Summer Reading 2018

Posted July 25, 2018 by Ben Harloff

Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.
—U.S. President Harry S. Truman 

As I’m writing this blog, I’m in a beautiful cabin in northern Minnesota with my wife Cindy, our daughter Avabelle, and our dog, Chloe. This is my favorite place to go to reflect and ground myself. Here, we’re able to focus on each other and pause our busy lives for a short moment. I brought a stack of books with me to read while I relax on the beach.  

Reading is such a huge part of my life. I typically read non-fiction books on topics related to leadership, personal development, and productivity. These types of books not only help me in my own life but also provide content that I can use to help my students be the best versions of themselves. It usually takes me a while to get through each book because I take time to think deeply about the content and ponder how I can apply its lessons to my own life as well as the lives of my students.

The following selections are books that have resonated with me this year. Maybe some of them will help rejuvenate your mind, as well, before school starts this fall.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey—If you’ve read Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the “habits” are the same; however, Sean Covey’s book (Sean is Stephen’s son) is suited more toward teens and what they’re going through in their lives. I’ve used this book more than any other to teach leadership and personal development skills to my students. 

The teaching structure of this book is flexible; its content can be adapted to any teaching timeline that works for you and your band program. For example, if you want to hold an intensive leadership course that lasts a week, you can easily introduce each of the habits in that timeframe or, if you want to take your time and teach one habit per month, you can do that, too. There is a supplemental workbook and activity book available as well, which can be used to create lessons.

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield—This book, recommended to me by my friend, Scott Jones, Associate Director of Bands at The Ohio State University, changed me more than any other book I’ve read this year. 

We all have conversations (or voices) in our heads that question our abilities or decisions. This book will help you manage those conversations and understand what is going on in your own mind. In particular, this book has helped me see the big picture whenever there are tough conversations swirling around in my head. It has helped me believe in myself and trust that I’m making the right decisions.  

Although this is a short book that could be read quickly, I recommend going through it slowly and letting its messages really sink in. This is the first book I’ve read by Steven Pressfield; it was a life changer for me and it could be the same for you. I love his writing style and I plan to read more of his books. 

Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals by Michael Hyatt—This was the first book I read in 2018 and I really fell in love with the content. Hyatt presents his ideas in a crystal clear manner that allows you to apply his tips immediately. His five-step plan, if followed, almost guarantees that you’ll achieve any goal you set. 

One of my biggest takeaways from this book involved dealing with the past: To achieve our goals, we can’t just look forward. We must look behind us to ensure that nothing from the past will get in the way. 

In addition, the author’s website offers free resources including blogs, articles, and videos, as well as links to books and other content. The author also hosts a podcast with his daughter, Megan Hyatt Miller, called “Lead to Win.” 

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek—Simon Sinek’s content is so inspirational, fresh and, at times, simple, it will blow your mind. “Starting with Why” is the foundation for everything Sinek teaches.  

Not having a “why” is like trying to sail a boat without a rudder. It’s impossible to steer your ship in any direction without that mechanism. If you don’t know your “why,” you’ll continue to struggle on your journey regardless of whether you’re a leader, business owner, teacher or band program director.

Within a band program, teachers and directors make important decisions every day that affect their students. After reading this book, I had a deep moment of reflection during which I discovered my life’s “why.” Now, whenever I have to make a tough decision, I go back to my “why” and usually the decision I need to make is obvious. Some decisions are tougher than others but knowing the “why” of your band program, for example, will help you make important decisions and point everything in the right direction.

This is another book that I would not rush through. Take your time and let Sinek’s ideas sink in. This book also offers online resources including “TED Talk” videos that discuss leadership, business, and the world we live in. 

The Richest Man in Town by V.J. Smith—This book shook me to my core when I first read it. Our school administration invited the author to our campus to discuss its simple message of how to treat others. It was one of the greatest presentations I’ve ever witnessed. 

This book tells the story of a guy named Marty who works at Walmart. Marty became famous for the way he treated other people. By the end of the book, you’ll learn three life lessons that signify the way Marty lived his life. 

This year, I read the book to my daughter and also to my ninth grade concert band. Each day, my band members looked forward to hearing the next excerpt and my daughter did, too. The story is emotional so have some tissues ready!

Whether you read these books (or others from your own list), it’s important for your students—and you—to read over the summer. Statistics show that over a million new books are published every year. With so much great content out there, it’s important to stay informed and continue to consume and learn. Happy reading!


Ben Harloff has two degrees from Indiana University: Trumpet Performance and Music Education. While at IU Ben studied trumpet with Edmund Cord, Stephen Burns, John Rommel and Dominic Spera. He had the privilege to play in Ray Cramer’s Wind Ensemble and Dominic Spera’s final Indiana University Jazz Band. Ben completed a Master’s Degree in conducting from Southern Oregon University in 2008. When he was twelve years old, Ben’s drum corps career began with the Phantom Regiment Cadets. Ben marched Star of Indiana from 1990 to 1993 at which time he had an opportunity to perform under an incredible instructional staff, including Star¹s Brass Caption Head Donnie Van Doren. He also performed with Star of Indiana¹s Brass Theater where he had the privilege of working with the prestigious Canadian Brass. Ben was one of the trumpet soloists in both the original London and New York casts of the show Blast!, which was the 2001 recipient of the Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event and also won the 2001 Emmy Award for Best Choreography. Since 1999 Ben has been teaching drum corps including The Cadets, Magic of Orlando, Crossmen, Syracuse Brigadiers, Blue Knights, Troopers, Minnesota Brass, and Blue Stars. He continues to be a proud brass staff instructor for Carolina Crown. Ben was a band director at Clay Middle School in Carmel, Indiana for two years and at Eastview High School in Apple Valley, Minnesota for three years. Ben has been a band director in the Wayzata school district in Wayzata, Minnesota and is currently a band director at Rosemount High School in Rosemount, Minnesota. Ben has been judging marching band competitions and arranging for marching bands since 2000.