Here are 7 books every aspiring leader should read according to retired four-star military officers

soldier

A U.S. Soldier of 2d Cavalry Regiment reads mission details prior to conducting a convoy during Saber Junction 17 at Vilseck Training Area, Germany, May 3, 2017. (Spc. Rachel Wilridge/U.S. Army)

By Amanda Macias

WASHINGTON — What happens when senior military leaders ask each other for book suggestions?

The ultimate reading list, which takes form in “The Leader’s Bookshelf.

After surveying more than 200 four-star military officers about their reading habits, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Adm. James Stavridis and retired Lt. Cmdr R. Manning Ancell compiled the top 50 titles that were most often recommended.

“By focusing on the reading patterns of the most senior officers in the U.S. military — certainly by any measure an organization that produces some of the best leaders in the world — we can create a set of books that makes sense for leaders in all walks of life,” writes Stavridis.

“So many of our best leaders develop and enhance their ability to lead through endless contact with books.”

And so, in honor of “Read A Book Day” we have selected seven books from “The Leader’s Bookshelf.

7. Captains Courageous, by Rudyard Kipling

Recommended by: Adm. Timothy J. Keating, USN, Commander of U.S. Northern Command (2004-2007), Commander in Chief of U.S. Pacific Command (2007-2009)

About: Kipling lays out a classic coming-of-age story centered around Harvey Cheyne, a spoiled son of a millionaire, who is suddenly removed from his life of privilege.

Leadership lesson: “Leaders are often confronted with wrenching changes in their lives … The lessons Harvey learns are those all leaders must learn about relationships: trust, honesty, teamwork, and kindness,” R. Manning Ancell writes.

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6. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Recommended by: Gen. Dan K. McNeill, Commander of Coalition Forces in Afghanistan (2002-2003), commanding general of U.S. Forces Command (2004-2007), and commander of International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan (2007-2008)

About: Center stage is a prominent white attorney named Atticus Finch who takes on legal counsel for Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. The story, set in a small town in the Deep South, is captivated by the trial and begins to fall apart.

Leadership lesson: “Harper Lee’s sensitive portrayal of Atticus Finch on a tightrope will live on through the ages and resonate in the minds of leaders — who knew that the “hard right cause” is vastly better than the “easy wrong one,” R. Manning Ancell writes.

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5. Buffalo Soldiers: A Narrative of the Black Cavalry in the West, by William H. Leckie

Recommended by: Adm. Michelle Howard, USN, Vice Chief of Naval Operations 2014-2016

About: Written by William Leckie in 1967 describes the life and challenges facing African American soldiers in the West after the Civil War.

Leadership lesson: “A climate of racism is among the most challenging circumstances a leader must deal with and will not be solved overnight, but winning the battle of perceptions can and must be done,” Stavridis writes.

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4. Gods and Generals: A Novel of the Civil War, by Jeff Shaara

Recommended by: Gen. William L. “Spider” Nyland, USMC, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps 2002-2005

About: Written by Jeff Shaara, the son of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Shaara, “Gods and Generals” is a prequel to “The Killer Angels.”

Leadership lesson: “In the end, a leader’s fundamental job is to bring order out of chaos, whether it occurs on a battlefield or in a boardroom. Leaders must stay calm, never lose their temper, and strive to bring that sense of order to the team,” Ancell writes.

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3. The Second World War, by Sir Winston Churchill

Recommended by: Adm. Jonathan T. Howe, former deputy national security advisor, former commander in chief Allied Forces Southern Europe

About: Considered to be one of the best-written histories of World War II, Winston Churchills six volume prose won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953.

Leadership lesson: “Determination is at the heart of any leader’s skills set … Additionally, creativity and imagination set a leader apart from other. Leaders in nondemocratic situations can bring greater authority to bear more swiftly, but a skillful leader in a democratic setting can win others to his or her cause using reason, logic, interpersonal skills, rhetoric, and emotion,” Ancell writes.

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2. On War, by Carl von Clausewitz

Recommended by: Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, USA, commander, U.S. Southern Command 1994-1996

About: Written by Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz in 1780, about war and military strategy after the Napoleonic wars.

Leadership lesson: Ancell summarizes the leadership lesson in a few quotes, “good leaders can never rest on their laurels … leaders reach for the stars … delegation is crucial … leaders must be determined … the best form of defense is attack.”

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1. The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara

Recommended by: Adm. Thad W. Allen, 23rd Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard 2006-2010

About: Considered the flagship of historical fiction, “The Killer Angels” tells the story of the Battle of Gettysburg. The characters in the novel reflect real military figures, including, Gen. Robert E. Lee, Gen. James Longstreet, and Col. Joshua Chamberlain.

Leadership lesson: “The best leaders trust their subordinates to make the right decisions in the heat of battle; the subordinates trusted the senior leaders to let them make those decisions without speculation or interference. In the simplest terms it is called “teamwork up and down the chain of command;” and it is vital in any organization,” Ancell writes.

Click here to see this book on Amazon »

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