Summer Book List 2019
Last Christmas we asked a group of senior leaders what books they would recommend a leader has on their Christmas list. Well Christmas is now far behind us. The cold is a distant memory and most of us are looking forward to relaxing in the sun over the summer. And if you are lucky enough to be relaxing with a book in your hand, what should that book be? For our summer leadership book list we have asked the same question we asked last year: “What book would you recommend to a leader, and why?” However, this summer we have asked a more diverse audience. From a Two Star officer, the Army Sergeant Major and a senior Civil Servant, to an innovative Captain and an anonymous Section Commander. We have even asked an Australian anthropologist.
Some of the books are about leadership, others are about war. Every book, whatever the subject, will give you an insight into the way leaders deal with stress, build teams and motivate their people. The newest book came out this year. The oldest is almost 2000 years old. We hope you enjoy them all. And let us know who you would like to get a recommendation from this Christmas, or which book you think they should have recommended.
Leadership: Lessons from the Presidents for Turbulent Times
Recommended by Air Vice-Marshal Chris Luck, former Commandant of the Defence Academy.
In a world of complex challenges, it can be daunting for those in or aspiring to leadership roles to make sense of the world. Indeed, leadership is often a manifestation of the character and life experiences of the leader and the context in which destiny calls them. Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin captures all of this in her magisterial biographical analysis of four US presidents; Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, F D Roosevelt and Johnson.
First, she makes the case that leadership and the willingness to take responsibility requires an inner determination to make a difference through having a vision of a better outcome, and the strength to see it through despite the physical and mental challenges. Goodwin exposes the fact that humble beginnings or lack of early opportunities are not barriers to leadership. Spirit and determination to learn from life is more vital.
This well-written and compelling analysis restores your faith that leadership is not a tick-box career progression, but a combination of constant preparedness (today called continuous professional development) and a willingness to subjugate yourself to something greater than self; leadership is sacrifice that brings a heavy burden to the incumbent.
The lessons that Goodwin skilfully draws from these titans of American history should give the reader pause for thought and reflection. In the turbulent times we live in it shows what we must be if we aspire to lead, self-aggrandisers need not apply. It also evidences the powerful followership that authentic leadership generates. This is not a text book; it is far more real, powerful and uplifting. It is a must read no matter where you are in your leadership journey.
Chris Luck recently retired from his role as Commandant of the Defence Academy and the Joint Command and Staff Course at the end of a 35-year career as a pilot in the RAF. You can find Leadership: Lessons from the Presidents here or get a free copy of the audiobook via the Audible free trial.
Recommended by Warrant Officer Class One Gavin Paton, Army Sergeant Major.
Black Hearts is a real-life account of an American Platoon in Iraq and follows their plunge into utter madness. Leadership challenges, criminal acts and intelligent enemy action all come together to create an unbelievable story that twists and turns its way through the horrors of brutal modern combat. The platoon at the centre of the story are deployed to the Triangle of Death in 2005 and suffer a harrowing series of events.
Black Hearts repeatedly forced me to delve back into my memory. It forced me to identify personal experiences where I met similar challenges and events and dealt with many of the same symptoms. It is an educational and enjoyable read and a ‘must read’ for leaders of every rank. I learned many life lessons from reading this book and it has influenced my style of military leadership ever since.
The Fearless Organisation
Recommended by Siobhan Sheridan, Director of Civilian Human Resources in the MOD.
In The Fearless Organisation Amy Edmondson, Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, lays out a clear case for why every one of us should care about creating what she calls psychological safety. Psychological safety occurs in a climate where people feel safe enough to take interpersonal risks by speaking up and sharing concerns, questions and ideas.
By clearly and articulately explaining the thorough research on the subject Edmondson explores why this concept matters. She draws some powerfully clear connections between ideas of transparency, inclusion, belonging, candour and culture, whilst at the same time teasing out the subtle distinctions. From Edmondson’s perspective, it is hopeless recruiting and retaining talented people if we fail to create the kind of environment in which their talent and creativity can emerge and be applied.
As you explore the strengths and weaknesses of the hierarchical command system of the Army, consider her observation that ‘hierarchy (or more specifically the fear it creates when not handled well) reduces psychological safety.’ Edmondson acknowledges that psychological safety can be created or destroyed in a single moment. Yet the clear manner in which she explains the concept enables the reader to pragmatically explore their thoughts and action to build the psychological safety their team needs.
Have you ever lived with, worked for (or even been) a person who can chill the room with the raise of an eyebrow? Or like me, do you reflect on your own leadership, status, privilege and the impact that you are having on those around you? If the answer to either of those questions is yes then I commend this to you. It is a beautifully disturbing read.
Siobhan Sheridan is Director of Civilian Human Resources in the MOD and was formerly People Director at the NSPCC. You can find The Fearless Organisation here or get a free copy of the audiobook via the Audible free trial.
Recommended by Major Andrew Fox, Officer Commanding C Company, 3 PARA.
War was written by Sebastian Junger, a journalist embedded with US troops in the brutal Korengal Valley of Afghanistan during 2007. It is also the partner to the films Restrepo and Korengal.
The book deals with the human side of war. Junger lived amongst the troops for a good part of their tour. He engages with the character of soldiers, the stresses and strains they faced, the challenges of leadership and the raw reality of fighting in a challenging counterinsurgency environment. There is no glamour here: the soldiers faced rough living conditions, exceptionally arduous terrain, heavy casualties and fatalities.
Junger deals with war at its most visceral, and gives a powerful insight into the motivations of those fighting, the brotherhood of fighting units, and the harsh realities of the military profession. It contains profound thinking about the experience at the tactical level. It is not concerned with doctrine, or strategic philosophies: this is combat at the coal face and gives a compelling outsider-view into the tight-knit world of soldiers facing stress, loss and combat on a daily basis. The book is an accurate snapshot of a small part of the Afghan campaign, a campaign that required some to experience the features of classic warfighting whilst simultaneously trying to conduct operations across the spectrum of combat. Its lessons are timeless.
Andrew Fox is a company commander in the Parachute Regiment and appeared in the ITV documentary Paras: Men of War. You can find War here or get a free copy of the audiobook via the Audible free trial.
Recommended by Professor Peter Roberts, Director of Military Studies at RUSI
After 10 years in command of Roman armies on campaign, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote ‘Meditations’ as a reflection on what he had learned. A decade of fighting (and simultaneously ruling an empire) led Aurelius to the conclusion that success and victory required a different approach: simply battering away the enemy and believing in the pixie dust of new weapons only resulted in more dead bodies – very often your own forces.
There is no discussion of tactics, technology, weapons or innovation in this book, rather it is a philosophical approach to leadership with one message at its core – leaders need quiet time to read and reflect, to think, to analyse and to intellectually grow. The volume was popular with Frederick the Great, John Stuart Mill and Goethe but has also been acknowledged as one of the greatest works by a warrior scholar by figures such as Wen Jiabao, Bill Clinton and James Mattis.
You won’t find Aurelius talking about Third Offsets, Multi Domain Operations, Fusion Doctrine, Information Advantage or AI, but you might be pleasantly surprised at a message to have endured nearly 2000 years: the kingfisher’s flash of inspiration can be harnessed if you create the headspace to discover it.
Peter Roberts is the Director of Military Studies at RUSI and Visiting Professor of Modern War at the French Military Academy. You can find Meditations here or get a free copy of the audiobook via the Audible free trial.
Recommended by Captain Kirsty Skinner, Army Innovation Team.
A book with Buzz Lightyear on the cover may not be what you expect to see on a military reading list, but if you only read military books you will only learn military lessons. But trust me, there are some very important lessons we can learn from Pixar.
We often hear phrases like “Our people are our greatest asset” and “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” but how much time do we really invest in understanding our people? In Creativity Inc. Ed Catmull, co-founder and President of Pixar, takes us elegantly through such topics as dealing with change, fear of failure, trust and candour (encouraging people to say what they really think). He uses a storytelling approach, giving the reader a behind-the-scenes insight into the making of Pixar films like Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and Up. It makes the book and accessible and enjoyable read.
Creativity Inc. is full of Catmull’s best ideas, ideas that allowed him and his colleagues to build “a culture that enables people to do their best work”. He says, “We start from the presumption that our people are talented and want to contribute. We accept that, without meaning to, our company is stifling that talent in myriad unseen ways. Finally, we try to identify those impediments and fix them”. In an Army undergoing a public investigation into its retention problems, I would argue that this book is not just a recommended read but a vital one.
Kirsty Skinner is an ETS officer and is the founder of the British Army Entrepreneurs Network, the BrAIN. You can find Creativity Inc here or get a free copy of the audiobook via the Audible free trial.
The Chimp Paradox
Recommended by ‘The Section Commander’
I’m sure some of you are looking at this recommendation and thinking ‘What on earth has this got to do with leadership!?’ The book is a heavy read and it takes a couple of re-reads to fully comprehend everything it has to offer. But don’t be put off. Believe me, it is worth it.
As well as making you a better leader, if you follow the book’s advice it will make you a better person. Using the analogy of your ‘inner chimp’ Professor Stephen Peters explains, in a matter of fact way, how you think and what is happening whilst you go through the decision-making process.
Why is this helpful to any military leader? Well, it teaches us the difference between logical and emotional thought processes, and the impact that they can have on our decision making. It also helps us understand the way other people are likely to think and behave in different situations. If we can understand these two things, we already have a huge advantage when it comes to knowing our people and ourselves.
So grab a copy and enjoy getting to know your inner chimp.
The Section Commander is an anonymous infantry corporal serving in the British Army, busy navigating his way through the world of online professional development. You can find The Chimp Paradox here or get a free copy of the audiobook via the Audible free trial.
Israel’s Long War with Hezbollah: Military Innovation and Adaptation Under Fire
Recommended by Warrant Officer Class Two Paul Barnes, British Army Visiting Fellow at RUSI
Since starting at RUSI last September I have been enormously privileged to have spoken to audiences at home and abroad, to have been published in the United Kingdom and United States, and to have led battlefield studies in France and Belgium. In May this year, as I stood overlooking Omaha Beach, recounting the stories of Eisenhower’s almost infinite patience and the infamous rivalries of Montgomery, Patton, and Bradley, I was reminded of the importance of followership even amongst great leaders. One of the most thought-provoking books I have read recently, Israel’s Long War with Hezbollah: Military Innovation and Adaptation Under Fire by Dr Raphael Marcus, highlights the critical importance of both leadership and followership in war.
Although academic, Marcus’ book is eminently readable and highly recommended. It examines Israel’s war in Lebanon, the role of technology in post-modern warfare and the importance of personality and human relationships in military organisations. Have a read of it; you won’t regret it.
Leading with Cultural Intelligence
Recommended by Dr Heather Skousgaard, Visiting Fellow at the UK Defence Academy
As an anthropologist, I’m often asked what book I would recommend for people who want to learn more about culture. It is a difficult question. Do I recommend a book that outlines cultural dimensions and profiles national cultures? Or do I suggest something that helps the reader understand how these cultural norms came to exist?
But it’s the question that comes next that really catches me: ‘You know, a book that I can read – not a fancy book like you’re used to’. It always makes me feel a bit sad. It’s like there is an imaginary space that anthropologists inhabit, called ‘Culture’ with a capital C. The reality is, each and every one of us is already a cultural expert. We live our days reading other people’s body language, understanding the subtext of our friends’ conversations, and knowing how to respond to the events of everyday life.
That’s why I love this book by David Livermore. Drawing on almost two decades of research across over 98 countries, Leading with Cultural Intelligence provides a clear set of very practical steps to help tap into the cultural intelligence, or CQ, that’s inside us all.
Using examples from his work with global corporations, start-ups, military organisations, government agencies and NGOs around the world, Livermore offers a very accessible way to build the cross-cultural skills that are so essential to military leaders today. Whether you’re preparing for deployment or wanting to build better teams at home, take a peek at this preview and I think you’ll be hooked!
Heather Skousgaard is the Australian Defence College’s Research Fellow for Cross-Cultural Development. She is currently the inaugural Visiting Fellow at the UK Defence Academy where she teaches on the Higher Command and Staff Course. You can find Leading with Cultural Intelligence here.
We hope you find the list useful, although we are sure you have your own favourite book as well. If you think there is a book that should have been recommended, or if there is someone you think we should ask for a future recommendation, then share the article on Twitter or Facebook and let us know. And if you want more recommendations from inspiring leaders, why not check out our other leadership book lists?