In the prologue to Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead, Gen. James Mattis writes, “The Marines assign an expanded reading list to everyone promoted to a new rank: That reading gives historical depth that lights the path ahead.” Here are some books to add to your list.

Call Sign Chaos: Learning To Lead
By Jim Mattis and Bing West. Random House, September 2019/March 2021 (paperback).

Call Sign Chaos BookChaotic times call for books about leading through chaos. (Especially if they’re New York Times bestsellers.) What could be more potentially chaotic than a battle in the Middle East, and who more likely to have insight than a leader whose code name stands for “Colonel Has An Outstanding Solution”? Gen. Mattis, former U.S. secretary of defense, and Mr. West, former assistant secretary of defense and combat Marine, describe the events of the general’s career and the lessons to be gained. The book, like his career, advances in three sections: leading Marines into battle, commanding thousands and crossing war with politics. It is also about direct leadership, executive leadership and strategic leadership. In the prologue, Gen. Mattis writes that “the Marines assign an expanded reading list to everyone promoted to a new rank: That reading gives historical depth that lights the path ahead.” Look here for some enlightenment.

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win
By Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. St. Martin’s Press, October 2015/November 2017 (updated edition).

Extreme Ownership BookIf you meet the authors of this book outside its pages, you’d better hope they’re on your side. Mr. Willink and Mr. Babin, heads of SEAL Team 3’s Task Unit Bruiser in Iraq, learned leadership the hard way. Back stateside, they formed a company, Echelon Front, for training more leaders, of whatever the business or organization. They also created TED Talks, podcasts and books such as this one. Some companies have made Extreme Ownership required reading. Each chapter begins with a war story, extracts a principle from it, and then sends that principle to operate in a business situation. “Clarify your mission” is one; “Act decisively, even when things are chaotic” another. But the one you should consider for your next tattoo is the definition of extreme ownership: “The leader is always responsible.”

Xenophon’s Cyrus the Great: The Arts of Leadership and War
By Larry Hedrick. St. Martin’s Press, April 2007 (reprint edition, paperback).

The Arts Of Leadership And War BookThis may be the only book on leadership whose fans include Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Thomas Jefferson and Peter Drucker. Xenophon’s flattering portrait of Cyrus the Great has been admired for centuries. So has Cyrus, leader of the Persian Empire in the 500s B.C., when it reached from India to the Mediterranean. He excelled not only on the battlefield but also as a ruler who knew how to organize the most powerful state of its time. Mr. Hedrick has abridged Xenophon’s history and edited it so that Cyrus tells the tale himself. The edit includes the insertion of subtitles, such as “Obedience Should Not Be the Result of Compulsion,” that should catch any leader’s attention. Mr. Hedrick is a former Air Force officer; Xenophon was a successful general; and they present an emperor with a few things to teach in the boardroom.

This article appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of Insigniam Quarterly. To begin receiving IQ, go here.

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