Lead with the best version of yourself.

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.  

August Cole, Science Fiction, and Whiskey: It’s a Thing

August Cole, Science Fiction, and Whiskey: It’s a Thing

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As February comes to a close, where are you at with the status of those New Year’s goals you made over a month ago? Are those resolutions nothing more than a distant memory? Whether it was a plan to exercise more, eat healthy, or finally quit a pesky habit, did life get in the way? If you are like us and you wanted to read more in 2019, you should start by reading Joe Byerly’s post about how to increase your professional reading. Next, you should remind yourself that you are not Joe Byerly, and any attempt to read three books at once is a pipe dream! What the rest of us mere mortals need is something short and highly entertaining to keep our reading goals on track. It is time to reboot our waning resolution.

We recommend adding a few short science fiction stories to your reading list. The benefits of reading science fiction are numerous. First and foremost, science fiction is highly entertaining and changes professional reading to leisure reading. By focusing on something enjoyable, aspiring readers are much more likely to develop daily reading habits – the key to consistent growth.

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

8 Must-Read Science Fiction Books

8 Must-Read Science Fiction Books

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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?

So You Want to Study Military Adaptation and Innovation?

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Adaptation and innovation are particularly relevant to today’s Army given the challenges faced in recent wars and the uncertainty of future armed conflict. Our ability to meet the operational demands posed by a variety of enemies and their capabilities and countermeasures will be part of our nation’s tactical, operational, and strategic landscape.

As we look forward to an uncertain future, we must adapt, innovate, and institutionalize both past experiences and future opportunities to better prepare us for the next war in whatever context that conflict will emerge.  As Sir Michael Howard observed:

“Steer between the danger of repeating the errors of the past because he is ignorant that they have been made, and the danger of remaining bound by theories deduced from past history although changes in conditions have rendered these theories obsolete.”

In other words, war audits how well military institutions and states prepare during periods of relative peace, and how their force planning processes succeed in capturing emerging technologies and innovative new methods.  Armed conflict also audits how responsive commanders and institutional leaders are to recognize opportunities or challenges that emerge from the violent interactions against a thinking opponent who demonstrates the capacity to generate surprise by employing unanticipated tactics or technology.  As we look to recent conflicts and potential asymmetric adversaries, the need to create a force capable of both innovation and adaptation is imperative.

The 2018 Ultimate Summer Reading List

The 2018 Ultimate Summer Reading List

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With summer vacations quickly approaching I reached out to a group of successful leaders, authors, journalists, and podcast hosts for book recommendations. I asked them to suggest a book and why they picked it.

The books on this list range from science fiction to leader development to quantum physics. I hope you find a title on this list that sparks your interest and you grab a book, a beer, and enjoy your summer.

General (RET) Stanley McChrystal, Managing Partner of McChrystal Group

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The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam by Max Boot

I’ve just finished Max Boot’s The Road Not Taken, Edward Landsdale’s story, focused heavily on the Philippines and Vietnam.  While it’s a good narrative of Landsdale’s unique role in America’s counterinsurgency efforts in Southeast Asia during the Cold War, the angle I found fascinating (and cautionary) was not Landsdale’s deft skill in dealing with foreign leaders like Magsaysay and Diem, but his failure within our own governmental bureaucracy.  It raises the question to what extent his ideas struggled due to the messenger and not the validity of the message.

Admiral (RET) James Stavridis, Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University

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American War: A Novel by Omar El Akkad

 

A first novel by the Canadian-Arab journalist Omar El Akkad, this searing tale moves the reader forward over half-a-century into a dystopian future in which a second American civil war has unfolded.  The south is again pitted against the rest of the country, this time over the use of hydrocarbons.  Mexico has invaded the US and annexed portions of the southwest, and other parts of early 21st century America have succeeded.  Florida is overcome by rising sea levels and no longer exists.  Our society is brutally polarized.  Against this backdrop, the characters of this novel  grow, love, struggle, and sacrifice for the causes in which they passionately believe.  Is this the future of the United States?  Hopefully not; but the potential extension of the extreme divisions in our society today are clearly the inspiration for this brilliant and tragic tale.

The Right Read Can Make You a Better Leader

The Right Read Can Make You a Better Leader

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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.

Three Books You Should Read Before Company Command

Three Books You Should Read Before Company Command

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For most officers, company command ranks in the top ten of their professional highlights reel. It’s a rewarding, yet humbling position for those who experience it. Over the course of 12 to 36 months, command provides captains with the authorities and responsibilities to lead, train, and prepare individuals for combat (and in some cases, lead them through it).

So is there a way to prepare for this experience through reading so that captains get the most out if it and lead with the best version of themselves? Yes. I recently hosted a conversation on our Facebook page and got a tremendous amount of responses.

As I read the responses, the same books appeared in multiple comments. This speaks to the importance of these works. Taking those into account, I recommend three books for all leaders preparing for company command. The first two are actual books, and the third consists of doctrine and regulations that leaders need to understand before taking command.

Why Aren’t There More Books About Communication On Military Reading Lists?

Why Aren’t There More Books About Communication On Military Reading Lists?

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By Megan Jantos

Leadership is communication, and communication is leadership. Don’t believe me? Try influencing others by providing purpose, direction, and motivation without communication. On the flip side, people naturally follow those who communicate ideas and thoughts effectively.

Yet, senior leader reading lists lack books that directly discuss the topic of communication. The last five U.S. Army Chief of Staff Professional Reading Lists only mention communication a total of six times. And, when mentioned it was typically from a technical perspective of physical equipment and networks (i.e. communications).

This baffles me because the foundations of communication remain constant regardless of history or echelon of command. During a typical interpersonal communication class, the first rule taught is “you cannot NOT communicate.” Every action — or inaction — is a message sent.

Become an Innovation Insurgent!

Become an Innovation Insurgent!

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This post originally appeared on Linkedin here. 

By: William Treseder

We love learning at BMNT. There are always ways to improve, and books are a fantastic source of distilled wisdom that you can apply in real-world situations. Below is a list of books we’re reading.

Think of this as your “Recommended Reading for National Security Innovation”.

Man’s Search for Meaning. Few books capture the human experience like this one, and certainly not in such a short book. BMNT is a mission-driven organization, and so are the customers with whom we work. We each need see ourselves as part of a larger narrative That provides meaning to the hard work of problem-solving.

Boyd: the Fighter Pilot who Changed the Art of War. John Boyd is a legend for his pioneering work on the OODA Loop and Energy Maneuverability. This biography sheds light on what it really takes to change business-as-usual inside the Pentagon.

Innovation requires sacrifice.

The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. Constant change is a reality for our customers. We need to understand the drivers of these changes, how they are perceived, and predict likely responses. This book offers key insights to the nature of management in an era of adaptive threats.

Innovation is not about little improvements.

Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail. This is a very important book. It is more like a journal article: short and dense. Read it as a checklist, and make sure you satisfy at least the majority of the conditions described. Without a solid foundation, innovation isn’t sustainable.

Most innovations will fail.

Four Steps to the Epiphany. This is the ultimate entrepreneurial reference guide. It’s shocking how much wisdom is condensed in here. Everyone should have a copy.