Illinois Fire Service Institute


Leadership Development and Decision Making: Chief Suggested Reading List


At this point in your career I am sure you are aware that your chosen profession of firefighting is very challenging and will take a lifetime to master. While practical experience, realistic training, and formal education are indispensable for the development of first-class leaders, so too is independent study. A program of independent reading keeps the mind fresh and enhances professionalism. The Instructor's from the Leadership Development and Decision Making (LDDM) Program have compiled their suggested reading list which is designed to assist you in the development of your leadership and critical decision making skills.

For each suggested book the LDDM Instructors have provided a brief overview of the book along with why they think it is a "Good Read" for firefighters.

Suggested Reading

"The Trust Edge: How Top Leaders Gain Faster Results, Deeper Relationships, and a Stronger Bottom Line" - David Horsager

The Trust Edge reveals the unique characteristic of the greatest leaders and organizations of all time--Trust. Today, more than ever, people are looking for resources to develop better relationships, achieve personal satisfaction, and contribute in meaningful ways. The Trust Edge unveils the dramatic results developing trust can bring to any business, organization, or leader--greater innovation, morale, and productivity. With fresh insights grounded in research, The Trust Edge reveals the eight pillars of trust that can transform the way you think about business, your relationships, and all areas of life. Trust, not money, is the currency of business and life. In The Trust Edge, David Horsager reveals the single uniqueness of the greatest leaders and organizations of all time--Trust. Based in research but made practical for today's leader, Horsager shows that trust is a quantifiable competency that brings dramatic results. When leaders learn how to implement the 8 Pillars of Trust, they enjoy better relationships, reputations, retention, revenue, and results.

This is a good read for Chief Officers because the success of the organization depends on the ability of the Chief(s) to build relationships/trust with their personnel, bosses, peers, elected officials, community members, etc.

Find this book:
  IFSI Library Amazon

"Blue Threat - To Err is Inhuman" - Tony Kern

This is an incredible book that attacks the topic all Chief Officers should be concerned with: How to eliminate "error." According to Dr. Kern good people make mistakes to which he provides some excellent ideas on how to eliminate these errors in judgment.

This is a good read for Chief Officers as it provides perspective and ideas on how to manage the risk of firefighters who may be prone to error.

Find this book:
  IFSI Library Amazon

"Thinking, Fast and Slow" - Daniel Kahneman

This book takes you through a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. Kahneman exposes the extraordinary capabilities—and also the faults and biases—of fast thinking, and reveals the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on our thoughts and behavior. The impact of loss aversion and overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the challenges of properly framing risks at work and at home, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning the next vacation—each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems work together to shape our judgments and decisions.

Engaging the reader in a lively conversation about how we think, Kahneman reveals where we can and cannot trust our intuitions and how we can tap into the benefits of slow thinking. He offers practical and enlightening insights into how choices are made in both our business and our personal lives—and how we can use different techniques to guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble.

This is a good read for Chief Officers because it highlights how the brain works and the difference between fast and slow thinking. It reminds the reader of the risks of split second decisions when you have the time to think.

Find this book:
  IFSI Library Amazon

"Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption" - Laura Hillenbrand

On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Force bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane's bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.

The lieutenant's name was Louis Zamperini. In boyhood, he'd been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails. As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four- minute mile. But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.

This is a good read for Chief Officers because of the detailed work that the author has on how many Military personnel were lost stateside during training - and when you read the portion about 56,000+ "accidents" in aviator training with 19 Airmen dying every day.

Find this book:
  IFSI Library Amazon

"Checklist Manifesto" - Atul Gawande

We live in a world of great and increasing complexity, where even the most expert professionals struggle to master the tasks they face. Longer training, ever more advanced technologies‚ neither seems to prevent grievous errors. But in a hopeful turn, acclaimed surgeon and author Atul Gawande finds a remedy in the humblest and simplest of techniques: the checklist.

First introduced decades ago by the U.S. Air Force, checklists have enabled pilots to fly aircraft of mind-boggling sophistication. Now innovative checklists are being adopted in hospitals around the world, helping doctors and nurses respond to everything from flu epidemics to avalanches. Even in the immensely complex world of surgery, a simple ninety-second variant has cut the rate of fatalities by more than a third.

This is a good read for Chief Officers because it illustrates the importance of checklist for the prevention of errors, mission success and safety of our firefighters.

Find this book:
  IFSI Library Amazon

"The Impulse Factor: Why Some of Us Play It Safe and Others Risk It All" - Nick Tasler

In his work as research and development director at cutting-edge think tank TalentSmart, where he helps businesses work better and employees think smarter, Nick Tasler realized that the recent discovery by scientists of a potential-seeking gene could have a remarkable impact on how we understand decision making. Those who have this gene -- about one quarter of the population -- are endowed with impulsive tendencies that can lead to fast and decisive action or to foolish choices. The cautious majority that Tasler calls risk managers can make carefully considered decisions or become hopelessly lost in the fog of details.

Tasler vividly illustrates how susceptible we are to the events around us and how our reactions often run contrary to our best interests. By combining his research with real- world examples of extreme decision making, Tasler teaches readers how to thrive when faced with difficult choices.

This is a good read for Chief Officers because it provides a clear understanding of why you make the choices you do, and provides the tools to make those decisions in your personal and professional life.

Find this book:
  IFSI Library Amazon

"Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things" - Laurence Gonzales

"Curiosity, awareness, attention," Laurence Gonzales writes. "Those are the tools of our everyday survival We all must be scientists at heart or be victims of forces that we don't understand." In this fascinating account, Gonzales turns his talent for gripping narrative, knowledge of the way our minds and bodies work, and bottomless curiosity about the world to the topic of how we can best use the blessings of evolution to overcome the hazards of everyday life.

Everyday Survival will teach you to make the right choices for our complex, dangerous, and quickly changing world—whether you are climbing a mountain or the organizational ladder.

This is a good read for Chief Officers because it sheds light on why smart people occasionally do really stupid things - and it provides countless examples of stupidity perpetrated by people who should know better.

Find this book:
  IFSI Library Amazon

"Hard Call: Great Decisions and the Extraordinary People Who Made Them" - John McCain with Mark Salter

At some point in our lives, we all face tough decisions and have to make that hard call. In this remarkable book, Senator McCain and Mark Salter use experiences of both extraordinary people and people in extraordinary circumstances to dramatically describe the anatomy of a great decision.

Highlights include:

  • Henry Ford's decision to sacrifice his company's competitive edge by reducing the work day and guaranteeing a minimum wage.
  • Branch Rickey's decision to offer Jackie Robinson a contract to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the face of public opposition.
  • Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf 's decision to return to war-torn Liberia after receiving an economics degree from Harvard.
  • General Fred Weyand's decision to redeploy fifteen of his battalions despite resistance from senior American military commanders in Vietnam.

This is a good read for Chief Officers as it provides solace and perspective for the many difficult decisions the Chiefs have to make.

Find this book:
  IFSI Library Amazon

"It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy" - Captain D. Michael Abrashoff

Captain Abrashoff offers a fascinating tale of top-down change for anyone trying to navigate today's changing fire service. When Captain Abrashoff took over as commander of USS Benfold, a ship armed with every cutting-edge system available, it was like a fire department that had all the latest technology but only some of the productivity. Knowing that responsibility for improving performance rested with him, he realized he had to improve his own leadership skills before he could improve his ship. Within months he created a crew of confident and inspired problem-solvers eager to take the initiative and take responsibility for their actions. The slogan on board became "It's your ship," and Benfold was soon recognized far and wide as a model of naval efficiency. How did Abrashoff do it?

Against the backdrop of today's United States Navy-Benfold was a key player in our Persian Gulf fleet-Abrashoff shares his secrets of successful management including:

  • See the ship through the eyes of the crew: By soliciting a sailor's suggestions, Abrashoff drastically reduced tedious chores that provided little additional value.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate: The more Abrashoff communicated the plan, the better the crew's performance.
  • Create discipline by focusing on purpose: Discipline skyrocketed when Abrashoff's crew believed that what they were doing was important.
  • Listen aggressively: After learning that many sailors wanted to use the GI Bill, Abrashoff brought a test official aboard the ship-and held the SATs forty miles off the Iraqi coast.

From achieving amazing cost savings to winning the highest gunnery score in the Pacific Fleet, Captain Abrashoff's extraordinary campaign sent shock waves through the U.S. Navy. It can help you change the course of your ship, no matter where your organizational battles are fought.

This is a good read for Chief Officers as it provides proven leadership skills and the steps to achieve a high performing organization.

Find this book:
  IFSI Library Amazon

"San Francisco Is Burning: The Untold Story of the 1906 Earthquake and Fires" - Dennis Smith

Killing hundreds and leaving a city in ruins, the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 stands as one of the greatest natural disasters in American history. But the aftermath of the quake—the fires that raged across the city for days and claimed the lives of thousands more—was an all too human disaster whose story has remained largely untold.

Dennis Smith reconstructs the harrowing days from the perspective of the people who lived through them. Smith draws on hundreds of individual accounts and official documents to unearth the true story of the fires—from the corrupt officials who left the city woefully unprepared for disaster, to the militia officers who enforced martial law with deadly force, to the individual heroes who battled the blaze and saved untold lives.

This is a great read for Chief Officers as it provides a critical and educational view of the importance of city-wide disaster planning. Relevant 100 years after the event.

Find this book:
  IFSI Library Amazon

"The Ethical Brain: The Science of Our Moral Dilemmas" - Michael S. Gazzaniga

The rapid advance of scientific knowledge has raised ethical dilemmas that humankind has never before had to address. Questions about the moment when life technically begins and ends or about the morality of genetically designing babies are now relevant and timely. Our ever-increasing knowledge of the workings of the human brain can guide us in the formation of new moral principles in the twenty-first century. In The Ethical Brain, preeminent neuroscientist Michael S. Gazzaniga presents the emerging social and ethical issues arising out of modern-day brain science and challenges the way we look at them. Courageous and thought-provoking -- a work of enormous intelligence, insight, and importance -- this book explores the hitherto uncharted landscape where science and society intersect.

This is a good read for Chief Officers as it provides understanding to the many moral and ethical mind bending challenges fire officers' face.

Find this book:
  IFSI Library Amazon

"Executive Toughness: The Mental-Training Program to Increase Your Leadership Performance" - Jason Selk

Take your professional game to the next level--in 100 seconds or less!

People with inborn talent may be good at what they do--but only the mentally tough reach the highest plateaus in their field. And here's the best news of all: mental toughness is something anyone can learn.

Director of mental training for the St. Louis Cardinals and a top-tier executive coach, Dr. Jason Selk knows everything there is to know about developing the mental toughness required for achieving any goal you set for yourself. In fact, the techniques he outlines in this book are the same ones he used to help the Cardinals defeat the heavily favored Detroit Tigers in the 2006 World Series.

Inspired on the vision of legendary basketball coach John Wooden, Selk's program is as simple as it is effective. But that doesn't mean it's easy. You have to put effort into your drive to success; it's the only way to build up your mental "muscles." Selk provides hands-on daily exercises for breaking old, self-defeating patterns of behavior and replacing them with the can-do attitude and positive behavior that would make Coach Wooden proud.

"Executive Toughness" outlines the three fundamentals for attaining high-level success:

  • ACCOUNTABILITY--admit to mistakes, correct them, and, most important, learn from them.
  • FOCUS--on your strengths, on winning, on reaching your goal... for only 100 seconds per day.
  • OPTIMISM--don't just believe you can succeed, "know" you can succeed.

"Executive Toughness" takes you through the steps of making these critical behaviors part of your everyday routine. Practice your accountability, focus, and optimism, and you'll be on the path to attaining your goals; make them part of your mental "DNA," and there will be no turning back--ever.

This is a good read for Chief Officers because Chief Officers need to be resolute in their ability to lead organizations and make the difficult decisions.

Find this book:
  IFSI Library Amazon

Passion of Command: The Moral Imperative of Leadership - Bryan McCoy

Active-duty Marine Colonel B. P. McCoy expertly relays his innermost thoughts and feelings, drawing on his mastery of personal leadership. He understands the intangibles that make up our modern-day warriors, those young Americans on whom we place so much responsibility when we send them into harm's way. Col McCoy describes the total cost of combat and the price paid by all who choose to become a warrior. By pointing to positive training examples and keying on the effects of situational training, battle drills, conducted prior to and during combat, he successfully trained his Marines and developed the proper habits that would be the difference between life and death during combat.

Find this book:
  IFSI Library Amazon

Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter - Gautam Mukunda

The importance of leadership and the impact of individual leaders has long been the subject of debate. Are they made by history, or do they make it?

In Indispensable, Harvard Business School professor Gautam Mukunda offers an enticingly fresh look at how and when individual leaders really can make a difference. By identifying and analyzing the hidden patterns of their careers, and by exploring the systems that place these leaders in positions of power, Indispensable sheds new light on how we may be able to identify the best leaders and what lessons we can learn, from both the process and the result.

Profiling a mix of historic and modern figures—from Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln to Winston Churchill and Judah Folkman—and telling the stories of how they came to power and how they made the most important decisions of their lives, Indispensable reveals how, when, and where a single individual in the right place at the right time can save or destroy the organization they lead, and even change the course of history.

This is a good read for Chief Officers who desires to be a leader who makes a difference in their organization.

Find this book:

Team of Teams: The Power of Small Groups in a Fragmented World - General Stanley McChrystal

As commander of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), General Stanley McChrystal played a crucial role in the War on Terror. But when he took the helm in 2004, America was losing that war badly: despite vastly inferior resources and technology, Al Qaeda was outmaneuvering America’s most elite warriors.

McChrystal came to realize that today’s faster, more interdependent world had overwhelmed the conventional, top-down hierarchy of the US military. Al Qaeda had seen the future: a decentralized network that could move quickly and strike ruthlessly. To defeat such an enemy, JSOC would have to discard a century of management wisdom, and pivot from a pursuit of mechanical efficiency to organic adaptability. Under McChrystal’s leadership, JSOC remade itself, in the midst of a grueling war, into something entirely new: a network that combined robust centralized communication with decentralized managerial authority. As a result, they beat back Al Qaeda.

In this book, McChrystal shows not only how the military made that transition, but also how similar shifts are possible in all organizations, from large companies to startups to charities to governments. In a turbulent world, the best organizations think and act like a team of teams, embracing small groups that combine the freedom to experiment with a relentless drive to share what they’ve learned.

This is a good read for Chief Officers as General McChrystal draws upon his wealth of evidence from his military career, the private sector, and sources as diverse as hospital emergency rooms and NASA’s space program, to accentuate challenge facing today’s organizations, and presents a compelling, effective solution.

Find this book:

Lessons from the Mouse - Dennis Snow

What can you learn from a mouse? When that mouse has been delighting and entertaining hundreds of millions of people for decades - it turns out there is plenty to learn. Dennis Snow's Lessons From the Mouse provides ten no-nonsense, practical principles that anyone, anywhere can apply. The mouse is very candid here - no Disney pixie dust blinds the reader. Backstage snafus, onstage errors, and occasional chaos emerge in all their drama, humor, or irony. At its heart, though, Lessons From the Mouse presents ten lessons that guide readers in applying excellence in their own organizations, careers, and lives.

This is a good read for Chief Officers who are interested in establishing and maintaining a Command Culture and Climate that leaves a positive impression on all who are served by their organization.

Find this book:

The Mission, The Men, and Me: Lessons from a Former Delta Force Commander - Pete Blaber

As a commander in Delta Force-the most elite counter-terrorist organization in the world-Pete Blaber has taken part in some of the most dangerous, controversial, and significant military and political events of our time.

The emphasis of Commander Blaber’s book is to impart six guiding life principles to the next generation. These principles are...

  • The Mission, The Men, and Me. (The hierarchy of priorities for our decision making.)
  • Don't get treed by a Chihuahua. (Don’t loose reality of the true situation)
  • When in doubt, develop the situation. (When your uncertain of what to do, get more info and apply guiding principle #2)
  • Imagine the unimaginable (Explore the art of the possible, imagination drives success)
  • Always listen to the guy on the ground. (He has spent TIME in the specific location and RECOGNIZED PATTERNS= he has CONTEXT and Context prevents over-reacting, under-reacting, or not reacting.
  • It's not reality unless it's shared. (Bad decisions occur when information is not shared across the ranks)

This is a good read for Chief officers because in a very engaging and interesting way, Blaber offers several excellent strategies for effective decision making in both chaotic and complex environments like the fireground but also for long term planning and leadership of the organization.

Find this book:
  IFSI Library Amazon

To Sleep with the Angels: The Story of a Fire - By: David Owens & John Kuenster

In December of 1958 tragedy struck the Our Lady of the Angels school on Chicago’s west side. This was one of the deadliest fires in American history. This book recounts in detail the events that led up to this tragedy, the aftermath, and how it affected families, firefighters, the City of Chicago, and the nation.

This is a good read for Chief Officers because of the historical significance of this tragedy. A fire officer can relate to the why of fire code enforcement today. The impact on the Our Lady of the Angels community, and the impact on firefighters dealing with a tragedy like this gives fire officers an understanding of an event they could be potentially faced with someday.

Find this book:
  IFSI Library Amazon

11 Gerty Dr.
Champaign, IL 61820
Driving Directions
Contact Us
Phone: (217) 333-3800
            (800) 437-5819
Fax: (217) 244-6790
Phone: (217) 333-8925
Hours: 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Social Media

You are encouraged to use this site for individual educational purposes only; however copy and/or reprinting of any materials and photographs without authorization is strictly prohibited. Please obtain permission by contacting

© 2020 The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois