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!

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.

Telling the World How Smart We Are (Habit Series #6)

The civilian world doesn’t experience this phenomenon, but there’s a form of gazing in the military that’s not considered sexual harassment. It’s the uniform once-over that occurs when service members are introduced for the first time.

You’ve seen it…we trade lengthy, indiscreet, almost uncomfortable stares at each others upper torso and arms to interpret the story told by one another’s rank, badges, medals, decorations, tabs, and patches. We do it because we want to know who we’re dealing with, what the other person is bringing to the table. (And if we’re being honest, we should go ahead and admit that it’s also an ego check: “Have I been through more than this guy? How much do I need to regard him?”)

Habit

Link to photo on Wikipedia.

Putting Leadership Back in Leader Development

Take a look at your unit calendar. Scan the clutter of appointments, meetings, formations, training events, ceremonies, and administrative commitments. Do you see any events dedicated to improving the quality of your people’s leadership? If not…if leadership development isn’t a separate line of effort…then how are you developing leaders?

Leadership

A U.S. Army Ranger from Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, keeps his sight on a target with an M240L machine gun during a company live fire training at Camp Roberts, Calif., Jan. 30, 2014. U.S. Army Photo Illustration by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade. I like this photo because it’s a reminder that all military leadership boils down to supporting this Soldier on the ground.

Starting with “No, But, or However” (Habit Series #5)

The fifth habit that Marshall Goldsmith discusses in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There is all about telling people they’re wrong. Leaders do it, a lot, and often without realizing it’s happening. This habit is also about telling the truth and providing clarity, but before we dive into the details, imagine this scenario.

Habit

Mr. Roger Astin, exercise scenario manager of U.S. Army South,
briefs a group of multinational officials during PKO North ’08, MANAGUA, Nicaragua. Photo by Maj. Tim Stewart.

Making Destructive Comments (Habit Series #4)

Think back on your recent interactions. If I asked you how many times you made destructive comments towards the people you work with, how would you answer? “Destructive? No way. I’m a nice person. And when I do give feedback, it’s never destructive.” What about if I asked you how many times you talked negatively about someone when he or she wasn’t present? “Well sure, but everyone does that. It’s part of our culture.”

The topic we are approaching here is a silent leadership killer. Who’s leadership, you ask? Yours, your boss’s, your subordinates’. Destructive comments slip into an organization, infect the culture, manifest as other problems, and kill the trust that leaders worked so hard to build.

Today, you’ll be guilty of making comments that can destroy your organization, and you likely don’t even know it.

destructive

Command Sgt. Maj. Alan D. Bjerke, command sergeant major of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, speaks to Canadian Soldiers during practice for a live fire event during Cooperative Spirit 2008 at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center near Hohenfels, Germany. Link to photo.

Passing Judgment (Habit Series #3)

Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There is packed with useful insight. If you are a leader looking to improve the quality of your interactions and the influence you have on your team, his book is a must. #3 of “Twenty Habits That Hold You Back from the Top” is Passing Judgment.

Now, why would the effects of passing judgment concern a military leader whose granted authority clearly allows, almost encourages him to judge the quality of his organization and its members’ activities? Isn’t it monumentally important for leaders to scrutinize teams in training so that they are better prepared for war? And when in war, is there not an argument that there is no room for error, necessitating judgment at every turn?

judgment

A Navy SEAL instructor watches as BUD/S students participate in surf drill training at the Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado, Calif. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric S. Logsdon.

Adding Too Much Value (Habit Series #2)

Have you ever stood in formation and listened to a commander or senior NCO spout off a tangent of meaningless topics? There’s no coherent string of thoughts, just awkward pauses followed by ramble. The person adds comment after comment as if there’s a minimum time of talking required to be a good leader.

Or how about this one…every time you’re at a unit meeting and someone offers a good idea, the commander can’t resist the urge pile on with his own advice, diminishing the contributor. Or worse, the leader publicly states that the idea won’t work.

Those are frustrating situations because either it feels like the content we are receiving isn’t worth the time it takes to hear it, or because the leader creates an environment where his opinion is the only one that really matters. In any case, it’s exasperating.

Marshall Goldsmith says that these environments occur when leaders fall victim to Habit #2 of “Twenty Habits that Hold You Back from the Top”…Adding Too Much Value.

Value

Gen. George W. Casey, speaks with Master Resilience Training School students during a visit to Fort Jackson, S.C.
U.S. Army photo by Susanne Kappler.