Posted on 05 March 2019
The importance of reading cannot be understated. Sitting down with a good book expands our minds, improves our vocabulary and exposes us to a great number of ideas. As the weather cools and summer comes to an end there is little more nourishing than a cup of tea and a good book. So, if you aren’t already, get reading! To help you on the journey of literature, whether you are a novice reader or a seasoned veteran of the pages, check out this list of books that teach on leadership, courage and personal development.
Extreme Ownership: How U.S Navy Seals Lead and Win
by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
To be an effective leader requires a concert of personality traits and abilities that are hard to define. Often, it is important to learn the basic principles and develop your own style on top of a solid foundation. This book provides a concrete hard foundation for leaders at any level. Written by two U.S Navy Seals, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, the book outlines battle-tested principles of leadership. What’s great about the book is that it is actively written to be applicable not only to military organizations but also to the general public. After reading the punchy prose you’ll come away with a host of practical tools that make you a better leader in your professional and private life.
The book is teeming with life lessons and important concepts. Personally, however, I found the philosophy of ‘discipline equals freedom’ particularly liberating. As a concept it suggests, rather counter-intuitively, that the more disciplined you are the more freedom you have in your life. The concept is captured in the book quite concisely using an example: “when you have the discipline to get up early, you are rewarded with more free time”. The concept is flexible and relates to a great deal of life in general. Discipline in all aspects of life means you operate with more efficiency and allow yourself the freedom to get more done.
This is only a small exploration of an extensive look into leadership and you would do well to get after it.
Churchill & Orwell: The Fight For Freedom
by Thomas E. Ricks
This is a fascinating book that draws parallels between Winston Churchill and George Orwell. The two giants of history are shown to have been similarly instrumental in the fight for freedom, truth and western democracy in the 20th century. Ricks jumps between the history of the two men and demonstrates how they both rose from obscurity to positions of great importance through sheer will and good old British obstinance. Not only is the book interesting from a historical point of view but it also offers us a few life lessons in its exploration of great men in trying times.
From Churchill, we learn the attitude of the British bulldog. The unrelenting self-assuredness and self-confidence that allowed him to mobilize his countrymen to fight the seemingly unstoppable Nazis. This attitude is evident in a quote from Churchill that Ricks provides in the book. When addressing a group of schoolboys early in the war Churchill says:
“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing great or small, large or petty – never give in except to the convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy”
From Orwell, we learn to search doggedly and continuously for the truth. Ricks outlines how Orwell came to be the truth-searching man that he was during the Spanish civil war. Unhappy with the blatant lies in the newspapers of both the leftist and far-right forces in Spain Ricks suggest that it is here that Orwell learnt the value of the truth. He writes in the book:
“This set him (Orwell) on his life’s work, to push continually to establish the facts, no matter how difficult or unpopular that might be.”
The book is worth a read for any of those who wish to learn about the two men, personal values and themselves. It is well written and provides lessons for life that are particularly pertinent to the world we live in today.
by Niccolo Machiavelli
Machiavelli is an often-misrepresented author. The word that takes after his name, Machiavellian, is synonymous with deceitful and cunning machinations, especially in a political context. However, his work is far more nuanced than simply encouraging politicians to win by any means necessary. Machiavelli was a 16th-century diplomat and writer. He spent a great deal of his time embroiled in the treacherous world of Italian court politics and came away with several lessons he condensed into The Prince. While some of the work is not so relevant to our modern life there is an extraordinary amount we can learn from Machiavelli.
One of the timeless lessons he offers is to avoid flatterers. He writes that “men are so ready to congratulate themselves on their achievements and imagine themselves as more successful than they really are at that is hard not to fall into this error”. That error is to surround oneself with yes men and be blinded by their words. This is immediately applicable to anyone in a leadership position today who feels they are not getting honest feedback from their team. Furthermore, it offers a warning against destructive and unhelpful pride that applies to all aspects of life.
He goes on to encourage potential leaders to combat this tendency by seeking truthful advice whilst also not taking too much advice lest the leader constantly change their mind. He advocates for a fine balance between seeking truthful advice and making personal decisions. The Price is full of these dichotomies and makes it evident Machiavelli was writing for the real world where hard and fast rules are too inflexible to be practically useful.
The book is worth a read to understand the nature of power and interpersonal relations not just as a simple call to devilish politics.
The Power of Reading – Research has shown that reading increases neural activity in the brain and that this effect lasts for hours once the book has been put down. A good place to start is with a few pages each day when you have the time. So give the screen a break, turn some pages, and gain the reward of time well spent.
Get reading gentlemen!
By Gabriel Segal.
Gabriel is currently completing a double degree in international studies and finance. He takes great interest in what history and contemporary experience can teach us about living a full life.