2015 Commandant’s Reading List

The New Year marks a time where we collectively look to the future, developing goals and resolutions for the year ahead. In considering what is on the horizon, I encourage you to reflect on leadership. The enduring tenets of leadership, a bias for action and adherence to our Core Values enable us to remain steadfast in accomplishing the mission while serving our nation.


Written by Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft.

The New Year marks a time where we collectively look to the future, developing goals and resolutions for the year ahead. In considering what is on the horizon, I encourage you to reflect on leadership. The enduring tenets of leadership, a bias for action and adherence to our Core Values enable us to remain steadfast in accomplishing the mission while serving our nation.

I will share more on leadership over the next few weeks, including my philosophy and a video series. However, to start off 2015, I have put together a reading list. While the list provides recommendations related to foundational values, leading people and future challenges, it is not all-inclusive. And, that’s where you come in. You will notice my list only includes nine selections. I am looking to you for a 10th book to round out the list. Please leave your favorite leadership book in the comments section by the end of this month, and I will select one to read together as we start 2015.

Service to Nation
We serve a cause greater than ourselves.

constitution The U.S. Constitution: It is only fitting that we start with the document on which American ideals were founded. The rights and principles of government laid out in the Constitution more than two centuries ago remain woven into the fabric of our lives; these principles are the very reason Coast Guard men and women selflessly serve.


For the Survival of Liberty: Great Presidential Decisions – Elton B. Klibanoff: Coast Guard men and women place Service before self as they advance the Nation’s interests and preserve American liberty at home, at sea and abroad. This liberty is central as Klibanoff’s explores presidential decisions and governing philosophies by Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Monroe, Wilson and Roosevelt.


cyber Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It – by Richard Clarke and Robert Knake: Operational planning, logistical support and interagency partnerships has transformed through today’s computer systems and Cyber War investigates the need to rethink national security. The Coast Guard must ensure readiness for all missions, including those in the cyber realm.


Duty to People
We have a duty to protect those we serve and those who serve with us.

thinking Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman: Understanding how choices are made, personally and professionally, is critical in attracting, developing and retaining a talented workforce. This book explores the way in which people’s decision-making and judgment processes through two systems: system one – fast, emotional and intuitive – and system two – slow, deliberate and logical.



Thanks for the Feedback – Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen: In cultivating the well-being and professional development of your people, it is important to consider feedback – a critical driver of performance and proficiency. Stone and Heen focus on how we respond and receive feedback, from annual reviews professionally to unsolicited comments personally. Feedback helps us learn, adapt and execute the mission.



Once an Eagle – Anton Myrer: Duty to People is about leadership – the good and the bad – and leadership is at the heart of Myrer’s novel. U.S. Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf described Once an Eagle as “[a] classic novel of war and warriors.” This is a must read for leadership lessons that transcend military doctrine.


Commitment to Excellence
We must strive to achieve the highest standards of readiness and proficiency.

hamilton Alexander Hamilton – Ron Chernow: In thinking about our enduring legacy of on-scene initiative and a bias for action as we conduct operations, I’m reminded of Hamilton – the founder of our predecessor service the Revenue Marine. It was Hamilton who laid the groundwork for our operational doctrine and the pursuit of mission excellence that continues today. In this biography, Chernow shares the story of a man who overcame the odds to shape a newborn America.



The World is Flat 3.0 – Thomas Friedman: Friedman used the flattening of the world as a metaphor for globalization in 2005 and expands on that concept with new case studies and examples in this update. Whether thinking about innovative solutions for today’s challenges or ensuring efficiency across all Coast Guard activities, understanding the fundamental shifts in our world is an imperative.


ernest Ernest Shackleton: Exploring Leadership – Nancy Koehn: This is a great selection for those who are short on time. Written as a business school case study and totaling only 22 pages, Koehn packs in thought-provoking ideas on risk, overcoming adversity and building trust and confidence during crisis. In fostering an organization of continuous learning, Shackleton’s story serves as both a reminder and inspiration for leaders in today’s evolving world.

15 comments on “2015 Commandant’s Reading List”

  1. Coast Guardsmen should consider picking up Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana. The book is written by authors William LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh and was released earlier this year. Given the recent announcement on US-Cuban bilateral relations, it would make a great addition to the Commandant’s reading list.

  2. I’m a big fan of “The Leadership Challenge” by Barry Posner and Jim Kouzes. This book has been around awhile (more than 25 years) and there’s a reason for that. It describes the 5 Practices of Exemplary Leadership in a convincing and understandable way. These 5 Practices are a great way to build some common language regarding leading in the Coast Guard al all levels.

  3. One Bullet Away by Nathaniel Fick. I found this book to be an incredible journey of a young Marine officer during the early stages of the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. I specifically appreciated his detailed descriptions on some of the difficult decisions that had to be made as junior officer in our modern military.

  4. With a movie coming out this year,” The Finest Hours” by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman The true story of the Coast Guards most daring sea rescue should be on everyones reading list.

  5. Admiral – I’d like to recommend a book titled, “Broken Windows, Broken Business: How the Smallest Remedies Reap the Biggest Rewards”. The book is authored by Michael Levine.

    BMCM Devin R. Spencer, USCG
    Officer In Charge
    Station San Francisco

  6. Respectfully, ‘Muddy Boots Leadership’ by Major John Chapman. An unassuming little book that is extremely accessible and applicable on all levels despite using Army Case Studies. It’s the only leadership book I’ve ever found myself going back to.
    Or ‘Where Valor Rests’ by Rick Atkinson. It covers the history and present state of the Arlington National Cemetery and the photos make you want to be better at everything you do – also very heavily features the Coast Guard.

  7. Perhaps ‘Little Erroll’ would be a great add to your list…what a great opprty for our adult shipmates to revisit those foundational values that make us the amazing servant-leaders we are today! Also another way to honor the achievements of African Americans; Black History Month is around the corner 🙂

  8. I’m recommending “Little Erroll!” Although it’s geared towards children, adults can learn a thing or two from this powerful book about the USCG’s First African American Admiral, RADM Erroll Brown. The book’s author is Ms. Shameen Williams.

  9. “Bulletproof Spirit: The First Responders Essential Resource to Protect and Heal Mind and Heart” (see: firstresponderwellness.com) is an essential emotional survival resource that comes highly recommended by Lt. Col. (ret) David Grossman and others–and would be a good tool to use in order to serve in wellness.

  10. I suggest not a book but rather, identifying any of the numerous TED.com videos and papers. There are 1000’s of really interesting, educational and pertinent 15 minute speeches and papers on the TED.com site. I have learned a ton by watching them, and have shared them successfully with my crew. We use them all the time for leadership and development.
    A couple of examples:
    http://www.ted.com/playlists/171/the_most_popular_talks_of_all about body language.

  11. Admiral, I’d like to recommend Frozen in Time by Mitchell Zuckoff. It’s an incredible book that recounts the story of the 1942 Greenland Ice Cap Rescue and two of our heroes, LT John Pritchard and RM1 Benjamin Bottoms. Half of the book is about the events surrounding the rescue and the other half is about the current recovery efforts of Grumman J2F-4 “Duck” that LT Pritchard and RM1 Bottoms were flying in. Great book!
    ENS Nathan Brock, USCG
    Flight School

  12. Admiral- I suggest “One Hundred Days: The Memoirs of The Falklands Battle Group Commander” by Sandy Woodward. It’s a great book written by the Admiral who led the British response to the Argentinean invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982, and it’s supplemented with sketches and excerpts from the journal he kept throughout the events.

    Aside from the clear leadership components of the book, the daily trials and tribulations of a Royal Navy Battle Group far from home have a lot more in common with the U.S. Coast Guard than immediately meets the eye. Anyone who has served onboard a cutter, an embarked helicopter, at a command center, or on the mission support side can appreciate the complexity of what RDML Woodward had to contend with. In particular, the difficulties he had keeping his high-tech (for its time) fleet operating at full capacity while thousands of miles from their support infrastructure seems eerily similar to our challenges keeping the new NSCs and FRCs with their larger support logistics footprint running as we gradually test their limits.

    He also has some great insight on command center relations garnered from his time managing many ships, aircraft, and land forces- each operating through their own command center based on their own impression of the facts on the ground. It’s always surprising how an operational unit working with and through a command center can have trouble seeing eye-to-eye, especially since both sides have solid performers and are working toward the same goal.

    Anyway- great book & highly recommended.

    Joseph Haynsworth

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