Holiday reading – we’ve got you covered

Christmas is fast approaching, and if you’re anything like me, you leave the majority of your shopping until the last minute…

As in Christmas Eve….which subsequently results in over-spending as you find yourself buying tickets, gift vouchers, or absolutely anything that can be printed out at home and hastily put in a $1 Christmas card from the local newsagent.

So, in what’s likely to be the last post of 2018, I thought I’d lend you all a hand, and post a list of recommended books for the aspiring leaders in your life.

Most of the book recommendations have a link embedded, so if you’re keen to gift these to someone special, which includes for yourself by the way, hit the link and get shopping.

Right – so let’s get to it.

The Obstacle is the way – Ryan Holiday


If you’re a long term reader of the blog, you’ll have heard this fellow’s name before.  One of this generations most influential thinkers, Ryan Holiday is an author, blogger, caster of pods, and even has his own coin, whose aim is remind you one day you’ll die.  Sounds morbid but it’s not.

You won’t go wrong with anything he puts his name to.

I’ve gifted this book to a few people this year, and to a person all seem to have found it useful.  Basically it helps you understand the things you are deliberately avoiding are actually the things you should be focusing on.

It had such an impact I even wrote a post about it.

The Clay pigeons of Saint Lo – Glover S. Johns


This isn’t a leadership book by rights, but it’s jam packed with leadership lessons nevertheless.  Following the journey of an American rifle company in WWII France, it covers some amazing ground in incredible detail – astonishing considering how many years after the events took place that it was written.

It’s (obviously) got a heavy military bent, so if that’s really not your thing then stick with some of the other recommendations on the list.  If however, you like your leadership lessons wrapped in bullets and mud, then this is the book for you.

There’s an incredible piece where John’s and his unit refuse to move forward as they’re exhausted, and the enemy is simply “too tough“.  He then (in extraordinary fashion) has it explained to him that despite his concern, his unit simply must carry on, and while it’s likely they’ll be killed, this push is necessary for the success of the overall mission.  Sounds bleak I admit, and I won’t ruin the surprise, but needless to say when I read the passage I sat back in my chair, exhaled one of those long, slow breaths as you do when you’ve literally had your mind blown, and marveled at the whole enterprise.  Incredible stuff.

While the consequences are obviously less severe in an office environment than in the shattered fields of 1944 France, being aware that you, your team, or the product you produce might well be sacrificed (metaphorically, not actually sacrificed) for the good of the overall mission is something which balanced managers and leaders must contend with.  Not letting your ego sabotage the success of the wider objective is much easier said than done, but this book goes a long way to helping you digest that inner conflict.

There’s also a touching moment when a flight crew continue pushing much needed supplies out a cargo door to support the ground troops instead of bailing out of their plane….which was on fire.  It’s heavy stuff, and I’m not ashamed to admit my eyes welled up a little when I read it.

Puts things into perspective when you’re asked to stay back late at work to finish a report….

The Subtle Art of not giving a F*ck – Mark Manson


Despite the title, this is not a book about being a d!ck and simply doing whatever you want, whenever you want, but it’s about deciding exactly what you want to give a f*ck about, and discarding the chaff.

It’s superb, and of all the books in my library, has one of the highest number of little sticky notes poking out the side.  Full of punchy, gritty lessons, it’s written like you’d expect to hear it from a street-wise philosopher while having a beer in a dingy laneway bar.


Extreme Ownership – Jocko Willink & Leif Babin


This book changed it all for me.  Combined with the kick start I received a few years back, I attribute a large portion my recent development and relative successes to Jocko and his teachings.

I’ve gotten so much out of this book that I bought copies for my entire construction team on my last project.

It’s simple to read, and I’ve read it 3 or 4 times now, because the lessons are invaluable.  I try my best to use them every day.

If you choose only one book from this list, choose this – it’s a game changer.

Get some.

Hal Moore: On Leadership – Mike Guardia

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Also awesome. Hal Moore was a Lt. General in the US Army. I won’t go into detail on this list because I did an entire post about it.

An amazing book, and while lots of the online book sellers have sold out, it’s worth taking the effort to hunt it down.

Ego is the Enemy – Ryan Holiday


Another book I’ve gifted a few times in 2018 and had great feedback.  This one has had a hugely positive influence in my approach to work since I read it.  You should have seen how I approached things when I was younger….crikey….ego here, ego there, ego everywhere.  I think back on some of the things I did, things I said, and ways I behaved, and honestly I can’t help but cringe….

While there’s no doubt I need to continue working on keeping my ego in check, it’s a far sight better than it used to be, and even better after having read this book.  Having The Don (he knows who he is) keeping me in check is also a massive help in that space, so thank you brother.

As with anything written by Holiday, it takes some complex and challenging topics around ego and frames them neatly, succinctly and in a format easy to digest.  It’s how to eat an elephant all over again.

His knack for this is second to none.

The Daily Stoic – Ryan Holiday


Not a Leadership book per-se, but if I had to say what religion or approach to life I prescribe to, the Stoic philosophy is easily the closest.  Again, I’ve popped out a few posts on this, so won’t go into a huge amount of detail, other than to say, if you’re interested in learning more about Stoicism, then this is the one for you.

The book is part theory, part practical, and if you combine this with a 5-minute journal you’re in a definite 1+1=3 scenario where each leverages strongly off the other giving you a total greater than the sum of the parts.

An ex-colleague of mine mentioned recently she was amazed at how calm I was at work when the world around us was going to custard and everyone descended into  apocalyptic dodgem-car mode*.  I attribute most of the ability to function in that kind of environment to one, being in the Rural Fire Service and learning to respond to situations that are mainly out of your control, and two, to this book and its teachings.

If you can’t, or don’t want to join the RFS, buy this book.

* bumping into each other with their hair on fire

The 33 Strategies of War – Robert Greene


There’s a few versions of this you can buy.  There’s a super short version, a super long version, and a Goldilocks mid-sized version – which is what I read.

Greene is the mentor of Ryan Holiday, who already has a few books on this list.  It’s well structured, and uses a range of historical examples to explain the concepts of war.  It also utilises some unique formatting that keeps your eyes working and while it covers some heavy topics, does so in a way that’s easy to comprehend.

It covers everything from the strategies and thinking of Machiavelli and Sun Tzu, flanking to sabotage, and understanding when to attack and when to retreat, all in a way that makes you 100% certain you could, nay, should, have been a 5-star General.

Greene is wise to note you don’t have to apply all the strategies he explains, as some of them are approaching being morally corrupt, but it certainly opens your eyes to what strategies other people might be employing against you.  This in turn means you can counteract them.

Anything by Robert Greene is excellent and worth the investment.  The mid-sized books are not only mid-sized thickness, but mid-sized in all directions.  This makes it particularly easy to throw in your work bag or even your pocket to read on the train.

So that’s it.

That’s my list of Recommended Reading for this holiday period.  It’s certainly not exhaustive, and is only a fraction of the books weighing down my bedside table (much to my wife’s chagrin…).  They are however, the ones I think will give you the most bang for buck when it comes to learning about leadership and all that that word involves.

If you have the time between now and Christmas, or find yourself doing this all too late before the last ‘Guaranteed by Christmas’ shipping date, I’d also then recommend going to a book shop, browsing the shelves, and buying whatever grabs your attention in the non-fiction section.

That’s not to say there isn’t room for fiction these holidays – there certainly is.  I myself will (hopefully….hint hint) be digesting the latest Jack Reacher book, which is perfect hammock-based reading, but with an almost infinite spectrum of what people like to read in the fiction space, there’s little value in me diving down that rabbit hole here and now.

While the books in this list are (mainly) books specifically written to improve your leadership capital, I’ve actually found that by simply reading about stuff in general, anything at all, and keeping your ‘Leadership Filter’ turned on, you’ll learn a bunch as well.

It’s the leadership filter that makes learning about leadership such a broad and rewarding experience.  It’s seeing the leadership lessons from the everyday.

And isn’t that what it’s all about?

Have you read a book, or books, that you think the readers of the blog would appreciate?  We’d love to hear about them!  Drop us a line on the Contact Page, or leave a comment below.

Also, a huge thank you to all of you who read and comment on the blog.  A massive shout out to Luke Cervoni and Stephen Butler who have been regular commenters and provided some great feedback this year – it’s always a treat hearing from you both.

I hope you all have a fantastic and safe holiday period, and a successful 2019 filled with learning and development.

Churchill out.

4 thoughts on “Holiday reading – we’ve got you covered”

  1. Thanks michael, have a great break. I look forward to more posts in the new year. Thanks for introducing me to Ryan Holiday too!


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