I read upwards of 20 books in 2021, and here are the books that I found most valuable to me at this point in my career. I became an Engineering VP in June 2021 and these books have helped me along that path.

Leadership is Language by L. David Marquet – I’ve always been a fan of listening and asking open ended, powerful questions due to my training as a co-active coach. This book for me honed in on another way to look at questions, from the stance of a leader. I think about this book often in the work that I do, and try to apply the ideas whenever I’m in meetings or 1:1s.

The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins – This book was part of onboarding leaders when I worked at Procore, and when I started my VP role at Kin last year I devoured this book before and during my first 6 months.  Thanks to a suggestion from my dad, I’ve made 30, 60, 90s for my self over and over since I started working there. This book has practical tips for starting any new job or role. It also puts your new job into the context of the type of company you are joining and why that is important, like whether you are hired in as an exec in a turnaround situation, growth situation etc.

How to Take Smart Notes by Sonke Ahrens  If you like to read books to apply to writing your own book or to apply to the work that you do, this book has an approach to that where you write down key ideas on notecards in your own words, that you keep together, in numbered order. You write the source of the book on the back of the notecard.  Then you are inspired to write down your own ideas on notecards, where you organize them in order. This book is a nice companion to the book Weinberg on Writing The Fieldstone Method by Jerry Weinberg which inspired me when I was writing Dynamic Reteaming.

Scaling Teams by Alexander Grosse and David Loftesness – This book has been valuable to me as an engineering VP to think about how to build an org at scale – beyond the team composition and change type topics I write about in Dynamic Reteaming. This book is written from the perspectives of engineering leadership and has helped me get my head around the VP role. Specific things that helped me from this book included the sections on how to evaluate your hiring process, communication design and how to write a scaling plan. The scaling essentials section at the end of the book can be used as a needs analysis for how to scale your org.  It’s gold.

Team Topologies by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais – This book talks about organizational design for technical teams and breaks teams into specific types or functions:  stream-aligned teams, enabling teams, complicated subsystem teams and platform teams. It also talks about the importance of paying attention to cognitive load on teams. I’ve been diffusing this book in my organization as it is a great way to think about how we work together and how we might want to evolve our team structures and why. We have started to use this vocabulary as well and it’s a great shared mental model. I think my book Dynamic Reteaming is a nice companion to read along with this one, as Dynamic Reteaming talks in great detail about the people layer of organizational design and how to evolve your org deliberately or how to survive when it changes due to forces out of your span of control.

What books made an impact on you in 2021 and why? I’d love to hear about it so feel free to leave a comment.