Lead with the best version of yourself.

How Writing Books Gave Me an Education

How Writing Books Gave Me an Education

By Joe Byerly

This is the final question, in a five question interview with author Robert Greene.

Joe: Because of writing, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with academics and those with advanced degrees and it can be a bit intimidating. You don’t have PhD. You only have a bachelors in classical studies from UC Berkeley, yet you’ve written several books on some very weighty topics. How has writing contributed to your self-education?     

Robert: Since I started writing these books, my education has gone up to a whole different level. On one hand when I give myself a task to write a book, I want to understand it very deeply so I’m not just spouting bullshit. I read all the books I can get my hands on, and in the process I learn a lot about the subject.

I don’t come to the subject with a closed mind; I come to it with a very open one. I want to learn. I want to see what I don’t know and I want to discover things. By now, I’ve gone through six books and the process six times.  I’ve read thousands of books to write six. So my knowledge level has increased.

On the other hand, knowledge has to have a practical aspect. I’m not into gaining a lot of useless abstract knowledge. I want to learn things I can apply to my life because I’m a practical person.

Leaders Worth Studying: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Leaders Worth Studying: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

By Joe Byerly

This is the fourth question, in a five question interview with author Robert Greene.

Joe: In your books, you’ve examined the stories of hundreds of leaders. Who are some great and bad leaders we should study? And what do you think is the dividing line between these two types?

Robert: In the military, I’m attracted to people who are innovative and creative. I’ve also been a student of Sun Tzu. He advocates the more open creative and East Asian style of battle: Winning Through Maneuver.

If you’ve read The 33 Strategies of War, you know that I’m a great admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte. A lot of young men died under his flag and that isn’t so great. But he’s a genius who revolutionized western warfare. I like to call him the Mozart of maneuver warfare. He was so creative and so ahead of his time and understood the one aspect of war that most people miss: the organizational and structural aspect.   

He understood the importance of an army being structured the right way. In his case, it was structured into these fast moving easily divisible divisions led by field marshals who had a mission statement; that was the key to his success. It wasn’t in some particular strategy, he merely used strategies that had been in warfare for centuries such as the counterattack, the flanking maneuver, etc. What he revolutionized was how you structured the army and the art of letting go of control. He didn’t have to control the army like the Prussian generals who tried to control every aspect of the battle, and he crushed them. He gave a lot of leeway to his field marshals and he unleashed on Europe a kind of maneuver warfare that no one had seen since Genghis Khan.

Why Military Leaders Should Study Human Nature

Why Military Leaders Should Study Human Nature


By Joe Byerly

This is the first question, in a five question interview with author Robert Greene.

Joe: You’ve spent decades researching and writing about power, mastery, and war. In your latest book, The Laws of Human Nature, you have written what you call the fundamental truths about human nature. How important is the understanding of these truths to military leaders?

Robert: It seems obvious, but today we live in a time of numbers and algorithms where, at least in business, leaders spend more much more time concerned with data. The element of human nature, the psychology of the people you are leading into battle, is absolutely the most critical factor. Knowledge of human nature is essential to do this well.

For a long time in military literature, authors have written about the role that the spirit of team plays in the army. They called it man management back in the day. Carl von Clausewitz called it the ultimate force multiplier. So, an Army that is motivated, that believes in its leader, that has a clear mission, and feels like it’s part of a team that’s moving forward, can operate with twice the force of the disengaged army that feels like they are automatons or robots being used by the general for whatever purpose. The spirit of the team in both war and business is a critical factor.

For instance, in Chapter 15, Make Them Want to Follow You, I talked about authority.  The kind of qualities that emanate authority to human beings is a timeless thing. The same qualities that Hannibal displayed to motivate the Carthaginians fighting Ancient Rome are the same things that motivate people in the 21st century. I discuss what it is that people respond to in a leader, and I make it clear that human nature is designed so that we are relatively fickle in our affections.

Five Army Commanders Worth Studying

Five Army Commanders Worth Studying


This post originally appeared at Modern War Institute on January 8, 2019

By Joe Byerly

When we begin our military careers we have choices when it comes to how we’ll develop our leadership abilities. We can, for example, go through our careers stumbling through leadership as we figure it out along the way. The problem with this approach is that we only get the privilege of command for short windows of time, and by the time we start making headway it’s time to move on. Or, we could emulate those leaders who we observe throughout our careers. While there is merit to this approach, it relies on luck. We’re hoping to come in contact with really good commanders worth emulating (or that we will serve with really bad ones who provide an example of what not to do). There is also another choice, though, that brings us into contact with some of the greatest military leaders throughout history. We develop ourselves through reading about leaders who came before us.

Thankfully, we have had a number of Army leaders worthy of study. By studying their leadership we gain an understanding of the problems they faced, the decisions they made, their successes and mistakes, and how they approached the art of command. More importantly we gain points of traction by which to grow our leadership abilities and become the best version of ourselves as leaders.

Below are five Army leaders who I feel are worthy study. While I know there are many others that could be on this list, these are the ones who’ve inspired me over the last fifteen years of service.

Want More Military Leaders Reading? Use The Pabst Blue Ribbon Strategy


By Joe Byerly

Most military professionals agree that reading plays a critical role in professional development, however, the practice isn’t as widespread as it should be throughout the services. Unfortunately, self-development is about as popular as Pabst Blue Ribbon in the early 1990s.

Back then, the only place you could probably find a can of PBR was in your uncle’s refrigerator who lived in a cabin 100 miles away from civilization. But by 2015, Fast Company named them one of the biggest business comebacks in the last 20 years. PBR is now the official beverage of hipsters everywhere, and suddenly it is fashionable to wear a PBR shirt or hat. How did this brand escape your weird uncle’s cabin and become mainstream again? Through conversation.

According to PBR’s senior brand manager Neal Stewart, instead of spending millions of dollars on national ad campaigns in the early 2000s, PBR’s marketing team started at the bottom and reached out to people in obscure bars in places like Portland, Oregon. They sent reps into these places with the sole purpose of striking up a conversation about Pabst. From there, they began sponsoring cultural events, and the rest is history. Today, you can find a can of PBR in the cooler or on draft at restaurants, and bars across the country.

“We ask our sales people if they have heard of the event, if anybody else has sponsored it in the past. You have to gauge how fun it will be, how much buzz it will drive, how unique it is. That ‘unique’ factor is a big part of it,” Stewart said in an interview with Marketing Sherpa back in 2004.

This case demonstrates that if the military community wants to increase the practice of professional reading, it won’t happen by creating more reading lists or official self-development programs. It’s going to happen through conversation, through buzz. Word of mouth is a powerful force in spreading ideas and behaviors. It has transformed companies such as Pabst Blue Ribbon and been the topic of bestsellers like Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

Here’s a few steps military leadership can take toward embracing PBR’s branding strategy.

From Hal Moore’s Bookshelf: What He Underlined

From Hal Moore’s Bookshelf: What He Underlined



By David Moore

My father, LTG Hal Moore, passed away two years ago on this day -10 February, three days shy of his 95th birthday. The purpose of this article is to not seek empathy but to use the occasion to reinforce a few beliefs that General Moore held dear. My method is to cite Owen Connelly’s book On War and Leadership from the Hal Moore Bookshelf.

Why cite this book? Because it is a collection of Western generals’ experiences leading in combat. And Hal Moore’s markings capture six values that he pulled from their experiences to develop and inform his leadership style.  We get a glimpse of what he learned from combat leaders such as Jackson, Bonaparte, Wavell, and Rommel.

How to Increase Your Professional Reading

How to Increase Your Professional Reading

We all can agree that reading is good for the brain. Leaders from George Washington to General Patton leaned on books to fill their knowledge gaps, and their efforts paid off on the battlefield. Former Defense Secretary James Mattis reflected on the impacts of self-study in a 2004 email that went viral:

Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before. It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.

But, many of us struggle with finding time to read or even get through more than a handful of books in a calendar year. Seven years ago, I averaged about five books a year. Now, I read between 25 and 40 books a year. While this increase can be partially attributed to my deeper commitment to my development, I believe that the practices I adopted helped as well, and I would like to share some of them with you.

1. Read Three Books at Once

I used to tackle only one book at a time. And if I attempted a dense book, it might take me months to finish. Sometimes I struggled to pick it up if it was boring, so by the time I finished, I was burned out from reading (and lost 3 months in the process). Now I might read one dense book (10 pages at a time), one fiction book, and one popular leadership book. For instance, I might finish three to four books before I finish a dry 350-page book  packed with great knowledge. I found that this helps me keep pushing forward with my reading goals, while not sacrificing the quality of the books I read.

5 Lessons Books Taught Me in 2018

5 Lessons Books Taught Me in 2018

Since 2013, I’ve written an annual blog post highlighting my favorite books from the previous 12 months. This year I wanted to try something different. I wanted to share some of the  lessons I learned from the list of 40+ books I read. Even though each book offered numerous insights, I captured five significant lessons that resonated the most with me. Below the lessons is the full list broken down into categories.

1. Our Networks Are Everything

Many view networks through the lens of climbing the corporate/professional ladder, however they are so much more —they are everything. In Friend of a Friend, David Burkus argues that the people we surround ourselves with influence our development, our fitness, our happiness, and our overall success in life. In all the biographies I read, successful people such as Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, or even Coach Saban, surrounded themselves with those who could help them grow and improve their craft. McCrystal also emphasizes the importance of strong networks in Team of Teams and even more so in Leaders: Myth and Reality. This lesson gave me a greater appreciation for my own networks and how I can leverage them to improve myself and others.

2. To Be Worth Following, You Have to Lead Yourself

All the great leaders I read about, had one thing in common: They led themselves. They made the most use of their time, were disciplined, and took their learning into their own hands. One of my favorite books on this topic was Robert Greene’s Mastery. He examines the process of mastering any skill and writes, “No one is going to help you or give you direction. The odds are against you. If you desire an apprenticeship, if you want to learn and set yourself up for mastery, you have to do it yourself, and with great energy.” Marcus Aurelius who served as the Emperor or Rome for almost two decades, reflected on the importance of gaining self control in Meditations and his ideas were further expanded upon in Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into TriumphIn the end, our time wants to be filled, and where there is an absence of purposeful activity, time wasters will the void. If we can learn to master ourselves, we will be in a better position to lead others.

3. All Advice is Autobiographical

When people try to give us career or life advice, they typically discount the role that luck, networks, individuals, their families, and personal inclinations got them from point a to point b. I wrote about this in a post earlier this year. If we follow their advice, we may find ourselves heading down a dead-end road.  Tim Ferris, Ryan Holiday, Jonathan Haidt, and Stanley McChrystal all speak to the importance of understanding how multiple factors either contribute to or detract from our success and fufillment. For example, Doris Kearns Goodwin makes a case in Leadership: In Turbulent Times that the major setbacks of  Lincoln, the Roosevelts, and Lyndon Johnson eventually gave them the tools to succeed during rough periods of their presidencies. We should seek to understand what unique gifts we bring to this world, our purpose, and then set goals that are in line with both.

4. Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

One of my favorite quotes attributed to Peter Drucker is “Culture eats strategy for breakfast“. In other words, regardless of the strength of your plan or the number of star performers on your team, if the chemistry that holds everyone together is weak— your endeavor is bound to fail. The topic of culture came up time and time again in many of the books I read. Culture Code, Team of Teams, and Radical Inclusion all offer sound advice on investing in organizational culture.

5. Write it Down

Reading books isn’t enough, we need to be able to absorb it and turn our knowledge into action. As Todd Henry points out in Die Empty, “Intellectual growth doesn’t occur from the accumulation of tidbits of information, but from considering it and integrating it.”  The heroes, masters, and leaders I read about over the last year wrote notes in the margins, captured their ideas in notebooks, and made this practice routine. This better enabled them to incorporate what they learned into their lives. Terry Doyle in The New Science of Learning makes the case that by writing in the margins or taking notes on what we read, we create multi-sensory connections to what we learn, thereby increasing the likelihood it will be stored in our long-term memory.

Below is the list of books I read this past year. I hope you find something that piques your interest and make reading a part of your daily routine.

2018 Reading List

McChrystal: Everything I Thought About Leadership Has Changed

McChrystal: Everything I Thought About Leadership Has Changed

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By Stanley McChrystal

Because leaders don’t rise as much as they emerge to fulfill a specific need for followers at moments, it can get dangerous when leaders emerge who give resonance to our darker impulses. To caution against this, we need to better understand why and how leaders emerge.

What we found upon looking back at 13 historical leaders—and we looked at a diverse group from Robert E. Lee to Margaret Thatcher to Zheng He—is that it was very easy to attribute broad trends and important outcomes to individuals. We oversimplify. We tend to overlook the facts and assume leadership follows a specific, replicable formula.

Can Reading Make Us Better Leaders?

Can Reading Make Us Better Leaders?


One of my favorite podcasts is the Read to Lead Podcast hosted by Jeff Brown. In each episode he interviews an author about their book and discusses insights on leadership, personal development, productivity, and more. I recently caught up with Jeff to discuss the importance of reading for personal growth, book recommendations, and how to incorporate reading into our weekly battle rhythms. 

Joe: You went from not reading at all to reading becoming the focal point of your professional career. That’s a drastic leap. Can you discuss your transformation?

Jeff: From the time I graduated college until I was in my early 30’s, I didn’t do any reading at all. That was in large part because when I was done with school I didn’t think I had to learn anymore. One day, a supervisor introduced some business books – books from Seth Godin, Jim Collins, Pat Lencioni and suddenly I saw the light. It helped that the person who recommended the books was someone I had a lot of respect for and I was ready to learn. So as I read Purple Cow by Seth Godin and Good to Great by Jim Collins and Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Pat Lencioni, I was mesmerized by what was available and what I had been missing out on.

I learned that if I wanted to grow in my career and as a human being, that I had to be a life-long learner. Learning never stops. I would finish a book and then start another one. I was looking for more recommendations, much like you provide on your site, and taking advantage of services like Audible on my commute. And it snowballed from there.

Joe: How do you think reading improved your leadership abilities, or for that matter, improves anyone’s leadership abilities?

The Right Read Can Make You a Better Leader

The Right Read Can Make You a Better Leader

Book isolated

From ARMY Magazine, Vol. 68, No. 4, April 2018. Copyright © 2018 by the Association of the U.S. Army and reprinted by permission of ARMY Magazine.

Reading for professional growth is an important practice for military leaders. However, there can be plenty of false starts along the way—especially for younger officers and NCOs. For instance, I remember walking into a bookstore as a second lieutenant, going to the military history section and picking out the first book I thought looked interesting. Many times, these books lacked professional value or the reading was so dense that I could not bring myself to finish. Too often, I took a break following these self-study missteps.

While there are numerous reading lists out there for young leaders to choose from, many of them don’t explain the “why” behind the book’s importance. Even the Army chief of staff’s list provides nothing more than a brief synopsis of a book (which is more than most give).

Selecting a Book

So, to help professionals with their reading journey, here are five practices to adopt to help select the right books for development:

Ask a mentor: “What book (or books) have you given most often as a gift and why?”

Tim Ferriss, a bestselling author and host of a popular podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show, asks this same question in his latest book Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World. I have asked a variation of it throughout my career. I have found that if someone gives the same book over and over again as a gift, it has had a profound impact on their life. And when you ask this question, mentors provide great insights they gleaned from the book or books, making the title even more appealing to read.

Learning is a Team Sport: An Interview With General Dempsey and Ori Brafman

Learning is a Team Sport: An Interview With General Dempsey and Ori Brafman


Back in the fall, I read an advanced copy of Radical Inclusion: What the Post-9/11 World Should Have Taught Us About Leadershipand couldn’t put it down. In 173 pages, General Dempsey and Ori Brafman challenged me to become a better leader. Thankfully, I got a chance to ask them a few questions about teamwork, leadership in the 21st century, and some recommended reading.

JOE: The two of you come from radically different backgrounds, yet you’ve worked together on several projects throughout the years. What have you learned about the importance of connecting outside of your professional circles?

ORI: It could very well be that your average Berkeley student is less likely than to have interacted with a personal in uniform than a civilian in Iraq. But when we have substantive conversations with those outside our circles that aren’t bogged down by politics or platitudes, we find that our core beliefs are much more similar than we could have expected. Getting the other’s perspective allows us to have not only a broader but a more accurate perspective of the world. We’re humbled that even the City of Berkeley has declared June 4 Bridging the Military/Civilian Divide Day.

DEMPSEY: You mean the fact that Ori is a Berkeley instructor with a degree in Peace Studies and a Vegan, and I’m…well, none of those things! Actually, we became friends when he offered to help me adapt the Army’s training and education system to address the realities of speed, complexity, and decentralization in our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. From that point, we became mutually-committed to sending the message together that learning is a “team sport.”