Professional Reading Program

Professional Reading Program Banner. Decorative.

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.

The NWCG Leadership Subcommittee 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
  • Title
  • Author
  • 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.

Happy reading!

The 2018 Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program Professional Reading List

image of book jacket for You Don't Need a Title to be a Leader

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
image of book jacket for Tribe

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
image of book jacket for Make Your Bed

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
image of book jacket for Brothers Forever

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:

image of book jacket for Extreme Ownership

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
image of book jacket for Team of Teams

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
image of book jacket for the Art of Authenticity

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
image of book jacket for Resilience

Resilience by Eric Greitens

Leadership 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
image of book jacket for The Invisible Gorilla

We also recommended a handful of other titles in addition to the focus books, including:

The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons

Not 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.

 
image of book jacket for Leaders Eat Last

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

A 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.

 
image of book jacket for Between Two Fires

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.
 

image of book jacket for The Southwest: A Fire Survey

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
California: A Fire Survey by Stephen Pyne
The Northern Rockies: A Fire Survey by Stephen Pyne
The Southwest: A Fire Survey by Stephen Pyne


A combined series of essays and short stories about the people, places, and organizations that shape each fire region. A great way to learn more about the cultures and natural process of places you may not have experienced.

The books chosen as the primary focus for 2016 year included:

image of book jacket for Yes to the Mess

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
image of book jacket for Brain Rules

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
image of book jacket for Yes to the Mess

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
image of book jacket for Turn the Ship Around!

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
image of book jacket for Smokejumper

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
image of book jacket for Unbroken

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:

CategoryEntry LeaderEmerging LeaderPrimary LeaderLeader of LeadersLeader of Organization
Fire History and CultureHellroaring: 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
(Timothy Egan)
Fireline: The Summer Battles of the West
(Michael Thoele)
Tending Fire: Coping with America's Wildland Fires
(Stephen Pyne)
Human FactorsThe Go Point
(Michael Useem)
Isaac's Storm
(Eric Larson)
Friendly Fire
(Scott A. Snook)
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
(Malcom Gladwell)
Managing the Risks of Organizational Accidents
(James Reason)
Lessons LearnedYoung Men and Fire
(Norman Maclean)
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 ManagementYou Don't Need a Title To Be A Leader
(Mark Sanborn)
The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell
(Oren Harari)
First In, Last Out
(John Salka)
The Leadership Moment
(Michael Useem)
Leading Change
(John P. Kotter)
Case StudiesEndurance:  Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
(Alfred Lansing)
Into Thin Air
(Jon Krakauer)
The Last Stand
(Nathaniel Philbrick)
Failure Is Not an Option
(Gene Kranz)
Team of Rivals - The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
(Doris Kearns Goodwin)
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
2018-04-27