3x5 Leadership 168 Series Joe Byerly

This is Part IV of the “168-Hour” series addressing how leaders spend their available 168 hours per week to grow and develop. You can begin this series with Part I, here.

By Joe Byerly, author of From the Green Notebook

“Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before. It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.”

—Secretary of Defense Mattis

Before becoming Secretary of Defense, James Mattis has long held the reputation for being a warrior-scholar. LTG H.R. McMaster is another great leader also known for his intellectual prowess. To some, the magnitude of intellect possessed by these leaders might seem unachievable, but it doesn’t have to be.

We all share something in common with Mattis and McMaster: time. What sets these two apart from other leaders is that they invested their time in self-study and professional development. Over time, their investment grew, and eventually the books they read, combined with their experiences, produced leaders who have left their mark on the military profession. We, too, can make the same investments. A mere 20-30 minutes of reading a day can expose us to knowledge that our experiences alone cannot provide.

In that light, here is how I invest my time.

My Morning

5 minutes: I read a daily meditation on stoicism. I find that it’s a great way to center myself before I start the day.

10 minutes: I read something that will help me think strategically (It’s where I’m at in my career). Right now, I’m currently reading The Accidental Superpower, by Peter Zeihan and How Terrorism Ends, by Audrey Cronin.

45 minutes: I recently subscribed to Audible, which gives me a book a month to work through in the car. Also, most military libraries and local public libraries have great audiobook selections if you don’t want to pay extra for audiobooks. I also listen to a number of podcasts. When I listen to books or podcasts on my commute, I typically write down a couple of insights in my notebook once I arrive at my destination.

Throughout the Day

I give 100% of my focus to my job. I lead. I have experiences. I also carry a small notebook in my back pocket. If an event happens that is worthy of an internal after action review, I take a few minutes to write it down and capture a lesson or two. The practice of keeping a notebook also helps me capture any insight that might pop into my head before it disappears in the chaos of the day.

At Night

45 minutes: If my brain isn’t fried, I continue listening to podcasts or audiobooks on my commute home. Most often…it’s fried.

20 minutes: I read a popular leadership book or fiction. Right now I’m reading Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson.

On the Weekends

I wake up before everyone else in my house (the only time it’s quiet) and spend about an hour writing or reading.

What I’ve Learned

I’ve learned that minutes add up to hours, which equal a lot of personal growth each week through the practice of reading and writing. I’ve also learned that there never is a good time for it – you have to make time. If that means waking up 15 minutes earlier, do it. Self-development is a practice worthy of investment, because you never know where in your life you will reap the benefits.

Joe Byerly is an armor officer in the US Army. He frequently writes about leadership and leader development on his blog, From the Green Notebook. He also runs a popular monthly book recommendation email list, The Read of the Month. Follow him on Twitter:  @JByerly81.

This article represents his own opinions, which are not necessarily those of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the federal government.

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  1. Great tips. At the SoPines DEF I thought about when my GO bosses found time. We can all use them. Eikenberry:quiet and deep thinking and writing in our vehicle during 7-8 Kabul commutes per day. McChrystal: Audio book on daily runs and read hard copy constantly during travel. Lamb: would go find a spot in the sun and reflect for an hour daily, then come fill his white board with questions or possible solutions for the team.

  2. You should consider reading the Transcendentalists. While I do enjoy the Stoics, I believe that Transcendentalism did far more to shape the United States military. I would suggestion reading Emerson’s Self-Reliance. To come to a better understanding of how Transcendentalists impacted the U.S. Army, I would suggest the book Army Life in a Black Regiment by Thomas Wentworth Higginson (both of these works are available as free audiobooks on https://librivox.org/).

    While I do agree with the underlying thought that we all have “time” to develop ourselves through self-development, I would strongly disagree that time is an effective measure of learning. What and how we are reading or researching is just, if not more important, than the time spent in the activity. Here are my suggestions to get more out of reading for military self-development: https://youtu.be/d2w2-6V-CH4

  3. Great advice Joe. I have found a lot of wisdom reading through Scammel’s biography of Alex Solzhenitsyn in the mornings. Mark Twain’s sentiment that history rhymes is correct.

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