Book Review of Small Unit Leadership: A Commonsense Approach by Dan Malone

Small Unit Leadership by Dan Malone is my favorite military leadership book of all time.  This book is geared for small unit leaders (officers and NCOs), those lucky folks serving at the company and platoon level.  What I like most about this book is his no nonsense leadership and writing approach.  COL (ret) Malone calls a spade a spade and tells you what you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear.  The author is a true leader and man’s man.

small unit leadership book review

Small Unit Leadership: Book Review

Col (ret) Dan Malone’s thesis is that the mission of small unit leaders is to prepare their troops for combat. Everything else is secondary.  I couldn’t agree more!  Sometimes this important lesson is easy to forget, especially when we are bombarded with inspections, briefings, meetings, Power Point Slides and all of those other unimportant, but urgent things that take up most of our time.

At the end of the day, our most important job as a small unit leader is to make sure our troops are mentally, physically and emotionally prepared for combat, so they can get their job done and return home safely.

Who is the Book For?

This book will benefit both officers and NCOs alike.  It’s also good for business owners, executives, fire fighters, policemen, and any other small unit leader.  If you supervise people, you should have a copy of this book in your leader’s library and you should refer to it daily.  I think it would also benefit future leaders; people who want to be leaders one day.

What I Love about Small Unit Leadership

What I love most about this book is that the author keeps things simple.  He doesn’t use any fluff or “politically correct” statements to make you feel good about yourself.  He tells you what you really need to do to succeed as a leader.  The book is well organized, easy to read and is absolutely jam packed with great content.  If you were to see my original copy, you would find that I had hundreds of sentences underlined and highlighted and many of the pages were dog eared.  I must have devoured this book 8-10 times in a few short years.

How Did the Book Help Me?

Let me begin by telling you that this book really shaped my military leadership style.  I read this book a few years before I became a Company Commander.  Everything I did as a Company Commander stemmed from the principles I learned in this book.   Even my Command Philosophy was drafted around the principles I learned in Small Unit Leadership.  I also use the leadership lessons to help me run my own successful small business today.

In essence, I learned the role of a leader.  I learned how to be a leader.  I learned how to deal with different people with different skill sets, different levels of motivation, and different attitudes.  I also learned how to create a “winning environment” and “unify” a group of Soldiers or civilians.

When I left Company Command, I left my personal copy of this book for the incoming Company Commander.  I truly hope this book helped him as much as it did me.  I give this book a 10 of 10 and consider it mandatory reading for any small unit leader.  If you haven’t read it, please do so immediately.  It will be the best $12 you can spend!  The book is 192 pages.  It was first published in 1983 by Presidio Press.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, Small Unit Leadership by Dan Malone is a must read for any Army leader, especially leaders at the company and platoon level.  I look at it as the “Leadership Bible” for military leaders.  The book will teach you the ins and outs of being an effective leader, preparing your troops for combat, and building a highly motivated and disciplined unit.   If you could only have one book in your Leader’s Library, this is the book you would want.

On a side note, if you have read Small Unit Leadership by Dan Malone, I would love to hear from you.  Please tell us how the book helped you and what you learned from it.  Just leave a comment to this post to share your thoughts. I look forward to hearing from you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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8 thoughts on “Book Review of Small Unit Leadership: A Commonsense Approach by Dan Malone”

  1. Dan Malone is a highly regarded expert on military leadership. He served for thirty years, retiring as a colonel, and pursued an impressive education during his time in the Army. He received his B.S. from Vanderbilt, his M.S. from Purdue, as well as graduated from the Army’s Command and General Staff College as well as the Army War College. His expertise is known across the combat and garrison fronts, and he has taught his material at West Point and various Army service schools. You are right, Chuck, his leadership principles stand the test of time and are applicable for leadership of small groups in the military and civilian world.

  2. When I first quickly browsed this title, my mind did a switch to Forrest Gump’s small unit platoon leader 2nd Lt. Dan Taylor. What a determined attitude that lieutenant had: I’m here to try out my sea legs. A good leader leaves the new commanding officer leadership position with the tools of success. Leadership expert Jim Collins talks about this quite a bit. I’m impressed you left such the book, lovingly earmarked, noted, and underlined for the new commanding officer as Lieutenant Malone’s Small Unit Leadership. Sorry, but your captcha program is a little aggravating. I cannot read some letters, and even when I type them in correctly, I get the pink response.

  3. Neil ODonnell

    I like how you tied in the “small unit” structure to entities outside of the Army. The structure and function of many Army personnel/units corresponds with civilian businesses. As such, it definitely sounds as this book would be a good resource for any and all business leaders/industries. Certainly, the creation of a “winning” and “unified” environment is something we all can benefit from.

    1. The book “Small Unit Leadership” would really benefit anyone who supervises others, whether in the military or not. Leadership is really leadership, regardless of the organization. What I like most about the book is the simplicity and message. People get confused about what leaders are supposed to do, but it really is simple. Leaders get things done through others. In the Army, leaders lead troops in combat.

  4. This is probably one of the very first books I read as I was deciding on whether to become an Officer. This book is, as Chuck mentions, the best military book around. The perspective of Malone and his “no nonsense” leadership is a must for anyone with some brass or extra chevrons…

    1. Thanks for the comment, Justin.

      I believe every new and experienced Army leader should read “Small Unit Leadership” by Dan Malone. The book had a profound effect on my leadership style, inside and outside of the military.


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