Podcast #373: The Leader’s Bookshelf

It’s been said “Leaders are readers.” But what should a leader read?

My guest today set out to answer that question by polling 4-star generals and admirals in the U.S. military to get their best recommendations. 

His name is Admiral James Stavridis. He’s served as the commander of US Southern Command, US European Command, and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe. He now serves as dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. In his book, The Leader’s Bookshelf, Admiral Stavridis explains why reading is fundamental for all leaders and provides a list of 50 books suggested by senior officers. 

We begin our conversation by discussing the culture of reading amongst military officers past and present, including Generals James Mattis and George Patton. Admiral Stavridis then shares tips on how to read more even with a busy schedule and how to get more out of your reading. We then dig into the list of 50 books military brass recommend most and the lessons on leadership they provide. 

You’re going to be adding a lot of books to your reading list after listening to this podcast.

Show Highlights

  • Why Admiral Stavridis decided to write a book about books rather than a book about leadership 
  • Is the culture of reading among military officers?
  • Why reading is so important for military folks 
  • The reading habits of famed generals: James “Mad Dog” Mattis, John Kelly, George Patton, George Marshall 
  • Why do leaders need to be readers? 
  • How does the Admiral make time to read? What’s his reading strategy? 
  • Why Admiral Stavridis keeps a reading journal, and the information he logs 
  • Why it’s okay to quit a book 
  • The books and trends that surprised Stavridis when he polled military leaders  
  • The #1 book that was recommended by the most people 
  • What do fiction books offer that non-fiction doesn’t?
  • Recommendations for memoirs and biographies
  • Military books that civilian readers would do well to read 
  • The dearth of classic “leadership” books on the list 
  • What younger officers/leaders are reading 
  • The culture of reading lists in the military 
  • Why are lists a powerful tool in improving your reading?
  • The leadership lessons that Stavridis noticed again and again 

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