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Military Leaders Books


Reading can be a powerful tool for growth. These books – many written by proven military leaders – will help you build and maintain military leadership skills.

Best Military Leadership Books

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

This quintessential military leadership book has been inspiring people for centuries. It’s one of the world’s most renowned volumes on military strategy. Written well over 2,000 years ago, its principles have withstood the test of time and are just as relevant today as they were in Sun Tzu’s China.

Make Your Bed: Little Things that Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World by William H. McRaven

Admiral William H. McRaven, U.S. Navy, Retired was a SEAL and former commander of the Joint Special Operations Command. His book identifies how to keep a plan, and ultimately your life, simple and effective. In his book, he outlines 10 life lessons learned from his time as a SEAL. This short, but powerful read equips leaders with a plan to order their daily behaviors to increase productivity and build character.

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

The phrase “leaders eat last” is one many in the military are already familiar with. Simon Sinek argues not to worry about the numbers. That, as a leader, if you take care of your people, the numbers will take care of themselves. Sinek’s aim is to instill a culture of trust among teams that leaves members feeling fulfilled and valuable.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

There probably isn’t a military leader out there who hasn’t read Dale Carnegie’s landmark book. Published in 1937, the book is anything but radical, but it sure is relatable and applicable. This book will equip military leaders with the skills to develop into persuasive, likeable, and influential leaders.

Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders by L. David Marquet

Former Navy Captain David Marquet’s true story has inspired thousands since it was published in 2013. Marquet encourages leaders to create environments where everyone takes responsibility for his or her own actions, allowing followers to grow into leaders. The outcome is happier teams and better results.

Best Books for Military Leaders

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Military leader or not, you can learn something from this book. Psychologist Angela Duckworth asserts that those striving to succeed, including parents, athletes, students, educators, or business people, need what she calls “grit.” According to the author, it’s passion and persistence that drive success, not talent.

The Warrior Ethos by Steven Pressfield

The author argues that “wars change, warriors don’t.” We’re all bound by common struggles to define our purpose and integrity, to understand who we are, and how we justify our existence. Pressfield finds parallels between modern U.S. Marines and Soldiers and the stories of ancient Spartans, Athenians, Romans, Macedonians, Persians, and more. You’ll find yourself challenging your own beliefs and values as a military leader.

Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott

Being a leader means you’re often stuck with delivering the bad news. Kim Scott’s radical new principle says that leaders should “Care Personally while Challenging Directly.” This allows leaders to operate within a culture of feedback, build and work with a cohesive team, and actually enjoy working with the people around them.

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts by Brené Brown

A #1 on the New York Times Business Books best sellers list, this book isn’t just for corporate execs. Brown’s leadership principles apply to military leaders just as much as their civilian counterparts. Brené Brown has done the research. She talked with leaders and teams across the globe and drew from their actual experiences on what makes an effective and brave leader.

It Worked for Me by Colin Powell

Colin Powell, retired 4-star general and former Secretary of State, shares his “Thirteen Rules” for effective leadership. Powell brings his experience and insight of a life of public service to the table and inspires readers to be leaders that embody conviction, hard work, and respect for others.

Leading So People Will Follow by Erika Anderson

Business strategy coach Erika Anderson argues that we all want good leaders and desire to be led well. Her book will help you get there with her six foundational traits for leading with success including far-sightedness, passion, courage, wisdom, generosity, and trustworthiness.

Books to Read for Military Leaders

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

Being a military leader is a huge time commitment. Greg McKeown helps readers make the most of their time by honing in on the “essentials.” Much of what McKeown teaches focuses on getting rid of the “trivial many” and “saying no [which is] is purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating what is non-essential and not just getting rid of what is an obvious time-waster.”

The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People by Gary Chapman

Gary Chapman is best known for his bestselling book, The 5 Love Languages. Chapman adapts those communications principles into something applicable to the workplace. If your unit could use a morale boost, increase engagement, or a more positive work environment, you might find some answers in this book.

Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

Want to know what makes some of the world’s most successful organizations tick? Daniel Coyle has got you covered. He worked with teams such as the San Antonio Spurs, IDEO, and the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six to get to the bottom of how diverse groups work cohesively to accomplish truly amazing things. A must-read for any military leader.

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Leadership at every level determines whether a team succeeds or fails. Tried and true Navy SEAL principles that are used to accomplish combat missions can be applied to just about any leadership situation.

Books for Future Military Leaders

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

The next generation of military leaders live in a world of distractions. Cal Newport teaches readers how to focus on cognitively demanding tasks without distraction. For those just learning their trade, it will help you master complicated information in less time and help you find fulfillment and purpose in your work.

The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential by John C. Maxwell
Developing the Leader Within You by John C. Maxwell

A title every leader should have in their library. John C. Maxwell is an expert on leadership and any up-and-coming military leader would be wise to heed his advice. This book outlines the progression of a leader through the 5 levels of leadership: Position, Permission, Production, People Development, and Pinnacle.

Radical Inclusion: What the Post-9/11 World Should Have Taught Us About Leadership by Martin Dempsey and Ori Brafman

The landscape of leadership looks different today than it did nearly 20 years ago. The authors argue that we should be moving in the direction of inclusion, not exclusion, in order to be effective leaders and build and maintain trust.

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

Sinek starts with an important question: “Why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others?” He says the answer is, they ask “WHY.”

Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times by Donald T. Phillips

Donald T. Phillips offers an excellent point of view on leadership from one of our most revered presidents. Lincoln’s simple leadership strategy will help newly minted leaders learn to lead from a position of trust versus authority alone.

Thanks for the Feedback: The Art and Science of Receiving Feedback Well by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen

Future leaders will get plenty of instruction on how to give feedback, but rarely receive any advice on how to accept it and use it for positive change. One of the most important things a new military leader can do is to take feedback gracefully. Stone and Heen explain why getting feedback is so important yet so difficult.

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