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Books: May 2021

Selection of non-fiction and fiction books I read in May 2021. Topics relate around leadership, management, organizational structures and finances.

Marcus Wermuth
Marcus Wermuth
5 min read
Books: May 2021

Some of the books I read in May that I would love to recommend. Lately I've been mostly reading non-fiction books. There is the casual fiction book I am continuing (half way through A Little Life - I'll get it done 😅), I guess it comes in phases. This month it's a mix of old and new books. Some of them I've already read, some of them I discovered through others, some on my own. As you can see the topics are related to management, leadership and personal finance. If you get to read one of them I would love to learn from you what your takeaways is or was - don't hesitate to reach out!

(The links to the books are Affiliate Links, feel free to buy the book through those links to support my writing.)

Empowered Manager

I am not a big fan of the word empowerment. This might sound nit-picky but I prefer the word enablement. Enabling is doing something challenging for another individual, while empowering someone is teaching them to do it for themselves. So if you want to be very thorough, they are not even the same thing, but sometimes used in similar places. Well, nonetheless I went into the book without caring too much about the details of the word. Which in hindsight was a smart choice 😅

Peter Block writes about how managers can use an Entrepreneurial Spirit in companies for building empowered teams and a culture of ownership, independence, courage and care. Although it is a bit older, I would definitely recommend this to people that are managers and leaders in companies and need a helping hand to continue to build an inclusive culture.

Takeaway: I took away multiple things, but the one thing that stood out to me was the part where Peter Block talks about political moves inside a company. He states "Our acute awareness of the political moves of others, especially those above us in the organization, is in part an expression of our dependency."

The Managers Path

As I am managing now two teams and having made the step to Senior Engineering Manager I wanted to refresh what Camille Fournier talks about that level in her book. I've read the Managers Path in the beginning of my career, but it is more of a dictionary than a book you read once. I feel like I am going to come back to this book more than once in the near future. Some great practical advice.

Takeaway: The takeaway from this book isn't really something new. But recently I've been thinking a lot about how to best structure my time. I am currently writing a new article about this (coming soon). Delegation and time management are becoming something that I have to be really good at. Like really good. Both of them sound fairly straight forward, but I do think it's not as easy as we make it sound. Camille Fournier (the author) writes that the first few months of managing multiple teams can feel like a death march. For me it felt more like a city on fire, and me being the only firefighter. Finding a way to delegate and stay healthy and that suits you, is super crucial. Saying no to things and not overworking (as you are a role model) will be the skills to value in the beginning period.

Psychology of Money

Something we don't really learn growing up is how to do finances. You either grow up with parents or family that is very well educated in that field, or you have to take care of it on your own. Figuring out how to save money, or if and how much are question that I wasn't really sure how to answer. The book doesn't answer them directly but gives great advice in how to approach the whole topic of money and finances. Definitely a recommendation if you are new to this topic.

Takeaway: There is no solution that fits everyone when it comes to finances and saving money. Everyone has to educate themselves and learn more about what will fit their life and style. I know that this sounds pretty general, but searching the web for advice around finances, you'll find a million articles and people that want to sell you the "easy and perfect solution". But something like that doesn't exist. Morgan Housel (the author), describes what you should look out for when considering setting up your finances and planning more for your future. Loved that!

Team Topologies

Recently at Buffer we've been working through a "small" reorg. Shuffling teams and team members and figuring out who owns what. The engineering leadership group has been talking about how we all can collaborate going forward and what the best structure for our various teams would be. Through Rands Leadership Slack I discovered the Team Topologies book. I've stumbled on it before too, but haven't really considered it. This time it came at the right moment. I opened it and read through it in 2 days, as I felt that the information in the book would be super useful for our ongoing discussion. And it was. I've shared a summary with the other engineering leaders, which also helped us to have a common language around some terms. While we didn't go the full "Team Topologies way" I feel that it gave us some great input.

The book talks about the various forms that software engineering teams can take on and how all of them can then interact together. I really like how this books can give you a common language and system to structure your engineering organization. I do think that going forward I might reuse some of my learnings quite a bit. Recently I discovered that the authors also created a small course around the content of the book. I might check it out and share more here on my blog.

Takeaway: Some takeaways that I shared with my team at Buffer are the following:

  • When designing modern organizations for building and running software systems, the most important thing is not the shape of the organization itself but the decision rules and heuristics used to adapt and change the organization as new challenges arise; that is, we need to design the design rules, not just the organization.
  • We need focused communication between specific teams. We need to look for unexpected communication and address the cause. Managers should focus their efforts on understanding the causes of unaddressed design interfaces and unpredicted team interactions across modular systems
  • The team is the most effect means of software delivery, not individuals. By empowering teams, and treating them as fundamental building blocks, individuals inside those teams move closer together to act as a team rather than just a group of people. On the other hand, by explicitly agreeing on interaction modes with other teams, expectations on behaviours become clearer and inter-team trust grows

Greenlights

Not sure why I originally picked this one up. But I've heard a lot of good things on social media about it and decided to just go for it. I like Matthew McConaughey as an actor, so it wouldn't be too much of a waste if I didn't like it. Well, I read it in a few days. It was very engaging and I loved Matthew's storytelling. It's not an autobiography, but more a reflection on life. I imagined he would sit next to me talking about his life and share learnings and reflections that he had. You'll get a good idea of his life and what things he had to live through. Great quick weekend read!

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