My Top 3 Reads for Supervisors and Managers

Being a supervisor is tough but rewarding work. Whether you are a new supervisor or have several years under your belt, it is essential to keep your skills fresh. One great way to do that is by reading books about leadership or a specific skill you’d like to develop.

There are as many ways to lead as there are people leading, so how do you know what books to choose? You won’t know until you look for them or ask for recommendations.

Here are a few recommendations to get you started.

1. “StrengthsFinder 2.0” (Tom Rath)

Why it’s helpful

The book posits that people have more potential for growth when they focus energy on developing their strengths instead of correcting deficiencies. This approach improves confidence, direction, hope and performance.

For many people, their greatest strength is also a weakness. For instance, if one of your strengths is Ideation, you have a surplus of ideas, which is great. But if you don’t take the time to screen and edit those ideas, they can die on the vine. Similarly, you can be really good at analyzing data but have trouble making decisions with that data, and you get stuck in analysis paralysis. You need strategies to get better at what you already do well.

The real value of this book is the assessment. The assessment identifies the top five strengths of a person based on 5,000 unique combinations of responses producing 33 million unique combinations. It also comes with 10 custom recommendations that will help you develop your strengths and align your goals with your natural talents.

This assessment can be used for personal or team development. I prefer to use it as a personal development tool for people I’ve mentored. It is a gift that encourages personal investment. I offer to discuss any insights with them but, otherwise, I let them take it where they want to go.

My favorite quote

“…studies indicate that people who have an opportunity to focus on their strengths everyday are 6 times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than 3 times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general.”

2. “It’s Okay to Be the Boss: The Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming the Manager Your Employees Need” (Bruce Tulgan)

Why it’s helpful

Being a supervisor is not just about being knowledgeable about the work, it is about learning how to help other people do their best work. How to do this isn’t always intuitive and, initially, some people struggle with setting deadlines and expectations because they don’t want to seem bossy, especially with former colleagues.

This book gives practical steps to holding staff accountable and setting expectations. Boundaries like expectations and accountability metrics are what keep people on track to meet their goals. I like to think of these management activities as building the structure within which staff can learn, grow and succeed.

My favorite quote:

“[Performance Coaching] is steady and persistent, relentlessly methodical and hands-on, enthusiastic and pushy. It is the constant banter of focus, improvement, and accountability.”

3. Verbal Judo (George J. Thompson)

Why it’s helpful:

Being a supervisor is hard work and not just because you are responsible for the work of a dozen people instead of one. It is hard because you have to get people to do things and sometimes you have to get them to do things they would rather not do.

Although this book was originally meant to train police officers, the advice rings true for any interaction between people.

The concepts I found the most helpful in my work are:

1. The 5-step Hard Style – ask, give context, give options, confirm non-compliance, and act

2. Empathy Absorbs Tension (EAT)

3. Difficult people, nice people, and wimps.  In case you are wondering, I’m a difficult person. I like to ask questions before complying.

My favorite quote:

“The communication warrior’s real service: staying calm in the midst of conflict, deflecting verbal abuse, and offering empathy in the face of antagonism.”

What books would you add to the list? Share in the comments below.

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Nefertiti is a Supervisory Life Scientist for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She is passionate about employee engagement, mentoring and helping people and groups achieving their goals. Her leadership mantra is, “Prioritize people. Simplify processes. Celebrate progress.” In her free time, she enjoys reading, drawing and writing. Nefertiti is the mother of a curious and compassionate seven-year-old, with whom she enjoys rediscovering the world.

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