Lessons from Books, Heinlen Edition

One of my favorite books is Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. Not only is it a fun science fiction novel, there are multiple leadership lessons I have learned from this book.

Relying on your experienced people

What is the only factor that can save you when the load is too heavy? Anyone?”


“Your leading sergeant, sir,” (…)

“Obviously. (…) Since he isn’t carrying that dreadful, numbing load of top command, he may be thinking more clearly than you are. Ask his advice. You’ve got one circuit just for that. 

“It won’t decrease his confidence in you; he’s used to being consulted.(…)

“But you don’t have to take his advice…”

Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein

It is ok to have one-on-one conversations, or small group conversations, with your most experienced team members and ask their advice. This alone is more than many leaders do. But what’s also important is that you don’t have to take their advice, but it’s at least valuable to hear their perspectives.

Hiring is hard, but don’t lower your standards

the M. I . never commissions a man simply to fill vacancy. In the long run, each boot regiment must supply its own share of officers and the percentage can’t be raised without lowering the standards

Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein

When you need people to fill roles on your team, it is always tempting to make compromises. But as Jeff Bezos said, “I’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person.” The wrong person on your team can have a worse result than not hiring anyone at all.

Trusting your leadership

The Sky Marshal plays his chess without consulting the pieces.

Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein

Frequently you do not have all the information or insight that your management chain does. So when you are given direction, even if it doesn’t make sense, you need to follow it as best you can. Now this doesn’t mean don’t ever question it, or don’t offer advice. But if your leadership has a grand strategy in place, then if you are not carrying out your set of tasks you might be causing issues without realizing it.

I frequently have teams work on particular parts of a project with the full intent of reusing artifacts or linking efforts together. But if a team doesn’t work on a project to the requirements and specifications, those plans for later integration may not come to fruition.


Starship Troopers is a great book. I highly recommend it, and so does the United States Navy.

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