Recommended Readings for Nonprofit Managers

by Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D., Board Certified Coach

I love to work with nonprofit managers, helping them become highly skillful, confident and effective in their role.  It makes such a difference for them and for their organizations!  People have asked me to put together a recommended reading list, and I thought it would be more valuable if it were annotated.  So, if you’re looking for readings to help you become a better manager, please enjoy!


Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, 1999. First, Break All the Rules, New York: Simon & Schuster.

The authors report on findings of extensive research by the Gallup organization into what the most talented employees need from their workplaces and one key discovery was that talented employees need great managers.   Without great managers, organizations do not tend to produce great results. They found that great managers must do four things well—select people, set expectations, motivate people, and develop people.

John Kotter, 1999.   John P. Kotter on What Leaders Really Do, Harvard Business Review Press. A collection of this leadership authority’s Harvard Business Review articles, this book offers an astute assessment of the real work of leaders. Includes John Kotter’s distinctions between management and leadership.

Benham Tabrizi, 2014. The Key to Change is Middle Management, Harvard Business Review, October 27, 2014.   The author studied large-scale change efforts in 56 randomly selected companies in a variety of industries and found that the majority of change efforts failed. They also found that those who succeeded were distinguished by involvement of mid-level managers who were leading change by working levers of power up, down, and across their organizations.



Adam D. Galinsky, Joe C. Magee, M. Ena Inesi and Deborah Gruenfeld, 2009. Losing Touch: power diminishes perception and perspective, Kellogg Insight, November 1, 2009, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Under experimental conditions, researchers confirmed the following hypotheses: a) individuals primed with high power are more likely to demonstrate a lack of perspective-taking and an over-reliance on their own perspective; b) as power increases, power holders’ perspectives are more egocentric, i.e. they are more likely to assume that others’ insights match their own, and c) high-power participants demonstrate poorer empathy, making more errors in judging the emotional expressions of others.  

William A. (Bill) Gentry, 2014. “It’s Not About Me. It’s Me & You.” How Being Dumped Can Help First-Time Managers, Center for Creative Leadership White Paper—First in the Transitioning Into Leadership Series, at   The author points out that many first time managers were promoted because they were very successful at individual accomplishment; and, now, they must learn how to lead the accomplishment of others. It’s only natural that many will fail in this transition. To succeed, the first time manager must shift and expand focus—“It’s no longer about “me” and what “I” can do. It’s about what “you” can do.”

William A. (Bill) Gentry, Paige Logan, and Scott Tonidandel, 2014. Understanding the Leadership Challenges of First-Time Managers Strengthening Your Leadership Pipeline, Center for Creative Leadership White Paper—Second in the Transitioning Into Leadership Series, at Authors identify the challenges of first time managers and report that they supervise an average of 10 direct reports, more than any other level of management, that 58% never get any sort of training to help them in their new role, and that 50% are considered ineffective. In their surveys of first time managers, they discovered that the following were identified as the greatest challenges for first time managers: 1) Adjustment to People Management/Displaying Authority (59.3%); 2) Developing Managerial & Personal Effectiveness (46.1%); 3) Leading Team Achievement (43.4%); 4) Managing Internal Stakeholders & Politics (33.9%); and Motivation of Others (27.1%).

Linda A. Miller, 2007. Becoming the Boss, Harvard Business Review, January 2007. The author argues that first time manager success is extremely important, yet too little attention is paid to supporting this transition. She conducted case studies of the kind of personal transformation that the “star performer” experiences when promoted to management. In this article, she identifies key myths and misconceptions that make this transition difficult for managers, and contrasts those misconceptions with the reality new managers must grasp.

Ernest J. Wilson III, 2015. Empathy is Still Lacking in the Leaders who Need it Most, Harvard Business Review, September 21, 2015. The author reports on a 3-year study he and colleagues at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School conducted to identify the attributes executives must have to succeed in today’s digital, global economy. He was surprised how often the attribute of “empathy” was mentioned and concerned, too, because an unpublished 10 year study of graduates suggests that empathy is most lacking among middle managers and senior executives.



Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, 1999. First, Break All the Rules, New York: Simon & Schuster.

The authors report on findings of extensive research by the Gallup organization into what the most talented employees need from their workplaces and one key discovery was that talented employees need great managers. They found that great managers were all different from each other except for one key insight—they understood that people remain true to their core selves and that managers can capitalize on employee’s talents and strengths but cannot be successful trying to remake people.

Stephen R. Covey, 1989. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Fireside, Simon & Schuster. A classic bestseller, the author encourages individuals to become aware of, and to expand beyond, the narrow paradigms they live within and to develop key habits that allow them to become highly effective. To be an influential leader, Stephen Covey asserts that the leader must: a) focus on critical priorities; b) define the contribution they want to make; and c) communicate so effectively with others that they “not only accomplish more, but also raise the levels of trust and fulfillment within their team.”

Jim Harter and Amy Adkins, 2015. Employees want a lot more from their managers, Albany CEO Briefing, June 9, 2015. Summarizes Gallup report, State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders, which examined the links between talent, engagement and vital business outcomes such as profitability and productivity. Their research shows that managers account for as much as 70% of variance in employee engagement scores. They found that the following supervisee descriptions of managers correlated with higher engagement: open and approachable, helps them set performance goals and holds them accountable for their performance, focused on supervisee’s strengths.

Eric Liu, 2013. Why Ordinary People Need to Understand Power, TED Talk, September 2013. Mr. Liu is a civics educator and founder of Civics University. His TED talk has been viewed more than 1.5 million times.

Jim Whitehurst, 2015. Be a Leader who can Admit Mistakes, Harvard Business Review, June 2, 2015. The author of The Open Organization, Mr. Whitehurst concludes that “being accessible, answering questions, admitting mistakes, and saying you’re sorry aren’t liabilities. They are exactly the tools you can use to build your credibility and authority to lead.”


Jim Collins, 2001, Good to Great: Why Some Companies make the Leap…and Others Don’t, Harper Business Press. This bestselling book reports the findings of a 5 year study asking what distinguished companies that made the leap to great results and those that didn’t. See especially Chapter 2 on Level 5 Leadership—the findings about the kind of leadership required to achieve greatness were surprising.  They found that leaders of the companies that became great possessed both strong professional resolve and personal humility– they were able to focus more on building their organizations than feeding their egos.

Jim Collins, 2005, Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great, Harper Collins. A monograph to accompany Good to Great, focused specifically on social sector companies such as nonprofit organizations. The content is based on interviews and workshops with over 100 social sector leaders.

Peter F. Drucker, 1990, Managing the Non-Profit Organization: Principles and Practices, Harper Business. Considered the guru of nonprofit organizations, Peter Drucker offers nonprofit managers guidelines for leading a mission-based organization and managing these organizations effectively.

Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, Currency Doubleday. This classic lays out the alternative to an authoritarian hierarchy, encouraging leaders to build a culture a lifelong learning in their organizations.


 What would you add to the list? 



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