Lead with the best version of yourself.

Developing Your Reading Plan

by Jakob Hutter

During a speech in 1957, Dwight Eisenhower made a paradoxical statement about preparation when he told an anecdote about the maps used during military training in Leavenworth. He stated, “plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” 

Just as leaders most likely have plans to conduct training, perform physical fitness, or even meal planning, planning helps you stay focused on what you want to accomplish and achieve.

How I Learned to Get the Most Out of Reading

By Joe Byerly

This month, as I transition out of another decade, I’m taking the opportunity to reflect and write on those things I adopted in my thirties that have proved beneficial to me. In this post, I want to share some of the practices that improved my reading habits, my retention of knowledge, and ultimately led to improvements in my overall quality of life. I recognize that last claim is a bold statement, but it’s the truth.

Reading has served me well both professionally and personally over the years, but more recently it has played an even greater role in my well-being. Within the last year, I’ve come across books that brought attention to behaviors I wanted to adopt, while helping me take steps toward stopping the ones that were preventing me from being content in life. Using a combination of reading, writing notes in the margins and in my “green notebook,” and reflecting on how these lessons applied to my own life, I was able to supercharge these changes.

I hope you find something useful in this post.

Read more than one book (just in case one of them takes a little more effort to finish). This method completely changed my reading habits and increased the number of books I read from five a year to more than forty. When I started making an effort to read for professional growth, I only read one book at a time, but found myself starting and stopping the habit because I would hit boring parts of books and lose energy around finishing it. Sometimes I would go weeks without picking up the book again because I couldn’t stand the thought of battling those pages. Now, I read 3-4 books at once which allows me to tackle a tougher book, while concurrently reading some faster-paced titles in the process. If I get tired of one book, I pick up one of the other titles. I no longer beat myself up if it takes me six months to finish a book, because I’m able to finish a few other books in the process.

Seven Books Every Company Commander Should Read


by Dan Vigeant

Leaders worth following are readers. This is not an original, or even new thought. Countless General Officers, business professionals, and thriving entrepreneurs laud the benefits of reading for personal and professional growth. From the Green Notebook even publishes a monthly reading list for the sole purpose of developing aspiring leaders (if you’re not already a subscriber, I highly recommend you click here). However, with the number of books dedicated to leader development and the Profession of Arms, knowing what to read can sometimes feel daunting.

To be clear, I am no expert on the subject. I am, however, a student of the Profession of Arms and sincerely believe commanders owe the Americans they serve the best version of themselves. As such, and in preparation for receiving the guidon, I embarked upon an eclectic reading journey focused on one central theme: leadership. The following is a short list of some of those books that prepared me mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for company-level command. My hope is that this list will assist in your preparations for what will be the most rewarding, albeit challenging, experience of your career.  

Turning Words into Works: Reading to Remember

By Joe Byerly

Over the years I have collected passages and quotes in small notebooks that I continually refer back to in my writing and in personal reflection. They help remind me why I read in the first place. Two in particular are worth sharing in this chapter.  The first is from the Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus who lived in the first century. He writes, 

For even sheep do not vomit up their grass and show to the shepherds how much they have eaten; but when they have internally digested the pasture, they produce externally wool and milk. Do you also show not your theorems to the uninstructed, but show the acts which come from their digestion.

He’s using the sheep as a metaphor for the pursuit of wisdom. The purpose of self-development isn’t to tell everyone we are doing it or to gain knowledge to impress bosses, but to let it show in our actions. And since humans first started writing practical advice for leaders, people have tried to figure ways to remember these lessons and incorporate them into their daily lives. This leads me to the second quote by a Stoic who lived shortly before Epictetus, the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca who wrote:  

We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application—not far-fetched or archaic expressions or extravagant metaphors and figures of speech—and learn them so well that words become works.

We all would like to think that by reading books, we become better people, however there is a roadblock that gets in the way: Our memory.  

Studying the Stoics: It’s About Progress, Not Perfection

By Joe Byerly

Recently, I finished The Lives of the Stoics: The Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman.This book is a profile of twenty-six Stoics, from the founder of the philosophy to Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

For those interested in learning about Stoicism, it’s a great starting point. Holiday and Hanselman are excellent writers and they weave the Stoic teachings into their biographical sketches. I was excited when I had the chance to catch up with Stephen and talk about Stoicism and the book. Keep reading to learn why Stoicism appeals to leaders in the military, why the Stoics weren’t perfect people, and how we can learn more about this practical philosophy.

Joe: It seems that Stoicism is starting to gain greater traction among military readers. Why is that?

Stephen: There is a natural tie between the military and Stoicism. In today’s hedonistic culture, there’s a lot of value placed on material things and chasing after whatever feels good to us. In contrast, the whole Stoic system is focused on the pursuit of virtue and the development of character. There are four Stoic virtues: wisdom, justice, courage, and self-control. I think the virtue of sophrosyne or self-control resonates with members of the military because that is what is required to have the discipline to prepare one’s mind and body for service in war. 

The Stoics believed that life is about more than having more, eating more, and drinking more. They believed there is something that happens within our souls as we take the time to redirect our efforts towards a vocation that serves something greater than ourselves. Members of the military also set aside many of those things that modern society values in service of something greater. They are pursuing a similar path that the Stoics pursued, and that is virtue. 

Why We Should Read Fiction and Nonfiction at the Same Time


By Jeroen Verhaeghe

Avid readers will recognize the feeling of guilt that comes with buying ever more books knowing full well that the unread stacks you have at home are more than enough to last you several months of quarantine. Luckily, from time to time I stumble across an article that justifies the occasional buying frenzy, even making me feel good about it. Of course, before a book can get on my “to read” list, it has to go on my “to buy/find/borrow” list, which is a problem of another order of magnitude that I’m not going to discuss here.

Another thing I used to feel guilty about was the fact that I seemed to lack the focus to finish one book before starting another. The three or so books on my nightstand seemed to indicate poor discipline, until From The Green Notebook’s Joe Byerly provided me with an explanation (call it an excuse if you must) that this is not a bad thing either.

An accidental discovery

A couple of months ago, because of this habit of reading more than one book at a time, I discovered something that I want to share here. At the time, I was reading Vasily Grossman’s masterpiece Life and Fate at the same time as the war memoirs of Field Marshall Erich von Manstein. While reading, and especially as the latter’s narrative approached the action near Stalingrad, I noticed something peculiar. I felt a reinforcing effect from reading the non-fiction while I was following the adventures of Grossman’s characters, for example knowing before the characters what their enemy had in store for them. Vice versa, I felt the influence of Grossman’s fictional story while reading Manstein’s account of his campaigns, translating casualty numbers and arrows on maps into stories about people of flesh and blood, worrying about their loved ones.

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.

5 Newsletters You Need to Sign-up For Now!



By Joe Byerly

I enjoy reading email newsletters! The small number of ones I subscribe to are great source of personal and professional development. They are written from people outside of my profession and introduce me to ideas, books, articles, authors, and concepts that I probably wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

If you find you are looking for short doses of learning that don’t require wasted minutes and hours scanning social media platforms, check these out.

Pick Up A Good Biography, and Learn

Pick Up A Good Biography, and Learn


By Joe Byerly

As Army leaders, we are always looking for leadership nuggets to help us excel in our organizations. So, imagine having the opportunity to sit across the table and listen to stories of people who shaped history in arts, sciences, sports and world affairs.

Think about the lessons we would glean by hearing about their triumphs and failures, things they learned along the way, and the world in which they accomplished those feats.

While few (if any) of us may ever get this opportunity, there’s another avenue available to learn some of these same lessons—reading a biography. This is a genre of literature I’ve only recently discovered and wish I had sooner.

As I look back at biographies I’ve read in the past few years, I learned important lessons from people (many who never served a day in a military uniform) who directly influenced me as an Army leader. I learned the value of keeping a notebook from Leonardo da Vinci. I learned about cultivating a strong organizational culture with a bias toward action from Adm. Horatio Nelson. I learned about the importance of focusing on the task at hand and not letting the totality of events overwhelm me from football coach Nick Saban. And I learned the importance of self-development from Gens. George Marshall, George Patton Jr. and Dwight Eisenhower.

I recognize that each of us approaches books with our own mental models, and the lessons you take away may be different than the ones I absorb. But regardless of past experiences or education level, all of us can learn the following three lessons when we pick up a good biography.

The Goal of Self-Development: Knowledge vs. Wisdom

The Goal of Self-Development: Knowledge vs. Wisdom


By Joe Byerly

“For even sheep do not vomit up their grass and show to the shepherds how much they have eaten; but when they have internally digested the pasture, they produce externally wool and milk. Do you also show not your theorems to the uninstructed, but show the acts which come from their digestion.” –Discourses of Epictetus

I came across a reference to this quote the other day while reading How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius by Donald Robertson.

It sparked some thoughts on the difference between knowledge and wisdom and its application to military leaders.