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October Reading List Email

Hi, 

Welcome to the Monthly Reading List Newsletter! Each month I will share a few thoughts on 3-5 books I’m reading and why I think you should pick them up. So, if you enjoy this email, please forward it to friends and family and help us continue to grow! Also, make sure you sign-up for our new The Sunday Email where each week we will share a quote/passage from a book and a short insight.

Reading for Action

By Joe Byerly and edited by Cassie Crosby

Growing up, I enjoyed reading -to a point. I loved comic books and as I got older, I read the occasional Stephen King novel or James Patterson thriller. Other than that, I viewed reading as a necessary task just to get through school. I read all the time now, but I still regularly hear from leaders who tell me they struggle to start books because it feels like it's not worth the time investment. 

For years, I remained skeptical of the idea that history and other non-fiction books were worth spending time on. When I graduated college, I remember thinking, yes, I’m finally done with books. But the reality was my education had only just begun. As my career progressed, I met so many respected leaders who talked about the books they read and the ways this practice influenced their leadership and their lives. Some of them even became authors and I was amazed how they found the time to fit it all in.

I looked up to these leaders, so their personal examples inspired me to launch my own journey to figure out what was so impactful about reading. This month, I want to share some stories with you about a few of the leaders who I saw modeling the concept of turning words into works throughout my career in hopes of inspiring you to read more as well.

While I was a company commander, I met Lieutenant Colonel Tony Burgess. When he was a captain back in 2007, he and fellow company commander Nate Allen published Taking the Guidon. Tony once shared with me that a number of books influenced their ideas while they were writing the book. For instance The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner helped to solidify their thinking about how leaders should approach command.  Since publication, Taking the Guidon has been the go-to leadership book for generations of young commanders.  

Beyond publishing a book about leadership, they also co-founded an organization at West Point that still develops company-grade leaders today. Tony was the first person who showed me the value of pulling lessons from books outside of standard military reading lists when he sent me a copy of Jim Collins’ Good to Great and invited me to discuss the book with him and a group of other leaders in an online forum in 2012. I never looked back.    

Another major learning experience for me came from two other rising military leaders who explained to me how books ranging from history to science fiction shaped their thinking on leadership, war, and warfare. They told me to never quit being curious. I watched them both become senior leaders, eventually using the lessons they gained from reading, coupled with their experiences, to influence U.S. national security policy; one in the West Wing and the other on the battlefield.These leaders, along with others, taught me that books can feed mental models that we then turn into action through practice. 

These leaders taught me to pay attention to those passages that we can apply to the problems we face today or the ones we might face tomorrow. I learned to highlight, take margin notes, and further refine my thinking through writing. They also told me about how and why they read books more than once at different points in their careers, knowing that each time the book would be different. They recognized that their experiences unlocked new lessons for them to capture and apply to their lives.  

They modeled the importance of discussing what we read with others. These leaders catalyzed my reading habit, not by publishing or forcing reading lists, but by discussing important books with me. I learned that through discussion, we can test and validate our ideas. This habit also helps us retain and internalize the lessons we learn so we can put them into practice at whatever leadership level we are at.

All of them showed me through personal example not to be scared to test out new ideas we gain from reading in the real world. They taught me that conventional wisdom is safe, but may not result in progress or effective teams. I watched all of them apply ideas and concepts to their day jobs and push organizations beyond what was originally thought possible. Their approach was different in part because they were influenced by lessons of history, science fiction, and other leadership books.    

If you are like I used to be, and you struggle with seeing the value of reading for personal or professional growth, I just ask that you give it a shot. It has changed my life and offered a return on investment with compound interest. Pick up a book with the intent of looking for lessons that will give you an edge on life, and in leadership. This month’s reading list is a great place to start. 

The Reading List

Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield. This book is for anyone who wants to communicate through the written medium. Steve’s wisdom from his time in marketing, as a screenwriter and author is worth listening to. He writes:

"When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, your mind becomes powerfully concentrated. You begin to understand that writing/reading is, above all, a transaction. The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer must give him something worthy of his gift to you."

I wish I would have read this book at the start of my military career and before I even thought about starting a blog. Most of us struggle to communicate, although communication is how we convey ideas and lead others, and this book helps take the ego out of the words we put on the page.

For me, writing is deeply personal. I use it to share my lessons so you know you’re not alone in your struggles, and hopefully, help you avoid making the same mistakes I’ve made. So, I thought this passage was worth sharing with you too:

"A real writer (or artist or entrepreneur) has something to give. She has lived enough and suffered enough and thought deeply enough about her experience to be able to process it into something that is of value to others, even if only as entertainment."

Steve has so much sage advice in this book. If you want to become a better communicator, I recommend checking it out. 

Do the Work by Steven Pressfield. I read two Pressfield books this month, because both were short and fast reads, yet packed full of actionable advice. This book is like having a motivational coach at your fingertips. Steve speaks directly to you, the reader, and let’s you know that no matter how much research you’ve done, how much you know what needs to be done, or how pure your intentions are, the only way to make progress is to actually do the work. 

Too often, we spend the majority of our time talking about our problems and coming up with ways for how we will deal with them, but that’s as far as we get. For inspiration, he reminds us “We can always revise and revisit once we’ve acted. But we can accomplish nothing until we act.” 

He also dedicates some pages to the Resistance that resides within us, preventing us from doing the work. One of the observations he shares applies to anyone setting out on an unfamiliar venture:

"Ignorance and arrogance are the artist and entrepreneur’s indispensable allies. She must be clueless enough to have no idea how difficult her enterprise is going to be --and cocky enough to believe she can pull it off anyway."

Again, this book is one I’ve read at least three times in the last five years to get my butt in motion and just do the work. 

Be Where Your Feet Are: Seven Principles to Keep You Present, Grounded, and Thriving by Scott O’Neil. I first listened to this book on Audible and liked it so much that I bought a physical copy and have already skimmed back through it since reading it the first time. This book is for anyone who wrestles with the chimera of work/life balance. Scott is the former president of Madison Square Garden and CEO of the Philadelphia 76ers. And more importantly, Scott is a husband and father. In Be Where Your Feet Are, Scott reminds us the good life isn’t about “finding balance between work and home. It’s about living the moments we have where and when we have them.”

Scott provides practical advice for leaders to include figuring out priorities and making the mental transition from work to home so that we don’t take our stressors with us into the evening with our families. Since reading the book, his acronyms API (Assume Positive Intent) and WMI (What’s Most Important) have even made it into my family’s lexicon.

Scott’s work has been so impactful for me personally, I even reached out to invite him on the podcast. I interviewed him this month and I’m pumped to share his thoughts with you in a few weeks. I hope his ideas, both written and spoken, are as impactful for you as they have been for me.

If you haven't been to the website in awhile, check out the following posts:

Podcasts  One more thing: Thanks for opening my monthly reading list email, if you have any book recommendations or questions, please feel free to reply. I read every response and if I have the time, respond. 

All the best,

Joe

**This email contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This helps with the cost of running the website each year. 
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