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An Admiral’s Guide to Leadership: 7 Books to Help You Become a Better Leader

If you long to be a better leader, these titles suggested by Admiral James Stavridis can help you develop the skills you seek.
by Michael Benninger | Nov 15 2017

When it comes to leadership, few people are more authoritative on the topic than James Stavridis, the retired 4-star admiral who not only spent more than 30 years commanding combat-ready vessels for the US Navy, but who also served as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander for Global Operations.

Stavridis led a long, legendary career in the military, and prior to the his retirement in 2013, he authored a number of guides and memoirs about leadership and the lessons he learned at sea. And, earlier this year, he shared more of his expertise in Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans, which offers an enlightening look at the role Earth’s oceans have played over the course of human history.

In terms of leading others, Stavridis credits several books with influencing his own brand of commanding. Here are a few of the titles at the top of his list.

The Road to Character by David Brooks

In today’s world, it can seem like everything we do, see, or say boils down to self- promotion. But it wasn’t always this way. Society once valued those who are honest, humble, and faithful. Fortunately, it’s not too late to escape the “cult of me” and return to a world in which we respect each other’s noble qualities, rather than social status or material possessions. After all, life isn’t merely about having a dream job or gorgeous home; it’s about becoming a better person.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Chronicling the stormy presidency and political genius of Abraham Lincoln, this book recounts how “Honest Abe” was able to unite the North, abolish slavery, and end the Civil War by making advisors out of his most formidable rivals. Through realizing he could best lead the country by surrounding himself with his most adamant critics, America’s 16th president was able to explore all sides of an issue before taking action.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Written in China more than 2,500 years ago, this timeless military treatise continues to be the definitive work of wartime strategy, both on the battlefield and in the boardroom. Its tactics, rooted in the fact that warfare is a serious matter that should be meticulously planned, suggests that the skilled general only fights when victory is assured and therefore, is never defeated.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum by Katherine Boo

Detailing the tumultuous life in India’s infamous Annawadi slum, this title offers insight into the lives of families who exist in horrific conditions, yet remain optimistic about finding better lives despite their dire circumstances. Surrounded by suicide, corruption, danger, and disease, the residents of Annawadi dream of greatness, but often discover that their destiny lies in the hands of others.

A Message to Garcia: And Other Essential Writings on Success by Elbert Hubbard

This wildly influential essay, written in 1899, outlines the lessons learned by a military man who displayed an exemplary level of dedication to his duties. Built upon the tenet that hard work is the key to living well, finding happiness, and making a positive difference in the world, this title was reprinted more than any other book besides the Bible during the author’s life, and it inspired many of the minds that shaped today’s world.

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer

Books and technology have allowed us to outsource our memories to the point where we’re far worse at remembering information than our ancestors were. Penned by the USA’s Memory Champion, Moonwalking with Einstein explores the mechanics of memory and explains how anyone can achieve a seemingly superhuman ability to remember anything by incorporating a few simple techniques into their lives.

Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Thanks to the miracles of modern medicine, humans are now living longer than ever before. Unfortunately, this means the decline toward death is longer too, even to the point of becoming torturous. Fortunately, we have our entire lives to prepare for our eventual ends, and by embracing the sobering reality of death, we can make the most of each day.

To learn more about any of the Admiral’s favorite leadership books—or to dive into his recent bestseller, Sea Power — launch the Blinkist app today. In about 15 minutes, you can absorb the insights from any of these books, anywhere you are.

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