This is an exciting season when our next generation of new Army officers join our ranks and take up the mantle of responsibility of leading our Soldiers in conflict to support and defend our Constitution. This time of transition from cadet to officer is truly inspiring and naturally a life-long honor and memory; I distinctly remember my own day of tossing my cap in the air as pictured above years ago.
With this transition, however, comes an extreme change in environment. No longer are you surrounded by (literally) dozens of officers solely focused on pouring into your development as a leader academically, militarily, physically; no one is designated to help educate you on the importance of character and leadership. Unfortunately, this massive leader development support structure surrounding you is now gone. Your continued development as a leader is now your own responsibility.
“The single best way a leader can learn and grow is through reading…So many of our best leaders develop and enhance their ability to lead through endless contact with books.” –ADM. (Ret.) James Stavridis, US Navy
The coming weeks of graduation leave and Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC) is an ideal time to start a habit of self-development, to continue to learn about leadership, developing your own leadership style, and better understanding the profession you are now a member of. This is my list of recommended reads and self-development resources to kickstart your “leader growth journey.” These are the books I wish I read first before being a platoon leader; these are the blogs I wish existed when I was preparing for platoon leadership and company command; these are the Army doctrine publications I wish I mastered before trying to develop my own subordinates. Start with these. Just like your mom used to make you do during summer break back in middle school, spend 20 minutes a day reading; the interest of value you gain will compound with time.
I’m still learning and growing myself, so this is not a complete list. But, this is what I would recommend now, after almost a decade of leading, learning, and growing in our Army. Check out the link at the bottom to take you to the PDF of this post so you can best mobilize this resource and share with others.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, by Steven R. Covey
Amidst our culture currently obsessed with overnight success and “life hacks,” this book is the enduring guidepost to inform leaders of the value of character, discipline, organization, and care for others. This book does so much more than help you improve your leadership; it challenges you to become a better spouse, parent, neighbor, and human being. When you incorporate the principles of “Quadrant II leadership” + emphatic listening + commitment to “sharpening the saw,” you cannot go wrong (you’ll have to read the book to understand those three principles).
Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders, by L. David Marquet
Of all the leader development books I consume, this is the one I come back to most for reference and examples. Yes, it is from the US Navy…and yes, it is still 100% applicable to the Army. This is the best book to inspire young officers to treat all Soldiers as future leaders, and also provides you mechanisms to do so. There is so much in this book that I wish I did as a platoon leader and company commander. You can also get the workbook that supplements this book to help you tailor the lessons to your own organization.
Taking the Guidon: Exceptional Leadership at the Company Level, by Nate Allen and Tony Burgess
Not only is COL (Ret.) Tony Burgess one of my favorite people, but this book was one of my first influencers when I started my “Army leader growth journey.” Founded on legitimate organizational leadership theories, Tony and Nate materialize their ideas into easy-to-understand, actionable behaviors; readers can easily extrapolate examples from the book and apply them to their platoons and companies. The book covers a wide range of unit topics to include ones often ignored when discussing leadership such as PT, awards, and training.
Small Unit Leadership: A Commonsense Approach, by Col. (Ret.) Dandridge M. Malone
This is the most no-nonsense challenge for new Army officers to take up the responsibility of platoon leadership. Despite how old this book is (and though it references some outdated systems and equipment), the lessons from this book are absolutely enduring. This book will help direct new platoon leaders’ initiative, inspire a solid foundation of discipline, and help educate expectations of young Army leaders.
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You, by John C. Maxwell
This book’s sub-title, “follow them (the 21 laws), and people will follow you,” really is the best argument for reading this book. This simple read provides young, new leaders with a robust list of behaviors and attitudes that leaders must embody.
Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor, by Clinton Romesha
This first-hand account of the 2009 defense of COP Keating, Afghanistan is one of my favorite military stories I’ve ever read and offers what I consider to be one of the best descriptions of life of a Soldier in an austere deployed environment. This story is emotional and it teaches the value of and necessity for resilience, grit, love for your brothers and sisters in arms, and commitment to duty. I also enjoyed the portrayed relationships between officer and NCO; I think how they described those relationships is both realistic and healthy for emerging military leaders.
USMA exists to produce leaders of character, and currently, the institution uses this book as the foundational case study of teaching officership, character, and ethical behavior. The unit’s internal battle over enforcing and ignoring standards stood out to me as well. Ultimately, what scared me in reading this book was thinking of my own time as a platoon leader and how many of the similar attitudes expressed by Soldiers in the story surfaced on my own deployment experience; it is alarming to see how quickly attitudes that many military units experience can spiral into extreme results showcased in this book.
This Kind of War: The Classic Korean War History, by T. R. Fehrenbach
The lessons and worthy examples saturate this book from cover to cover for any Army leader, regardless of rank or branch/occupation; it’s shocking how much this story of the Korean War relates to many of the challenges our Army still faces today. It’s a somber reminder of the value of readiness, warrior ethos, and leadership for all. Personally, I feel that if we added a layer of complexity with modern technology, this book can pretty accurately paint a picture of what our next big conflict will look like.
Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae, by Steven Pressfield
This famous tale of the 300 Spartans will ignite an internal fire of passion for commitment to duty and your fellow “brothers” in arms. This book offers impressive examples of the value of duty, unit cohesion and esprit de corps, and defining proper expectations of a leader (reference the book’s description of a king). If you want to get absolutely fired up before taking over platoon leadership, read this book.
Once an Eagle, by Anton Myrer
This is a military leader classic, which has often been offered as a case study in good versus bad leadership. However, I believe that today’s leaders should read this with a more relativistic lens, that there are both merits and flaws in both characters’ (Sam Damon and Courtney Massengale) leadership and character. We should be critical of both men and learn from the good and bad from both. Regardless, it is an incredible military story to be familiar with.
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
Of all the recommended science fiction books for military leaders, I think this is the best for junior officers, as it tells an exciting tale of a young man growing from an individual, to a follower, to a leader, and ultimately to a leader developer. Ender showcases incredible leader qualities necessary in today’s complex environment, often considered “soft” skills, such as humility and empathy, while still being decisive and effective.
Blogs to Follow
3×5 Leadership, which strives to be your foremost digital leader development resource.
The Company Leader, a leader development resource aimed at company-level leaders discussing the tactical level of war.
The Military Leader, a comprehensive military leader development blog applicable across many ranks and experience levels.
From the Green Notebook, the leader development blog that first inspired me to take up responsibility for my own self-development that shares many universal leader development insights.
The Army Leader, an unofficial resource from the British Army. I am very impressed with this resource as it continues to grow. I learn a lot from their insights, which often transcend across different militaries, and I know many junior officers will as well.
Junior Officer (JO) Forum, an online community aimed at allowing US Army junior officers to pose questions to the forum members, share insights and resources, and interact with a large population of their professional peers.
Leaders Huddle podcast, a quality podcast put on by USMA’s Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning (CALDOL) aimed at sharing important insights and topics relevant to US Army junior officers. You can find the podcast on iTunes.
Harvard Business Review article: How to Gain Credibility When You Have Little Experience, which is an universally applicable look at recommended activities to take up when coming into a new leadership position like platoon leadership. I like this article as it was not intended for military junior officers, but is 100% relevant.
3×5 Leadership’s ‘Community of Practice’ post offering a list of must-read blog posts specifically aimed at new Army Lieutenants.
Last, but certainly not least, Army doctrine and regulations. As a military leader and professional, you are expected to have a foundational knowledge of our organization’s doctrine. Though these may be the least sexy reading recommendations on this list, they are actually the most important. Start digging into these publications. At a minimum, keep these resources digitally saved for personal easy access. The publications with an asterisk (*) are ones I recommend you actually read, rather than merely skim or just have on hand.
- ADRP 1: The Army Profession*
- ADRP 1-02: Terms and Military Symbols
- ADRP 3-0: Operations
- FM 3-0: Operations
- ADRP 5-0: The Operations Process*
- ADRP 6-0: Mission Command*
- ADRP 6-22: Army Leadership*
- FM 6-22: Leader Development*
- ADRP 7-0: Training Units and Developing Leaders*
- FM 7-0: Train to Win in a Complex World*
- AR 25-50: Preparing and Managing Correspondence
- AR 350-1: Army Training and Leader Development
- AR 670-1: Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia
- AR 735-5: Property Accountability Policies
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The content in this post are personal thoughts and recommendations only; they do not reflect that of the USMA or US Army.
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