If you’re not careful, you can spend your entire day trying to keep up.
As a manager, your to-do list never really seems to shrink. You know your success somehow lies in getting ahead—that’s what keeps you coming back to the list—but chipping away at that mountain of tasks can quickly become unproductive.
Sometimes, being a good manager means taking the time to step away from your daily tasks. Counterintuitively, one of the best ways to get ahead is to look backward.
Books might not seem to contain the most pressing information, but with a close reading, you can learn more deeply than other mediums allow. With their lessons, experiences, and principles in mind, you can transform your management style in a way that gets you further ahead in the long-term.
We’ve gathered 12 of the best business psychology books that’ll give you insight into management, hiring, and persuasion.
Incorporating business psychology books into your workflow
The problems you deal with are complex and depending on your context and resources, novel. The best way to prepare yourself for these problems is to dive into the foundational, psychological principles that structure these problems.
If you’re trying to pitch someone on a new product feature, for example, Googling “pitch tips” is, at best, going to give you a loose amalgamation of ideas. Actually cohering them into a convincing argument takes deeper skill.
Go deep and learn how the mind works. Learn your blind spots and learn how to use the blind spots of others. Figure out why some ideas stick around and others disappear, so you can ensure yours stand the test of time. Discover how your brain develops and rewires itself with new knowledge, so you can grow and manage the growth of your company. If you find something truly transformative, share it with your employees.
Make time for yourself every day to read these (and other) business psychology books. If you have to put it on your to-do list, do so. The returns won’t be immediate, but your employees and your career will benefit.
1. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
Management often means trying to get other people to agree with one of your ideas or follow one of your procedures. In Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini, you can figure out why, exactly, people say “Yes.”
Cialdini is one of the world’s best-known experts when it comes to the study of persuasion. In this book, he delves into decades of research he and others have done to understand why people change their behaviors. The ability to motivate behavior change is essential for getting your team on board and feeling good about the direction you’re setting.
Cialdini condenses this knowledge into six principles and explains how to use them. Unlike other business psychology books, this makes the book especially actionable.
2. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
A list of business psychology books wouldn’t be complete without this classic. You’ve likely heard dozens of managers and executives sing the praises of this book even years after they first read it.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie earned its classic status by teaching readers to appeal to the psychology of others. A superficial read of the title might make it appear to be a simplistic lesson in getting popular, but winning people over is essential for effective management.
If you’re new to business psychology books, this is a great place to start. If you’ve already read a bunch, this is still one to add to your list.
3. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath
A business is a factory for idea production but very few of them actually last more than the length it takes to think them. Many ideas die before even making it to a sticky note and the rest die because no one took them up.
Made to Stick by Chip Heath explores the psychology of ideas with a focus on what makes them last. Why do some ideas persist and others fade away?
In this book, Heath dissects some of the most persistent, influential ideas and uncovers the persuasive DNA they share. If you want to make sure one of your ideas actually succeeds, this is the business psychology book to turn to.
4. Mind Hacking: How to Rewire Your Brain to Stop Overthinking, Create Better Habits and Realize Your Life Goals by Jennifer Ferguson
The brain isn’t as stable as we assume. We all know that children grow and learn every day but it’s easy to assume, backed by a popular misconception, that after age 25, your brain is essentially done.
In her book Mind Hacking, Jennifer Ferguson tackles the idea of neuroplasticity. This theory, developed through years of modern cognitive and neuroscience, shows that brains are much more elastic than we’ve previously assumed.
You can’t change your brain in an instant, but with the right strategies and enough willpower, you can teach yourself new habits, changing the way you live one behavior at a time. This is essential for your own self-development, but as a manager, it’s also essential for leading the way, showing your employees that they can grow too.
5. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow is on its way to becoming a new classic. In the decade since its release, it’s made many other ‘Best of’ lists and garnered dozens of awards. If you haven’t read it yet, there’s no better time than now.
In this book, Kahneman—a psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences—explains two systems of thinking. One is fast and emotional and the other is slower and logical. According to his work, every decision is shaped by these two systems.
Kahneman shows that good decision-making doesn’t result from relying exclusively on one way of thinking, but explains how we can tap into the strengths of each system. Only when we understand these two systems, and how they bias our thinking without our knowledge, can we learn how to consistently make good decisions.
6. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
Some days, your managerial workload might resemble what you imagine a motivational speaker has to deal with. Your employees might not feel ready for a new change; your boss might be unwilling to do something you want; and you might just not have the energy to get going.
You might assume, as do many, that motivation results from a reward and punishment system, similar to how you might train a pet. Pink instead argues that humans have a much deeper need to control their lives, learn new things, and create better things. Getting to this core can help you motivate yourself and encourage others to get more done.
7. The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. by Daniel Coyle
If you want to improve yourself, or encourage your employees to improve, you have to confront the problem of talent. Talent, most people assume, is an inherent quality you’re born with. You’re either a math whiz or a writing savant, a number-cruncher or a creative artist. Supposedly, you only have isolated talents and the best you can do is bring them out.
In The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle argues that your abilities are actually open to nurturing. Similar to Mind Hacking, Coyle uses the science behind neuroplasticity to show that brains are much more capable of adapting than we once assumed.
Coyle explores a few different scenarios, including musicians and athletes, to show that you can achieve more than you thought possible if you approach your brain in a different way.
8. The Inner Winner: Performance Psychology Tactics That Give You An Unfair Advantage by Simone Hazeldine
Dozens of books, blogs, and articles explain how you can improve your physical performance, but comparatively few explain how to improve your mental performance.
Simone Hazeldine, in her book The Inner Winner, shows how you can use tactics and tricks from psychology to enhance your performance across your life. With this life and business psychology book, you can improve your ability to focus, find motivation, develop confidence, and relax.
Understanding yourself gives you an unfair advantage that most others don’t have. If you want to get ahead, iterating the way you think is the best path forward.
9. Consumer.ology: The Market Research Myth, the Truth About Consumers, and the Psychology of Shopping by Philip Graves
In this incendiary business psychology book, Philip Graves, an expert in consumer behavior, argues that most market research isn’t useful.
In Consumer.ology, Graves argues that a mistaken confidence in research is one of the root causes of many business failures. If you actually want to understand your customers, Graves recommends using a set of criteria he lays out that will help you evaluate the insights market research tools discover. Graves also takes the time to explore a variety of use cases, including when market research failed and when ignoring research succeeded.
If you manage customer support or sales teams, this book is even more important. Don’t miss it.
10. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell is a regular reference in the world of business psychology books—and for good reason.
In Blink, Gladwell writes about the psychology behind decision-making and shows how we can better make decisions about difficult issues. Unlike other books about decision-making, Gladwell focuses on the ones we make quickly, in the “blink of an eye.”
Gladwell drills down to explain why some people make instant decisions that are great and why others flounder. As a manager, you won’t always have the time to think and to engage that slow, logical thinking Kahneman recommends. With Blink, you can learn how other decision-makers have honed the ability to filter out irrelevant considerations and make good decisions quickly.
11. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman
Don’t let other business psychology books fool you: management isn’t exclusively about logic and reason. Much of our intelligence, as Daniel Goleman argues in his book Emotional Intelligence, actually comes from our feelings.
Goleman uses psychological and neuroscientific research to explain how the rational and emotional sides of our minds influence each other. As with many other books in this list, Goleman shows that emotional intelligence too is something that we can develop, not something we’re born with.
Goleman lays out five skills we can hone to boost our ability to understand each other and manage the emotions that buttress so many of our decisions.
12. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
You’ve probably heard about Simon Sinek from one of his viral Ted talks, but his deepest lessons come from his books.
In Start with Why, Sinek explains how a simple tool—asking “Why?”—can inspire others to take action. In this expansive book, Sinek goes over examples from Steve Jobs to the Wright Brothers to Martin Luther King, Jr. in pursuit of the ability to ask this question.
To Sinek, the answer to this all-important question is the key to getting anyone to buy a product or join a movement. The most influential people in the world share important traits and practices, so with his framework, you, too, can influence better and more reliably.
Are there any of your favorite business psychology books that we missed? Add them in the comments below!
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