapters each week. Then, pick a day for a “weekly review” and spending that time discussing the key takeaways you each had in this week’s readings.

1. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change

Subject Area: Managing the Relationship Changes that Come with a Promotion

One of the biggest problems new managers run into is the transition of relationships. This is especially true for managers promoted from within who now have to change their relationships with their peers from that of a friend to that of a leader. “Managing Transitions,” by William Bridges, is the quintessential resource for learning how to make the transition gracefully and with as little friction as possible.

If you have ever promoted someone from within (or are promoted from within yourself), you know that there is bound to be bitterness and hurt feelings somewhere. The cook who feels that they were passed over or the waitress that thinks you “played favorites” is bound to have negative feelings about the change. These feelings can have a major negative impact on both your new manager and the restaurant as a whole.

Managing Transitions is the number one book I recommend to people who are in the process of a promotion. It was the first (and is, in my opinion, still the best) book on the market that discussed how to manage the mental and emotional states that occur during significant change.

The core of the book talks about the 3-phase process of every transition. The three phases are “The Ending Stage’, “The Neutral Stage,” and “The New Beginnings Stage.” As your new manager learns to identify what stage they are at in the transition, they will learn different ways to manage the changes and help those around them accept and support them.

Ideally, give this book to your new manager before the official promotion happens. Armed with the knowledge in this book, your new manager will be better prepared to handle the various situations that can occur from promoting someone from the inside.

2. The One Minute Manager

Subject Area: Effective Management Techniques

The New One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard is by far the best introductory book for managers who are new to leadership. The book is a quick read and presented in a very straight forward way. Despite the entry-level nature of The One Minute Manager, it is also an excellent refresher for a leader who has become stuck in a rut.

Unlike most business books, the easily understood message of the One Minute Manager is a fable. The biggest take away new managers will get from this book is learning how to use three “60-second” tools (hence the title of the book). Used correctly, these three tools can lay the groundwork for what will become your new manager’s leadership style.

The three tools themselves involve goal setting, recognition, and addressing negative performance. Making the tools timebound (60-seconds) makes them much less intimidating for newly promoted managers and something they can implement without delay.

If you survey employees in just about any location, I would be willing to bet that “communication” is something they feel could use improvement within the restaurant. Utilizing the lessons of the One Minute Manager can have a positive impact on communication.

Reading this along with them will even help you brush up your own leadership skills!

3. Emotional Intelligence 2.0

Subject Area: Interpersonal Relationships

“Emotional Intelligence 2.0,” by Travis Bradberry, is probably the biggest surprise on this list. The idea of emotional intelligence is the ability to read, understand, and respond to emotions in both ourselves and others. While some might scoff at the thought of this being a top 5 read for a new manager, the truth is that this skill can make or break a new manager’s potential for success.

Emotional intelligence is something that comes naturally to some people. For others, its a challenge. Luckily, there are ways to improve your emotional intelligence that will make you a vastly better manager.

The book starts with a test that will benchmark your emotional intelligence with an EQ score. The test will also show you which areas you are doing well at in addition to those are opportunities. After reading the book and paying particular attention to your opportunities, retake the test and see how you improved.

While it is not affiliated directly with the book, this test on reading emotions is a fantastic complement to it that will test you on how well you can read people’s emotions and help you to identify giveaways in their body language.

4. Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time

Subject Area: Planning & Productivity

Whether you call it time management, productivity, or prioritization, all managers find it challenging at times to get stuff done. It can be even more difficult for new managers who are still learning the basics. While many business and self-development books talk about how to get more things done in less time, “Eat that Frog” by Brian Tracy is the best one for new managers.

Eat That Frog is a quick read that teaches methods to break down large projects into a series of subtasks effectively. The information in the book about setting and managing priorities is useful in improving overall productivity.

5. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Subject Area: Overall Personal & Professional Effectiveness

The last book on my list for new managers could potentially be the most important. Many people consider this book life-changing. Less a book on leadership and more on self-development, The “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey, is regarded as the source material for all personal development books that have since been published.

I once worked for a Regional Vice President who used this book as the basis for his entire leadership philosophy. He reread it at the beginning of every year and claimed to have learned new insights each time. All development and training activities that took place in his region are based around the principles of the 7-Habits.

This book is by no means a fast read. While it is not particularly long, I find it incredibly dense, which means that it can take a while to get through. Despite the time investment, the habits (and associated lessons) can help prepare your new leader to navigate the managerial waters for years to come.

Becoming a new manager is both exciting and nerve-racking. By giving your new manager a solid foundation, you can set them up on the path to success. Reading these books and applying their lessons will move their development forward years. Set them up for a great career and a smoother transition into their new role.

Matt Roberts

A 20+ year veteran of the Restaurant Industry, Matt is the Founder and Owner of Restaurant Ninjas. He is also a giant geek of epic proportions who somehow convinced his wife to name their firstborn child Luke Skywalker.

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