From the Green Notebook

Lead with the best version of yourself.

MG JP McGee Recommends Five Books All Leaders Should Read

MG JP McGee Recommends Five Books All Leaders Should Read

Major General J.P. McGee, Army Talent Management Task Force Director, briefs candidates of Cohort 1 of the Colonel Command Assessment Program on what the expectations are of both the candidates and cadre at Fort Knox, Kentucky, September 10, 2020. The Army is using programs like CCAP to take a multidimensional view of its top performing offices to complement the Centralized Selection List board and add new, relevant information. (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel Schroeder, Army Talent Management Task Force)

In the third episode of our second season, From the Green Notebook sits down with the Director of the Army Talent Management Task Force, Major General JP McGee, to discuss the purpose, construct and future of the Commander Assessment Program, as well as the results of the Army’s most recent Battalion Commander’s Assessment Program released January 21, 2021. Most importantly, MG McGee shares his leadership perspective and provides some great advice for leaders.

During the podcast, we asked Major General McGee to recommend some books for leaders he finds useful for self-development. Below, you will find a few of the titles he believes are important to develop your leadership skills and understand the nuances of leadership at the more senior levels.

General Votel Recommends Leaders Read these 5 Books

General Votel Recommends Leaders Read these 5 Books


From the Green Notebook sat down with former CENTCOM Commander, General Joseph Votel (U.S. Army, Retired), recently to discuss his leadership perspective, as well as his experience leading a combatant command in the first episode of our podcast’s second season

General Votel provides a candid discussion on the challenges of strategic decision-making and risk management. He also emphasizes the importance of role modelling in leadership, highlighting some of the role models who shaped his career. 

During the podcast, we asked General Votel to share some of the books he recommends to leaders for self-development. Below, you will find a few of the books he believes are important in the current environment to develop your understanding of the world and leave a lasting impact on those you lead.

What I Learned from Books in 2020- A Reading List

This post was originally shared in the FTGN Monthly Reading List Email

By Joe Byerly

I like to read a lot. I have a strong love of learning and I’ve found the easiest way for me to expand my repertoire is to open a book when I first wake up or listen to an audiobook during a morning commute. Since 2013, I’ve published a year-end reading list as an effort to promote a practice that I’ve found so valuable over the last decade. A few years ago, I morphed this list into an annual reflection of reading. It’s honestly my favorite post to write every year.

So, as I reflect on 2020, I’ve identified five lessons from books that stood out to me this past year. I hope that in sharing these with you, you might decide to take a few moments to reflect on your own lessons or maybe even purchase one of these great books.

Building a Red Teamer’s Library

By Michael Rogan

We have all heard the saying: “All readers are leaders.” Well, if you want to be a Red Teamer or think like a Red Teamer, then you must be a reader. Red Teamers generally read from a broad range of academic disciplines. This article posits that anyone can improve their knowledge to make better decisions by reading and reflecting on the wisdom available in books relevant to Red Teaming.

Red Teaming is both a mindset and a skillset that helps individuals and organizations make better decisions. Red Teaming is the artful application of structured analytical tools and techniques that can provide commanders an independent capability to fully explore alternative plans, operations, and concepts in the context of the operational environment and from the perspectives of partners, adversaries, and others. 

As Colin Gray states in Another Bloody Century, the study of war is ultimately about “context, context, context.”  Thus, the Red Teamer must research and study the anticipated and actual operational environment. During this preparation, humility is critical. Hubris is the Red Teamer’s nemesis. Another essential quality for the Red Teamer is to not mirror image or take an ethnocentric perspective towards another culture. Strategic empathy is cognitive; it is not sympathy. 

How to Develop a Unit Reading Program

By Joe Byerly

Lately, I’ve had several conversations with incoming battalion commanders about creating reading programs for their units. They’ve all agreed that having one is important, but their philosophies differ greatly on the scope, the execution, and even the types of books they plan to use. 

Almost every unit I’ve served in had some type of reading program. However, almost all of them had problems. In one, the commander assigned reading, but kept moving the planned discussion on the calendar to the point that it never occured. Eventually he changed command and we never understood why he selected the book or what he wanted us to take away from it. Another commander assigned some extremely dense reading to junior officers, and it fell flat. The book covered the operational level of war, and they didn’t have the experiences or contextual understanding to appreciate it. They hated the book and some of them came to hate professional reading because of that experience. 

So what does a good reading program look like?

Why We All Need to Develop a Daily Habit of Reading

Why We All Need to Develop a Daily Habit of Reading


By Joe Byerly

When it comes down to it, the purpose of a military is to fight and win its nation’s wars. And war is complex. When lives or national interests are at stake the outcome is never certain and events can unfold in a manner that no one foresaw. This level of complexity requires military leaders to possess a certain level of aptitude when stepping onto the battlefield. So, let’s back up a bit and do a quick thought experiment.

Imagine if someone told you that a year from today, you would be required to take a test in which every wrong answer resulted in the loss of a human life. How would you approach studying for the test? Would you study for twenty to thirty minutes every night or would you wait until a week before the test and start cramming? You probably think that this is a no brainer, and that you would spend a year studying in small increments so that you get a perfect score and nobody would die. While the logic is clear-cut in this scenario, it is lost on many leaders in their professional military careers.

Many go their entire careers without dedicating time to the study of war and warfare. Let’s be honest, the military places little extrinsic value on self-study. We don’t get rewarded on our Officer and NCO evaluation reports for spending time on self-development. Some leaders even go twenty years without reading a single book outside of professional military education and boast that they were promoted to brigade-level command.

The problem is that as time marches forward in our military careers, we run the risk of the professor walking through the door and handing us the test when we least expect it. The test is a practical exercise called “war.” The questions are hard and the stakes are high. If we aren’t prepared, the results can be devastating. We don’t have to needlessly waste lives by approaching the test cold. That brigade commander might not take his unit to combat, but he could get promoted to general officer when the next war comes along, and by that point there’s not enough time to start reading books on war.

The Sergeant Major of the Army Shares His Reading List

The Sergeant Major of the Army Shares His Reading List


By Joe Byerly

Recently, I spoke with the Sergeant Major of the Army about COVID-19 and the challenges and opportunities we are facing right now as an Army and a Nation. He highlighted that now is the time to reassess our goals and set new ones.

One of your goals might be to read a book or two during this time. Goals are important and they are even more important now, as we all deal with the necessary restrictions to stop the spread.

We spoke again this week and he shared his reading list with me. He found that reading has helped him grow professionally and as a person. SMA Grinston also shared that reading helps him take a mental break from the day-to-day stressors of life. He even says that if he wasn’t a reader, he wouldn’t be the Sergeant Major of the Army.

You will notice that most of the books on this list aren’t about military battles or written by people in the Army for people in the Army. For the SMA, he likes to read about things outside the military to get new and fresh ideas. We both hope you find something on here that interests you.

The Reading List – in the SMA’s words   

Before You Commission, Read These 5 Books

Before You Commission, Read These 5 Books


By Oren Abusch-Magder

Former Defense Secretary Mattis famously once wrote, “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 before. It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.”

In order to light my path, I have often turned to books. Of the books I have read, five have been particularly instrumental in my development as a leader. They are from a wide array of genres, including both fiction and non-fiction, history, psychology, and organizational leadership. The lessons found in these books helped me navigate the experiences of being a cadet and have helped me to think ahead about what I need to successfully lead soldiers. If I could charge every cadet in the country with doing one thing before commissioning, it would be to read these books.

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.

8 Must-Read Science Fiction Books

8 Must-Read Science Fiction Books


Within the last few years, we’ve witnessed the evolution of biohacking, the rise of a state-based social credit system, and a US election influenced by the use of artificial intelligence. Futurists might be able to follow the thread on one or two of these technologies to determine where they will lead us. We may even be able to capitalize on this understanding to improve our national security. But what happens when they converge? How do we prepare for a future where additive manufacturing meets biohacking meets a “lost boy” with an axe to grind? Can we keep up?

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.