The power of reading lists for your professional development

The Power of Reading Lists for Your Professional Development

What you do and how you do it are largely shaped by what you learn. One of the ways you can learn is through professional reading.

While I have been gathering content for my book on The Power of Reading, it became clear to me that the majority of successful leaders (political, business, and military) were avid readers. While I could list names, I will hold off for now.

While doing research, another thing became clear; it was possible to tap into other’s success by reading what they were reading. This cycle continues when you shared the books that help you become successful. One of my objectives for 2017 is to highlight and share reading lists. 

Reading lists are great ways to understand the foundation that has helped to someone achieve success. 2016 has been a great reading year for me. Throughout the year, I have incorporated a lot of what I have read and learned back into the things I do. In a number of cases, I have purchased books for my team to help them understand where I was coming from.  This is something I picked up early in my career.

Importance of Reading Lists to the Organization

Organizational leaders should share the books and articles they are reading (Tobin, 2000). Reading lists can help ground individuals in a vision that leaders have for an organization. While in the Air Force, we were encouraged to read the books on the Air Force Chief of Staff Reading List Pinterest Icon. According to General Fogleman (1997), the originator of the list, “The objective was to broaden understanding of air and space power and to examine how they should be employed in independent, joint, and coalition operations” (p. 63). The original list was tied to different levels of an airman’s professional development. “It includes a basic list for captains, and intermediate list for majors and lieutenant colonels, and an advanced list for colonels and general officers” (Fogleman, 1997, p. 64). Each year the Air Force Chief of Staff puts out a professional reading list and promotes it across the organization.

The Chiefs of Staff for the other branches of the military also have comparable reading lists. According to General Raymond T. Odierno, 38th Chief of Staff, Army, “There is simply no better way to prepare for the future than a disciplined, focused commitment to a personal course of reading, study, thought, and reflection” (U.S. Army, n.d., p. 3). The military is not the only organization to have reading lists.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, has a reading list for his organization. The list is to help develop a common understanding for employees and executives in his organization (Parrish, 2013). Bill Gates maintains his recommended reading list on his site called Gatesnotes. For the past 17 years, J.P. Morgan has published a recommended reading list on their website. They list ten books over a diverse array of topics.

Many academic institutions also publish reading lists. For example, the University of California, Berkley has offered a reading list for its incoming freshmen and transfer students each year since 1985. Other schools, such as Yale University, develop reading lists for specific topics like “Managing at Yale Recommended Reading List.” I remember receiving a recommended reading list for adult education and instructional technology Pinterest Icon put together at the University of Wyoming.

Putting Together Your Reading Lists

There are a number of ways to put together reading lists for your personal development. You could find recommended reading lists of successful leaders, review published best seller lists, or keep an eye out for recommended books by people you trust.

Find Reading Lists of Successful Leaders

If you are truly inspired by someone, I recommend doing a search for that individual along with the term “reading lists”. In the past, this has generated a number of interesting lists for me. Simmons (2015) recommends looking at lists compiled by entrepreneurs, business leaders, political leaders, etc. Many of these successful people are happy to share the books that inspired them and helped them succeed. Warren Buffett for examples regularly shares books with new and old acquaintances as well as shares recommended books to read in annual letters to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway (Vozza, 2016). Here are some examples that I have found:

Review Best Seller Book Lists

As noted earlier, book lists can be an important learning tool for organizations. However, they are not only for organizations, you can use book lists to help you find books to fuel your personal learning. You can find book lists in a number of places such as

Many of these lists are broken down into categories such as a fiction, non-fiction, religion, etc. Regularly viewing these lists will help you find something useful to read.

Keeping an Eye and Ear Out for Good Books

Through my daily blog and podcast feeds, I find a lot of great reading suggestions. One of my favorite parts about listening to podcasts is when guests share their favorite books. I have added hundreds of recommended books to my reading list simply from listening to podcasts or reading blog articles. In many cases, the podcast guest had written their own book. If the guest is especially interesting, I will attempt to learn more about them by reading their book.

When reading a book, I will regularly sift through the books the author recommends in search of those that have inspired their writing.

Put Together a Reading List

You should not have to look around for something to read. Part of your reading habit should be building your reading list (Ambler, 2015; Babauta, n.d.). You should create a way to track your books. I recently started to use GoodReads to track what I want to read, what I am reading, and what I have read. GoodReads is a good program because you can share with friends. It is easy to give and receive recommendations. When you learn of a new book or find a book you want to read, immediately add it to your list. You will then always have a list of books to read. Babauta (n.d.) recommends creating “a Gmail account for your book list, and email the address every time you hear about a good book.” You can also make a note in Evernote, a bullet journal, or save a listing to Diigo.

Next Steps

My next step is to pull together and share reading lists with you. These lists may be based on the reading lists of influential leaders, they may be award winning books, or they may be built around a specific category. I plan to do this through a combination of this blog and my Pinterest site. I am going to use Pinterest because I believe seeing the covers of books is important. I intend to write about each new list in a blog post and link back to a Pinterest board. Additionally, I will develop a separate page that organizes the lists.

As I have discovered, reading is the keystone to professional development. I hope these lists will help you with your development.


Ambler, G. (2015). Reading keeps leaders smart, creative and social. Retrieved July 10, 2016, from

Babauta, L. (n.d.). 14 ways to cultivate a lifetime reading habit. Retrieved June 25, 2016, from

Fogleman, R. R. (1997). CSAF professional reading program. Airpower Journal, 11(1), 63–65.

Parrish, S. (2013). Jeff Bezos’s reading list. Retrieved June 16, 2016, from

Simmons, M. (2015, September 24). 9 creative ways to find books that will make you a genius. Retrieved June 26, 2016, from

Tobin, D. (2000). All learning is self-directed: How organizations can support and encourage independent learning. Alexandria  VA: ASTD.

U.S. Army. (n.d.). The U.S. Army Chief of Staff’s Professional Reading List. Retrieved from 

Vozza, S. (2016, January 21). Why you should read 50 books this year (and how to do it). Retrieved July 23, 2016, from