Reading for Leading: Essential Books for Aviation Leaders

Author By Jim Lara

Aspiring aviation leaders often ask the team at Gray Stone Advisors how to get ahead and prepare them for their next career step.

The answer is simple: The more you read, the better you'll lead.

Finding a little balance in our busy work lives is a key to our sanity and growth, and, by the same token, taking time to lower the volume and settle down with these essential books for aviation leaders.

For those of us who spend a lot of time traveling—either airborne or otherwise—it's become relatively simple to download a book or two onto a tablet and scan a few chapters while we sit in the crew (or airline) lounge.

Reading is well worth the effort, because, as I've discovered—having made reading a lifelong priority—there's a tremendous wealth of books out there that deserve our attention.

I know that with books and our varied reactions to them, one person's inspiration can be another's waste of valuable time.

Books for Aviation Leaders

Gray Stone's Steve Brechter and I have compiled a list of recommended books below that have made deep, lasting impressions on us. Please take a few minutes to check them out, and consider giving them a spot on your own reading to-do list.

These all fall under a broad category I call The Leader's Essential Library,'and, as you'll see, we've categorized them under topics that we hope will help guide your selections.

Essential books for aviation leaders:

The Cornerstone Principles of Leadership

"The Art of War," by Sun Tzu
Don't be fooled by the title:  this classic of warfare tactics and strategy reaches way beyond the battlefield. It has had an influence on Eastern and Western military thinking, business tactics, legal strategy and more.

Change Management

"Made to Stick," by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Why do some ideas thrive while others die? And how do we improve the chances of worthy ideas? In this New York Times best seller, accomplished educators and idea collectors Chip and Dan Heath tackle these vexing questions head-on.

"Switch," by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.
Why is it so hard to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities and in our own lives? Once again, the Heath brothers offer a rational explanation, and illustrate how the primary obstacle is a conflict that's built into our brains.


"The Concept of Corporate Strategy," by Kenneth R. Andrews.
The author, a professor at the Harvard Business School, goes beyond mere theoretical models to focus on what solid corporate strategy should produce:  effective, well-directed actions that lead to growth and success.

"What Really Works," by Nitin Nohria, William Joyce and Bruce Roberson.
The authors painstakingly studied 160 companies to produce their findings:  a set of eight essential management principles that generate results.


"Good to Great," by Jim Collins
Collins informs us how companies transition from being average to great companies, and how and why some fail to make the transition. Several members of the Wall St. Journal's CEO Council cited this as the best management book they ever read.

 "The Tao of Leadership," by John Heider
An adaptation of the ancient Chinese writings of Lao Tzu, over 2500 years old, focused on the essential elements of a leader. Leadership starts from within and this book gets down to the core. Steve re-reads this book several times a year.

"In Search of Excellence," by Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr
This classic on leadership development is one of the top-selling books ever. Although written in the 1980s, it remains relevant today as it explores the art and science of management used by leading companies with reputations for long-term profitability and continuing innovation.

"The Four Agreements," by Don Miguel Ruiz
From early on, we all make 'agreements' with the world around us and this book proposes that most of them do not serve us well. Four basic, but powerful,agreements are outlined to replace all others that, if adopted, will place you in a position of maximum effectiveness, both personally and professionally.

Personal Development

"The Birkman Method," by Sharon Birkman Fink
You cannot succeed in much of anything in life without a heavy dose of self-awareness and a clear sense of personal 'fit.' The methodology outlined in this book is a necessary step on the leadership journey and is the primary tool that we use at Gray Stone Advisors for leadership development and coaching.

"Keeping Good People," by Roger E. Herman
Are your aviation leaders struggling to retain your best employees? This book, a how-to manual for employee retention written by a strategic business futurist, can help!

"The Laws of Lifetime Growth," by Dan Sullivan and Catherine Nomura
Coaches and teachers, Dan and Catherine provide refreshingly simple laws that will help you to shift the perspective of aviation leaders and make your future bigger than your past.  It will also help you more fully realize your personal and professional potential.

"Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High," by Kerry Patterson, et al
Famed motivational speaker and trainer Stephen R. Covey said of this book, "[it] draws our attention to those defining moments that literally shape our lives, our relationships, and our world. . . . This book deserves to take its place as one of the key thought leadership contributions of our time."

So there you have it—our top essential leadership-related books for aviation leaders. What new (or old) titles would you recommend?

I'm always adding to my personal queue, so I'd love to know your thoughts.

Please send us your list including the title, author's name and a short synopsis.