Professional Reading Program
The intent of the professional reading program is to promote the reading and discussion of books throughout the year. Discussions are encouraged on the WFLDP Facebook page and anywhere you can find two or more people willing to chat about books and leadership.
We have also developed a task, purpose, and end state for the reading program to make its intent clear.
The Professional Reading Program is tasked with providing a program and delivery system of literature designed to foster leadership development at all levels of the fire service. It is here as an additional tool to help develop current and future leaders using reading to expand the breadth and depth of their leadership skills. The end state of the PRP is a sustainable and adaptable program that is engaged by leaders of all levels to support a continued growth in leadership through reading.
All branches of the United States military have professional reading programs and a key part of those programs is the recommendation that every leader read at least two books a year. Many corporations have required readings for their supervisors and managers. For several hundred dollars, a fire organization can put together a good library from the titles on this list and implement a reading program on their home unit. How many of our young firefighters know what happened at South Canyon? How many have read anything that discusses the principles of sound leadership? How many have read stories from other disciplines or endeavors that describe leaders in action?
This is not busy work; this is not drudgery. These readings will provoke reflection, discussion, and debate. The selected titles have been chosen for their intrinsic excitement as well as their content. Many of the books will be hard to put down. Let this be your roadmap to an enjoyable and rewarding reading program.
How to use the Reading Program
There is no right or wrong way to read, or to use this program. It is a tool that we've made available for anyone to use as they see fit. Most professional organizations maintain some sort of reading program, and reading followed by reflection is a valuable tool for leadership development.
You do not need to read all the books on the list, although that is great if you do. For most of the titles we have put together a basic "why should I read this" document with some simple questions meant to spark discussion. Feel free to use these discussion questions or come up with your own. You do not have to agree with the authors, or even like what they have to say. The important part is to read, think about it, and talk about it!
Many local libraries offer digital access to digital books and audio books to their members. There are also many options for purchasing the books in hard copy or digital format.
Local units are encouraged to solicit ideas from local personnel about implementing the Professional Reading Program. A professional reading program can be developed on your local unit in a few easy steps that require very little effort or expense.
Start a Library
Start by establishing a central book cache or library in your break room or training room. Designate a bookcase specifically for leadership. For several hundred dollars, a fire organization can put together a good library from the titles listed in this reference. There are many possible avenues for the acquisition of books. You can ask the region/district/department to purchase them or apply for continuing education grants. You can solicit books from the local community or contact service groups for assistance through monetary or book donations. You can also check local or online used bookstores for books or books on tape.
Promote the Program
Promoting the reading program is an ongoing endeavor and can be done in many ways. Here are a few suggestions:
- Give books from the reading list as awards and appreciations.
- Buy enough copies of one of the books for your whole crew or fire organization to read. Consider assigning your crew or staff to read one of the books and discuss its salient points at a crew meeting, training day, or safety session.
- Have topic discussions about books from the reading list. This will allow one person to relate the main topics and points of a book to a group or allow a group to compare their ideas about a single book.
- Topics can be assigned or selected by the participants. Assign each person a chapter(s) or book to read and brief the rest of the group.
- Propose a topic and have people find articles from magazines, newspapers, etc., or other books that are relevant to the topic. Have crew members present their findings at a crew forum.
- Tie the reading program to employee Individual Development Plans (IDPs); e.g., read a certain number of books in a given time period. Designate specific books based on the employee's qualifications.
Keep it fun, but emphasize the importance of the program in developing a commitment to a lifetime of learning and to stronger leadership at all levels of our fire organizations. The starter list below is included to give suggestions to help young employees get started in developing a habit of continuing education and self development.
- Leading in the Wildland Fire Service
- Black Hawk Down
- The Thirtymile Fire
- Shackelton's Way
- The Leadership Moment
The NWCG Leadership Committee invites individuals to submit suggestions regarding new titles, removal of titles, or corrections to the Professional Reading Program. New title suggestions must include the information provided below.
- Your name and contact information
- Publication company
- Publication date
- Description (limit to 50 words or less)
Please use our book suggestion form to provide this information.
If you have questions regarding the Professional Reading Program, send an e-mail to BLM_FA_Leadership_Feedback@blm.gov.
The books chosen as the primary focus for 2021 year included:
The 2021 Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program Professional Reading List
Sailing True North by Admiral James Stavridis (USN Ret.)
This is an excellent book about the importance of character in leadership, and examines the lives of ten Admirals from various backgrounds and times in the context of character and leadership development. The author is a well-respected leader who served in many leadership roles thought his career, including serving as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe for NATO.
Link to Sailing True North discussion guide
The Thirtymile Fire by John Maclean
One of the best ways to make sure the lessons of the past are passed on to the next generation is to read the stories of those who went before. This book is an in-depth examination of the Thirtymile Fire of July, 2001, in which 4 firefighters perished. Since 2021 is the 20th year since this fire, it’s an excellent time to revisit the events and the lessons learned in order to honor those who lost their lives. While not a leadership book per se, it's a book that covers an important part of our cultural history as wildland fire managers and leaders, and should be on every fire leaders reading list.
Link to The Thirtymile Fire discussion guide
Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff
Leaders and followers should have a “toolkit” of skills and knowledge that should extend beyond the technical aspects of fire management and leadership. An understanding of the concept of self-compassion is a valuable addition to any leaders toolkit, and the practice of self-compassion can be hugely beneficial both personally and professionally.
Link to Self-Compassion discussion guide
A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell
While this is not a book that focuses on leadership explicitly, if you pay attention you can see that the subject of the story, Virginia Hall, exhibited a wide variety of leadership skills in very challenging situations. As an example of applied leadership in extremely adverse and chaotic conditions, her story offers a number of lessons for astute leaders and followers to learn from and apply in their own lives.
Link to A Woman of No Importance discussion guide
The books chosen as the primary focus for 2020 year included:
The 2020 Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program Professional Reading List
Presence by Amy Cuddy
This is a great book to use to tie into the 2020 Wildland Fire National Leadership Campaign – “Do You Know Who You Are?” (https://www.nwcg.gov/wfldp/toolbox/campaign) as it focuses on many things that a leader can use to better understand themselves and develop command presence. You may have seen the TED talk associated with this book, as it’s been hugely successful and widely shared.
Link to Presence discussion guide
Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
It has long been recognized that mindfulness training and practice is a valuable skill for firefighters and other fire managers, with fire leaders like Paul Gleason and Ted Putnam advocating for mindfulness practice in the fire organization. This is an excellent introduction to the concept and practice of mindfulness, and contains many helpful tips and ideas that can be applied anywhere.
Link to Wherever You Go There You Are discussion guide
Call Sign Chaos by Jim Mattis and Bing West
In this book, Jim Mattis shares leadership lessons earned over decades of service as a leader in the U.S. Marine Corps, at every level from early leader to a senior advisor to the Commander in Chief. This memoir is a gold mine of ideas and lessons for leaders of all levels in an organization, and many of the concepts found inside can be directly transferred to leadership in the wildland fire setting.
Link to The Call Sign Chaos discussion guide
Hal Moore On Leadership by Hal Moore and Mike Guardia
Hal Moore is probably best known for his book We Were Soldiers Once… And Young, and this book contains his ideas and lessons on leadership developed over a long and active career in the U.S. Army. While some of the language in the book is from another era, the leadership concepts and advice are still valid today, especially in the wildland fire service.
Link to Hal Moore on Leadership discussion guide
The Leader’s Bookshelf by James Stavridis and R. Manning Ancell
The books chosen as the primary focus for 2019 year included:
The 2019 Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program Professional Reading List
The Dichotomy of Leadership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
The follow up title to Extreme Ownership, this is another book that is full of practical leadership concepts and tools that can easily be applied to all levels of wildland fire leadership, from firefighter two to area command. This is a great read as a standalone title, and it’s even better if you’ve read Extreme Ownership. The leadership skills described in the book are field tested, and born of experience.
Link to The Dichotomy of Leadership lesson plan
Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
This is a must-read for fire leaders. It’s a book that takes a deeper dive into the leadership skills and behaviors that are absolutely essential for high-quality leadership, but are often ignored or misunderstood. Definitely a book that will spark discussion and reflection.
Link to Dare to Lead lesson plan
The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle
In this book, the author explores what kinds of culture contribute to successful organizations across a variety of disciplines, and examines the mindsets, actions, and behaviors that make them work. This is an excellent book to read for leaders and followers who want to work on creating or sustaining a leadership culture in their organization, whether that’s a squad, crew, department, or agency.
Link to The Culture Code lesson plan
Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke
Not a leadership book per se, but one that really takes a different look at decision-making, which is a fundamental skill for wildland firefighters and leaders at all levels. This is a book that examines some of the ways that we make decisions, and offers some tools for making better decisions in situations where we don’t have all the facts, which of course is relevant to leadership in wildland fire.
Link to Thinking in Bets lesson plan
The books chosen as the primary focus for 2018 year included:
The 2018 Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program Professional Reading List
You Don’t Need A Title To Be A Leader by Mark Sanborn
A great little book full of ideas about leadership at all levels, with lots of potential applications in the fire environment. It’s a quick and easy read, and the concepts described are easy to transfer to the workplace and personal life alike.
Link to You Don’t Need A Title To Be A Leader lesson plan
Tribe by Sebastian Junger
A book that’s not about leadership per se, but is about how we as humans are wired to interact in small groups, and how modern society has changed how we interact. It’s also a great study into how individuals cope with traumatic events from warfare to natural disasters. It’s a book that should make most of us think about those around us and how we interact with each other in the fire community.
Link to Tribe lesson plan
Make Your Bed by Admiral William H. McRaven (U.S. Navy Ret.)
While the title seems like it should belong to a children’s book, this is actually a great read for fire leaders at every level. Based on a commencement address from 2014, it takes some simple, actionable ideas from the authors experience as a Navy SEAL and applies them to the bigger picture in leadership and life. As is to be expected, there are plenty of ways to apply these ideas in the fire world.
Link to Make your Bed lesson plan
Brothers Forever by Tom Sileo and Colonel Tom Manion, USMC (Ret.)
A great book that doesn’t so much tell us how to be leaders as it does show us an example of what leadership can look like. A moving story about two friends and their families who paid the ultimate price leading from the front. It’s a book that can inspire us all to be better leaders and individuals.
Link to Brothers Forever lesson plan
The books chosen as the primary focus for 2017 year included:
Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willinks and Leif Babin
A great book on leadership with lots of applications in the fire environment, at the personal and organizational level. A must read for fire leaders. If you read only one book on leadership this year, this should be it.
Link to Extreme Ownership lesson plan
Team of Teams by retired Army General Stanley McChrystal
A book on leadership that focuses on changing from top-down traditional leadership to dynamic leadership that’s more effective in the modern “information” era. Focused on organizational leadership with many applications for fire leaders at any level.
Link to Team of Teams lesson plan
The Art of Authenticity by Karissa Thacker
While it’s focused heavily on the corporate business environment, it also has many ideas and concepts that translate well into the fire world. Authentic leadership matters regardless of who you are or where you work.
Link toThe Art of Authenticity lesson plan
Resilience by Eric GreitensLeadership starts with leading of self, and this book is a great tool for self-improvement as a leader and a person. Leadership starts with you, and as the author says, you need to get yourself right before you lead others.
Link to Resilience lesson plan
We also recommended a handful of other titles in addition to the focus books, including:
The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris and Daniel SimonsNot a leadership book per se, but leadership is made better with understanding of how we perceive the world around us, and how our brains interpret what we perceive. A wonderful book on how we see, or don’t see, the world around us.
Leaders Eat Last by Simon SinekA book that examines what it means to be a good leader, and why we instinctively follow some leaders and not others. Many of the ideas will be familiar to wildland firefighters.
Between Two Fires by Stephen Pyne
For anyone wanting to dive deeper into fire policy and history, we highly recommend reading Between Two Fires by Stephen Pyne. It explains quite well many of the reasons we got where we are today. A very thorough history of the American fire scene from the early days until recent events. Closely examines the events, policies, and agencies that shaped American fire management. A lot to absorb, but well worth it for those looking to really think about how and why fire is managed the way it in America.
In addition, we're recommending that folks pick one of Stephen Pyne's Fire Survey books (currently California, Florida, the Southwest, and the Northern Rockies are available), and read it with a mind toward thinking about how different fire and fire cultures can be in different parts of the country.
Florida: A Fire Survey by Stephen Pyne
The books chosen as the primary focus for 2016 year included:
Yes to the Mess by Frank J. Barrett
Leading well in dynamic, complex environments, where conditions are frequently changing, chaos and confusion are common, and innovation in the face of adversity is needed.
Link to Yes to the Mess lesson plan
Brain Rules by John Medina
Leadership is at its core a human interaction. Understanding human factors, including the way our brains work to interpret what happens around us, is an important part of being a competent leader.
Link to Brain Rules lesson plan
It Worked For Me by Colin Powell
Colin Powell shares leadership and life lessons, notes, observations, and insights that he has acquired over a lifetime of experience in the military, the State Department, and his personal life.
Link to It Worked For Me lesson plan
Turn the Ship Around! By L. David Marquette
The author explores how he empowered his followers to be leaders at all levels in the high-stress operating environment of a modern nuclear submarine.
Link to Turn the Ship Around! lesson plan
Smokejumper by Jason A. Ramos
The author takes readers alongside his personal journey as a wildland firefighter, from his early years in California to his time spent as a smokejumper in the Washington Cascades.
Link to Smokejumper lesson plan
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand.
The book is focused on the story of Louis Zamperini during World War Two, but also looks at his life before and after the war, and the tragedies, challenges and triumphs that he experienced. As a value-added feature, readers are encouraged to venture into the Leadership in Cinema realm and watch and discuss the film version.
There are several themes in the book that carry over into our realm of leadership and wildland fire. Two in particular spring to mind: Resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity; and being a leader, even when you have nothing to lead but yourself. This theme, of leading oneself, ties in to the WFLDP’s 2015 campaign of “Followership is Leadership.” Even when we’re not in command or even in control, we can still lead ourselves. To quote William Ernest Henley, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
The books chosen as for 2014 year included:
|Category||Entry Leader||Emerging Leader||Primary Leader||Leader of Leaders||Leader of Organization|
|Fire History and Culture||Hellroaring: The Life an Times of a Fire Burn|
(Peter M. Leschak)
|Ghosts of the Fireground|
(Peter M. Leschak)
|The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America|
|Fireline: The Summer Battles of the West|
|Tending Fire: Coping with America's Wildland Fires|
|Human Factors||The Go Point|
(Scott A. Snook)
|Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking|
|Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents|
|Lessons Learned||Young Men and Fire|
|Fire on the Mountain|
(John N. Maclean)
|Beyond Tranquillon Ridge|
(Joseph N. Valencia)
|The Thirty Mile Fire: A Chronicle of Bravery and Betrayal|
(John N. Maclean)
|Wildfire and American: How to Save Lives, Property and Your Tax Dollars|
(Roger G. Kennedy)
|Leadership and Management||You Don't Need a Title To Be A Leader|
|The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell|
|First In, Last Out|
|The Leadership Moment|
(John P. Kotter)
|Case Studies||Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage|
|Into Thin Air|
|The Last Stand|
|Failure Is Not an Option|
|Team of Rivals - The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln|
(Doris Kearns Goodwin)
This is a list of books and other resources included in the reading program prior to 2014, and includes Director’s Choices, selections on Culture, Human Factors, Lessons Learned, Leadership and Management, as well as case studies that examine the importance of leadership in wildland fire community.