"Monday Musings” are designed to get quick, insightful thoughts based around three questions from those interested in strategy, from the most experienced and lauded, to our newest thinkers/writers.
1 — Who had the greatest impact on you intellectually (whether through writing, mentorship, etc.)?
An obscure college English professor who took me aside one day 30 years ago and told me to start writing. I was taking a required course, Technical Writing for Engineers, and received a note back from him with an ungraded paper. When I went to see him, he was blunt and direct: “You’re either a plagiarist or the best writer I’ve seen in 25 years of teaching.” I wasn’t a plagiarist.
Under his guidance, I spent that last two years of college filling my elective time with courses intended to hone my skills and focus my writing toward publication. He encouraged me to set publishing goals – at least one professional article per year – and to challenge myself intellectually – to publish outside my comfort zone as often as possible. When he finally retired from teaching, his influence was still with me, and is to this day.
2 — What book (fiction, history, or academic) do you think best explains strategy?
When it comes to reading, I tend to internalize, synthesize, and expound on existing theory. So there isn’t one lone book that I would single out. Clausewitz brings the roots of complexity to strategy, Sun Tzu the logic, Jomini the reductionism, etc. In the realm of strategy, it’s better to read widely and dialog deeply. Build your own opinions and your own depth of understanding. Share your ideas, challenge conventions. If all you can do is quote one author or another, then you really haven’t developed a true understanding of the subject. You’re just a paper strategist with a good memory.
3 — What do you want your legacy to be?
A legacy is a funny thing. We absolutely control what our legacy will be, but we often don’t think too much about it until it’s too late. This is a drumbeat I’ve been pounding for years. My own legacy? Twofold – one, writing; two, honest feedback.
For most of us – myself included – our writing offers our best chance at a lasting legacy. For that reason, I try to write as much as possible and encourage the same in others. Our writing provides a window into our lives, our thinking, our beliefs. To that end, organizations like the Military Writers Guild further that legacy significantly. You want to build a legacy? Start writing.
An old boss of mine once said to me, “With you, one thing is sure. You’re going to tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear.” That’s a legacy worth having, even if not everyone appreciates it. We all need to hear the honest truth, even if it hurts. Along the way, I’ve shared some brutal conversations with people, and received some in return. It doesn’t have to be personal and it doesn’t have to leave a mark, but it does need to be constructive and help us learn and grow.
Steven M. Leonard is a former U.S. Army strategist and the creative force behind Doctrine Man!! He is a founding member of the Military Writers Guild and a regular contributor to the Atlantic Council’s Art of Future Warfare Project. Follow his writing on The Bridge or his personal blog, The Pendulum, and on Twitter @Doctrine_Man. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
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