"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.)?
Three distinct groups of people made the biggest impact on me intellectually. First, I grew up as the son of missionaries in Africa, where daily life was infused with the tribal dynamics of power, honor, and community. At an early age, I learned that wisdom and humility are the denominators of great leadership across cultures and throughout history.
Second, my first assignment in the Air Force was at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. The education at Harvard proved life-changing not because it merely conferred book knowledge, but because it instilled in me the inestimable value of relationships at the very outset of my professional life. My career since then has been predicated on expanding, enriching, and growing the web of relationships that began at Harvard.
The final group to impact me intellectually has been a network of intellectually curious leaders who took smart risks and tolerated failure in order to learn. I have had the privilege of serving under wise leaders who viewed their role as curators, not machinists. They set conditions for organic growth, removed obstacles, took risks, and let their people flourish naturally.
2. What book (fiction, history, or academic) do you think best explains strategy?
The Strategy of Terror by Edmond Taylor offers a historically insightful view of strategy from the street. Taylor published this little classic back in 1942, after spending years in Paris as a reporter watching Nazi Germany metastasize across the European continent. Taylor offers rare insight into Germany’s integrated information strategy to mask major offensive moves and keep the allies off balance politically. As we think about warfare in the information age, a kind of competition that lives somewhere between peace and war, the tactics in this book ring truer than ever. Strategists today must take hold of the truth that military power works in concert with informational advantage.
3. What do you want your legacy to be?
I would like to know that during a time of profound and often unrecognized change, I did my part to nurture and protect leaders who could overcome the tyranny of today’s inbox to build the right military for the future. I hope my legacy will honor the three groups who impacted me so significantly. I hope the tribesmen of my youth can see their wisdom and humility at work in my life; I hope my Kennedy school colleagues find that our enduring relationships have been like “iron sharpening iron” for one another; and I hope that I too have been a curator-leader, taking smart risks, setting conditions, removing obstacles, and allowing those around me to flourish.
Lieutenant General Steven Kwast is the is the Commander and President of Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Air Force, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
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