The Military Leader Reading List

Plus the Army Chief of Staff's Reading List

A recent email from a reader asked simply if there is a Military Leader reading list. As a professional who credits books with providing a sizable portion of my development, I was embarrassed to respond in the negative. Though I often write about what I learn from books (here, here, and here), I have neglected to compile a list. This post is a partial remedy.

This is not a cursory list. These are the books that have shaped me and imprinted lessons that directly reflect in my daily leadership life. These are the books that I reference and quote from, and I think you might benefit from reading. Be sure to scroll down, there’s a bonus list at the end. Enjoy!

27 Questions to Identify Culture and Define Vision

I’ve had a lot of conversations lately about organizational culture and vision. [To me, vision is where the team is going and culture is the behavior, beliefs, and norms that get it there.] One point of dispute deals with when the new leader of an organization (say, an incoming commander) should begin shaping the culture and setting the vision.

Some feel that culture-setting is a ‘Day 1 activity’ that centers on the leader’s influence…“I’m the new leader and here’s how I want things to run.” Others feel it is haphazard and potentially disastrous to join a team and immediately set it off on a new course…“I need to understand the culture before I know what to change.”

Regardless of your personal preference, it’s tough to argue that leaders should ignore culture and vision. Even a leader who immediately drives vision and culture will have to assess whether or not the team is meeting the intent. Identifying and understanding culture, for all leaders, is a critical task.

culture

Soldiers participate in a sunrise run during annual training at Fort Stewart, Ga., Jan. 11, 2017. The soldiers are assigned to the Georgia National Guard’s 78th Troop Command, 110th Combat Services Support Battalion. Army National Guard photo by Capt. William Carraway

Picking Which Ball to Drop

by Harlan Kefalas

As the saying goes, when everything is a priority, nothing is. In a system that heaps requirements and tasks on subordinate units, leaders routinely struggle to reach 100% compliance. Though some try, leaders cannot do it all themselves. They must prioritize tasks and delegate work to subordinates. But what tasks are appropriate to delegate? Which ball drops when there are conflicting priorities? It would be helpful to have a framework to sort it all out.

ball

The Soldiers are assigned to the Fort Bragg Warrior Transition Battalion who completed training for Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certification. U.S. Army Forces Command and U.S. Army Reserve Command partnered to provide the training to the Soldiers over several weeks in March and April 2012. Photo by Bob Harrison, FORSCOM Public Affairs.

Patton’s Advice Has a Serious Flaw

When I was in high school and the service academy, I did what many aspiring military leaders do. I studied famous generals from history and extracted the lessons that I wanted to live and lead by. I compiled quotes from Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Napoleon…Washington, Marshall, and Powell.

And of course, Patton. I had pages of Patton quotes. There was the “pint of sweat and gallon of blood” quote, the “good plan executed now” dictum, and “L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace!” But here’s the quote that stuck with me the most:

“You are always on parade.”

I referenced it almost daily as a clear reminder that example is everything in leadership. [I even wrote about it in You Are Being Watched.] But now, 20 years later, I think Patton’s analogy has a serious flaw.

patton

George Patton, c. 1919.

The 5 Leadership Love Languages

By Christopher Manganaro

Leadership and love go hand in hand. Just as leadership has both direct and indirect influence over others, love behaves the same way. How you express this love is unique to how you interpret the relationship. The stern drill sergeant provides “tough love” to young recruits to turn them into Soldiers. The chaplain will provide words of encouragement to reveal a different perspective. We often see them on opposite ends of the leadership spectrum, but the drill sergeant and the chaplain share one key understanding. They both understand how to employ the five love languages based on their situation.

love

U.S. Marines fire an M240B medium machine gun during exercise Blue Chromite 15 on the Central Training Area in Okinawa, Japan, Nov. 2, 2014. Marines rode in assault amphibious vehicles in a ship-to-shore assault from the USS Germantown to Oura Wan Beach, and then advanced inland to the training area. Link to DoD photo.

Stories of Failure – “That time I made my FRG Leader cry.”

Know this…the demands of being a leader put you on a path to break someone’s heart. Meetings and phone calls, requirements and taskings, emails and paperwork. They serve as culturally-legitimized distractions that can divert leaders from seeing and doing the right thing. And if you don’t sort through the sea of busywork to identify the glass balls, soldiers and families can get hurt. It took an ugly failure to teach me that lesson.

failure

Tiffany Smiley holds her youngest son while watching her husband Capt. Scott M Smiley salute the colors during the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Unit at West Point change of command ceremony Feb 1. U.S. Army photo by Tommy Gilligan.

Great question…what DID I learn in command?

by Gregg Sanders

The question shouldn’t have been a surprise. “So, you just came from command. What did you learn?” Here was my chance to impart all the wisdom I had accumulated over the previous 18 years, culminating in command of a Navy Super Hornet squadron. “So, what did you learn?…”, the inquisitor repeated. “Um…” I sputtered. I had no clue what to say.

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A VFA-147 Argonaut jet in “Star Wars Canyon,” Panamint Valley, CA.

Speaking When Angry (Habit Series #7)

The best leaders don’t use anger as a leadership tool. Anger is not a mandatory component of leadership because there are countless examples of successful leaders who never get angry. Yet, we can think of many leaders whose anger has compromised their effectiveness. The question is: what does anger get you? And then at what cost?

angry

Marine Corps Cpl. Benjamin Peagler yells out an order to his team while participating in a platoon assault drill as a part of Exercise Cold Response 16 on range U-3 in Frigard, Norway, Feb. 23, 2016. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Rebecca Floto.