2016 Commandant’s Reading List

Written by Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft

I am pleased to offer my 2016 reading list. Each new year is an opportunity to reflect on past accomplishments and lay out the trackline for future endeavors. As you consider your goals for 2016, expand your professional and leadership horizons with one or more of the following offerings:


raging sea Into a Raging Sea: When I introduced my leadership philosophy a year ago, the first principle I shared was know your purpose. Into a Raging Sea is a personal memoir by a Coast Guardsmen who truly knew his purpose and then some. This Coast Guardsman is Bernard Webber, coxswain of motor lifeboat CG-36500, from Station Chatham, Massachusetts. His and his station’s story will be featured on the big screen when The Finest Hours premieres later this month. Until then, you can hear directly from Webber himself in raw, candid text about his role in the Pendleton rescue and what life was like at Station Chatham in the 1950s.


Unbroken: Another shining example of knowing your purpose is in story of Louie Zamperini in Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. Zamperini and his Army Air Forces aircrew were on a search mission over the Pacific, one like many of our Coast Guard crews execute each and every day, when their plane went down in 1943. After close to fifty days lost at sea, he was captured and became a prisoner or war. Through Hillenbrand’s writing, we see Zamperini’s ability to channel his purpose, personal honor and integrity despite the degradations he suffered.


Between the World and Me: A more recent example of finding purpose and our ties to the communities in which we live and serve is through Ta-Nehisi Coates’ memoir Between the World and Me. Written as a letter to his son, Coates reflects on our Nation’s racial history and explores the lives of African Americans today. As I read, I kept going back to the themes of identity, trust and respect – this last one being an idea so foundational to the Coast Guard it is one of our Core Values. Altogether, Coates’ personal perspectives struck a chord and his testament was eye opening and thought provoking.


The Truth About Employee Engagement: For those who have ever heard me speak at an all hands, you’ve likely heard me mention the book The Three Signs of a Miserable Job by Patrick Lencioni. Lencioni re-released the book this year under a new title that gets to the heart of why job misery is so detrimental to an organization – it damages employee engagement. After addressing the three signs – anonymity, irrelevance and immeasurement – Lencioni shares what happens when you engage your employees, including increased productivity, greater retention and a competitive advantage. All three are needed in today’s Coast Guard. As we hone in on our Duty to People, taking another look at engaging our workforce at all levels is a necessary refresh.


Fire on the Water: A key element of knowing our purpose is understanding how we fit into the broader global context. Robert Haddick’s Fire on the Water offers an enlightening view on China’s resurgence and how the U.S. should adjust its diplomatic, military and economic policies to promote long-term stability. Just one example of the dynamic challenges that come with a rapidly changing and highly globalized world, U.S.-China relations underpin regional security and prosperity and will impact global order for decades to come. Understanding this strategic context is important for every Coast Guard member’s tool kit.


Team of Teams: One of my leadership principles is trust and empower your people, and retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal certainly touches on the importance of trust to build teams organization-wide. He also explores relationships within these teams and networks using the line “it takes a network to defeat a network;” a phrase Coast Guard leaders have utilized to discuss our Western Hemisphere Strategy and our fight against Transnational Organized Crime networks. In the end, solutions and the way forward come from all levels of the organization and we must actively seek out these solutions and empower members of our team to come forward.


Highliners: We see teamwork and trust manifest daily at Coast Guard units around the world and that includes earning the trust of those we serve. This novel, sent to me by the crew aboard Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell, puts a spotlight on a unique community we serve to the Far North – Alaskan fisherman. Through the story of one young man, or “greenhorn,” we catch a glimpse of what life is like for commercial fishermen who brave Alaska’s unforgiving elements to make a living. Boutwell’s crew wrote it is, “a must-read for anyone involved in 17th Coast Guard District fisheries at any level, and a should-read for anyone who interacts with the fishing industry nationwide,” and I couldn’t agree more.


What is Code?: While this isn’t necessarily a book, the Bloomberg Businessweek article, “What is Code?” comes close to it at 38,000 words! The article peaked my interest earlier this summer when I read the commentary from the magazine’s editor who noted the disconnect between those who have sharpened their technological skills but know increasingly less about what makes that technology work. As he wrote: “Software has been around since the 1940s. Which means that people have been faking their way through meetings about software, and the code that builds it, for generations. Now that software lives in our pockets, runs our cars and homes and dominates our waking lives, ignorance is no longer acceptable.” I am continuously humbled by the talents of our workforce, and that is especially true with our cyber professionals.


World Order: In framing my leadership principle of take decisive action, I wrote, “Situations evolve and we must adapt swiftly; as a leader your decision-making will be tested.” That is true for leaders at all levels of our Service and certainly true for our complex, interconnected world. Former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger provides a backdrop for taking decisive action in today’s world by writing about century-long trends in foreign policy. Looking at the world order over time is a useful thought exercise as we confront today’s global challenges.


Ghost Fleet: Speaking of our increasingly complex world, members of my staff shared this book with me in the late summer while I was on my way to the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum to the very region in which this book takes place. While Ghost Fleet is a fictional account of a future world war, it weaves in real-life defense assets and current technology. While the Coast Guard’s primary operating area remains the Western Hemisphere, we are active in every region of the world. This fast-paced read presents a compelling twist on the geostrategic challenges our military faces today.


You pick: You now have my ten, and I’m looking for you to select one more. I enjoyed hearing from all members of the Coast Guard Family last year and am eager to see how you choose to contribute again this year. Feel free to send your selection – and don’t feel limited to just books. Send me your choice for a book, article, video or movie in the comments section, and I will select one to at the end of this month as we start 2016.

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