MTI Collective Responses: What book has had the biggest influence on your professional life?

Thank you to all who responded to last week’s MTI Collective Question, “What book has had the biggest influence on your professional life?”

The response comes from across the spectrum of military, law enforcement, fire, mountain, law, and business experiences.

We’ve taken the liberty of linking all book recommendations to an Amazon listing should you want to purchase and read. Enjoy and hopefully you’ve added some reading to your book list, I certainly have.

I took Marcus Aurelius Meditations to SFAS. I was allowed one book. The Cadre ask you which one you brought. Selection was a success and as we all know, the cornerstone of success is our mindset.  I love many books. I won’t list them all here. But I was glad I brought that one.
48 Laws of Power
Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink 
The Obstacle is the Way - Ryan Holiday

I am an engineer, army veteran, and parent to 3 young kids.  The stoic philosophy and numerous examples filling the book make it easy to relate to everyday life/issues.
Developing Firefighter Resiliency by Ric Jorge, Dave Gillespie and Bob Carpenter. 

I’m a firefighter and this book and class was life changing. It brought the military and sports psychology to our world for mental and physical performance. But it also addressed other mental health aspects. IE positive self talk, mental rehearsals, reframing and breath work. I feel it changed me to not only be a better firefighter, but I could apply this to my family and friends too. Highly recommended!
The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy. I read that book and thought if I could survive that school then I could be a Marine Officer. 

I was right. 
12-year volunteer urban firefighter, 1-year career airport firefighter, 39-years-old, on-and-off training history over the years. Prior to the career job I was in construction and construction management for ~15 years.

Honestly haven't really read any profession-specific books (except ones on interview preparation), but Tactical Barbell really resonated with me; even though it is a training book, the training is formed around the idea that the 'tactical athlete' must always be ready for work and even activities that work towards that goal (eg. physical training) must not get in the way of when it's actually time to be at work. There's no point making a training plan that leaves you too exhausted at work to be a functional firefighter on shift.

It's a common term that 'firefighting is a lifestyle' and it definitely needs to be, in order for it to be as safe as possible to do so, but this book (even though not firefighter specific) was really clear in that messaging and was easily applied to the other things in my life and how they interact with my ability to do my job.

Shout-out to the YouTube channel "Life is a Special Operation", while it's not a book is has very relevant messaging for the tactical athlete community in terms of accountability, leadership, goal-setting, etc.
“Let My People Go Surfing” by Yvon Chouinard

I used to work in the maritime search and rescue business, and my specific line of work was populated by people who don’t “fit the mold.” We were surfers, waterman, outdoor athletes and creatives. There was a reason why each of us chose to do a job that wasn’t your typical “9-5” grind. 

As I moved through the ranks, I went from a guy scratching at the door to go run or surf or climb or (insert obsessive outdoor activity)…to the guy managing people like me who were begging to leave work when the surf was good.

Chouinard’s book is a beautiful retelling of the outdoor brand “Patagonia’s” origin story, ethos and continued mission to support employees, customers and the environment.

His perspective on leadership is one of a reluctant leader, which I identify with to this day. 

Sometimes, the best way to look out for your people is to let them come in a few hours late to score a few waves….

I have gifted this book a few times to guys who promote to supervisor roles…it’s one of my go to books on leadership and upholding personal values within an organization.
Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holliday.

Major takeaways are in the title of the book!

Line of work - Army Special Operations.
The Mission the Men and Me - by Pete Blabber 
“Team of Teams” by General Stanley McChrystal, Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell.

I’m a mid career military pilot currently flying and leading in a training command. 

This book has positively improved my leadership mindset and helped me realize organizational successes at the tactical and operational levels in garrison and throughout combat operations. 


First, the book encouraged me to see leadership roles beyond traditional hierarchies and or designated positions. To seek out members in my organization with either the technical expertise or highest awareness of a given situation and empower them to lead and or manage the circumstances appropriately.

Second, describing the Ritz-Carlton customer service approach and the surrounding examples expanded my leadership abilities enabling me to see military operations through a customer service lens. This allows me to better equip decision makers to make more informed choices and or lead my members through circumstances by applying the appropriate leadership style called for by the operation or people involved.

Finally, the metaphor relating leadership to gardening and creating an environment for members to grow and thrive has stuck with me my whole career. This idea enables me to stick to my core values but apply different leadership styles, depending on the mission or involved people, to accomplish our mission and invest in the personal / professional development of each individual serving in my sphere of influence along the way. 
Objective Secure- Nick Lavery 
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Writer. Taught me to strive for Quality. Major work take away: We split the world up into categories with human language, but if you're gonna do a job, look at the overall quality of the final product, not just whether it checks certain categorical boxes. 
Essentialism by Greg McKeown. As a U.S. Army Officer, I felt my organizations were not focusing on the true priorities of preparing Soldiers for combat. I embraced the mentality that McKeown exposes to focusing on what truly matters. I want the organizations I lead to: prioritize essential tasks, say "no" to non-essential commitments, and embrace the power of less to achieve more meaningful results.
Outlive - Peter Attia

Correctionnal officer, first aid instructeur
Relentless and Winning by Tim Grover.  It's not rah rah motivation...he keeps it real.  Helped me to practically think about how to be better in my personal and professional life.  Brian R US Army (Ret)
Recently retired military. The biggest influence on my professional life was/is my family. 
Outlive - Peter Attia. Great book on longevity. It explains the difference in health span and life span. 
Alliance Formation in Civil Wars by Fotini Christia

A 25-year army vet, the last 13 of which in the SOF community, I have yet to read any other truly academic work that so adequately looks at the multiple political elements of irregular wartime environments.

The politico-military world has developed into a culture desperate to embrace female authors; it’s truly a shame that a book such as this, which stands on its own merits rather than the author’s identity, isn’t on more professional reading lists.
The book with the biggest professional influence has to be Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink. I am an Assistant Team Leader on a full time SWAT time for a large agency. A number of years ago I came across this book as a younger operator and it had a lasting impact on the type of leader I wanted to be. The four basic principles that make up the core of the book can be applied universally, to work, fitness, home etc. Strangely, by taking more ownership of things it actually increased my confidence. It was a way of holding myself accountable rather than relying on others to keep me on track. Ultimately this book led me to read several others by Jocko such as The Dichotomy of Leadership, Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual and currently Leadership Strategy and Tactics. The gateway to all this was Extreme Ownership though and I'm grateful for men and women that sacrificed to learn these lessons and share them with the world. 
El Quixote. Having strong based convictions and self identity helps you go through life and pursue your dreams and goals independently of how ridiculous others think your ideals are. I am a Emergency medicine physician with 2o years in the field including service in the army with deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.
How to win friends and influence people 
Military/LE. Few books have helped shape my mindset, Tom Rizzo’s Copikaze. As well as Jocko’s series, dichotomy of leadership and Extreme Ownership. These along with my masters program all reflect similar leadership styles of teaching, which I view as servant style leadership, taking care of your team. There is a line in leadership of balancing the support of your team but also not being lackadaisical or allowing poor behavior/performance. I believe today we see too many leaders too ready to point fingers at an Individual and not own the fact that they didn’t provide training, proper corrective action, or guidance. IHI institute runs a series on high quality organizations and they push for a system failure review before going for an individual failure. I believe this needs to be pushed more in both LE and Military.
The Enchiridion by Epictetus + The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek. Taken together these two provide a moral and practical framework for life and business. I basic terms, you learn what you want and how you want to get it to work all in the same reading. Both books are short enough to be read together in a day or two. I read them when preparing to take command of a tank company in the US Army.
Meditations - Marcus Aurelius

Military SOF/Personal security 

Nuggets of wisdom in bullet list format, for idiots like me!
"Right From the Start: Taking Charge in a New Leadership Role" by Dan Ciampa and Michael D Watkins

An excellent practical guide for those starting out in their first leadership or management role, or for those changing or promoting into a new job/role, and even those transitioning to the Boardroom level.

Preparation and research is vital and there is a great deal more anyone can do before they arrive in their post/role; and I first read this when the internet was of very limited use.

Unless the role was "advertised" as implementing a major change prior to starting (or, if not, but you have identified some good ideas for improvement based on your preparation), your first task when you arrive is to listen, sound people out, and quickly learn the 'lay of the land' of the organisation and its people.

Some 'quick wins' (possibly some you identified) will likely be achievable immediately but any big changes will need you to understand who/what will help, and who/what will hinder. Particularly, if you have arrived with remit to 'shake things up'.

A few reviews imply this is for new CEOs/Boardroom Directors only - Ignore them. I used this book when starting my first Head of Department role as a Lieutenant Commander, and it was without doubt critical to my achievements in that post.
Leadership and Training for the Fight 
Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller. I grew up around small business (landscaping and farming) and have been in small business for 10 years, now working in the lumber industry. This book outlines solid principles for working with excellence and with solid ethics as a person of the Christian faith.
Sea Stories - Admiral McRaven.

Air Force TACP officer.

I think Admiral McRaven does a great job writing about how a lot of success in life comes from not just hard work but PUTTING yourself in positions to be successful, both through the actual grind and networking. Sometimes it’s just being in the right place at the right time. He humbly talks about his experiences and life, not so much in the “hey look at me” fashion, but more so in trying to show how fortunate he was to have the opportunities fall into his lap because of his preparation and ethic.
Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. 26 yrs in ARSOF. It’s the ultimate venturing into the unknown and leadership story. The struggles of returning to society after such an adventure which tragically Meriwether Lewis succumbed to.
The Mission, the Men, and Me by Pete Blaber. 

I was a Navy EOD team leader and training chief before I got out. Now I’m a Fed. 

This book gave me the leadership template I was searching for. I had plenty of personal experience with different leaders as we all do, but I didn’t have a good framework to bring it all together.  This book helped me with that framework. 
Men of Courage, Dr. Larry Crab. I learned from this book and from life, that a strong man moves even when there are no recipes. 

Quote: I suggest that a man is most authentically a man when he admits I don’t know what to do in the situation but I know it’s important that I get involved and do something. I will therefor envision what God may want to see happen in this person’s life or in the circumstance and I will move toward that vision with whatever wisdom and power God supplies me.
Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. 

Military (24yrs), Federal Law Enforcement (15yrs). 

The journey and culture of a warrior society (the Spartans). Arguably the greatest fighting society in history. It dives into 300 soldiers' selection and voyage to their last battle, the famous Thermopylae. A look into the mindset, training, physical fitness, knowledge and most importantly the discipline and leadership needed to succeed as a fighting force. 

This book has reminded me not feel sorry for myself (or at least get over it quickly) in bad situations or in any of life's obstacles. It also has helped me stay in the fight no matter how bad it gets. And ultimately a reminder to not be afraid of death, it comes to us all.
Gates of Fire by Stephen Pressfield. I am a Navy Veteran that conducted VBSS for anti-piracy operations in the middle east and counter narcotics in south america. I obtained my Criminal Justice degree and I am now a current local LEO, progressing to FLEO. I read this book yearly, usually followed with its add-on the Warrior Ethos, by the same author. 

This book puts my mind in the right place. Teaches me emotional and mental endurance. To always seek glory and be a virtuous person. 

The perspective the book provides on an individuals reflection - in my opinion- is un paralleled. 

It’s a historical fiction, not to be confused with 300. Pressfield did amazing research leading up to this work, so much so he’s an honorary citizen of sparta. 

I have bought 10+ copies of this book read them, highlighted some good lines, signed it and then handed them out to peers of mine. This tradition has caused them to highlight, sign, and pass that same book around. Building a legacy and brotherhood bound by words on a spine. Things that I have noticed most men go without.
The Prince by Machiavelli. I’m a lawyer. The Prince was a loss of innocence and an awakening of the motivations of those who rule and those who are ruled. Being able to see those motivations at play from national politics to every day life and those of your neighbors is pretty revealing. It’s not intended as an instruction manual but as a study of power dynamics in society. It’s also easy to read but difficult to read carefully and understand. 

“How we live is so different from how we ought to live that he who studies what ought to be done rather than what is done will learn the way to his downfall rather than to his preservation.”
USMC Captain. Starship Troopers. As contrived as it may seem, the themes of duty and honor struck a deep chord with me when I read it for the first time at 16. It seemed to codify ideas that I'd felt to be true my entire life. The training scenes of a young man experiencing and overcoming hardship was something I wanted and eventually experienced. LtCol DuBois states in his letter to Rico "Physical hardship will never trouble you again; you now have its measure." That idea has stuck with me in my professional and personal life. My reading of the book changed while I was attending The Basic School, it came up to my Company XO that Starship Troopers was my favorite book. He asked me if remembered the part where the Co Commander, Capt Frankel is forced to discipline Hendrick. I said I did, he told me to read it now and then read it again after we graduated. My understanding of the morality and responsibility of leadership is forever shaped by that scene. The central theme of the book is the idea of citzenship which he describes in an ancient way that we as a society have forgotten, privilege and responsibility are directly inverse. The more privilege then the more responsibility in another word, duty. Having an active role in societal governance comes with sacrifice for the whole, those who are unwilling to sacrifice do not deserve nor understand the privilege they have. Everybody drops and everbody fights. Semper Fi.
"Leading Up" by Michael Useem.

I am a product manager in the biotech field, with a background in pharmaceutical chemistry and business. This book impressed on me the importance of taking agency for how a problem was dealt with, and showed how I could influence beyond my direct area of responsibility. That mindset has helped me be comfortable and tactful with being assertive.
Finding Ultra by Rich Roll
Split between “Ego is the Enemy” and “Chop Wood Carry Water.” Both books have great lessons on self discovery and perseverance. 
For direct professional influence 'Beyond Fear -Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World' by Bruce Schneier. Actually if you are in security work read everything he writes.  I work as a Security Officer with the United Nations. The book is about how to think sensibly about trade offs when it comes to security. Also to think of security as a human problem and not just one you can throw technology at. On the more physical getting my shit together and getting off the couch after getting lazy 'Discipline Equals Freedom' by Jocko Willink and his other books and podcasts. I like Michael Easter's books and Substack too. Hard to say one book. I read a lot outside my field too. In this regard the various versions of Stewart Brand's 'The Whole Earth Catalog' introduced me to a lot of books I might not have found on topics like science, religion and travel. Brand's 'Clock of the Long Now' changes the way you look at time and history. 
Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher. I'm in the Army, and pulling rank doesn't gain you credibility; having good reasons why and convincing other people are what make people work for you. Conversely, working with superiors, you need to convince them your course of action is the right one; they won't listen to criticism and problems without solutions.
Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink.

I am about to Commission as a Marine Corps 2Lt. 

This book absolutely flipped my worldview on its head. I went from feeling as if I couldn’t control anything around me, to feeling an incredible burden upon my mind everyday. This was demanding of my attention and I set out on a long journey of self-actualization because of it—I am still on this journey almost 4 years later. It sparked a sense of duty I had to myself to accurately assess my shortcomings and own them.
I'm a former Navy EOD Officer and was given the book "The Caine Mutiny" as a junior officer.  The book takes place on a ship in the Pacific during WWII and revolves around an eccentric captain and his officers' deliberation on whether he should be relieved of command.  As a junior officer, this book was important as it gave me perspective on my place in the hierarchy of command and the understanding that sometimes my superiors are privy to information in making decisions that they can't or choose not to share with their subordinates for the purposes of efficiency and/or good order and discipline.  As a mid-grade officer returning to the book, it reminded me to consider the impressions that my decisions and actions gave my subordinates and what factors to evaluate when deciding whether to take time to explain my logic or intent and when to demand immediate action or unquestioning compliance.  I highly recommend this book to any NCO, Officer, or leader/follower that is in a position to give or take (unpopular) orders.
Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babbin. 

Professional outdoor athlete - 10 years

Entrepreneur - 4 years

The book gave me a clear direction in my career with an explanation that was simple and actually stuck with me years later. It’s all on me. Even when it’s not my fault, it’s still on me. This clear direction has been immensely helpful in my career as an entrepreneur leading teams in two different businesses. The takeaways of the book seemed to sit in the back of my consciousness during the majority of my large decisions and day to day interactions. Very few books of the 100’s I’ve read have that kind of lasting impact.
Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

I am in real estate and this book completely transformed how I think about, look at, and interact with everyone.  It has greatly improved my personal relationships, and has helped me excel professionally.  I make a point to re-read it once a year to stay current on what it espouses.

Subscribe to MTI's Newsletter - BETA