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Recommended Reading for New Advisors to Senior Leaders

James Shufelt and Al Bourque, U.S. Army War College

March 1, 2017

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The following recommended reading list has been generated by the Senior Leader Seminar and Executive Leader Course faculty based on their research, course development and execution experience, student recommendations and other sources. The intent of this list is simple: to provide a self-study resource for advisors to senior leaders, supplementing existing recommended reading lists. This list cannot be all-inclusive due to the rapid annual generation of new leadership articles and books. It may also duplicate other reading lists because of the recognized value of many classic leadership documents.

Critical Army and Joint Doctrine

  1. ADP 1, “The Army,” September 2012 (new version pending)
  2. ADRP 6-22, “Army Leadership,” August 2012
  3. ADRP 1, “The Army Profession,” June 2013
  4. Department of Defense, “The Armed Forces Officer, GPO,” January 2006
  5. National Defense University, “The Noncommissioned Officer and Petty Officer; Backbone of the Armed Forces,” Washington, D.C.: NDU Press, 2014

Comment: If we are truly professionals, we must fully understand our service and its doctrine on leadership, the profession, and the role of the Officer and Noncommissioned Officer Corps. These works provide a starting point for understanding these critical topics. ADP 1 explains the Army’s purpose, vision and values, as well as its role in the joint force and a broad view of the current path forward. ADRP 6-22 lays out the central tenets of the Army leadership model. ADRP 1 details the importance and requirements of the Army profession. The Armed Forces Officer explains the origin and unique roles and responsibilities of the Officer Corps within the Department of Defense. The companion NDU document provides a joint view of the roles and responsibilities of noncommissioned and petty officers.

Leadership Theory

Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last, New York: Penguin, 2014.

Comment: Considered a classic, along with its predecessor, Start With Why, Sinek discusses how visionary, empathetic and committed leaders can create strong teams that succeed in today’s challenging business and national security environments. Using multiple examples, including contemporary military situations, Sinek demonstrates how effective leaders who place their employees and organizations first can create successful resolutions to complex crises. An easy, but useful read, Sinek’s work is a solid introduction to professional leadership thought.

Robert K. Greenleaf, The Servant as Leader, (Download).

Comment: Greenleaf’s seminal philosophical essay on servant leadership inspired a sub-genre of leadership studies and books. Greenleaf’s theory, which is fundamentally consistent with Army leadership doctrine and the Army profession concept, is that the most effective leaders start as servants, or followers, then rise to become leaders because they want to serve, not because they want to become leaders. The true servant-leader ensures that other people’s needs are addressed first, whereas the leader-first person is motivated by personal ambition to be in charge or to acquire more possessions. In addition, the servant-leader utilizes persuasive power to motivate, rather than using coercive or manipulative power. The greatest value of Greenleaf’s essay is that it can inspire the diligent reader to look internally and assess his or her motivations and methods of leadership.

Bill George, Discover Your True North, Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley, 2015

Comment: An updated and expanded version of his 2007 True North, George’s book examines the leadership evolution experienced by a large number of executives who capably lead business and government institutions. Although they have worked in a wide variety of fields, he identifies common factors that enable leader success, including identification of guiding personal principles and the requirement for authenticity in leadership style. George’s use of short case studies enhances this work, making it easily digestible to a wide range of readers and readily applicable in many different types of organizations. His discussion of the final stage of leadership – when “your true north meets the world” – is especially valuable to senior military leaders, who are now in this critical stage of leadership development and implementation.

Organizational Theory

Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, New York: Penguin, 2007.

Comment: Brafman and Beckstrom argue that the pace of change and the social and electronic interconnectedness of the modern world demand new decentralized organizational structures and decision-making processes. These ideas are a direct challenge to traditional bureaucratically organized business and government entities, which inherently lack the agility to quickly adapt to the changing environment. Using historical examples and current case studies, the authors demonstrate the need for immediate intellectual and organizational change, proposing 10 game-changing rules that need to be considered in order for organizations to remain competitive.

Stanley McChrystal, Team of Teams; New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, New York: Penguin, 2015

Comment: Although many potential military readers may be disinclined to read this book, there is great value in Team of Teams’ discussion of the role of networked matrix teams in resolving complex situations. Based on his experiences in the Global War on Terrorism, (Ret.) Gen. McChrystal explains his personal intellectual evolution and the corresponding changes within his organization as they wrestled how to analyze, manage, plan, and execute global actions to defeat similarly evolving terrorist organizations. In many ways, this book explains how a military organization successfully morphed itself into the type of organization championed by Brafman and Beckstrom.

Advisor Practice

Michael Useem, Leading Up; How to Lead Your Boss so You Both Win, New York: Crown, 2001.

Comment: Another business leadership classic, Useem challenges traditional hierarchal leadership models, arguing that there is an important role for subordinate leaders who “lead up,” providing critical advice and leadership to the benefit of the organization. Often requiring significant shifts in organizational culture, this leadership technique may be challenging to insecure senior leaders, but was necessary for success in the multiple case studies offered by Useem.

John J. Gabarro and John P. Kotter, Managing Your Boss, Harvard Business Review, January 2005 (Download)

Comment: A reprint of a 1980 article that inspired major changes in business management and leadership theory, Gabarro and Kotter similarly challenge traditional management models, stressing the importance of creating and maintaining effective two-way relationships with your boss. Though many military readers might find this intuitively obvious, “managing your boss” to achieve the best results for your organization is simple in theory but complex in execution as it requires significant effort to establish and maintain effective working relationships, especially at the most senior levels. In addition, this concept requires a high-level of self-awareness for all leaders to understand each other’s style, triggers, preferences, strengths and weaknesses.

David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford, The Trusted Advisor, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.

Comment: Though this work focuses on the role of an advisor in the business sales environment, its discussion of the pivotal role of trust in business client-advisor relationships is applicable to a much wider audience of potential leaders and advisors. The authors provide detailed guidance on how to earn trust, give advice and build relationships, along with subsequent discussions on the challenges of maintaining trust, changing clients and other related issues. It is a book that has direct applicability to new advisors to senior leaders.

James E. Lukaszewski, Why Should the Boss Listen to You? The Seven Disciplines of the Trusted Strategic Advisor, San Francisco: Wiley, 2008

Comment: Lukaszewski’s book directly addresses techniques that can lead to greater success for strategic advisors in any type of organization. Proposing seven disciplines, ranging from being trustworthy to thinking strategically to teaching your boss how to accept your advice, this work is a practical resource for both new and experienced senior advisors. Lukaszewski’s work is well-worth the time to read and digest its discussion and recommendations.

Leadership Challenges

Dean C. Ludwig and Clinton O. Longenecker, The Bathsheba Syndrome: The ethical failure of successful leaders, Journal of Business Ethics (April 1993) Vol. 12, Issue 4, pp 265-273. (Download)

Comment: Unfortunately, all of us may have to deal with ethical failures either personal or our bosses’. Ludwig and Longenecker address why these failures happen with senior leaders, using the biblical parable of King David and Bathsheba to illustrate the causes and repercussions of unethical senior leader behavior. They propose methods to avoid these situations and suggest ways to respond when they occur despite the use of avoidance/prevention methods. Their recommendation to use “guardrails” during potentially disastrous personal behavior situations has great value for senior leaders and their most senior advisors.

Kurt Sanger and Dan Stallard, The Nathan Solution to the Bathsheba Syndrome, Marine Corps Gazette, April 2014 (Download)

Comment: Sanger, a U.S. Marines Corps lawyer, and Stallard, a U.S. Navy chaplain, take Ludwig and Longenecker’s ideas and apply them to the contemporary environment, where negative actions by senior leaders continue to receive great attention from the public and, ultimately, severely damage unit capabilities and their ability to lead effectively. Citing the important role played by Nathan, a trusted advisor who admonished King David for his improper behavior, they highlight the valuable advice and other assistance provided by today’s military lawyers and chaplains. They also stress the continued importance of quality unit training and education on ethical behavior.

Leonard Wong and Stephen J. Gerras, Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession, U.S. Army War College SSI Feb 2015 (Download)

Comment: Dr. Wong and Dr. Gerras of the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute directly address the institutional pressure within the U.S. Army to be untruthful when reporting because of the overwhelming number of directed training requirements. The authors explain causes of this important ethical issue, providing recommendations to help bring requirements and compliance checks under control and further encourage honest reporting and truthful leadership.


Professional study is a never-ending responsibility for all senior leaders and advisors. The intent of this list is to provide a starting point for self-study. Though hundreds of books and articles are published annually on leadership and related topics, only a few are truly worthy of study by busy military leaders and advisors.